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Tackling the TBR [83]: August 2022

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:

August 2022 TBR Tackler Shelf:

Last month I didn’t post a Tackling the TBR for July… and I didn’t notice until about the 20th (Facepalm). That oversight is just one of the consequences I’m facing for having so much content to generate between three main platforms (here, Booktube, and Patreon). I do think it a testament to how much I’ve been doing that I didn’t even notice until the month was almost over. Me and my OCD have been working hard to not be too bothered by July’s missing post.

Last month I read so many books. Short books, but all the same it was a wonderful month with a momentum I hope to carry over into August. I’m FINALLY caught up from my snowball of too many books going at once (which started in March and had taken me this long to fix), and true to my theory, it has made ALL THE DIFFERENCE in my reading life. I’m thrilled.

Books are fun again! They’re not taking me forever to read. And I can choose what I want next on the lineup without digging myself a deeper hole with current reads. It has been lovely.

Now that I’ve simplified my day to day reading life, I’m striving to do the same with my overall reading world. I’ve so many open series right now vying for my attention that it can sometimes take YEARS to get back to something I’ve started. My goal for the next few months is to focus on closing out as many started series as possible, and my TBR reflects that.

This month I’m mostly looking at tomes – the bigger books that take more of a time commitment – with hopes of progressing a lot of chunkier fantasy series. Next month I’ll probably turn my focus to reading outstanding series with only one or two books away from completion. I plan to document my progress with this on my YouTube channel.

Overall, reading is amazing again and I can’t wait to see what kind of dent I can make into this more conservative lineup. Wish me luck!


Have a great month in reading!

by Niki Hawkes

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Mini Book Review: Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harris

Title: Living Dead in Dallas

Author: Charlaine Harris

Series: Sookie Stackhouse #2

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: Waitress Sookie Stackhouse is having a streak of bad luck. First her co-worker is killed, and no one seems to care. Then she comes face to-face with a beastly creature that gives her a painful and poisonous lashing. Enter the vampires, who graciously suck the poison from her veins (like they didn’t enjoy it). The point is: they saved her life. So when one of the bloodsuckers asks for a favor, she obliges – and soon Sookie’s in Dallas, using her telepathic skills to search for a missing vampire. She’s supposed to interview certain humans involved, but she makes one condition: the vampires must promise to behave and let the humans go unharmed. But that’s easier said than done, and all it takes is one delicious blonde and one small mistake for things to turn deadly…. -Goodreads

The Review:

I enjoyed this book quite a bit even though I don’t like reading about religious zealotry, which it had in abundance. From a series construction standpoint, this did a great job expanding what we know about vampires so far and the wide range of acceptance and prejudices humanity holds for them. Sookie, our main character, seems to be straddling the line between the two worlds, and drama ensues.

I don’t have much else to add. It continued the strong narrative I came to appreciate in the first book and advanced the plot sufficiently. Sookie, while not the sharpest tool in the shed is a really charming MC, mostly because she feels so real and earnest. I can totally see how the vibrancy of what I’ve read so far translated so well to tv. Also, Harris is shaping up to be one of the most adept writers I’ve come across in ages when it comes to perspective immersion – truly impressive!

Recommendations: if you’re craving an urban fantasy with good mystery elements, an endearing main character, and the most sexual content I’ve read in anything (not shelved in romance) to date, then give this one a go!

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting

Title: Body Finder

Author: Kimberly Derting

Series: Body Finder #1

Genre: Teen Paranormal

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: Violet Ambrose is grappling with two major issues: Jay Heaton and her morbid secret ability. While the sixteen-year-old is confused by her new feelings for her best friend since childhood, she is more disturbed by her “power” to sense dead bodies—or at least those that have been murdered. Since she was a little girl, she has felt the echoes that the dead leave behind in the world… and the imprints that attach to their killers. Violet has never considered her strange talent to be a gift; it mostly just led her to find the dead birds her cat left for her. But now that a serial killer is terrorizing her small town, and the echoes of the local girls he’s claimed haunt her daily, she realizes she might be the only person who can stop him. Despite his fierce protectiveness over her, Jay reluctantly agrees to help Violet on her quest to find the murderer—and Violet is unnerved by her hope that Jay’s intentions are much more than friendly. But even as she’s falling intensely in love, Violet is getting closer and closer to discovering a killer… and becoming his prey herself. -Goodreads

The Review:

Hail the first YA I’ve enjoyed in ages! Join me for a minute for a mini-rant before we get to the review stuff:

I’m testing a theory on why I haven’t been enjoying YA as much lately (5 or so years). Now, I don’t think it’s because I’m no longer a YA – I first got into the genre long after that ship had sailed lol. It might have something to do with the number of books I’ve read and getting tired of similar tropes. But many of the books I’ve picked up over the last few years have actually been quite original. So what changed?! I spent some time examining my reading history, and then it hit me:

Audiobooks.

That’s it. Audiobooks. As soon as I discovered them as a means to consume more content, my average YA rating plummeted dramatically (I could draw up a chart, but I can’t be bothered atm – just trust that there’s a strong correlation). I love audiobooks in general, but something about the production of YA books where it’s always the exact same sounding 20-something woman trying to make her voice more vocal fry to appeal to the younger generation just throws me off. And they never get the content out fast enough, where even listening at 2.0+ speed makes me feel like I’m wasting my time. And the love interests. Omg the love interests who sound anything but appealing, despite the narrator’s best attempt to infuse masculinity. I just don’t like them. I’m sure there are exceptions, but I don’t think I’ve listened to one yet (note: I did not try listening to the audio for Body Finder, so I’m not specifically criticizing any one production here, just speaking in generalities based on my personal experience).

Anyway, so I tried an experiment – physically reading my next YA book…. And Attempt 1/1 was a huge success!

The Actual Review! (thanks for sticking with me)

I loved this book! Now, granted, I was starting with a gem to begin with. The concept is compelling – a girl who can sense the resonance left by the dead and gets caught up in a local murder mystery. It had the perfect blend of paranormal and whodunnit that had me page-turning all the way to the end.

The book also included a surprisingly good romance! The type where the characters already had a deep history of companionship and you could totally see and feel their draw to one-another throughout the book. It was based on connection and experience without a single insta-love trope in sight. I loved it. I will say the drama may have played out just a tad too long for my tastes when considering overall pacing, but at the end of the day it’s still one of the most delightful ones I’ve read (uh, ever).

I’m hoping the next book will contain even more mystery and magic and perhaps slightly less emotional drama, but after all it’s still a YA, so it’s par for the course.

Another thing I appreciated is that the main character wasn’t a total idiot. There were one or two questionably borderline decisions, but for the most part I thought she handled the situations shrewdly. I liked that.

I had the chance to meet Derting at a signing event several years ago and listen to her speak on a Q&A panel. To this day she is still one of the coolest authors I’ve ever met. Her approach to storytelling and her dry humor in person translates perfectly into her books, and I can’t wait to read more from her. I still have the rest of this series, a prep-school one, and an alien one (I’m really interested in the last one).

Recommendations: if you want a fun mystery infused with a cool paranormal magic on top of a compelling romance, this is a great book! One of my favorites I’ve read this year.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Joust by Mercedes Lackey

Title: Joust

Author: Mercedes Lackey

Series: Dragon Jousters #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: Vetch was an Altan serf working the land which had once been his family’s farm. Young and slight, Vetch would have died of overwork, exposure, and starvation if not for the anger which was his only real sustenance–anger that he had lost his home and family in a war of conquest waged by the dragon-riding Jousters of Tia. Tia had usurped nearly halt of Alta’s lands and enslaved or killed many of Vetch’s countrymen. Sometimes it seemed that his entire cruel fate revolved around dragons and the Jousters who rode them. But his fate changed forever the day he first saw a dragon…. -Goodreads

The Review:

I’m thrilled to say that Joust held up to the test of time.

I’d first read it some 15 odd years ago, back when I’d done more than dip my toes into the fantasy, but didn’t yet consider myself a well-rounded reader of the genre. I was worried a reread would showcase a story I’d given a lot of concessions to because of how much I love dragons. While that’s probably still the case today, time and distance didn’t alter my enjoyment of the book in the slightest.

Having buddy read Joust both times, it’s clear I’m always the one in the group who rates it the highest. Others like the story well enough, but sometimes struggle with the pacing. As someone who loveslovesloves the idea of following along the minutia, day-to-day monotony of taking care of a dragon, every part of this story sang to my soul. I even loved the few parts where he’s organizing his master’s chambers, lol. It was an immersive experience and I loved it.

The book does a great job at showcasing the dragons. They are the focal point of the story and Lackey doesn’t take a lot of extra time, save at the beginning, to highlight the external plot of this world. It was there, for sure, but the focus was ever on the dragons themselves. At this point in the series, I really couldn’t have cared less about what was going on beyond the walls of the dragon stables, but do concede that the conflict felt rather thin. I do remember it getting a bit more important and more well-done as the series progressed, but I’d have to continue my reread to be sure.

Recommendations: if you’re as enamored with dragons as I am, you’ll have a lot of fun with this series. It remains one of my all-time favorites, perhaps even more so after my reread. Venture in expecting a slow, intimate plot centered on a boy and his dragon. :)

Other DRAGON books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Pure by Julianna Baggott

Title: Pure

Author: Julianna Baggott

Series: Pure #1

Genre: Dystopian (Too gritty for YA)

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Overview: We know you are here, our brothers and sisters . . .
Pressia barely remembers the Detonations or much about life during the Before. In her sleeping cabinet behind the rubble of an old barbershop where she lives with her grandfather, she thinks about what is lost-how the world went from amusement parks, movie theaters, birthday parties, fathers and mothers . . . to ash and dust, scars, permanent burns, and fused, damaged bodies. And now, at an age when everyone is required to turn themselves over to the militia to either be trained as a soldier or, if they are too damaged and weak, to be used as live targets, Pressia can no longer pretend to be small. Pressia is on the run. Burn a Pure and Breathe the Ash . . . There are those who escaped the apocalypse unmarked. Pures. They are tucked safely inside the Dome that protects their healthy, superior bodies. Yet Partridge, whose father is one of the most influential men in the Dome, feels isolated and lonely. Different. He thinks about loss-maybe just because his family is broken; his father is emotionally distant; his brother killed himself; and his mother never made it inside their shelter. Or maybe it’s his claustrophobia: his feeling that this Dome has become a swaddling of intensely rigid order. So when a slipped phrase suggests his mother might still be alive, Partridge risks his life to leave the Dome to find her. When Pressia meets Partridge, their worlds shatter all over again. [Sheesh, read this and you wont need to read the book] -Goodreads

The Review:

Sick of typical YA Dystopia but still love those types of stories? I have a recommend for you…

According to Barnes and Noble shelving standards, this series is actually categorized in the adult fiction section rather than YA (this is the publisher’s call) most definitely because it’s much edgier than your typical post-apocalyptic story involving mostly teen POVs. There are a lot of gritty, visceral things that happen in this book. To the point where I had a hard time with it the first time I read it (this review is the product of a reread to continue the series), but I’ve grown a lot as a reader since then and was better prepared to handle it (it helps that I knew to brace for impact lol).

I’ve been consuming a lot of Grimdark novels over the last few years, and while I wouldn’t categorize Pure in that genre, it would help to have the stomach for that type of gritty, dark storytelling before diving in.

Worth noting: this book is weird.

Mostly within the story components. Fallout from mass weapon distruction has caused humans to become fused to whatever they were touching or near when the blasts hit. Which leaves some freaking odd results. Almost, almost to the point of hokey, but it just manages to pull it off with a serious edge. My advice: just go with it.

Overall, there are a lot of moving parts in this first book hinting at some deeper complexity I’m hopeful we’ll get to explore in future novels. Having read this one already but never initially making time to get back to it, my mind has lingered with the plot in a way that’s compelling me to start again to finally see what’s really going on in this world. I hope the eventual payoff is worth the effort.

My only criticism is a couple of too-convenient moments where the characters suddenly had the perfect answers without buildup or context. But as I was already in the “just go with it” mindset, I took it in stride… but it was still annoying.

Recommendations: for YA Dystopian readers who want something off the beaten path and significantly more mature than the norm.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Locklands by Robert Jackson Bennett

Title: Locklands

Author: Robert Jackson Bennett

Series: Founders #3

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: A god wages war—using all of humanity as its pawns—in the unforgettable conclusion to the Founders trilogy. Sancia, Clef, and Berenice have gone up against plenty of long odds in the past. But the war they’re fighting now is one even they can’t win. This time, they’re not facing robber-baron elites, or even an immortal hierophant, but an entity whose intelligence is spread over half the globe—a ghost in the machine that uses the magic of scriving to possess and control not just objects, but human minds. To fight it, they’ve used scriving technology to transform themselves and their allies into an army—a society—that’s like nothing humanity has seen before. With its strength at their backs, they’ve freed a handful of their enemy’s hosts from servitude, even brought down some of its fearsome, reality-altering dreadnaughts. Yet despite their efforts, their enemy marches on—implacable. Unstoppable. [It goes on, but really even if you don’t know a little of what it will be about by this point in the series, I doubt you’re paying much attention to lengthy overviews]. –Goodreads

The Review:

Locklands was a satisfying ending to a unique trilogy.

If I’m honest, I had a weird reading experience with this series. I read the first book, Foundryside, on a complete whim and absolutely loved it. Within days of finishing, an eARC of Locklands became available and I pounced on it without a second thought.

And then I read Shorefall (book 2) and did not enjoy my experience with it at all (in hindsight I’m thinking it was at least partially due to the lack of voice variation in the audio – everything was delivered in full voice and I felt like the book was screaming at me the whole time).

So there I was, clutching my ereader loaded with the final book in the trilogy and feeling absolutely no motivation to pick it up. But I’d committed. So I read it. And I’m happy to report that I enjoyed my experience with it a lot more than I thought I would.

I don’t normally preface my reviews with so much backstory, but it’s important to note that I went into Locklands almost begrudgingly, so my experience was skewed right from the beginning. In evaluating all three books as objectively as I can, I think Locklands will provide a better than 3-star rating for most readers who have loved the series up to this point. I, however, thought it was a good installment, but not quite on the same wow-scale as the first book.

Locklands brought back more of that awesome magic system involving infusing objects with predetermined commands. It’s such a cool combination of magic systems and I think what I liked most about this final book was seeing how all of the technology evolved over the series and the types of things the characters are able to do with it now by contrast. It’s a very satisfying growth arc, and readers who eat up books where smart characters get more adept at cool systems as the story progresses will likely enjoy this series too.

The book was also a great mix of high and low moments, with a culminating arc at the end which was a complete snowball of events. The book had more dynamics than the second one, and I appreciated that it at least gave me a few moments to breathe between hitting me over the head with action scenes.

Another thing I loved about the first book was finding out more about the lore of the world and all of the magic predecessors. Locklands did a great job answering some burning questions and giving more depth to characters we’ve been curious about since the beginning.

It also avoided excessive evil monologuing, which I appreciate tremendously.

So, while reading this when I wasn’t in the mood was a weird experience, one I’ll take more care to avoid in the future when ARC requesting, ultimately I’m glad I got to see how the trilogy ended. I think readers who are less cranky than me about the whole thing will enjoy it immensely.

Recommendations: if you like cheeky characters, cool & intricate magic systems, and loads of action and excitement, this series is a great pick. The audio worked well for the first book but I’d skip it on the second two.

I want to thank Random House Publishing Group, Robert Jackson Bennett, and Netgalley for the chance to read and review an early copy of Locklands.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes