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Tackling the TBR [73]: September 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:

September 2021 TBR Tackler Shelf:

OMG!! I’m not going to even pretend that I had this post up in a timely matter, but I did compose it and intend to schedule it at least a week and a half ago! ::facepalm:: Whelp, because I’m a completionist and all, I’m posting anyway to share what I’ve been reading this month… AAAAANNNDDD I’ll have October’s up in a week. This is how my life is going, folks.

So many great titles! I’ve completed Empire’s Ruin, You Sexy Thing (a new space opera from TOR. Don’t judge me), Sword of Kaigen, and am currently dipping my toes into Memories of Ice. I’m predicting the latter will take me a good couple months to get through, so be prepared to see it on there again lol.

Until next time… 


Have a great month in reading!

by Niki Hawkes

 

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Book Review: Aurian by Maggie Furey

Title: Aurian

Author: Maggie Furey

Series: Artefacts of Power #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

The Overview: In ages past, there had been four magical weapons, fashioned to be used only by the Magefolk. But their history had been lost, together with the Artefacts themselves, in the Cataclysm which had wrought changes on land and water alike. Lost also had been the history of the Magefolk, and the Winged Ones, the Leviathans and Phaerie. Aurian, the child of renegade Mages, finds herself sent to the city of Nexis to join the Academy and then train as a full Mage. Little does she suspect that she will quickly become entwined with a power struggle between Miathan, the Archmage, and the human inhabitants of Nexis. The only person to whom she can turn in Forral, Commander of the city’s military garrison and friend of her dead father. But this friendship infuriates Miathan, and leads to a deadly conflagration, in which the first Artefact is revealed. Aurian’s flight, with her servant Anvar, turns into both odyssey and rite-of-passage as she travels to the little-known Southern Kingdoms and begins to rediscover the history of the weapons which are the only hope against Miathan and Armageddon – The Artefacts of Power! -Goodreads

The Review:

Okay, so this book is not very recommendable… but I still enjoyed it.

The thing I liked most about Aurian was it’s unconventionality. Written in 1994 before writing fantasy novels as a profession was really popular, Furey’s story does not follow a formulaic plot structure in the slightest. I’ve been to the writing conventions. I subscribe to advice newsletters from my favorite authors. The basic writing strategy these days seem to all the same ideas of how to structure your story to make money. While many authors are better at putting their own spin on it than others, it’s hard for me to ignore it some days.

This is why I continued to remain intrigued by Aurian throughout the whole novel: it was so all over the place that I had no f&@$ing idea what was going to happen next, and that was oddly refreshing.

The characters left a lot to be desired. Primarily because their behavior was unrealistic. They would swing from one dramatic emotional state to another at the drop of a hat. Very much like watching the rapid mood swings of a four year old. There was no subtlety or nuance to their behavior at all, just very black and white outlooks on things. They either loved fiercely or hated viciously. Often within the same couple of paragraphs. Then back again. It sort of reminded me of overdramatized classic silent films where the emotion had to be overdone to make sure it was conveyed correctly to the audience. Even though no one really acts that way, there’s no doubt in the readers mind what emotion the author was representing. It was also one of those books where the extreme emotional outbursts made me feel second-hand frustration on behalf of the characters involved, which wasn’t exactly pleasant.

The characters also had very black-and-white thinking and would flip flop between these extremes with frightening ease. There was no subtly or nuance of character, nor any real significant growth because the changes in thoughts/behavior were abrupt and not earned through experience and logic. In some ways it felt like reading about a bunch of children, which kept me from connecting with any of the characters and took away from the maturity of the novel as a whole. As you can imagine, the dialogue followed in line with the character profiles – very basic. All of this did work well to convey the general emotion of the characters. You could definitely always tell exactly what they were feeling.

I mentioned the plot meandered a lot. There seemed to be a lot of setup for certain events in the book, but every time I thought we were getting grounded into the meat of the story, something random would happen and we’d be back to establishing a new scenario. I had an idea what we were working towards by about the 75% mark, but even then it kept going with the tangents up to the very end.

So, basically all of the things that together made it a fun unconventional read also made it hard to support. What’s more, the book is ONLY available in a mass market paperback with the world’s tiniest print or a ridiculously expensive hardcover. No ebook, no audiobook (in the US, anyway). Not that my review is gearing anyone to go pick one up.

Recommendations: this is a great pick if you want a character-driven classic fantasy adventure novel with easy, flowing writing… provided that you don’t mind illogical and over-emotional characters.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Empire’s Ruin by Brian Staveley

Title: Empire’s Ruin

Author: Brian Staveley

Series: Ashes of the Unhewn Throne #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5stars

The Overview: The Annurian Empire is disintegrating. The advantages it used for millennia have fallen to ruin. The ranks of the Kettral have been decimated from within, and the kenta gates, granting instantaneous travel across the vast lands of the empire, can no longer be used. In order to save the empire, one of the surviving Kettral must voyage beyond the edge of the known world through a land that warps and poisons all living things to find the nesting ground of the giant war hawks. Meanwhile, a monk turned con-artist may hold the secret to the kenta gates. But time is running out. Deep within the southern reaches of the empire and ancient god-like race has begun to stir. What they discover will change them and the Annurian Empire forever. If they can survive. -Goodreads

The Review:

Ever finish an amazing series feeling like there should be more? Know the pure elation at discovering there actually will be more?! That’s how I felt when learning Staveley was continuing in the Annurian Empire.

I left the Unhewn Throne Trilogy happy that I’d read it but found myself ever so slightly dissatisfied with how a few things played out. Empire’s Ruin, continuing the same timeline albeit through different POVs, alleviated all of the uneasy feelings I’d had. I was worried about diving in without a reread, but the story stands solidly enough on its own that I only needed to remember a couple of characters (I recalled two of the three), and major climactic events. Other than that, it jumped right in to a new set of exotic adventures!

The fun world-building is the first thing I highlight when talking about Staveley’s works. His setting is a deadly jungle reminiscent of the Amazon filled with jaguars, snakes, alligators, and pretty much every other man-eating threat the author could think of. He does an amazing job at immersing you in the setting and having the environment play an active role in the story.

The Emperor’s Blade, the first book of the Unhewn Throne, still claims a spot in my very conservative list of all-time favorites. It had the perfect balance of characters, setting, and world-building, but stood out to me for its training sequences. I love when characters learn skills in books, and was wondering if I’d enjoy this continuation as much without that element. As it turns out, the author must share my appreciation for those components because he included more in Empire’s Ruin! Not quite to the same degree, but it did satisfy my craving.

Comparatively, the only thing that kept my rating from solid five star was that the story progression between the three POVs was not very well distributed, especially in the back half of the book. Granted, he focused most of his efforts on the most interesting thread, which was stellar, but did not advance the plots for the other two quickly enough for my satisfaction. I usually don’t notice pacing issues in multiple POV fantasy novels like this (other than in Feast of Crows… don’t get me started), but it struck me that several sittings later and the characters two of the plots were still sitting around arguing about the same things instead of actually doing the things. Had Gwenna’s POV been removed completely I think I would’ve been saying I liked the story but he could’ve done so much more with it. Especially the arena stuff (yes, there’s an arena… the idea was initially so compelling, but not much happened with it). I’m hoping we’ll get more in the next book so it doesn’t feel like those were just filler sections.

Recommendations: overall, Empire’s Ruin was an awesome continuation after the Unhewn Throne Trilogy, but make sure to read that one first unless you don’t care about major spoilers (I don’t know how people can be okay with spoilers, but it’s more common than I realized… freaks. ;P). This is an excellent fantasy adventure series perfect for those who like a lot of action, cool settings, and multiple POV stories.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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DNF Q&A: The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold

Title: The Curse of Chalion

Author: Lois McMaster Bujold

Series: World of the Five Gods #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: DNF

The Overview: A man broken in body and spirit, Cazaril, has returned to the noble household he once served as page, and is named, to his great surprise, as the secretary-tutor to the beautiful, strong-willed sister of the impetuous boy who is next in line to rule. It is an assignment Cazaril dreads, for it will ultimately lead him to the place he fears most, the royal court of Cardegoss, where the powerful enemies, who once placed him in chains, now occupy lofty positions. In addition to the traitorous intrigues of villains, Cazaril and the Royesse Iselle, are faced with a sinister curse that hangs like a sword over the entire blighted House of Chalion and all who stand in their circle. Only by employing the darkest, most forbidden of magics, can Cazaril hope to protect his royal charge—an act that will mark the loyal, damaged servant as a tool of the miraculous, and trap him, flesh and soul, in a maze of demonic paradox, damnation, and death. -Goodreads

The Review:

When trying to make a decision on whether or not to read something, it can often be much more helpful to look at the low star ratings than the high ones. To that end I’m going to be including more DNF reviews in my lineup. I have a Q&A format here that I adapted from Nikki at http://www.therewerebooksinvolved.com (with permission), and I think it’s a great way to discuss the book constructively. Here goes:

Did you really give Curse of Chalion a chance?

I went in pretty open-minded and even liked the first chapter or so, but once I started becoming dissatisfied, it became a practice of actively looking for reasons to justify calling a DNF. This is perhaps not fair to the book, but had it been anything other than a pick for a book club I run, I’d have just set it down as soon as it became clear I wasn’t digging it. I think I made it about 35%.

Have you enjoyed other books in the same genre?

Yes! Slow-burn, politically-driven fantasy novels rank among my favorites:

Did you have certain expectations before starting it?

My expectations were hopeful but not too terribly high. I remembered the author’s Sharing Knife (I only read the first one) as a relationship-heavy book with very relaxed and flowy writing. I expected much the same here, but was hoping the romance wouldn’t be quite so prominent (it wasn’t, but it still absorbed too much of the narration for my tastes). I’d also heard so many great things about her scifi Vorkosigan series that I was hoping she was consistently good all around.

What ultimately made you stop reading?

Ultimately, it came down to the childlike, irrational decisions made by the characters. For a novel that was supposed to be ALL about the characters and the politics, the characters came across every surface-level and their actions basic. The politics were equally simple. She lost my faith in her ability to give me something of substance early on and I didn’t find anything to convince me otherwise as I kept reading. None of the happenings in how these characters behaved was realistic to me, and in comparison to dozens of other fantasy novels with similar elements, this one came across very juvenile.

Is there anything you liked about the Curse of Chalion?

The character profiles at the beginning were fun, but they never evolved past just being just profiles. The first chapter was great. The writing was fluid. That’s about it.

Would you read anything else by the author?

I’m still holding out for Vorkosigan, but my enthusiasm has waned considerably. I’m definitely now at peace with not continuing with any of her fantasy works.

So you DNFed the book. Would you still recommend it?

That strongly depends on how well I can gage what someone wants out of a fantasy novel. If it’s a relaxing, easy read, this one might fit the bill. My personal tastes crave books with a lot of depth and dynamics these days, but I remember back when an easy-flowing fantasy book was just what the doctor ordered. So yes, to the right audience. Particularly those who enjoy romance novels but want something a little more robust. This author is a great hybrid of the two genres.

by Niki Hawkes

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Tackling the TBR [72]: August 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:

August 2021 TBR Tackler Shelf:

So many amazing titles this month! I doubt I’ll have a chance to get through them all with how busy things have been, but if I manage even half of them I’ll be happy. My most anticipated release of the year in Ryan’s Pariah will claim the highest priority. Most of these are darker fantasy novels so I added a lighthearted middle grade novel by Elizabeth Haydon to give myself a break from all the bleakness. 

Things are really rolling. I’ve been working on my new Booktube channel which I’ve been wanting to start for YEARS. I started slow with a few posts at the beginning of the year, but now I’m finding it a very satisfying creative outlet and am committed to keeping it going. I’ll have a more official post about it later in the week, but suffice to say it’s a cool new adventure for me. 

Last month I finished all but one of my TTTBR lineup, which is amazing. Here’s hopping I carry on strong in August (getting this post up on time seems a great first start, lol).


Have a great month in reading!

by Niki Hawkes