Book Review: The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune

Title: House in the Cerulean Sea

Author: T.J. Klune

Series: N/A

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: A magical island. A dangerous task. A burning secret. Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages. When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he’s given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they’re likely to bring about the end of days. But the children aren’t the only secret the island keeps. Their caretaker is the charming and enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who will do anything to keep his wards safe. As Arthur and Linus grow closer, long-held secrets are exposed, and Linus must make a choice: destroy a home or watch the world burn. An enchanting story, masterfully told, The House in the Cerulean Sea is about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place—and realizing that family is yours. -Goodreads

The Review:

I went in skeptical… then came out a believer.

Truth be told it took about 50% into the book before I was totally hooked. Up to that point I was still enjoying the story, but didn’t feel the “magic” of it that so many claim to have experienced. It took time, but I got there.

The book was very nostalgic – evoking the same feelings I felt venturing into Harry Potter for the first time. It resonated with the beginnings of those books where Harry was still with the Dursley’s – the discovery that we’ve been living mundane muggle lives amidst wonderful magics in this world… that most people don’t acknowledge or talk about because it’s just not proper. The sense of discovery I felt seeing the magic come alive alongside this totally ordinary “muggle” of a main character was delightful.

Part of the reason it took a while for me to get on board was the pacing. Klune really took his time grounding the reader with the main character, building a slow momentum of development that eventually paid off brilliantly. It was honestly more slowly paced than I usually have patience to handle, but in hindsight the book ended up having a satisfyingly balance and I wouldn’t change a thing.

I am the last person to pick up on social commentary in books, but still noticed here a through-message of hope. Hope for those forced on the fringes of society because they are different than the masses. In here those differences were celebrated and I felt like the book did a good job giving the ostracized a voice. It was a subtle message – integrated organically through the characters – but one that shone for me, and I think if you’re going through anything hard, this book will put you in a much better mood.

Recommendations: despite a slow start, this book evolved into one of the most delightful things I’ve ever read. If you want a fun fantasy that will leave you in a better state of mind, this will do the trick. :)

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by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: Soul Taken by Patricia Briggs

Title: Soul Taken

Author: Patricia Briggs

Series: Mercy Thompson #13

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: The vampire Wulfe is missing. Since he’s deadly, possibly insane, and his current idea of “fun” is stalking me, some may see it as no great loss. But, warned that his disappearance might bring down the carefully constructed alliances that keep our pack safe, my mate and I must find Wulfe—and hope he’s still alive. As alive as a vampire can be, anyway. But Wulfe isn’t the only one who has disappeared. And now there are bodies, too. Has the Harvester returned to the Tri-Cities, reaping souls with his cursed sickle? Or is he just a character from a B horror movie and our enemy is someone else? The farther I follow Wulfe’s trail, the more twisted—and darker—the path becomes. I need to figure out what’s going on before the next body on the ground is mine. -Goodreads

The Review:

Briggs delivers yet another solid installment in the Mercy/A&O series.

It started out a bit slow, but I love spending time with these characters so much that they could be doing anything and I’d probably want to read about it. Werewolf pack dynamics continue to be one of my favorite elements to this series, and the beginning of the book focused on some changes brewing within it. Even though it took a while to get to the meat of the overall mystery, the time spent developing character was a huge highlight of the book for me. Briggs has this amazing ability to keep many characters enigmas while still providing satisfying discoveries for her readers. She withholds just enough to keep you wanting more without making it frustrating. Every reveal has an impact! It’s a testament to how rich this world is becoming.

This is a perfect mystery novel for the fall – complete with pumpkin patches and scythe-wielding villains. I loved the atmosphere and the lore. And even found the mystery page-turning. Overall, the book mostly worked to deepen character for me, as opposed to a few others which focused more on advancing the arc of the series. It was a delightful mystery full of action and humor and I can’t wait to read whatever she comes out with next!

Recommendations: Moon Called, the first book in this series, is one of the most accessible urban fantasies on the market and a great place to start in the genre. Beyond that, if you’re at this point in the series already, you definitely don’t need my encouragement to keep going! :)

I’d like to thank Berkley Publishing Group, Patricia Briggs, and Netgalley for the chance to read an early copy of Soul Taken!

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by Niki Hawkes


DNF Q&A: Mutineer by Mike Shepherd

Title: Mutineer

Author: Mike Shepherd

Series: Kris Longknife

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 1/5 stars

The Overview: Kris Longknife is a daughter of privilege, born to money and power. Her father is the Prime Minister of her home planet. Her mother the consummate politician’s wife. She’s been raised only to be beautiful and marry well. But the heritage of the military Longknifes courses through Kris’s blood-and, against her parents’ objections, she enlists in the marines. -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 There Were Books Involved (with permission, which is important even if her blog doesn’t exist anymore), and I think it’s a great way to discuss the book constructively. Here goes:

Did you really give Mutineer a chance?

Not as much as I usually give before throwing in the towel – 25%. But it was clear from very early on the book was not going to resonate with me.

Have you enjoyed other books in the same genre?

Space Opera SciFi? Heck yeah! Even the cheesier ones. I was hoping this series would be a fun palate cleanser between other reads, but alas. Here are a few I enjoyed a lot more:

Did you have certain expectations before starting it?

Hopeful optimism that the books would be at least 3-star quality. Beyond that I felt like I was ready to put up with a lot of weaker components if the overall story was entertaining.

What ultimately made you stop reading?

Ugh. About the point where the main character was in someone’s kitchen planetside describing the finer points of white flour and Ghirardelli chocolates, I lost patience. We were so completely removed from what I signed up for that I’d had enough. I read a few chapters more, but knew it was going to be a DNF. There were just too many things leading up to that point that had me dissatisfied.

Character development was one of the biggest misses.

The main character was not realistic to me in the slightest. Having suffered trauma at an early age, the character experienced several unbelievable reactions early on in the book. Where the mere mention of the event sent her into fits of fainting, unable to control her body. It was eye-rolling and very immature.

I’m by no means downplaying the different effects trauma can have on someone. To add context, this woman grew up very wealthy (using the “poor little rich girl” angle that drove me crazy) and her family was aware of the trauma. As infeasible as I find it that someone with that much distance from the event and resources available to heal from it would still be experiencing reactions to that degree years later, it’s the fact that she’s a ranking military officer that finalized how much I disliked that plot point. I’ve never been in the military, but I’m pretty sure they don’t let you in without background checks and psychological evaluations to ensure you’re not going to have episodes in the middle of dangerous situations where you could get others killed. At the very least she would’ve gotten help from the base shrink.

This is a very specific rant, yet the unrealistic aspects of the story kept trickling in left and right to the point where the author lost my trust in his ability to deliver a story that would work for me.

The final tip off was when the main character’s parents were introduced, and as it turns out she was not only a spoiled rich girl, but a petulant one at that. Peace out.

Is there anything you liked about Mutineer?

The fact that it was a Scifi. Although considering how little of the first part had to do with actual space, I’m more or less assuming here.

Would you read anything else by the author?

No. I need things to make more sense than they did here, and I need more realistic development of characters. The author and I are so far apart on preferences that I don’t think it possible to ever meet in the middle.

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

Well, since most my complaints were very specific dislikes about the plot itself (and how unrealistic I found them), perhaps someone with more patience and a willingness to go with the flow might actually like it when they get to the space parts. At this point I probably wouldn’t mention it even in passing to someone though. Most books that I don’t like are from an evaluation standpoint, whereas this one actively annoyed the snot out of me lol.

by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: Mistress of Dragons by Margaret Weis

Title: Mistress of Dragons

Author: Margaret Weis

Series: Dragonvarld #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 2/5 stars

The Overview: Welcome to the Dragonvarld… In Mistress of Dragons we are introduced to a world where political deception, greed, and avarice have lead to a violation of the “hands off” policy of the Parliament of Dragons concerning the affairs of men. Indeed that violation threatens more than policy and order it threatens the freedoms and survival of the entire human race. -Goodreads


The Review:

Unfortunately even dragons couldn’t save this from mediocrity.

The beginning of the story had me feeling like I was in for an excellent dragon book. But aside from that kickstarting scene, it didn’t contain a lot of dragon action. Granted, there were dragons in almost every scene, but they were in human form and may as well have been slightly more perceptive humans. I do tend to prefer my dragons to be more bestial, but even for human-shifting dragons, these were just okay at best.

The premise of the story sounded interesting, but in execution there were a lot of things that made me scratch my head in bewilderment. Foremost of which is why a human had to be involved in this “grand mission” at all and why the dragons didn’t just buck up and take care of business themselves? But I suppose if that were the case, how would the two main protagonists meet? It’s bothersome when a story feels contrived just to get a character from point A to point B.

I did enjoy the basic flow of the writing style. This is a very relaxed read and one I devoured quickly. I even found myself curious at the end to see where things were going to go next, and that just might get me to pick up the next one if I can find an audio copy on discount (I’m not curious enough to dedicate any of my precious physical reading time).

I read a few reviews before venturing in that cautioned of a possibly triggering scene within the book, which were accurate, so keep that in mind if you plan on reading it.

Overall I wish I’d like it more even though I picked it up knowing it didn’t have the best reviews. Both the plot and the characters were thin, but there were just enough interesting components to make me think I’ll pick up the next one eventually, but it’s definitely not a priority.

Recommendations: with all of the amazing dragon books out there, this is not the place to start. Pick this one up for a very light fantasy read that just happens to have some dragons.

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by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik

Title: The Last Graduate

Author: Naomi Novik

Series: Scholomance #2

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: A budding dark sorceress determined not to use her formidable powers uncovers yet more secrets about the workings of her world in the stunning sequel to A Deadly Education, the start of Naomi Novik’s groundbreaking crossover series. At the Scholomance, El, Orion, and the other students are faced with their final year—and the looming specter of graduation, a deadly ritual that leaves few students alive in its wake. El is determined that her chosen group will survive, but it is a prospect that is looking harder by the day as the savagery of the school ramps up. Until El realizes that sometimes winning the game means throwing out all the rules . . . -Goodreads

The Review:

The Last Graduate was a completely satisfying sequel.

Hearing that the series had been expanded to three books, I got a little cranky and put off reading this second book for almost a year. I was certain it was going to be nothing but filler content and didn’t want a disappointing read after having absolutely loved Deadly Education (book 1). Well, I need to take off my fortune-telling hat and stop being so cynical, because I loved this installment.

It wrapped up the plot I think was originally planned for the duology, but had enough substance and other points of interest to warrant a third book. It doesn’t feel like a cash grab, and in fact had I come to the end of the series at this point with no third book on the horizon, I would’ve been pissed. I can’t wait to see what happens next!

The first book had a lot of great classroom learning scenes and let me explore the school to a pretty satisfying degree. This second book focused more on the bigger picture, spliced up here and there with some great training sequences. The main character, which I hear tell is the most off-putting thing about the series to some readers, remains one of my personal draws to the story. She’s anything but typical, and continues to cause most of her problems with her attitudes and perspectives. I find it completely delightful to read about someone so flawed, especially since she’s still had a pretty good growth arc thus far.

Despite the fact that the book focuses on teens in a school setting, this book does not read YA to me in the slightest. It would be remiss to tell a story with young characters without addressing hormonal complications, but all of that is secondary to the main plot of the story. It also highlights cliques and other typical school-aged drama, but from the standpoint of how one’s social life affects their ability to survive this deadly school rather than from an emotional one. It makes me so happy to find a magic school series with a young female character that doesn’t ring of YA baggage. They’re hard to find.

Overall, this was a great continuation, and I can’t wait to see how the whole thing ends in Golden Enclave this fall.

Recommendations: if you love school settings, appreciate atypical characters, aren’t afraid of an unconventional narrative, and are in the mood for something off the beaten path, this is an excellent pick.

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by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: Ruby Fever by Ilona Andrews

Title: Ruby Fever

Authors: Ilona Andrews

Series: Hidden Legacy #6

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: Ilona Andrews is back with the newest book in the exciting Hidden Legacy series—the thrilling conclusion to her trilogy featuring fierce and beautiful Prime magic user Catalina Baylor. An escaped spider, the unexpected arrival of an Imperial Russian Prince, the senseless assassination of a powerful figure, a shocking attack on the supposedly invincible Warden of Texas, Catalina’s boss… And it’s only Monday. Within hours, the fate of Houston—not to mention the House of Baylor—now rests on Catalina, who will have to harness her powers as never before. But even with her fellow Prime and fiancé Alessandro Sagredo by her side, she may not be able to expose who’s responsible before all hell really breaks loose. –Goodreads

The Review:

I hope this isn’t the last we’ll see of the Baylor family.

This unlikely series has quickly jumped to one of my all-time favorites. To the point where the pending release for Ruby Fever was my most anticipated book of 2022. That’s crazy! But these authors have earned their place in my top spots by dazzling me again and again between their many series.

Two things about this series make it stand out to me: the cool structure for a magic system, where these competing houses pass magic down through their lineages, and said magic takes on all sorts of interesting forms. It’s everything you love about superhero powers, but in a much more accessible (and less cheesy) presentation. The wide variety of magics turns every book into a discovery process, and I lovelovelove the world building component.

The second thing is the characters themselves. This family is a hoot. Spending time with them reminds me of being included in the family festivities of my best friend growing up (who had 10 siblings… welcome to Utah), and the crazy sorts of dynamics and arguments that ensue with that many people under one roof. But at the end of the day, they support and love one another and work together to build their house into something to be proud of. Reading these books feels like tapping into the hopeful part of me I don’t see very often, and I love that. And considering how many fun family members there are to keep track of in this series, I’m impressed at how complete and well-developed most of them feel. The grandma is a riot.

Although these books are marketed as romances, they more closely resemble traditional urban fantasy than many others that I’ve read. The point of a paranormal romance is to see if the two are going to get together in the end (amidst some supernatural squabbling). The point of an urban fantasy is to see if they’re going to defeat the bad guy, with romance as a secondary arc. This last book had practically no romance development at all, but you wouldn’t know that from the covers. It’s why I have such a hard time recommending this amazing series to anyone, save those who have already read Ilona Andrews and know how brilliant they are. Take it from me, ignore the covers. This series is legit.

The only thing I found disappointing about the book was that it didn’t resolve a plot point I was most interested in seeing continued from the first two Catalina books. It kind of touched on it, but nowhere near where I think it could’ve gone given all the good setup. Given rumors on how annoying this book was to write for the authors (well, not really rumors considering I read it repeatedly on their blog), I wonder if at the end of the day they only had so much room to try to cram all the elements in and some things just didn’t make the cut.

The highlight of the book was actually the epilogue. I found in it the spark I love so much about the series and promises of more to come. I hope the writing duo do indeed continue the series, even if they go the self-pub route (I’ll be buying!).

Recommendations: as this is the second arc to the Hidden Legacy saga, I’d suggest starting back with Burn for Me (that title, though). And if you can’t get past the covers, I understand (although I actually really like the vibrant covers and pretty dresses of the newer ones, but you get my point). Start with the Kate Daniels series instead (the first book is meh, but then it grows into something amazing!) and maybe once you see how good they are, you’ll find your way back here. :)

I’d like to thank Avon and Harper Voyager, Ilona Andrews, and Netgalley for the chance to read and review an early copy of Ruby Fever!

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by Niki Hawkes