Project Redwall: Rakkety Tam by Brian Jacques

[4/5 stars] I freaking loved these books as a kid. I read every single one of them multiple times and stayed up to date with the series until I graduated high school. Then for some reason, even though 5 more books were published in the series, I felt myself reluctant to pick them up. What if I didn’t like them as much? What if I was too old for Redwall?? What if the characters referenced a character I didn’t remember because it has been so long and I had to go back and reread them all to get the full experience??? Well, thankfully I finally decided to stop freaking out about all the things and took the plunge into my first Redwall book in 13 years: Rakkety Tam.

And you know what? I LOVED it. The storytelling was every bit as special as it was when I was a kid and my biggest takeaway was a newfound admiration for an author who produced 20+ books in a series and still took the same care to create amazing characters, fun situations, and compelling quests in book 16 as he did with book 1. You can truly see how much passion Jacques had for his stories (and how much creativity!).

Rakkety Tam offered a dashing hero, sufficiently wicked foebeasts, brilliant acts of courage, and a good lesson against greed and avarice. I especially liked the many scuffles and battles throughout and was actively cheering for the good guys by the end. And the bird!! This is the first book I can remember where a bird has a role in the story. They’re super funny in their mannerisms and I think I like them almost as much as the moles. Overall, this was a nice addition to the series.

I tried something new with this book: I listened to the audio while following along in the book. Normally I would’ve just breezed through the audio, but I felt the need to really take my time with this series. And after a few chapters, I decided to try both. I admit the decision wasn’t made totally out of nostalgia. The audiobooks contains a full cast of actors for the characters, with Jacques himself reading the narration. People, I couldn’t understand a freaking word he was saying at first (imagine Sean Connery reading to you… without enunciation). I’m used to his dialect now, but I would’ve missed so much had I not changed what I was doing.

It worked out though, because while listening I discovered how much unbridled FUN it was listening to a cast of voices, especially when they start singing the adorable songs & ditties Jacques loved to include throughout his books. It turned the entire story into an experience, and one I’m beyond happy to have had. Overall, I love that I’m finally continuing, and that I’m having as much fun (if not more) than I did as a kid.

Recommendations: these books aren’t like Watership Down or the Fire Bringer where the reader is thrust into the unassuming lives of woodland creatures (snore), but robust, well-spun adventures where the heroes brandish swords and the villains come for blood! It’s brilliant because it has everything you’d expect from a adult fantasy novel, but it’s use of mice, otters, etc. make it accessible to kids. It’s a series with so much fun and adventure that I’d recommend it highly to any middle grade kid looking to discover books she/he could love.

My favorites in the series (so far):

by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: Child of a Mad God by R.A. Salvatore

Child of a Mad God by R.A. Salvatore

Title: Child of a Mad God

Author: R.A. Salvatore

Series: Coven #1

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: When Aoleyn loses her parents, she is left to fend for herself among a tribe of vicious barbarians. Bound by rigid traditions, she dreams of escaping to the world beyond her mountain home. The only hope for achieving the kind of freedom she searches for is to learn how to wield the mysterious power used by the tribe’s coven known as the Song of Usgar. Thankfully, Aoleyn may be the strongest witch to have ever lived, but magic comes at price. Not only has her abilities caught the eye of the brutish warlord that leads the tribe, but the demon of the mountain hunts all who wield the Coven’s power, and Aoleyn’s talent has made her a beacon in the night. -Goodreads

The Review:

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 world until I was about halfway through. Even though I’ve only read two other Corona books (Demon Awakens and Demon Spirit), Child of a Mad God felt self-contained enough to be read on its own. It will transport you to an isolated, indigenous  landscape, and set a mood that is almost otherworldly in its delivery. There were a few minor characters (including an unknown (to me) POV in what I call the “Drizzt letter” at the beginning of every part) that felt a little like cameos from previous books and made me feel like I was missing a bit of historical depth. But none of them had any direct impact on the main story. I’m actually looking forward to reading the backlist in this series to find out if we really have seen these characters before.

The main POV characters had so much depth that it sort of took me off guard. I wasn’t expecting to have so much emotion pulled out of me, and that introspection is probably the strongest element of the story. He really digs into the motives and carnal wants of these characters, which slowed the pacing considerably even though it still had a lot of impact. As I touched on already, the world building was fantastic. It was totally immersive into this culture without ever dwelling on the mundane aspects of their daily lives. Instead, it focused 100% on the things that made the plot special. Even though it was slower, not a single page was wasted. 

So, while I absolutely loved all of the elements I usually rate books on (writing, characters, world building, etc.), I need to be honest about my general enjoyment-level of the book. You see, it’s pretty brutal. It often danced on the edge of what I can tolerate (take this with a grain of salt because I’m the first to admit that I’m a wimp), meaning a lot of my reading experience involved an odd juxtaposition of loving it but absolutely hating the awful things that happened within it. Even so, from an analytical standpoint, I can appreciate how those brutal moments helped raise the stakes for the story and really ground the reader in this unforgivable society. By no means is it a happy story, but it’s certainly a compelling one. I usually need a strong ray of hope to keep me engaged in books, which Child of a Mad God was pointedly lacking. I yearned for vindication for these characters and was rewarded with a punch to the gut every time. Even so, the potential for satisfaction in future books is what has me eager to continue the series.

Recommendations: I’d hand this book to fantasy readers who often list “good characters” as their main criteria, but it also fits the bill for excellent world-building and beautiful writing. If you can stomach indigenous brutality and slower pacing, Child of a Mad God is a great pick for you. I felt it stands alone well enough that you don’t have to have read previous Corona books to enjoy it, but that’s speaking from someone who doesn’t yet know quite what she’s missing. :)

I’d like to thank R.A. Salvatore and the publicists at TOR/Forge for the opportunity to read and review an early copy of Child of a Mad God! :)

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes


Tackling the TBR [31]: February 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. <-November 2017 I’m trying something new and reading them in a specific, carefully pre-determined order.

Here’s what mine looks like:

February 2018 TBR Tackler Shelf:

My new strategy of reading high-priority books in a carefully pre-determined order is definitely working for me. As long as I continue to prioritize the best books first, I can jump into the next book on my list with confidence (and zero lag time). I’m now rotating books within 5 series, and throwing in ARCs or impulse reads in the 6th spot to keep things interesting (the 6th spot is also where I’m tacking my slightly lower priority books). I have a detailed “schedule” of books laid out on this Goodreads Bookshelf, and it delights me to no end to see all the TBR books from each series in a solid line down the page (it’s also really fun to see the books move up the list as I complete them… I’m such a nerd). Anyway, the book I’m currently most excited to get to on this list is Spectacle by Rachel Vincent. :) 

Niki’s Incomplete Series Challenge [Via Fantasy Buddy Reads]

Niki’s January 2018 Progress Update:

Series Finished: 1
Naamah’s Blessing – Jacqueline Carey

Series Brought UTD: 3
Magic Binds – Ilona Andrews
Burn Bright – Patricia Briggs
Persepolis Rising – James S.A. Corey

Series Progressed: 5
Lady of Misrule – T.A. Pratt
Radiant Shadows – Melissa Marr
Dragon Hunters – Marc Turner
High Rhulain – Brian Jacques
The Shadow Rising – Robert Jordan

New Series Started: 1
Menagerie – Rachel Vincent

Abandoned: 1
Lady of Misrule [8/10] – T.A. Pratt

YTD Totals:
Finished Series: 1
Up To Date Series: 3
Series Progressed: 5
New Series Started: 1
Abandoned: 1

Because I’ve been focused on my goal of getting under 20 open series (by July 2018, which I slaughtered), I’m now sitting pretty with 16 open series (not counting the UTD stuff). My next goal is to get under 10. :)

What books are you Tackling this month? Even if you don’t specifically use my system, feel free to share your versions of how you manage your TBR pile (and the links to your posts if applicable) in the comments. :)

by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: Radiant Shadows by Melissa Marr

Radiant Shadows by Melissa Marr

Title: Radiant Shadows

Author: Melissa Marr

Series: Wicked Lovely #4

Rating: 3/5

The Overview: Half-human and half-faery, Ani is driven by her hungers. Those same appetites also attract powerful enemies and uncertain allies, including Devlin. He was created as an assassin and is brother to the faeries’ coolly logical High Queen and to her chaotic twin, the embodiment of War. Devlin wants to keep Ani safe from his sisters, knowing that if he fails, he will be the instrument of Ani’s death. Ani isn’t one to be guarded while others fight battles for her, though. She has the courage to protect herself and the ability to alter Devlin’s plans–and his life. The two are drawn together, each with reason to fear the other and to fear for one another. But as they grow closer, a larger threat imperils the whole of Faerie. Will saving the faery realm mean losing each other? -Goodreads

The Review:

So, Radiant Shadows was better than Fragile Eternity. Just when I thought all the new elements of this fairy world had been revealed, Marr presents a bunch of additional characters with new and interesting abilities. It really reinvigorated the story and pulled together some pieces I think are going to be important in the final book.

Take my conservative rating with a grain of salt. The fact that I’m still even reading this series when I abandoned 20+ YA recently because of a mood change says something about the merit I think it has. Compared to other YA, the Wicked Lovely series is strong. Compared to my personal tastes atm and the broad array of robust fantasy novels I’m reading, it’s a little too angsty. I’m looking forward to seeing how the series ends and imagine it will continue with good quality writing, interesting world, and broody characters.

Recommendations: Since I said what I meant in the last review, here’s a repeat: this highly character-driven YA Paranormal Romance is something I wish I’d continued shortly after reading (and loving) the first two books. Wicked Lovely is one of the strongest in the genre and I still recommend it with gusto to older teens (and up). If you’re in the mood for a YA story as lovely as it is unique, this is the series for you.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: Persepolis Rising by James S.A. Corey

November 7, 2017

Title: Persepolis Rising

Author: James S.A. Corey

Series: The Expanse #7

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview:In the thousand-sun network of humanity’s expansion, new colony worlds are struggling to find their way. Every new planet lives on a knife edge between collapse and wonder, and the crew of the aging gunship Rocinante have their hands more than full keeping the fragile peace. In the vast space between Earth and Jupiter, the inner planets and belt have formed a tentative and uncertain alliance still haunted by a history of wars and prejudices. On the lost colony world of Laconia, a hidden enemy has a new vision for all of humanity and the power to enforce it. New technologies clash with old as the history of human conflict returns to its ancient patterns of war and subjugation. But human nature is not the only enemy, and the forces being unleashed have their own price. A price that will change the shape of humanity — and of the Rocinante — unexpectedly and forever… -Goodreads

The Review:

The only thing I hated about Persepolis Rising is how long it’s going to make me wait for the next book.

I always come away from an Expanse novel reeling. Sometimes from massive events, but often just from the profound depth of character. This series continues to illustrate what it is to be human and I can’t help feeling deeply affected by the sentiment within each novel. A short interaction between two characters in this book (maybe 3 pages worth?) had the power to become one of the most memorable moments of the series for me. It’s those little moments made bigger by the depth of their history and meaningfulness of the nuances that makes this series so stellar. Needless to say, I’m a fan.

As far as “stuff happening,” the lack of which was my only issue with Babylon’s Ashes, Persepolis Rising delivered on plot advancement and regained much-needed momentum for the series. I’ve been trusting the authors to evolve it into something, well, expansive at some point, and they’re delivering with flair. Other than a segment in the middle (where I had an oddly difficult time concentrating), Persepolis Rising offered a snowball ride to a great story climax that has me almost angry that I can’t pick up the next book immediately.

Recommendations: The Expanse is easily my favorite space opera/science fiction series on the market. The series has a lot of action, great characters (like, really great), and tons of memorable moments. I’d hand it to people looking to get into the genre. But at this point I would beat longtime scifi fans over the head with the first tome if they haven’t given it a try yet.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes


Top Three Thursday [3]: Top Three New Releases for the First Half of 2018?

Top Three New Releases for the First Half of 2018?

This is a new feature hosted by Fantasy Buddy Reads over at Goodreads. :)

Being a book lover wouldn’t be nearly as much fun without new releases on the horizon to look forward to. Although I’m anticipating many in 2018, these are the three titles at the top of my list:

Guardian is book three in the Alternate Detective series by A.J. Hartley. The covers are what first caught my attention, and then I was lucky enough to receive a copy of the second book from TOR Teen, and from there I was hooked! Everything about it screams originality to me, because I can’t say as though I’ve read anything quite like it before. I am eager to see what mystery unfolds next in this third book.

Starless is the latest from Jacqueline Carey, one of my all-time favorite authors (famous for her Kushiel Saga, which I love). It appears to be a stand-alone novel. I can’t wait to get back into this writer’s beautiful prose and immersive world building. She’s one of the most lovely writers I’ve ever read and I will continue to devour anything she chooses to write.

Nyxia Unleashed is the second book in Scott Reintgen’s Nyxia Triad series, and even I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the first book. It had great elements of competition and an interesting concept, and I think it’ll only get better as the series progresses.

Honorable Mentions: Burn Bright by Patricia Briggs (not included because I’ve already read it :D), Iron Gold by Pierce Brown, Last Dragon Standing by Rachel Aaron, and Child of a Mad God by R.A. Salvatore (currently reading).

What 2018 releases are you eager for? :-)