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Mini Book Review: All Systems Red by Martha Wells

All Systems Red by Martha WellsTitle: All Systems Red

Author: Martha Wells

Series: Murderbot Diaries #1

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 5/5 stars

The Overview: In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety. But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern. On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid — a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is. But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth. -Goodreads

The Mini Review:

Murderbot might be my spirit animal.

I loved this novella. It had a fun plot and, more importantly, it had a killer main character (pun intended) who will speak to your inner introvert like no other. And it was funny. I wasn’t expecting to laugh so much at a SecUnit POV, but the situational humor and dialogue delighted me at every turn. Good humor will spark a higher rating in me every time, and it almost feels like a bonus that everything else was so good too. Overall, All Systems Red had all the components I look for in a sci-fi and I can’t wait to see where the story goes next!

Series status: I plan to read all the things… in fact I may hound for ARCs and purchase hardcovers for my collection.

Recommendation: All Systems Red seems to me the epitome of the best the genre has to offer, so whether your looking to get into sci-fi or are an established reader seeking your next good read, All Systems Red earned its spot as a staple in my recommendation arsenal.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Coming Soon: Empire of Ashes by Anthony Ryan

Title: Empire of Ashes

Author: Anthony Ryan

Series: Draconis Memoria #3

Genre: Fantasy

Release Date: July 5, 2018

The Overview: For hundreds of years, the Ironship Trading Syndicate was fueled by drake blood–and protected by the Blood-blessed, those few who could drink it and wield fearsome powers. But now the very thing that sustained the corporate world threatens to destroy it. A drake of unimaginable power has risen, and it commands an army of both beasts and men. Rogue Blood-blessed Claydon Torcreek, Syndicate agent Lizanne Lethridge, and Ironship captain Corrick Hilemore, spread to disparate corners of the world, must rely upon the new powers and knowledge they have gained at great price to halt its forces–or face the end of all they know. -Goodreads

Nik’s Notes:

Empire of Ashes is my #1 most anticipated release of 2018 – AND IT’S ALMOST HERE!! This trilogy conclusion has the power to solidify Draconis Memoria as one of my all-time favorite series (no pressure). I love the characters, I love the dragons (drakes), and I love the expansive adventure I go on every time I pick up one of these books. If Empire of Ashes is even half as good as the previous two novels, I’m in great shape. I can’t wait! :)

Who else is excited for this one??

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Unclean Spirits by M.L.N Hanover

Unclean Spirits by M.L.N. Hanover

Title: Unclean Spirit

Author: M.L.N. Hanover

Series: Black Sun’s Daughter

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 2/5 starts

The Overview: Jayné Heller thinks of herself as a realist, until she discovers reality isn’t quite what she thought it was. When her uncle Eric is murdered, Jayné travels to Denver to settle his estate, only to learn that it’s all hers — and vaster than she ever imagined. And along with properties across the world and an inexhaustible fortune, Eric left her a legacy of a different kind: his unfinished business with a cabal of wizards known as the Invisible College.Led by the ruthless Randolph Coin, the Invisible College harnesses demon spirits for their own ends of power and domination. Jayné finds it difficult to believe magic and demons can even exist, let alone be responsible for the death of her uncle. But Coin sees Eric’s heir as a threat to be eliminated by any means — magical or mundane — so Jayné had better start believing in something to save her own life. -Goodreads

The Review:

After finishing Unclean Spirits, I’d like to lament a few disappointments with a wishlist:

#1: I wish the characters had been developed, not just better, but at all.

#2: I wish the concept of the “unclean spirits” would’ve played a stronger, more direct role in the story.

#3: I wish the plot hadn’t been so simple.

#4: I wish all of the things I’ve come to love about this author had been represented in this novel.

Daniel Abraham (aka MLN Hanover, aka 1/2 of James S. A. Corey) has a pretty solid spot in my top authors list for his Long Price Quartet and Expanse series. I appreciate the subtle beauty of his writing, his interesting story ideas, and (most importantly), the rich characters he creates filled with so much depth they feel like real people (are you all sick of hearing me talk about Avasarala – aka my homegirl?). He’s literally my number one example for how to write amazing characters, so what happened here?

My disappointment in Unclean Spirits was a little more acute due to the lack of all of the essential components I’ve come to associate with this author. I’m actually kind of shocked that it was so sub-par of his usual standard. Minus the profanity, the delivery of this book read very much like a thin YA novel, lacking in any real substance or development (with an insta-lust on top of it all). It was practically a case study in telling vs showing where the characters would spring up feelings, convictions, and even magical talents without any groundwork to show the reader how they got to those points. Because of this I was never invested in the story – almost comatose with impartiality.

The concept of the book (revolving around parasitic “unclean spirits”) was an interesting one, and in fact my only positive takeaway from the book was the scientific discussion about the spirits vs earthen parasites. However, they didn’t play a significant role in the story other than on the periphery. I wanted to see some badass body-hopping and instead I got a big thug possessed by a spirit and lots of speculation and theory.

Overall, the book didn’t give me anything to sink my teeth into and had it been any other author I may have DNFed. It wasn’t the worst urban fantasy I’ve ever read, but it was far from the best.

Series status: I probably will not continue anytime soon (if at all). At least until I knock out the dozen or so other UFs on my TBR. I own this whole series, so we’ll see if it makes it past the next library purge. I admit to being mildly curious if all of the things I was missing develop later in the series because, despite my experience with this first book, I know the brilliance the author is capable of. We’ll see.

Recommendations: This would be a difficult one for me to recommend. If you’re thinking to read because you love the author (as I did), my inclination is to suggest you pass (on this one – everything else by him is superb). If you’re thinking to read this because you like urban fantasy, I wouldn’t say pass, but there are plethora of titles I’d hand you first.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik

His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik

Title: His Majesty’s Dragon

Author: Naomi Novik

Series: Temeraire #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: Aerial combat brings a thrilling new dimension to the Napoleonic Wars as valiant warriors ride mighty fighting dragons, bred for size or speed. When HMS Reliant captures a French frigate and seizes the precious cargo, an unhatched dragon egg, fate sweeps Captain Will Laurence from his seafaring life into an uncertain future – and an unexpected kinship with a most extraordinary creature. Thrust into the rarified world of the Aerial Corps as master of the dragon Temeraire, he will face a crash course in the daring tactics of airborne battle. For as France’s own dragon-borne forces rally to breach British soil in Bonaparte’s boldest gambit, Laurence and Temeraire must soar into their own baptism of fire. -Goodreads

The Review:

Woe is me for not having read this years ago!

I had this amazing dragon book sitting unread on my shelf for over 10 years… and I’m surprised no one revoked my membership to the dragon obsession club (not a real thing). In all fairness, the way people described this book and series gave me a very different impression than what the first book actually entailed. They’d say, “it’s an alternate military history, but with dragons.” I’m sure that description is completely accurate for the series as a whole, but had someone mentioned even briefly that His Majesty’s Dragon was less about alt-history as a focus (even though that was an essential setting component) and more about the forming bond between a man and his dragon, I’d have been on board the Temeraire ship years ago. Unfortunately first impressions caused me to hold off. When it came out I was in the middle of college and the last thing I wanted to do was put down one text book and pick up another (even if the new one had dragons). I thought I’d be bored with the historical elements and recycled battle scenes. All the discussions I’d had about it with customers made me think I was getting into a dry historical retelling that took itself too seriously. This is SO NOT THE CASE!!

The relationship between man and dragon is 100% the appeal of the book for me. It’s a slowly paced plot that focuses on the bond and establishes the groundwork for what’s to come. Because of the aforementioned expectations for the series, I’m certain some ventured in looking for battle sequences, military strategy, and loads of historical references, but were bored with their lack (which is an irony considering my boredom might have stemmed from those things being present if I’d read it 10 years ago). As I said, perhaps the series as a whole will offer those things, but for me this book offered perfect immersion into what it’s like to be a dragonrider (or Aerialist) in training.

Now that my tastes have broadened, I’m actually looking forward to seeing the historical immersion in future books, but that alone wouldn’t have been enough to get me to pick up the series. The dragons are my main motivation. Not only was Temeraire a fascinating creature, but so were the many other varieties of dragons (aka Niki’s dragon heaven). I loved the training aspects and can’t wait to see those put into good use, I loved the commander of the training encampment (you’ll see), and I loved the relationships and dynamics beginning to form between all the trainees and their dragons. Basically, this is the book I’ve been hounding to find all my life. 😭

The slow burn of this novel might have bored a few people, but I reveled in every single moment. It had me so wrapped up, I even shed a tear or two (I can’t remember the last time a book made me cry). The combination of a fantastic main character, sentient dragons (filled with awesomeness), and the overall theme of the series set His Majesty’s Dragon up as one of the best books I’ve read in a while. I can’t wait to get my hands on the next one!

Recommendations: Read this book if you like dragons. It’s a bonus if you also like alt-history. ;P

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Wizard for Hire by Obert Skye

Wizard for Hire by Obert Skye

Title: Wizard for Hire

Author: Obert Skye

Series: Wizard for Hire #1 (BN.com has it listed as a series, but Goodreads doesn’t… we’ll see)

Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: Fourteen-year-old Ozzy lives near Portland, Oregon, and is desperate for help. His scientist parents have been kidnapped after discovering a formula that enables mind control. Their work was so top secret Ozzy is afraid to go to the police, but without help, he fears he’ll never find his parents. Then he stumbles across a classified ad in the local newspaper that says “Wizard for Hire. Call 555-SPEL.” Ozzy has read about wizards in books like Harry Potter, but wizards couldn’t actually exist today, could they? After Ozzy meets the wizard Labyrinth–aka Rin–he’s even more skeptical... -Goodreads

The Review:

Even though Wizard for Hire wasn’t quite what I was expecting, it surprised me (in a good way).

I read middle grade books to recapture some of the magic I felt as a kid venturing into Harry Potter and many of the other amazing titles I was lucky enough to read. Wizard for Hire did an excellent job giving me the nostalgia I craved while providing some unexpected food for thought. Skye found the perfect balance between fun for kids and evoking for adults.

Honestly, this is going to be a relatively short review. I don’t want to get into specifics about what still has me reeling a few days after finishing the book because it’s an essential discovery component to the story and I don’t want to lessen the experience for anyone. Suffice to say that I really appreciate what I think the author was trying to do and I personally found a lot more to take away from the story than I ever expected to from a middle grade book. My only holdup was that the story didn’t take the shape I was expecting, and as odd as it sounds I kind of feel the loss of what could have been. Even so, I’m far from being disappointed with the end result.

Recommendations: I’d hand this to slightly older middle graders / young teens. It has a few somewhat bleak moments. As an adult reading it, I definitely think it’s a great pick if your in the mood for something light and maybe a little surprising. :)

Other books you might like:

Nik’s Notes: Y’all know I’ve been geeking out about the cover for months. Shadow Mountain is one of my favorite publishers because they always have quality writers, great stories, and killer covers (to name a few of the reasons I respect them so much). I’m just going to throw it out there that my ambition as a writer is to get a series accepted and published by them. It’s good to have goals. :)

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Burn for Me by Ilona Andrews

Title: Burn for Me

Author: Ilona Andrews

Series: Hidden Legacy #1

Genre: Urban Fantasy / PNR

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: Nevada Baylor is faced with the most challenging case of her detective career—a suicide mission to bring in a suspect in a volatile case. Nevada isn’t sure she has the chops. Her quarry is a Prime, the highest rank of magic user, who can set anyone and anything on fire. Then she’s kidnapped by Connor “Mad” Rogan—a darkly tempting billionaire with equally devastating powers. Torn between wanting to run or surrender to their overwhelming attraction, Nevada must join forces with Rogan to stay alive. Rogan’s after the same target, so he needs Nevada. But she’s getting under his skin, making him care about someone other than himself for a change. And, as Rogan has learned, love can be as perilous as death, especially in the magic world. –Goodreads

The Review:

Everybody who said “ignore the cover, this book is awesome!” was absolutely right.

I should preface this review by saying that I recently got up to date with the Kate Daniels series (my current holy grail of urban fantasy), so I’m still riding the high from all the amazing things I experienced there. My opinion of Burn for Me was definitely influenced by my feelings for these authors in general. Had I read this first, I’m certain the rating would’ve been more conservative because I’d have still been trying to assess how I felt about the writing. Since I already know what these authors are capable of, I can’t help but have my rating reflect my unbridled excitement to be reading more from them.

I read Burn for Me with my FBR Goodreads group, and one friend summed it up perfectly: if you’re a fan of the Ilona Andrews formula, you’ll probably love this one too. As you can see from the cover, it’s clearly marketed towards / written for more of a paranormal romance fan base (as opposed to urban fantasy). This is also evident in the way they told the story (there’s a heightened focus on half-naked bodies). However, where most of the PNR books I’ve read focus mostly on the romance aspect and do just enough with everything else to get by, that was so not the case here – the plot and world building were just as robust, and in fact the “love story” kind of took a backseat at times.

The most compelling part of this book for me was the attention to detail – basically all of the “setup” components that set the base for the story, including backstories, alternate world histories, and magic systems. I also loved the fun dynamics between the main character and her family. All the characters were good, but my favorite was the Grandma. :)

I was worried the characters and the narrative would be similar enough to KD to feel like a knockoff series. While the snarky comebacks, feisty MCs, and relationship dynamics are in the same spirit as what I’ve seen before, it was presented differently enough alleviate that worry. Overall, they did a great job presenting characters and a world that felt fresh. The things that were similar (like the grumpy love interest) were so much fun to read that I probably gave it a pass anyway. I actually thought this was a much better start to a new series than KD, so that should count for something.

Analytically, I can see the book isn’t perfect, but from a pure enjoyment, x-factor standpoint I enjoyed it thoroughly and can’t wait to see where the story goes next.

Recommendations: Read all the things Ilona Andrews. I’m totally biased, and justifiably so considering how much I love these authors. I’d definitely hand this book to UF readers who don’t mind a little more of a romance focus. Burn for Me was a lot of fun and one of the more entertaining books I’ve read this year. Recommended if you like humor, snark, magic, and romance.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes