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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

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Tackling the TBR [68]: April 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:

April 2021 TBR Tackler Shelf:

I’m mostly satisfied with my reading completion in March. I finally finished Deadhouse Gates and managed to also find time for Blood Heir by Ilona Andrews and The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie. I went back to work from maternity leave and have been striving to find a balance between work/kids/reading. I discovered I missed my littles so much while I was at work that I didn’t bust out my headphones very often while home with them. Reading may have to transition to something I do at work and during commutes, which doesn’t offer a lot of time throughout the week. Careful title selection will be even more key than ever because if I’m going to find precious time to read, the book better at least be something I’m really going to enjoy. 

To that end, I’m continuing series with authors I already know and love and starting a new YA trilogy for my book club. Maybe by this time next month I’ll have found a new rhythm. 


Have a great month in reading!

by Niki Hawkes

 

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Book Review: Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson

Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson

Title: Deadhouse Gates

Author: Steven Erickson

Series:  Malazan #2

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: In the vast dominion of Seven Cities, in the Holy Desert Raraku, the seer Sha’ik and her followers prepare for the long-prophesied uprising known as the Whirlwind. Unprecedented in size and savagery, this maelstrom of fanaticism and bloodlust will embroil the Malazan Empire in one of the bloodiest conflicts it has ever known, shaping destinies and giving birth to legends. -Goodreads

The Review:

I started Deadhouse Gates in January… Of 2019.

The writing is dense, no bout a doubt it, but it took a lot longer than it probably should have to get through the book considering how good it is. Part of my problem is that I’m a perfectionist and a completionist, so if I was going to tackle a series like Malazan, I wanted to make sure I got the full experience from it. There are so many characters and places referenced that it really does take a lot of extra concentration to keep it all straight. And I don’t know about you, but as soon as I start to lose focus and get confused on which character I’m reading about, my level of engagement and investment in the story drops significantly. So I read this at a snail’s pace, utilizing kindle’s X-ray feature what seemed like every freaking page to make sure I knew who or where or what was being referenced. Not to mention that the writing itself is very abrupt and succinct, especially surrounding revelations and epiphanies, so I constantly had to reread passages to make sure I understood all of its implications. All in all, a very slow process. And one that is not conducive to dragging out the reading over several, uh, years. I kept putting it down in favor of things that took less effort and eventually, this past January 2021, decided to lay everything else aside and commit fully to Malazan. I restarted the book and overall, with my full attention devoted, it took about three months to read.

It was soooooo worth the effort!

There’s no doubt in my mind that this book and series (as far as I’ve gotten) are masterpieces brilliant in their originality, expansiveness, and execution. The reading experience is unlike anything I’ve come across before (clearly) and the total immersion required almost guarantees you’re going to take a few gut punches. I can see why so many proficient fantasy readers hold Malazan on a pedestal – it’s truly an amazing story.

Believe it or not, DG was actually a little easier to follow than Gardens of the Moon. There were fewer new characters to follow and it seemed like we circled back to them more frequently. I particularly loved the elegant plot construction. It was an intertwined, unfolding “dance” of information and convergence of characters that built to an amazing peak that left my brain wheeling. It was so thoughtful and so well-executed. I truly can’t wait to see what the author has in store for me next. Now that I think I’ve gotten the hang of reading this series, I’m hoping I’ll be able to clip along a bit faster.

So how do I rate something like this? If I’m applying based on merit alone, it’s a solid 5 stars. However I think it’s important to also consider my actual reading experience with the book, and the fact that it took so much time and effort should be represented (even though that’s just as much on me as it is the writing). 4.5 stars it is.

Recommendations: this is one of the most remarkable books I’ve ever read and I consider the series a must-try for fans of the fantasy genre. It’s not for everyone and will require a lot more concentration than most novels, but the payoff is well worth the effort. Maybe try not to be as anal-retentive as I was in keeping the details straight and just enjoy the process (after all, if an element is truly important the author will most assuredly highlight it again at some point). If you can get into the swing of it, get ready for one of the coolest reading experiences you’ll ever have!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie

The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie

Title: The Heroes

Author: Joe Abercrombie

Series: First Law World #5

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: They say Black Dow’s killed more men than winter, and clawed his way to the throne of the North up a hill of skulls. The King of the Union, ever a jealous neighbor, is not about to stand smiling by while he claws his way any higher. The orders have been given and the armies are toiling through the northern mud. Thousands of men are converging on a forgotten ring of stones, on a worthless hill, in an unimportant valley, and they’ve brought a lot of sharpened metal with them. For glory, for victory, for staying alive. –Goodreads

The Review:

The Heroes was an entertaining read even though it’s my least favorite of the saga so far.

But not by much. True, it didn’t offer a lot of variety in setting and plot (which I think accounts for why some may not have liked it as much) but it did make up for it considerably with good characters and a really creative execution of the story. It’s essentially a series of battles in the north that take place over the course of just a few days. Bouncing around POVs, it provided insight into what the battle experience was like from every perspective. In that regard I really appreciate the total immersion. There was one battle scene in particular that was done so creatively I’ve never seen anything like it before. Abercrombie’s deft writing style continues to impress me more with every book. He’s definitely solidified among my favorites.

I’ll admit it took me a good 25% to get acclimated with all the characters. I had to use a few more brain cells than normal to keep straight who was on which side. I also thought the POV bounced around too much for me to really get invested at first, but eventually we came back to the same ones often enough that by the halfway point I was super into it. It helped considerably that many of these characters we’ve seen before and I love how Abercrombie expands his reach to give secondary characters a moment to shine. It’s not something you see many authors doing. It’s also cool that some now have a ton of depth and development because we’ve been with them in past novels. It feels like a giddy secret knowing the history behind certain characters when they are still enigmas to those around them. I’m excited to see how Abercrombie ties in the stars of this show in future books. Not surprisingly, Gorst was my favorite here (though they were all good). Reminiscent of Glokta with his many dualities and entertaining inner dialogue, he added that heavy sardonic flair that I’m starting to crave from Abercrombie’s works. I’m not sure how I’m going to cope when I finally get caught up in the series.

This is one of those books which compared to other Abercrombie novels is a bit more modest, but compared to any other book on the market is still superb.

Recommendations: I highly recommend anything Abercrombie as a staple in the fantasy genre. He’s a master of character and writing and the more time I spend with him, the more he solidifies as a new favorite author. Don’t be like me and let the books sit collecting dust for 10 years before picking them up. They’re worth a jump in the TBR.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Utterly Uninteresting and Unadventurous Tales of Fred, the Vampire Accountant by Drew Hayes

Title: The Utterly Uninteresting and Unadventurous Tales of Fred, the Vampire Accountant

Author: Drew Hayes

Series: Fred, the Vampire Accountant #1

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: Some people are born boring. Some live boring. Some even die boring. Fred managed to do all three, and when he woke up as a vampire, he did so as a boring one. Timid, socially awkward, and plagued by self-esteem issues, Fred has never been the adventurous sort. One fateful night – different from the night he died, which was more inconvenient than fateful – Fred reconnects with an old friend at his high school reunion. This rekindled relationship sets off a chain of events thrusting him right into the chaos that is the parahuman world, a world with chipper zombies, truck driver wereponies, maniacal necromancers, ancient dragons, and now one undead accountant trying his best to “survive.” Because even after it’s over, life can still be a downright bloody mess.

The Review:

I must be more of a cover snob than I thought because had I not received a review copy (for audio production quality) I would have never picked this up. Although I will say it fits the story perfectly. 

It was a fun story. More a series of episodes (I remember hearing that this author specializes in web-serials, so that makes sense), it felt like reading a bunch of novellas with a solid through-line.

A boring (self-proclaimed), awkward white collar worker turned vampire was a funny duality. The character didn’t change much, which was a delight. It was a twist on an overdone genre that I’ve never seen before and I quite liked it. It was also pretty nerd-tastic (a good thing), and one of my favorite stories from the bunch had a whole LARPing section. The writing was conversational, sardonic, and self-depreciating. A very clear voice that made the characters likable and the experience of reading about them fun and light-hearted.

Really, there wasn’t anything I didn’t like about the book. While it didn’t knock my socks off, it was a nice little splice of fun amidst my other reading. I’m not sure if I’ll be continuing. I find myself much more interested in his Superpowereds series, but we’ll see.

Recommendations: the sardonic voice and short episodic nature of this story makes it easy to recommend. It’s a lot of fun without a lot of commitment. I think it would be great for people who want to read more but struggle with time or motivation. It’s quite satisfying to read short stories like this from start to finish in a single setting. And the through-line of the plot in each one will keep you coming back to see what happens next.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes