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Tackling the TBR [50]: October 2019

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:

October 2019 TBR Tackler Shelf:

Priority Titles!!!

 

The Reserve…

 

Did I really only read two books from my list last month? ::checks reading history on Goodreads:: Huh. I would’ve sworn I had a really productive month because I enjoyed every single second of the books I read, which is not typical these days. And I felt myself drawn to them constantly. I guess it really is the quality over quantity that’s important, but I’m starting to feel like a reading fraud compared to how many books I used to read in a month (at least 10). But life is different for me now and my priorities are different. I’ve been out adventuring more in the last eight months than I had in my entire life combined. I’ve become a single parent, which comes with a significantly lot less free time than it used to (not that I’m complaining, but books got a little sidelined). I’ve taken on a paying gig reviewing audiobook productions, which if I’m not careful can dominate my entire month. And I’ve been focusing harder at work, so I don’t have as much downtime there as I used to. That’s all a bit personal, but I want my book blog to be more than just books. I want it to be the ultimate form of my personal expression through books. Literary snapshots of where I’m at in life. And sometimes it just is what it is.

So, this month’s lineup is practically identical to last months, and I’m okay with that. I’m finding myself being drawn to starting new series and less drawn to closing out all the reserve titles I’ve had going for ages. I might get rid of the reserve category altogether for November so that I can direct my focus completely on the books that delight me most in that moment. 

Have big life changes ever gotten in the way of your reading? Did it bother you? If so, how did you cope? 


These challenges are always more fun with friends <3. Here’s a link to my friend Chanzie’s blog, where she adapted the challenge to fit her TBR needs:

Free To Be Me

Have a great month in reading!

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Turning Darkness Into Light by Marie Brennan

Turning Darkness Into Light by Marie Brennan

Title: Turning Darkness Into Light

Author: Marie Brennan

Series: N/A (yet… and technically it’s a next-gen continuation of the Memoirs of Lady Trent)

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: As the renowned granddaughter of Isabella Camherst (Lady Trent, of the riveting and daring Draconic adventure memoirs) Audrey Camherst has always known she, too, would want to make her scholarly mark upon a chosen field of study.

When Lord Gleinheigh recruits Audrey to decipher a series of ancient tablets holding the secrets of the ancient Draconean civilization, she has no idea that her research will plunge her into an intricate conspiracy, one meant to incite rebellion and invoke war. Alongside dearest childhood friend and fellow archeologist Kudshayn, must find proof of the conspiracy before it’s too late. -Goodreads

The Review:

Marie Brennan delivers again! Although the first Memoirs of Lady Trent book garnered mixed emotions from me, the series quickly developed into one of the most personally meaningful ones I’ve ever read. It spoke to me on so many levels, foremost of which was Lady Trent’s passion for understanding dragons. The whole caboodle was summarized beautifully with this quote:

“It’s the way we find the things we’re passionate about and then chase them with everything we’ve got.”

It’s precisely what I love about the series because it focuses on highly skilled people with a relentless determination for following their passions, having grand adventures, and making epic discoveries. The specific focus for Turning Darkness Into Light was on transcribing ancient Draconian texts, and I have to say I ate up every detail. The only downside to this spinoff is that if had absolutely nothing to do with dragons, which was a bummer, but I frankly was so absorbed that I didn’t notice their absence until well into the book.

The characters were great. I love that they felt relatable because they all had prominent flaws. Flaws that risked making them unlikable at times (which for me always makes them far more interesting to read about… Robin Hobb’s Elderling series comes to mind as a prime example of this aspect). But they were also focused and impassioned, and the magic of the book was experiencing the highs and lows of their discovery journey.

The format was also a positive aspect. Told using an epistolary technique, it broke up the same old story presentations and was done cleverly enough that I didn’t feel anything lacked because she didn’t utilize more traditional layouts. It added more personality to an already effervescent read.

If I had any one complaint about the story, it was that I didn’t find the content of the text they were translating very interesting. The whole book kind of revolved around it, and I appreciate what it added to the story, but I would’ve preferred something different (I have a specific in mind but I don’t want to give any spoilers. The discovery is half the fun of this read!). As far as objections go, that one’s pretty minor.

Overall, If I could have one job, dragon naturalist would be at the very top of the list. Lady Trent allowed me to live vicariously through the characters, and will always have a special place in my heart. I’m so glad the storyline continued, even if it had a new focus with the next generation of researchers. It appealed to my highly organized and detail-oriented bookseller self on another level. Brennan seems to get what makes me tick… I think we’d get along.

Recommendations: this would be a rather difficult book to fully appreciate if you haven’t read Memoirs of Lady Trent first. It’s a next-generation continuation focused on the development of Lady Trent’s most famous discoveries. I’d recommend reading that series first, and please give it a bit to get going. I had a love/hate relationship with A Natural History of Dragons, but eventually came to adore the series as a whole. It’s dragon-tastic and completely endearing to obsessed souls like myself. Dragons rock. Even though this continuation wasn’t about dragons, it still had all the same appeal as the first series channeled into even more of an academic focus. So this one was kind of book-tastic instead, and I didn’t hate it.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: City of Lies by Sam Hawke

City of Lies by Sam Hawke

Title: City of Lies

Author: Sam Hawke

Series: Poison Wars #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 1.5/5 stars

The Overview: I was seven years old the first time my uncle poisoned me…

Outwardly, Jovan is the lifelong friend of the Chancellor’s charming, irresponsible Heir. Quiet. Forgettable. In secret, he’s a master of poisons and chemicals, trained to protect the Chancellor’s family from treachery. When the Chancellor succumbs to an unknown poison and an army lays siege to the city, Jovan and his sister Kalina must protect the Heir and save their city-state.

But treachery lurks in every corner, and the ancient spirits of the land are rising…and angry. -Goodreads

The Review:

IMO, when you have a series labeled “Poison Wars,” it should contain characters dropping off left and right from poisonings (not just occasionally). It should have practicing master of poisons for the main character (meaning I wanted to be immersed in his experiences with it). It should provide a significant number of fun facts about different poisons, how they affect people, and how to counter them (more than just in the chapter introductions – include it in the story!).

This book had none of these things to any significant degree.

Every single expectation I had was dashed. Of course there was some inclusion of actual poisoning, but it was very much not the focus of the novel, and that’s the source of my biggest annoyance.

The thing is, I get that publishers play up certain elements of stories to market them effectively, and sometimes it doesn’t necessarily represent the text as well as it could. But my issues with this book go deeper than that. The actual plot didn’t stand very strong on its own even without the poison element. It lacked substance and depth, and didn’t leave me with much of anything to take away from it. Had it been a robust high fantasy, I may have been able to overlook the false advertising, but unfortunately for me it failed on all accounts.

The characters were disappointing to me as well. They had interesting profiles, and I would label them fun characters, but they lacked depth. Their dialogue was very simplistic, and both it and the plot made me feel like I was reading a YA novel. They lacked a complexity of motive and intrigue that would’ve made the story outstanding.

Overall, it’s clear this book misfired at every turn for me. It was a struggle to finish. I won’t be continuing the series.

Recommendations: City of Lies is perhaps much better suited for YA audiences than high fantasy. It’s very simplistic, straightforward, and, most notably, has a distinct shortage of gritty poisoning components. My opinion is definitely suffering from pre-read expectations, but even so, if I had a vote I’d say pass on this one.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: League of Dragons by Naomi Novik

Title: League of Dragons

Author: Naomi Novik

Series: Temeraire #9

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Overview: The deadly campaign in Russia has cost both Napoleon and those allied against him. Napoleon has been denied his victory…but at a terrible price. Lawrence and the dragon Temeraire pursue the fleeing French army back west, but are demoralized when Napoleon makes it back to Paris unscathed. Worse, they soon learn that the French have stolen Temeraire and Iskierka’s egg. Now, it is do or die, as our heroes not only need to save Temeraire’s offspring but also to stop Napoleon for good! -Goodreads

The Review:

Whelp, I finally finished this series. I can’t say League of Dragons knocked my socks off, but that’s pretty much par for the course for most of the series. The conclusion had a lot of fun story components, but ultimately it lacked any sort of momentum.

I think I was expecting more of a climactic ending. Anything, really, to make me FEEL something… but League of Dragons was just as casual in its events as most of the books before it. Things got going towards the last 25% of the book, but it didn’t carry out. Just my imaginings on what I thought could happen were more eventful, and I’m generally not very creative when it comes to plot design.

Saying I didn’t feel anything at the series ending isn’t precisely true. I felt a bit sad that I wouldn’t get anymore time with Temeraire and the other dragons. They’re really where the magic of the series lies, and I’ll miss the fun they brought. If you could par everything down to just the bits involving them, you’d have pure gold. They exude personality and animation, with this humorous, sometimes frustrating practicality that only Novik’s dragons embody. I love that their rationale and thinking is so different than ours. It makes them authentic. And delightful. They saved some of the slower books entirely for me and they’re the only reason I don’t feel remorse at spending so much time with this series. They’re also why I’m continuing to recommend at least the first three books.

I look at this series with affection, despite its flaws, but it definitely isn’t perfect. As I’ve mentioned, it’s missing a sustainable plot beyond the first three books, but it also suffers from lack of character depth. We very seldom get more than a surface-level emotion or reaction from the characters. Novik is usually more focused on what’s happening than what it feels like to go through it. The descriptors help us know the characters are feeling things, but beyond the first trilogy I never felt anything but arm’s-distance as a reader.

Recommendations: overall, despite a few flaws, I think the series is worth reading. I only felt a deep connection to the first book, and found rest to be fun, light reads with not much depth. So if you’re going to read fantasy fluff (beyond the first three books, which I believe was only initially intended to be a trilogy but got picked up for more because of its popularity), choose this one because, you know, dragons!!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Living with the Dead by Kelley Armstrong

Living with the Dead by Kelley Armstrong

Title: Living with the Dead

Author: Kelley Armstrong

Series: Women of the Otherworld #9

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 2/5 stars

The Overview: The men and women of the Otherworld – witches, werewolves, demons, vampires – live unseen among us. Only now a reckless killer has torn down the wall, trapping one very human woman in the supernatural crossfire. Robyn moved to LA after her husband died to try to put some distance between herself and the life they had together. And the challenges of her job as the PR consultant to a Paris Hilton wannabe are pretty distracting. But then her celebutante is gunned down in a night club, and Robyn is suddenly the prime suspect. The two people most determined to clear her are her old friend, the half-demon tabloid reporter Hope Adams, and a homicide detective with an uncanny affinity for the dead. Soon Robyn finds herself in the heart of a world she never even knew existed – and which she was safer knowing nothing about . . . -Goodreads

The Review:

Even though the magic of the series has evaporated, Living with the Dead was just entertaining enough to keep me reading to the end. But I now find myself contemplating abandoning the series. No Humans Involved (book #7) was a golden nugget in a series I thought had died, and the main reason I continued to this point, but now I have to weigh the risk of slogging through another novel like this against the possibility of striking gold again. I’ve been working on this series for so long, I just don’t think I have the patience.

Okay, the book wasn’t as horrible as I’m making it out to be. But when compared to other urban fantasies (and early books in this series), it doesn’t really hold a candle. It’s a little better when compared to paranormal romances, but not by much. And there wasn’t even a romance in this one! Which brings me to my next rant…

I craved at least a little romance in this book. After all, it’s one of the main reasons I got hooked on the series in the first place (my friend referred to it once saying “I want more of that hot werewolf sex.” Which I laughed at because I couldn’t disagree). Then to add insult to the lack of steamy scenes, the sexual encounters that did make an appearance were fucking weird. Weird like very uncomfortable and icky, not weird like kinky. It left me feeling like I could’ve been very happy living my life never having read about it. I’ll leave it at that.

Overall, the basic writing was still quality, the characters were good, the storyline was meh, and the romance was nonexistent. Part of me wants to see how everything converges at the end of the series, but at this point it might be a long while before I get there, if I do at all.

Recommendations: if you like urban fantasy, definitely check out the first two books – amazing! The rest of the series to this point has some merit, with a hit or miss ratio at about 50/50. This installment was my least favorite so far. I think I’m at the point where I’M the one who needs the recommendation on whether or not to finish out the series.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Iron Gold by Pierce Brown

Iron Gold by Pierce Brown

Title: Iron Gold

Author: Pierce Brown

Series: Red Rising #4

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: A decade ago, Darrow was the hero of the revolution he believed would break the chains of the Society. But the Rising has shattered everything: Instead of peace and freedom, it has brought endless war. Now he must risk everything he has fought for on one last desperate mission. Darrow still believes he can save everyone, but can he save himself? And throughout the worlds, other destinies entwine with Darrow’s to change his fate forever: A young Red girl flees tragedy in her refugee camp and achieves for herself a new life she could never have imagined. An ex-soldier broken by grief is forced to steal the most valuable thing in the galaxy—or pay with his life. And Lysander au Lune, the heir in exile to the sovereign, wanders the stars with his mentor, Cassius, haunted by the loss of the world that Darrow transformed, and dreaming of what will rise from its ashes. -Goodreads

The Review: 

After being back and forth on this book over the last year, my brain cells finally have a consensus: Iron Gold was a satisfying continuation to the original trilogy.

I first picked up the book shortly after it came out, then ended up abandoning it several chapters in. It took me too much time to re-immersed, and every time it started to gain momentum, there’d be a new POV. I lost interest, then I started confusing characters, so I got fed up and put it down.

I’m glad I picked it back up.

I thought the additional POVs added nice perspectives to how the system had changed since the uprising. It gave a glimpse into the after-effects felt within each cast (which Darrow’s view alone wouldn’t have conveyed sufficiently). It’s ironic that the exact thing that made me abandon Iron Gold a year ago is now one of the things I liked most about the book.

Another thing I didn’t like originally was the timeline – how soon after Morning Star the story began. I was expecting a next-generation spinoff and didn’t know how to feel about a full-blown continuation. As it turns out, this is also something I ended up appreciating about the book. It would’ve been much easier for Brown to start relatively fresh after ending on such a high note, but I actually thought it took a lot of balls to pick up where it left off. We’ll see if it pays off, but after this 4th book I’m left applauding his creativity and commitment to seeing this story through. I’m eager to see how the overall conflict is going to resolve.

Recommendations: Iron Gold is definitely worth the read if you loved the first trilogy. It has that same dramatic writing that’ll gut-punch you left and right (it’s nice to be back, lol), and it’s a truly bonafide continuation. The beginning suffers a pacing issue with a bunch of POV changes, but the momentum it builds off of that is worth the investment.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes