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DNF Q&A: Firstlife by Gena Showalter

Firstlife by Gena Showalter

Title: Firstlife

Author: Gena Showalter

Series: Everlife #1

Genre: Teen Fantasy

Rating: DNF Rating

The OverviewTenley “Ten” Lockwood is an average seventeen-year-old girl…who has spent the past thirteen months locked inside the Prynne Asylum. The reason? Not her obsession with numbers, but her refusal to let her parents choose where she’ll live—after she dies. There is an eternal truth most of the world has come to accept: Firstlife is merely a dress rehearsal, and real life begins after death.

In the Everlife, two realms are in power: Troika and Myriad, longtime enemies and deadly rivals. Both will do anything to recruit Ten, including sending their top Laborers to lure her to their side. Soon, Ten finds herself on the run, caught in a wild tug-of-war between the two realms who will do anything to win the right to her soul. Who can she trust? And what if the realm she’s drawn to isn’t home to the boy she’s falling for? She just has to stay alive long enough to make a decision… -Goodreads

The DNF Q&A:

This is a reviewing feature I’ve been eyeballing on one of my favorite book blogs There Were Books Involved for a couple years now because I think it’s an excellent way to talk about an unfinished book fairly. I’m incredibly grateful because Nikki (the brains behind the blog, who has a most excellent name)  kindly allowed me to steal the idea and questions for my own blog. As my list of “amazing books to read” continues to grow, I find I have less and less time and patience to devote to the books I’m just not enjoying. I never would have considered DNFing a book ten years ago, but then I came across a quote, “Read the best books first, for you might not have the chance to read them all,” and have since made it my personal mantra. Life’s too short to read books you’re just not enjoying. So let the Q&A begin!

Did you really give Firstlife a chance?

Yes – I made it about halfway through before setting it aside.

Have you enjoyed other books in the same genre before?

I’ve loved a lot of things from the YA genre, although I admit lately I’ve had less patience for teen angst in general. I haven’t read anything quite like Firstlife before, but it had vague similarities to these other titles, which I enjoyed (mostly):

Did you have certain expectations before starting it?

Unfortunately I had low expectations going into Firstlife, but decided to pick it up despite a few negative reviews. Even more unfortunate was that it lived up to my low expectations.

What ultimately made you stop reading?

Two things: 1. It was just too bloody weird. Now, I’ve always appreciated Showalter for dancing to her own drum (a quality I’ve adored in other works of hers), but Firstlife was a bit too far-reaching even for me. The very beginning explains these “influencers” of the two philosophical groups venturing down to the “Firstlife” world to influence the main character to join their side. Both influencers are male, but one goes down in a girl’s body… it was weird. It, along with an odd sequence of events, was just too weird for me. Did I mention it was weird?

2. I did not like the main character, finding her decisions contradictory (which I hate). She was supposed to be this tough, somewhat stubborn girl who chose to undergo imprisonment and physical torture rather than stray from her convictions. But, as soon as the two “influencers” walked-in, she started waffling about everything before they’d even really made their pitch on why she should join their side. Especially the boy – all he had to do was ask her to jump and she’d say “how high?” It was a frustrating contradiction of character – she came across very weak minded when the framework of the story set her up as someone incredibly strong unswayable. I really, really hated that.

Was there anything you liked about Firstlife? 

I liked a lot of things at first, such as character, world building, and story, but quickly soured to all of them because of the issues listed above.

Would you read anything else by this author? 

Yes, although I’m now terrified to read her other YA trilogy – signed hardcovers I’ve had on my shelf for ages. If I ever need a delightfully cheesy paranormal romance, however, she’s still one of my first picks.

So you DNF’d the book – would you still recommend it?

I don’t think so. There are too many other books I’d recommend first.

by Niki Hawkes

Bad Blood by Jennifer Lynn Barnes Image

Mini Book Review: Bad Blood by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

bad blood

Title: Bad Blood

Author: Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Series: The Naturals #4

Genre: Teen Fiction

Rating: 5/5 stars!

The OverviewWhen Cassie Hobbes joined the FBI’s Naturals program, she had one goal: uncover the truth about her mother’s murder. But now, everything Cassie thought she knew about what happened that night has been called into question. Her mother is alive, and the people holding her captive are more powerful—and dangerous—than anything the Naturals have faced so far. As Cassie and the team work to uncover the secrets of a group that has been killing in secret for generations, they find themselves racing a ticking clock. New victims. New betrayals. New secrets. When the bodies begin piling up, it soon becomes apparent that this time, the Naturals aren’t just hunting serial killers.

The Mini Review:

This book. This series. Is perfection.

Need more convincing?

Niki Reviews The Naturals – in which I gush profusely.
Niki Reviews Killer Instinct – in which the gushing continues.
Niki Reviews All In – in which I completely lose my shit.

Seriously. It’s my all-time favorite series. Read it.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

Zeroes by Scott Westerfeld Image

Book Review: Zeroes by Scott Westerfeld & Co.

Zeroes by Scott Westerfeld

Title: Zeroes

Authors: Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, and Deborah Biancotti

Series: Zeroes #1

Genre: Teen Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: Don’t call them heroes. But these six Californian teens have powers that set them apart. They can do stuff ordinary people can’t. Take Ethan, a.k.a. Scam. He’s got a voice inside him that’ll say whatever you want to hear, whether it’s true or not. Which is handy, except when it isn’t—like when the voice starts gabbing in the middle of a bank robbery. The only people who can help are the other Zeroes, who aren’t exactly best friends these days. Enter Nate, a.k.a. Bellwether, the group’s “glorious leader.” After Scam’s SOS, he pulls the scattered Zeroes back together. But when the rescue blows up in their faces, the Zeroes find themselves propelled into whirlwind encounters with ever more dangerous criminals. And at the heart of the chaos they find Kelsie, who can take a crowd in the palm of her hand and tame it or let it loose as she pleases. Filled with high-stakes action and drama, Zeroes unites three powerhouse authors for the opening installment of a thrilling new series. -Goodreads

The Review:

I’ve been eyeballing this book for a while. I’m a fan of Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series and thought the premise (teens with special abilities – a concept that never seems to get old) sounded right up my alley. And I liked it!

Before diving in, I wondered if the name Zeros was a coincidence, or if they were trying to pay a cheeky nod to the show Heroes. I’m not sure which is the case, but there were many similarities between the two. The introduction of several gifted characters that slowly revealed their ties to one another was the biggest common thread, although the show did this more expansively.

The beginning was great – I found myself hooked immediately. Where Heroes was broader in its conflicts, I found Zeros more narrowly focused. Almost to the point where I wasn’t sure I cared, to be honest. All the troubles in the book were created by the characters’ actions (which felt inconsequential in the whole scheme of things). I actually thought most of the drama would come from other gifted teens on the “wrong” side of morality, which was very much not the case. In a way, it’s good that it wasn’t totally predictable, but at the same time, fixing screw ups isn’t quite as compelling as good vs. evil.

Even so, what kept me reading were the characters and how cool their powers were. I’m always drawn to the most mysterious character, so Anonymous – the Zero who people can’t remember, was my favorite. But they were all compelling in their own way. That said, I didn’t actually like all the characters. The first one introduced had an interesting power, but the more I learned about him, the more of an ass he turned out to be. There’s not really one main character in the book, but readers have a tendency to latch onto the first one introduced as an indication that their plot-line is going to be the most important. I don’t hold the entire book responsible for the dislike of one character, and actually liked the bit of antihero variety it added to the story, but at the same time if I could just punch him in the face I’d feel a lot better…

Overall, Zeroes was a decent 3 star (I liked it) book, but not the best I’ve read in the genre. That said, I’m definitely still picking up the second book and look forward to what the future holds for these interesting characters. There are so many directions the authors could take next, and I’m excited to jump on for the ride.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

Poisoned Blade by Kate Elliot Image

Book Review: Poisoned Blade by Kate Elliott

Poisoned Blade by Kate Elliot

Title: Poisoned Blade

Author: Kate Elliott

Series: Court of Fives

Genre: Teen Fantasy

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Overview: Jessamy is moving up the ranks of the Fives–the complex athletic contest favored by the lowliest Commoners and the loftiest Patrons in her embattled kingdom. Pitted against far more formidable adversaries, success is Jes’s only option, as her prize money is essential to keeping her hidden family alive. She leaps at the change to tour the countryside and face more competitors, but then a fatal attack on her traveling party puts Jes at the center of the war that Lord Kalliarkos–the prince she still loves–is fighting against their country’s enemies. With a sinister overlord watching her every move and Kal’s life on the line, Jes must now become more than a Fives champion….She must become a warrior. -Goodreads

The Review:

I’d like to start out by saying I’m a fan of this series and am really excited about Buried Heart, the conclusion to the trilogy coming out in July 2017. That said, I didn’t enjoy Poisoned Blade quite as much as Court of Fives.

What initially drew me to the series was the high-fantasy feel and element of competition. Poisoned Blade had very little focus on the games, which I found a bit disappointing. Rationally, I realize the entire plot can’t revolve around the games and still be a well-rounded story, but I was hoping for at least a little more focus on it. I also had a few plausibility issues. The main character always somehow managed to be at the right place at the right time for important moments. She was included in events and discussions well above her rank to the point where it was a little unbelievable. The movers and shakers even went as far as to tell her their grand schemes (usually treasonous and punishable by death) when I couldn’t see any logical reason for them to include her in their circle of trust. At least not to the degree that she was, anyway. I found most instances totally implausible, and it knocked my rating down a few notches.

There were still plenty of things I liked. I appreciated even more so in Poisoned Blade how well-developed and individualized all the characters were, especially Jessamy and her sisters. They really make the story complete and I can’t wait to see where their choices take them next. And, actually, I can’t wait to see where everything goes next. There are a lot of moving parts to this series, and I can tell it’s building towards something profound. Judging by how well Elliott ended each book, I’m predicting the trilogy-ender will be just as good. I still have lots of questions that need answers though.

Overall, as I mentioned in my review of Court of Fives, my new favorite trend is high fantasy authors tackling YA stories. Elliott is doing such a great job with the Court of Fives series that I plan on picking up other works by her sooner rather than later.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Series Review: The Reckoners [1.5-3] by Brandon Sanderson

The Reckoners [1.5-3]
by Brandon Sanderson

Because I’ve already gushed in detail over Steelheart [4 stars] in a previous review, I wanted to give my brief impressions of the rest of this awesome trilogy.


Mitosis #1.5

This is one of the few novellas I felt actually added something essential to the series. The ongoing arc of The Reckoners is the characters’ struggle to figure out how epics’ weaknesses work. Mitosis offers so many clues! And I came away more pumped about the series than ever. This novella is totally worth your time if you plan to read the series.

4/5 stars


Firefight #2

I read The Reckoners series for book club, and it was pretty clear that I liked Firefight a lot more than my friends. I really liked the change of setting, thought the epics introduced were interesting, and found the whole thing wildly entertaining and funny the entire way through. However, my buddies thought it was good, but a little boring, taking a long time to get going (which ironically was my issue with the 3rd book (which they all loved)). The one thing we could all agree on was that we liked it, even if some did more than others. Firefight was my personal favorite of the series.

4.5/5 stars


Calamity #3

Even though I finished this series ages ago, I still felt compelled to write a review for it. I initially rated Calamity higher [4.5 stars] because I love the author and really enjoyed the series as a whole. It felt oddly disloyal to give it anything other than a stellar rating. If I’m honest, though, Calamity was my least favorite of the trilogy. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the book – it was a lot of fun and I even like how it ended (mostly). I just felt like it was a bit too repetitive at times and took too long to get going. Even so, 3.5 stars is still a “I liked it a lot, but I didn’t really, really like it” rating. ;)

3.5/5 stars


Overall, The Reckoners is another great work from Sanderson. It’s funny, action-packed, creative, and appeals to a wide audience. It’s an easy hand-sell to customers and one of my favorites to recommend.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

The Black Key by Amy Ewing Image

Book Review: The Black Key by Amy Ewing

The Black KeyTitle: The Black Key

Author: Amy Ewing

Series: The Lone City #3

Genre: Teen Dystopian

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: For too long, Violet and the people of the outer circles of the Lone City have lived in service to the royalty of the Jewel. But now the secret society known as the Black Key is preparing to seize power. And while Violet knows she is at the center of this rebellion, she has a more personal stake in it—her sister, Hazel, has been taken by the Duchess of the Lake. Now, after fighting so hard to escape the Jewel, Violet must do everything in her power to return to save not only Hazel, but the future of the Lone City. -Goodreads

The Review:

I’m a fan of this series. Not only did it help alleviate my book hangover from Cass’s Selection series, but it also offered a story that was a smidge more robust. Unfortunately, The Black Key was my least favorite of the trilogy… but I’m still glad I read it.

The first half of The Black Key was every bit as good as the first two books, however, near the end I had some issues. The conclusion of the series is were all of the conflicts are supposed to escalate. They did it to a degree, but I was expecting an epic finish with a lot of moving parts. In reality the big shebang of the series was kind of… underdeveloped. Up until that point, I appreciated Ewing for her world building when it came to the little things, but now believe the overall arc of the story could have used some work.

The best example I can give is the Lone City itself – it’s an island surrounded by a colossal wall within which are several districts separated out by class and industry (the Jewel being the wealthiest at the center). Having finish the series, I know exactly the same amount of information about it that I’d learned at the beginning. I was earnestly looking forward to discovering more about its origins and the world beyond it in The Black Key. I didn’t, hence my disappointment. Add this lack of expansion to the plausibility issues at the end of the series and you can see why I was a smidge disappointed. I did like the overall resolution (but even now find myself questioning its memorability).

Overall, I liked The Black Key, but I didn’t love it.

But is the series still worth reading? Totally! Especially if you loved The Selection series but wanted more world building and grit. Read the first one at the very least and if you’re like me, you’ll fall in love with the beautiful writing and the unique concept. As critical as I’ve been about the third book, I will definitely read anything else Amy Ewing decides to get published because her writing was beautiful, her ideas were interesting, and her story was very engaging.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes