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Book Review: Sharp Ends by Joe Abercrombie

Title: Sharp Ends

Author: Joe Abercrombie

Series: First Law World #7

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 5/5 stars!!!

The Overview: Violence explodes, treachery abounds, and the words are as deadly as the weapons in this rogue’s gallery of side-shows, back-stories, and sharp endings from the world of the First Law. The Union army may be full of bastards, but there’s only one who thinks he can save the day single-handed when the Gurkish come calling: the incomparable Colonel Sand dan Glokta. Curnden Craw and his dozen are out to recover a mysterious item from beyond the Crinna. Only one small problem: no one seems to know what the item is. Shevedieh, the self-styled best thief in Styria, lurches from disaster to catastrophe alongside her best friend and greatest enemy, Javre, Lioness of Hoskopp. And after years of bloodshed, the idealistic chieftain Bethod is desperate to bring peace to the North. There’s only one obstacle left — his own lunatic champion, the most feared man in the North: the Bloody-Nine. -Goodreads

The Review:

This was one of the most enjoyable things I’ve ever read!

It’s a short story compilation for the First Law world, and for starters, I usually don’t have patience for short stories unless they’re for series I’m loving (this qualifies). And even then I usually prefer to read them in tandem with the series so I don’t forget details.

The book was hysterical. I laughed too many times to keep count and even felt compelled to share certain passages with other people (my mom is reading it now even though she’s only read the Blade Itself lol). That feeling of reading something I’ve loved and now need to share with others is the compulsion that caused me to start my book blog 10 years ago and there are only a small number of titles that have evoked this reaction. Sharp Ends is now among those all-time favorites. I ordered a hardcover.

I am completely rubbish at remembering character names in series these days. I read so many it’s just not worth the effort to me to retain those details beyond how long it takes me to devour a book. The problem comes when trying to revisit series after a long break or even just when discussing it with others. It’s a trade off… my brain is full. But it struck me as profound while reading this book that I was able to recall almost every single one of Abercrombie’s side characters with vivid clarity, which made the stories just as vibrant as if they’d been included in the series. It’s amazing to me because this author is clearly good enough to bypass my shitty memory and give me the rare experience of feeling truly immeshed in a series. Granted, I read these books fairly back to back compared to most, but even so, I’ve been known to forget names the instance the book gets finished (or even while I’m freaking reading it, so I have to backtrack). It’s just another piece of evidence that Abercrombie belongs on my favorites lists.

Sharp Ends is listed as book 7 even though it bounces around the timeline a lot. There are some series prequel scenes, some alternate viewpoints for memorable scenes throughout the series, an alternating set of stories following the same two characters (my personal favorite of the bunch), and there are a few that take place after the last time we’ve seen some of these characters. It definitely should be read as the 7th installment to avoid spoilers. One of the highlights in the audio format was an interview with Joe Abercrombie and audio narrator Steven Pacey. It was a total delight, and I busted a gut listening to it. The only story I didn’t care for was the satire (the writings from the bloke Costca hired to overinflate his exploits). It was fun, but I usually don’t have patience for the style. But I’ll admit to always wondering what he was writing throughout the story…

Recommendations: clearly, this is an Obsessive Bookseller favorite and I’d highly recommend it if you’ve read the first 6 books in the series. I found it wildly entertaining.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Daisy’s Run by Scott Baron

Title: Daisy’s Run

Author: Scott Baron

Series: Clockwork Chimera #1

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

The Overview: Rule #1: Don’t blow up and die. Rule #2: Always follow Rule #1 if at all possible. Life in deep space could be a drag sometimes, but Daisy supposed things could have been worse. She was still alive, after all, which was always a plus in her book. Now if only she could figure out who, or what, was endangering her return home, things would be just peachy. It had been one hell of a way to start the day––being rudely snapped from a deep cryo-sleep, and in the middle of a ship-wide crisis to boot––but Daisy was pleased to note that the ship had not decompressed, the crew hadn’t been blasted into space, and, most importantly, they hadn’t simply blown up. At least not yet. But being stuck on a damaged ship in the inky depths of space as it limped toward Earth was not exactly the relaxing trip home she’d imagined. With the powerful AI supercomputer guiding the craft beginning to show some disconcerting quirks of its own, and its unsettling cyborg assistant nosing into her affairs, Daisy’s unease was rapidly growing, as was her bigotry toward artificially intelligent beings. Add to the mix a crew of mechanically-enhanced humans, any one of whom she suspected might not be what they seemed, and Daisy found herself with a growing sense of dread tickling the periphery of her mind. Something was very much not right––she could feel it in her bones. The tricky part now was going to be figuring out what the threat was, before it could manifest from a mere sinking feeling in her gut into a potentially deadly reality.  –Goodreads

The Review:

This was almost a DNF.

I put the book down around the 45% mark, and it was only a random set of circumstances that had me picking it back up again about a week later. And what good fortune that I did, because only a few minutes into the revisit, the plot suddenly turned on its head and went from a basic scifi space story to an interestingly original take.

The book had a lot of good setup, but IMO it took way too long to get to the section where the author starting inputting his original ideas. I mean, I lost patience with it long before it hit that point but kept pushing through before finally giving up on it. Sure, the prose had a good flow and the dialogue was witty and fast-paced, but it wasn’t showing me anything I hadn’t seen a million times before… until the midway point. Then it offered a bunch of interesting twists, nice world building, and a good variety of settings. Ultimately, I’m glad the reading gods intervened and kept me reading.

Aside from it being what I thought was a highly predictable read initially, one of the reasons I felt okay putting it down was that I didn’t like the main character as much as I could have. Her dialogue was incredibly unrelatable, sounding more like a male character than female, especially in regards to the sex scenes. It seemed like it was more a conjuring of how some men wish women sounded rather than an organic depiction of a woman with more masculine speech, if that makes sense. Women don’t usually high five each other and use phrases like “I just got laid.” It conflicted with my paradigm. And it made the character seem forced.

There’s a specific tool many storytellers use in books and films to perpetuate plot that I just cannot stand: a misunderstanding between two characters that could be cleared up with a two minute conversation, but is dragged out because the main character is just too distraught ::high drama!!:: to hear anything else on the matter. It drives me crazy. It’s easier to pull off in books because you can only have one character speaking at a time, but it’s not realistic. How hard is it to talk over someone? This book used that tool not only once, but a couple of times to perpetuate the conflict. I realize this is a very personal peeve, so if that trope doesn’t bother you at all (and you can make it to the halfway point), the rest of the components are all there for a good story.

Series status: I probably won’t be continuing the series at this time, although I can see why it has gained some favor with other readers on Goodreads.

Recommendations: this scifi took a long while to get to the selling point of the novel. The great unique spin on things was perhaps a big enough payoff to warrant the wait, so if you pick it up, give it at least until the halfway mark before making the call.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Tackling the TBR [71]: July 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:

July 2021 TBR Tackler Shelf:

A pitfall from posting my June 2021 TTTBR post so late is that I went 10 days into July thinking I’d posted already ::facepalm::. Eventually I’ll get back into a rhythm with that, but I’m not too bothered by my tardiness because I’ve been super busy with a bunch of other creative projects. Everything seems to get done eventually lol. 

I finally started the Bauchelain and Korbal Broach short stories per my intentions to continue the Malazan Ultimate Reading Order. So far so good! My highest priority beyond that is continuing all things Abercrombie with Sharp Ends. This month my book club selected Curse of Chalion. I’m currently about 1/3 of the way through it and the jury is still out… 

I’ve been trying to be more mindful about my reading commitments because I realized my reading history for the  year so far contains WAYYYY too many obligation reads and not enough of the ones I’m super eager for. I get myself into trouble when allowing myself to pick more than one book up at a time. So I’m practicing limiting that and not signing up for ARCs unless I’m prepared to read them immediately. As a result, my lineup this month makes me very, very happy. 


Have a great month in reading!

by Niki Hawkes

 

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Book Review: Red Country by Joe Abercrombie

Title: Red Country

Author: Joe Abercrombie

Series: First Law World #6

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: They burned her home.
They stole her brother and sister.
But vengeance is following.

Shy South hoped to bury her bloody past and ride away smiling, but she’ll have to sharpen up some bad old ways to get her family back, and she’s not a woman to flinch from what needs doing. She sets off in pursuit with only a pair of oxen and her cowardly old step father Lamb for company. But it turns out Lamb’s buried a bloody past of his own. And out in the lawless Far Country the past never stays buried. Their journey will take them across the barren plains to a frontier town gripped by gold fever, through feud, duel and massacre, high into the unmapped mountains to a reckoning with the Ghosts. Even worse, it will force them into an alliance with Nicomo Cosca, infamous soldier of fortune, and his feckless lawyer Temple, two men no one should ever have to trust . . . -Goodreads

The Review:

I’m becoming an Abercrombie fangirl.

Red Country was probably the biggest offshoot from the main trilogy so far. It had a sort of Wild West/colonial vibe that I didn’t hate. But as offshot as it may have been, it effectively tied up some burning questions I’ve had since the end of the first trilogy. Ahead of most of the books I’ve read lately by a long shot, it ranks somewhere near the upper middle compared to other books in the series so far.

The characters are so rich and vibrant and not a single one of them can be put on a pedestal. I think truly flawed characters might be the magic ingredient to why authors like Abercrombie and Hobb are among my favorites. Maybe it appeals to my growing cynicism, but oftentimes when people act their worst in books it’s more believable and relatable. Even in the most depraved bastards Abercrombie writes about, there’s always a spark, a smidgen of a redeeming quality that makes them feel, well, human. And he’s especially good at putting his characters in such horrid situations that it can’t help but bring out the best or worst in them (usually the worst). It truly is a mastery of characterization that I hope to live up to one day in my own writing.

The way I talk about these books makes them seem like such downers. And in truth they kind of are. But that bleakness is part of their brilliance, because when something good happens, it’s stands out that much more profoundly by contrast. I love each and every one of the characters I’ve read so far and I can’t wait to see what happens to them next.

Recommendations: if you like grimdark fantasy, read all the things Abercrombie. Give the first trilogy a bit to get going, then hang on!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Audiobook Review: The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

Title: The Goblin Emperor

Author: Katherine Addison

Series: N/A (I’m not counting the new spinoff… no!! We need more stand-alones lol)

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: The youngest, half-goblin son of the Emperor has lived his entire life in exile, distant from the Imperial Court and the deadly intrigue that suffuses it. But when his father and three sons in line for the throne are killed in an “accident,” he has no choice but to take his place as the only surviving rightful heir. Entirely unschooled in the art of court politics, he has no friends, no advisors, and the sure knowledge that whoever assassinated his father and brothers could make an attempt on his life at any moment. Surrounded by sycophants eager to curry favor with the naïve new emperor, and overwhelmed by the burdens of his new life, he can trust nobody. Amid the swirl of plots to depose him, offers of arranged marriages, and the specter of the unknown conspirators who lurk in the shadows, he must quickly adjust to life as the Goblin Emperor. All the while, he is alone, and trying to find even a single friend… and hoping for the possibility of romance, yet also vigilant against the unseen enemies that threaten him, lest he lose his throne – or his life. -Goodreads

The Review:

I see now why people refer to The Goblin Emperor as a “feel good” book.

I’ve been wanting to read this since it came out. Many of my peers were raving about it and I even got a personalized recommendation for it. When NetGalley offered a promotional audiobook copy for review, I jumped aboard without hesitation.

Overall, I think my expectations might have been a little high because, while I enjoyed the book, it didn’t blow me away. It’s incredibly character-driven, focusing solely on a half-goblin’s experience as he dons the crown and tries to manage life at court. Every time he dared break social protocol to be kind to someone was satisfying, and I believe that’s a large part of why people enjoyed the story so much. It’s incredibly straightforward, yet the simplicity is very much part of its charm. Unfortunately, I found myself craving a bit more substance.

I can usually roll with stories that don’t have external plot as a main driving force – some of my favorite books in fantasy focus more on the slow-burn relationship development between characters (I don’t mean of the romantic variety), but in this case, where the entire framework was navigating the politics of this court, there wasn’t a whole lot going on. If politics are going to be the focus, I want them to be exciting, intricate, and just complex enough that I’m on my toes but don’t feel completely lost. All of the politicking in Goblin Emperor was simple. Leaving me with nothing to sink my teeth into other than how much I appreciated the main character.

The audio production itself was fantastic. Addison’s prose is very formal, with characters referring to themselves as “we” and each other as “thou,” and included a whole lot of pomp and circumstance (such as addressing the main character as “Serenity” every other sentence). Narrator Kyle McCarley has an accent that fit the spirit of her writing perfectly. He also did a great job bringing out the hesitancy and quirkiness of all the characters. Almost all of the names are mouthfuls, and I’m not sure they lent themselves well for the audiobook. It was a real struggle at the beginning to tell everyone apart, but this is one case where the simplicity of the plot works in its favor because it made it easier to sort everyone out eventually.

Recommendations: if you’re in the mood for a simple, feel-good story and don’t mind the lack of a strong overall plot, this is a great pick. If fantasy had a “take to the beach” category, Goblin Emperor would be in it. I loved the charm of the characters and the overall warm energy of the story.

I’d like to thank Macmillan Audio, Katherine Addison, and NetGalley for the chance to listen to and review this new audiobook adaptation of Goblin Emperor!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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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