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Tackling the TBR [70]: June 2021

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:

June 2021 TBR Tackler Shelf:

Where did the month go??! I’ve had “Write TTTBR Post” on my to-do list but apparently have been too busy to get it done. Whelp, now that the month is almost over, let’s take a look at what I have been reading and what I hope to finish by the first of July.

I finished Million Dollar Demon near the beginning of the month (loved it!) and Sufficiently Advanced Magic about a week ago (it was decent). I’m currently enjoying Goblin Emperor even though its a whole lot of politicking and not much else. Aurian is my physical book and I only pick it up right before bed if I’m not distracted by Pokemon Snap… Yeah I need to look at my priorities lol. At the rate I’m going, you’ll see Aurian on my list until the end of the year.

I’m trying a new tactic where I only read one book at a time. If I have a review obligation, then I’d better freaking make time for it instead of trying to read it on the side. I think this will go a long way towards helping me reduce the number of reading commitments in my life as well as giving me more satisfaction for finishing titles sooner (because my attentions aren’t split between multiple books). So far, this method is making me feel like I’m the slowest reader ever lol. But it has effectively curbed my desire to add more to my plate, so that’s a win.


Have a great month in reading!

by Niki Hawkes

 

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Book Review: Sufficiently Advanced Magic by Andrew Rowe

Title: Sufficiently Advanced Magic

Author: Andrew Rowe

Series: Arcane Ascension #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Overview: Five years ago, Corin Cadence’s brother entered the Serpent Spire — a colossal tower with ever-shifting rooms, traps, and monsters. Those who survive the spire’s trials return home with an attunement: a mark granting the bearer magical powers. According to legend, those few who reach the top of the tower will be granted a boon by the spire’s goddess. He never returned. Now, it’s Corin’s turn. He’s headed to the top floor, on a mission to meet the goddess. If he can survive the trials, Corin will earn an attunement, but that won’t be sufficient to survive the dangers on the upper levels. For that, he’s going to need training, allies, and a lot of ingenuity. The journey won’t be easy, but Corin won’t stop until he gets his brother back. -Goodreads

The Review:

This book was completely packed with magic school awesomeness from cover to cover. All of the elements I’m always clamor for more for in other works. But as I approached the last 25% of the book, I (and Carrie) couldn’t help but wonder:

Can you have too much of a good thing?

Probably. Especially if it comes at the sacrifice of sufficiently paced plot advancement. It was amazing to read about the complex magic system, all of the different types of mages, the magical creatures, and the endless stream of practical applications. It’s so much fun to sit in on a magic class and learn alongside the students (my favorite story type, actually). Add on top of that arena-style battles and choose your own adventure towers with puzzles to solve and creature to kill, what’s not to love?! But after a while even those amazing ideas and great execution start to feel like cheap entertainment when there’s not an overall plot of substance driving the story. I will say it did finally wrap up in the last 5% of the book with a series of decent “reveals,” and the payoff was probably worth the wait. Even so, it had me questioning a DNF at about the 80% mark. I’m glad I kept reading.

The main character has a few interesting quirks but unfortunately nothing truly flawed in a way that makes achieving things a problem. He’s overly smart, overly proficient, and overly lucky when it came to academics. Even the things he was supposed to be bad at often turned into admirable accomplishments. I personally found him irritatingly pedantic. Like ::pushes glasses up nose:: “Ummm, yeah how do I know you are who you really say you are? You could’ve listened in at any time to get that info. But I guess asking for reassurance is pointless because if you weren’t you, you’d just tell me what I want to hear anyway. But how am I supposed to trust you? Jump through some hoops for me even though you’re a teacher and my arbitrary worries shouldn’t even technically count for sh$t.” And many other similarly pointless sequences. It speaks of a character who’s desperate to prove how smart he is. Which is an interesting construct but it wasn’t presented as if it were deliberate. And that’s not the only thing I think was slightly over-done.

It’s as if the author anticipated certain plot holes and implausibilities and instead of just embracing it (after all, the entire story is his fabrication, he can do what he wants and we’d more or less go along with it) or dropping in a few subtle counters, he periodically has characters explain ad nauseam in the text why certain things were/were not the case. When this happened it degraded the story down to a YA level with its ever so slight condescending tone.

It may not seem like it at this point, but overall I enjoyed the book. The fun stuff was superb enough to overshadow the negatives by far (I really love the idea of following Corin as he levels-up his magic skills). However if I do decide to continue the series, my expectations for development in the next book are considerably higher.

Recommendations: if you’re like me, you’ll delight at the magic school awesomeness this book contains and be eager to pick it up even though that’s really the entire focus of the story (maybe especially because it’s the entire focus). It’ll still evoke a sense of nostalgia and give you a lot of great magicking to stick your teeth into.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Million Dollar Demon by Kim Harrison

Million Dollar Demon by Kim Harrison

Title: Million Dollar Demon

Author: Kim Harrison

Series: The Hollows #15

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: To save the city, Rachel Morgan will need to show some teeth in the next Hollows novel from #1 New York Times bestselling author Kim Harrison. The new master vampire of Cincinnati has arrived . . . and she wants Rachel Morgan out. No matter where Rachel goes, Constance is there–threatening Rachel’s allies, causing city-wide chaos, and, to add insult to injury, even forcing Rachel out of her current quarters. Ever since Rachel found a way to save the souls of vampires, the old undead’s longtime ascendancy has been broken. Now Constance sees eliminating Rachel as the key to consolidating her own power. Rachel has no desire to be enthralled or killed–and she’s terrified of what may become of the city if Constance forces a return to the ancient ways. But even a witch-born demon can’t stand against the old undead–at least, not alone. And if Rachel refuses to claim the role of Cincinnati’s master demon, the city will tear itself apart, taking her and all those who stand beside her with it. -Goodreads

The Review:

Rachel Morgan is every bit as enjoyable now as she was 10 years ago. Only now there’s an element of nostalgia that makes any new Hollows book that much more special. The quality has not diminished one iota and the plot is, if anything, only getting more interesting.

There are a few UF series on the market that might be continuing well past their prime (ahem), but Harrison’s work is definitely not among them. I’ve said this before, but my favorite thing about this author is how well she slows down the happenings in the story to really focus on nuances of character and internal development. There’s plenty of action to spice it up, but for the most part she allows you to feel truly connected to the characters and involved in the scenes. Her writing is quite differentiated from the rest of urban fantasy, having more of that high fantasy quality and writing style (she also writes fantasy under the name “Dawn Cook.” I love her Truth series). She carried a lot of that slow burn development over to this series, making it one of the strongest in the genre. While it’s not quite my all-time favorite, she immerses you so well into the story that it’s responsible for my single favorite moments in an UF work (Black Magic Sanction wrecked me).

I love how the demon’s story progressed in this book. There are a lot of things building and developing that I’m betting are going to have a great payoff later. I also appreciated the nice balance of old beloved characters and new additions to keep it spicy. One thing I liked in particular is how Harrison used situations and other characters to solidify what a likable character Rachel is. It’s a cool writing technique that really captured my interest the whole way through. And at this point in the series Rachel is still experiencing growth, which is awesome. The only thing that might have made it better is a more momentous ending. But other than that, it satisfied on every account and I can’t wait to get my hands on the next one.

Recommendations: I consider the Hollows a staple in the urban fantasy genre. It’s a slow-burn, character-focused series with gradually snowballing plots that eventually knock your socks off. Even after ending the series at book 13 then revamping (pun), it hasn’t lost any of the amazing quality. If you like any of my recs below but haven’t given this a try, you’re in for a treat!

I’d like to thank Berkley Publishing Group, Kim Harrison, and Netgalley for the chance to read and review an early copy of Million Dollar Demon. :D

Other books you might like:

By Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman

Title: The Blacktongue Thief

Author: Christopher Buehlman

Series: Blacktongue #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: Kinch Na Shannack owes the Takers Guild a small fortune for his education as a thief, which includes (but is not limited to) lock-picking, knife-fighting, wall-scaling, fall-breaking, lie-weaving, trap-making, plus a few small magics. His debt has driven him to lie in wait by the old forest road, planning to rob the next traveler that crosses his path. But today, Kinch Na Shannack has picked the wrong mark. Galva is a knight, a survivor of the brutal goblin wars, and handmaiden of the goddess of death. She is searching for her queen, missing since a distant northern city fell to giants. Unsuccessful in his robbery and lucky to escape with his life, Kinch now finds his fate entangled with Galva’s. Common enemies and uncommon dangers force thief and knight on an epic journey where goblins hunger for human flesh, krakens hunt in dark waters, and honor is a luxury few can afford. -Goodreads

The Review:

When Robin Hobb calls something “Dazzling.” I stop what I’m reading and pick it up.

This book was an absolute delight from start to finish. I laughed out loud so many times, it might now hold the record. It’s that dry, sardonic humor I always appreciate combined with a strong voice that carried the entire story. Definitely unconventional, it was funny without being stupid and animated without being overdone.

I was completely enamored until about the 80% mark, then my evaluation brain kicked on for a bit and I started to wonder if the story was amounting to anything or if was just all about the character and the delivery. The plot was incredibly straightforward and linear, in sharp contrast to a lot of the more complex fantasy novels being written these days. However it was still really interesting, containing some of the best chapter hooks I’ve read in ages. I definitely don’t mind simple as long as it’s done well.

What I do mind is lack of growth, little momentum, and small payoffs. It seemed to me the main character was in the exact same state of mind at the end of the book as he was at the beginning. Showing practically no growth, it made his character come across very surface-level. If not for the brilliant use of humor to show depth (somewhat reminiscent of Abercrombie’s Glokta, but a bit more jovial) I think I would’ve lost patience with him early on.

As it stands, the character voice and witty humor were enough to carry the book and make it incredibly fun to read despite the lack of aforementioned development or any sort of momentum. If those two things improve even a little in the next book while maintaining the elements I loved, I could have a new favorite on my hands. As it is, it’s just loads of irreverent fun.

Audiobook production: I was about halfway through the book, thinking the narrator was doing a great job digging into the nuances of the dialogue and delivering everything in a very conversational manner, before realizing that it was being read by the author himself O_o! To say he did a great job is an understatement. He really brought the text alive with his intimate relationship with the writing and knowledge of how things were supposed to sound. I imagine a few of the more subtle jokes landed because of his delivery that may not have otherwise. The only thing that suffered was the differentiation between characters. I had to pay closer attention to tags to figure out who was speaking because I couldn’t always tell by the voices alone. That was minor though. What was lost in character distinction was more than made up for by his conversational (and hilarious) dialogue. I highly recommend the audiobook. :)

Recommendations: this is a new slightly grimdark fantasy that delivers tenfold on humor and general entertainment. What it lacks in depth it more than makes up for in style. I’d highly recommend this to those who loved my suggested reading below, particularly the Greatcoats series by de Castell.

I’d like to thank Macmillian Audio, Christopher Buelhman, and Netgalley for the chance to read and review an early copy of this title.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Tackling the TBR [69]: May 2021

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:

May 2021 TBR Tackler Shelf:

Well, I made it through the audiobook last month… kind of. Not so much for my two physical reads (which is why Million Dollar Demon and Aurian are in the lineup… again).

I didn’t pick up a single book for about two week in April. Probably the longest I’ve gone without reading something in 10+ plus years. I was struggling with mental health (postpartum depression, among other things) and was feeling very overwhelmed. Interestingly, it was my lack of motivation to pick up books that cued me into realizing there was something more than fatigue going on. I’m seeking help for those issues and am starting to feel more myself again. But my reading definitely suffered last month.

In addition to all of that, I lost several hours a day to this ridiculous game on my phone. I think I was trying to escape my uncomfortable feelings, but whatever the case I caught a glance at my screen-time data and almost had a cow. I’ve been walking around for weeks bitching about the fact that I don’t have enough time to work on all the projects I want to, but for some reason it took seeing that data to wake me up to how I was wasting my life. And this is coming from someone who has been heavily pursuing digital minimalism for the past several months. I deleted the app (that was hard to do lol) and decided I’ll leave it deleted until I no longer have projects I really want to work on (which probably wont happen – I always have something going on – but it has been a nice motivator to tackle them all). 

Reading drama aside, this month I’m continuing my Malazan journey with some short story fillers. I’m reading the second Scythe book because I like the first one a lot more than I thought I was going to. And I picked up a review copy of Son of the Storm (audio production quality over at Audiofilemagazine.com). That should be enough to keep me occupied the whole month. I’ve a personal goal to finish the ongoing physical reads as soon as I can so I can finally get to something else


Have a great month in reading!

by Niki Hawkes

 

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Book Review: Blood Heir by Ilona Andrews

Title: Blood Heir

Author: Ilona Andrews

Series: Aurelia Ryder #1

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: Atlanta was always a dangerous city. Now, as waves of magic and technology compete for supremacy, it’s a place caught in a slow apocalypse, where monsters spawn among the crumbling skyscrapers and supernatural factions struggle for power and survival. Eight years ago, Julie Lennart left Atlanta to find out who she was. Now she’s back with a new face, a new magic, and a new name—Aurelia Ryder—drawn by the urgent need to protect the family she left behind. An ancient power is stalking her adopted mother, Kate Daniels, an enemy unlike any other, and a string of horrifying murders is its opening gambit. If Aurelia’s true identity is discovered, those closest to her will die. So her plan is simple: get in, solve the murders, prevent the prophecy from being fulfilled, and get out without being recognized. She expected danger, but she never anticipated that the only man she’d ever loved could threaten everything. One small misstep could lead to disaster. But for Aurelia, facing disaster is easy; it’s relationships that are hard. –Goodreads

The Review:

I love these authors so much. Unfortunately Blood Heir was my least favorite book in a long while.

And not because of the story. They did an excellent job giving MC Julie a refresh that made the plot feel new and exciting. The twist was plausible and the affect her changes (and the secrecy around them) had on all of the characters around her were super interesting. I find myself eager for a second book to see how that aspect develops They even did a good job carrying the storyline beyond the end of the Kate Daniels series. Anytime a book allows me more time in this world with these characters, I’m in my happy place.

That said, the actual construction of this story left me wanting a bit. The Ilona Andrews team usually doesn’t waste a lot of page count on recap and explanations, but omg the first 40% of the book and a good number of info dumps beyond that was a struggle to read. I get it to a degree – we’re immersing in a character who hasn’t had a lot of page time for a few books, and it has been a few years since the KD series ended. What’s more, they have to set the stage for any new readers to come along (within reason) so the book can stand on its own. And I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I needed a bit of recap. However, I don’t think I needed quite as much. Especially the explanations about what happened to Julie since she left the area years ago. The changes she went through were so interesting, I think it would’ve been more effective to reveal them incrementally as she interacted with other characters. As it is, the info was just dumped in whenever it became relevant. And because these explanation passages were so prevalent, it slowed the plot down to a snail’s pace, making it hard to get into the story. It felt more like a recap episode to get readers ready for the throw-down in future books. This is definitely not consistent with their usual works. I’m chalking it up as a fluke/victim of circumstance and looking forward to their next Julie book. I really hope there is one.

Recommendations: these are my favorite urban fantasy authors. Even though this particular book wasn’t a hit, it doesn’t tarnish my opinion of what this duo is capable of. As a spinoff that takes place after the end of the Kate Daniels series, so I wouldn’t recommend reading it as a stand alone.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes