Book Review: The Wolf by Leo Carew

Title: The Wolf

Author: Leo Carew

Series: Under the Northern Sky #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: The Wolf is a thrilling, savagely visceral, politically nuanced, and unexpectedly wry exploration of power – and how far one will go to defend it. Violence and death have come to the land under the Northern Sky. The Anakim dwell in the desolate forests and mountains beyond the black river, the land under the Northern Sky. Their ancient ways are forged in Unthank silver and carved in the grey stone of their heartland, their lives measured out in the turning of centuries, not years. By contrast, the Sutherners live in the moment, their vitality much more immediate and ephemeral than their Anakim neighbors. Fragile is the peace that has existed between these very different races – and that peace is shattered when the Suthern armies flood the lands to the north. These two races revive their age-old hatred and fear of each other. Within the maelstrom of war, two leaders will rise to lead their people to victory. Only one will succeed. -Goodreads

The Review:

I’m not sure how to feel about this book.

On one hand, you have an interesting premise for a story (Neanderthal vs Human), some really poignant scenes, and lots of political intrigue. On the other, you have a loose plot structure that felt a bit under-composed at times, a flat main character who won his victories without struggle, and a few unrealistic details here and there that were enough to pull me out of the story.

It’s a mixed bag.

And to boot it wasn’t anything like I was expecting. I pictured a very Shadow of the Gods (Gwynne) atmosphere and setting where the indigenous aspect was played-up and it felt very cold and miserable. It wasn’t like that in the slightest. Taking up a more classic fantasy “urban” approach with cobbled streets and bustling cities. It was drastically different than I thought it would be, but I’m not holding that against it. It’s what I get for not reading the overviews carefully before starting (they generally contain too many spoilers!).

Overall I’d say I enjoyed the process of reading this tale, and the scenes that were good were really good. There were just too many minor things that added up to keep me from really loving this one. I tell you who the most interesting character was: wifey. She had a shrewd intelligence when dealing with others that was super fun to read. I love savvy characters. There were a few other good ones, but I didn’t feel much of a connection to them because they didn’t face any meaningful inner struggles. The society as a whole kept me plenty interested because it was cool to see the different philosophies of lifestyle and morals between the two factions. So what I lacked in character connection, at least I made up for in good world-building content.

Somewhere along the halfway point, I started to lose the thread of the plot (thanks Sonja, for the wording), and could not longer see what we were working towards. The scenes during these parts were strong, but they lacked a connection to the whole that eventually left me feeling a bit disengaged. I kind of zoned out near the end, only to have to backtrack over an hour to get the setup I missed for a big event. Then the epilogue happened and it was one of the best tension-generating scenes I’ve read in ages.

And now I’m reading the second book.

Recommendations: pick this one up for an interesting politically-driven fantasy. It’s not perfect, but it sure is entertaining.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: Blade of Dream by Daniel Abraham

Title: Blade of Dream

Author: Daniel Abraham

Series: Kithamar #2

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars!

The Overview: Kithamar is a center of trade and wealth, an ancient city with a long, bloody history where countless thousands live and their stories endure. This is Garreth’s. Garreth Left is heir to one of Kithamar’s most prominent merchant families. The path of his life was paved long before he was born. Learn the family trade, marry to secure wealthy in-laws, and inherit the business when the time is right. But to Garreth, a life chosen for him is no life at all. In one night, a chance meeting with an enigmatic stranger changes everything. He falls in love with a woman whose name he doesn’t even know, and he will do anything to find her again. His search leads him down corridors and alleys that are best left unexplored, where ancient gods hide in the shadows, and every deal made has a dangerous edge. The path that Garreth chooses will change the course of not only those he loves, but the entire future of Kithamar’s citizens. In Kithamar, every story matters — and the fate of the city is woven from them all. -Goodreads

The Review:

This is shaping into one of my favorite ongoing series…

…and yet I’d have a hard time recommending it to the masses. It’s an incredibly slow-burn story that requires more patience than most fantasy novels. But it’s also one of the most beautifully written, immersive series I’ve ever read. Every single moment grounds you deeper into the culture or Kithamar, and experiencing this city alongside expertly constructed characters makes me feel like it’s a place I’ve actually been. The author doesn’t hit you over the head with lengthy descriptions of this world but instead let’s you discover it organically through the daily actions of his characters. It’s subtlety is profound.

Another thing I love is the unconventional construction of this series. Each book takes place over the same time span but from different perspectives. Normally whenever I know anything about what’s going to happen in a book, I lose investment, but this seems to be the sole exception! Each bit of new information adds depth to the story as you gradually work closer and closer to the most heated action. While the overarching plot is compelling, the selling point of the series is the deep immersion you get with the characters. All of them make mistakes and have flaws and feel like real people. If you don’t like the character profiles or aren’t totally interested in what they’re working towards, you’re not going to be into the book at all. I, for one, have been completely enamored from the very first page, loving every moment and gushing about it as often as I can.

Recommendations: pick up this series for an exhibition on great character work and a slow-burning plot that draws you deeper into Kithamar with each turned page. I loved it so hard. If you’re not into the characters or what they’re doing from the very beginning, as I was, you might find the pacing a struggle.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: Jade City by Fonda Lee

Title: Jade City

Author: Fonda Lee

Series: Green Bone Saga #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Overview: The Kaul family is one of two crime syndicates that control the island of Kekon. It’s the only place in the world that produces rare magical jade, which grants those with the right training and heritage superhuman abilities. The Green Bone clans of honorable jade-wearing warriors once protected the island from foreign invasion–but nowadays, in a bustling post-war metropolis full of fast cars and foreign money, Green Bone families like the Kauls are primarily involved in commerce, construction, and the everyday upkeep of the districts under their protection. When the simmering tension between the Kauls and their greatest rivals erupts into open violence in the streets, the outcome of this clan war will determine the fate of all Green Bones and the future of Kekon itself. -Goodreads

The Review:

Jade City was a decent start to a series.

Going into this book after hearing about it all over the Vlogosphere for a couple of years, I gotta say it was different than I expected. Between comparisons to The Godfather and the severely brutal Asian fantasy books I’ve read over the last couple of years, I actually avoided reading Jade City for a while because I wasn’t sure I was in the mood to brace for all of those gut-punches. Color me surprised to find the violence actually kind of mild.

This isn’t a bad thing – it makes the series more accessible and helps explain its wild popularity. It could be my general moods leaning towards grimdark lately that have me thinking I wish it had more grit, but that’s purely a preference thing. In that same vein, I also thought it would be more down-in-the-streets nitty-gritty, but it ended up being more of a white-collared political drama.

And I do love some good politicking in books. My favorite parts of Jade City were those slower moments where the schrewdness of the characters gained them some advantage or another. It was fun to watch them put their skills to the test. I also appreciated Fonda Lee’s professional background as a lawyer and how her knowledge of crime in general enhanced the story.

While I found all of the characters interesting profiles to read about, I can’t say as though I feel any particular connection to them yet. This may be the only reason I’m not singing praises for the series at this juncture. I’m not too bothered by it though. I’m guessing the magic of the series is in the trilogy as a whole rather than based on the merits of this first book. I look forward to seeing what the next two bring to the table.

One last thing – I wish the Jade magic had been explored more.

Recommendations: pick this book up for a highly character-driven political crime novel. It has just enough magic to add some flavor, but I wouldn’t call that aspects one of the selling points yet. I think a lot of people will (and have had) a lot of fun with this first book.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes


Tackling the TBR [88]: February 2023

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:

February 2023 TBR Tackler Shelf:

Last month I committed to focusing on primarily five series, which went swimmingly and I plan on continuing that this month with Ruin, Warrior, and then a few new in series that will get me up to date in the genre.

THERE’S A NEW KATE DANIELS BOOK! Magic Tides. And somehow I didn’t even know it was coming out!! I dropped everything and picked it up immediately and am already 35% of the way through. I love these authors so much, and this one is just as good as all of their other works. Not to mention I didn’t know they were planning on continuing the KD series considering it kind of ended at book 10. Love it.

I have a fairly conservative (aka realistic) lineup this month of eight books, but the funny thing is that I’m currently reading six of them… O_o! Chalk it up to bad planning on my part, but they all needed to be read near the beginning of the month. Even though I feel a bit scattered, I’m loving everything I’ve picked up so far. Wish me luck to get caught up before March!

Have a great month in reading!

by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: We Ride the Storm by Devin Madson

Title: We Ride the Storm

Author: Devin Madson

Series: Reborn Empire #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: In the midst of a burgeoning war, a warrior, an assassin, and a princess chase their own ambitions no matter the cost in Devin Madson’s visceral, emotionally charged debut. War built the Kisian Empire. War will tear it down. Seventeen years after rebels stormed the streets, factions divide Kisia. Only the firm hand of the god-emperor holds the empire together. But when a shocking betrayal destroys a tense alliance with neighboring Chiltae, all that has been won comes crashing down. In Kisia, Princess Miko Ts’ai is a prisoner in her own castle. She dreams of claiming her empire, but the path to power could rip it, and her family, asunder. In Chiltae, assassin Cassandra Marius is plagued by the voices of the dead. Desperate, she accepts a contract that promises to reward her with a cure if she helps an empire fall. And on the border between nations, Captain Rah e’Torin and his warriors are exiles forced to fight in a foreign war or die. As an empire dies, three warriors will rise. They will have to ride the storm or drown in its blood. -Goodreads

The Review:

If you’re looking for a fun, fast-paced fantasy, this is a great pick.

The author doesn’t waste any time throwing you into the deep end. Luckily the components aren’t too complicated to pick up on. These types of quick reads are always great to make me feel like I’m making progress on something (even though the page count was still about average). The snappy beginning did come at a bit of a cost – enough time wasn’t taken to ground you with the characters and fully establish their motives. So later in the book when suddenly everyone has these grand convictions, it felt a little thin because we lacked the foundation at the beginning. In fact, things went so fast in places that I kept having to backtrack to see if I’d missed anything. This general feeling was a consensus in my Patreon Book Club. Had some of my Patrons not also voiced a bit of struggle with the pacing, I may have just assumed it was an attention-span problem on my end.

Even though the characters didn’t get a lot of grounding, they were still wildly interesting profiles. You have three very different perspectives and each one provides a unique payoff. There’s one in particular who is still a total enigma by the end of the book, and I’m most excited to read on to see what’s going on with her. I love when authors can keep me coming back for more. I also enjoyed the trajectory of the story and the fact that all of my early predictions came to naught. I feel so happy to be reading in a era where authors are no longer following the same old storytelling formula. I think it a theme lately that I keep describing books as “unconventional,” which is thrilling to me – it’s driving my enthusiasm for reading to discover new things. This one had familiar setups but then took a bunch of different directions to the point where I stopped guessing and just started enjoying. Good stuff.

Overall, I’m glad for the time I spent with this book even though it lacked a bit of depth. Sometimes read something fun and uncomplicated is exactly what you need. I’ve forgotten that with all of the heavy tomes I’ve been into lately. It does, however, offer some promising things for future books, so maybe one day I’ll be raving how much fun and substantial this series is… fingers crossed. :)

Recommendations: pick this up for a fun, fast-paced fantasy that will take you on an unconventional ride… into the metaphorical storm.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes


Non-Fiction Book Review: Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Title: Power of Habit

Author: Charles Duhigg

Genre: Non-Fiction [Habits]

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: A young woman walks into a laboratory. Over the past two years, she has transformed almost every aspect of her life. She has quit smoking, run a marathon, and been promoted at work. The patterns inside her brain, neurologists discover, have fundamentally changed. Marketers at Procter & Gamble study videos of people making their beds. They are desperately trying to figure out how to sell a new product called Febreze, on track to be one of the biggest flops in company history. Suddenly, one of them detects a nearly imperceptible pattern—and with a slight shift in advertising, Febreze goes on to earn a billion dollars a year. An untested CEO takes over one of the largest companies in America. His first order of business is attacking a single pattern among his employees—how they approach worker safety—and soon the firm, Alcoa, becomes the top performer in the Dow Jones. What do all these people have in common? They achieved success by focusing on the patterns that shape every aspect of our lives. They succeeded by transforming habits. -Goodreads

The Review:

On reviewing Non-Fiction: Over the last few years I’ve read more and more non-fiction titles, but haven’t yet incorporated them into my reviewing strategy (until now). I didn’t feel inspired to review them as I would a fiction book, so instead I’m presenting non-fiction reviews as more notes and highlights of my favorite takeaways. It’s my way of journaling my experiences with the books so I have references for myself in the future. Here goes..

The Power of Habit is arguably the most well-written non-fiction book I’ve ever read. It’s a deftly woven exploration of habits through the use of case studies, engaging narrative, and individualistic habit implications. When I read James Clear’s Atomic Habits, I came away thinking, “great, I’m going to try to eat better… work out more, etc.,” but while reading Power of Habit it gave me some profound inspirations that I think I can use to help myself through some serious mental health stuff.. yeah, it’s that cool. There were more valuable takeaways from this book than indicated below, I just didn’t start taking notes until about the halfway point.


It’s not about just cutting out a bad habit. It’s about finding something else to do in its place. The habit is the entire ritual of being compelled to do something through a trigger then following through for the payoff. If you want to stop eating cookies, don’t try to cold turkey your reach response for them when you’re hungry/stressed/whatever. Instead follow the habit perfectly but put a healthier alternative in the same spot as the cookies. <-Understanding the forces against change here has been super helpful.

After reading the chapter on Target shopping analysts, I’m now much more concerned with how much data retail companies have on me than I am on what the government has. Our destruction will be orchestrated by Target statisticians lol.

The Habit-Change Experiment:

1. Identify the Routines (what are the cues and rewards?)
2. Experiment with Rewards: change up random things to figure out which reward is driving the routines (the cafeteria/friends/cookie example).
3. Identify the Cue. 1. Where are you? 2. What time is it? 3. What’s your emotional state? 4. Who else is around? 5. What action preceded the urge?
4. Have a plan. Plan for the cue and chose a behavior that delivers the reward you are craving.

Doing these diagnosis experiments helps you gain power over habits that can sometimes feel powerless to change.

Overall rating: 4.5/5 stars. It was excellent.