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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

 

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Book Review: Sufficiently Advanced Magic by Andrew Rowe

Title: Sufficiently Advanced Magic

Author: Andrew Rowe

Series: Arcane Ascension #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Overview: Five years ago, Corin Cadence’s brother entered the Serpent Spire — a colossal tower with ever-shifting rooms, traps, and monsters. Those who survive the spire’s trials return home with an attunement: a mark granting the bearer magical powers. According to legend, those few who reach the top of the tower will be granted a boon by the spire’s goddess. He never returned. Now, it’s Corin’s turn. He’s headed to the top floor, on a mission to meet the goddess. If he can survive the trials, Corin will earn an attunement, but that won’t be sufficient to survive the dangers on the upper levels. For that, he’s going to need training, allies, and a lot of ingenuity. The journey won’t be easy, but Corin won’t stop until he gets his brother back. -Goodreads

The Review:

This book was completely packed with magic school awesomeness from cover to cover. All of the elements I’m always clamor for more for in other works. But as I approached the last 25% of the book, I (and Carrie) couldn’t help but wonder:

Can you have too much of a good thing?

Probably. Especially if it comes at the sacrifice of sufficiently paced plot advancement. It was amazing to read about the complex magic system, all of the different types of mages, the magical creatures, and the endless stream of practical applications. It’s so much fun to sit in on a magic class and learn alongside the students (my favorite story type, actually). Add on top of that arena-style battles and choose your own adventure towers with puzzles to solve and creature to kill, what’s not to love?! But after a while even those amazing ideas and great execution start to feel like cheap entertainment when there’s not an overall plot of substance driving the story. I will say it did finally wrap up in the last 5% of the book with a series of decent “reveals,” and the payoff was probably worth the wait. Even so, it had me questioning a DNF at about the 80% mark. I’m glad I kept reading.

The main character has a few interesting quirks but unfortunately nothing truly flawed in a way that makes achieving things a problem. He’s overly smart, overly proficient, and overly lucky when it came to academics. Even the things he was supposed to be bad at often turned into admirable accomplishments. I personally found him irritatingly pedantic. Like ::pushes glasses up nose:: “Ummm, yeah how do I know you are who you really say you are? You could’ve listened in at any time to get that info. But I guess asking for reassurance is pointless because if you weren’t you, you’d just tell me what I want to hear anyway. But how am I supposed to trust you? Jump through some hoops for me even though you’re a teacher and my arbitrary worries shouldn’t even technically count for sh$t.” And many other similarly pointless sequences. It speaks of a character who’s desperate to prove how smart he is. Which is an interesting construct but it wasn’t presented as if it were deliberate. And that’s not the only thing I think was slightly over-done.

It’s as if the author anticipated certain plot holes and implausibilities and instead of just embracing it (after all, the entire story is his fabrication, he can do what he wants and we’d more or less go along with it) or dropping in a few subtle counters, he periodically has characters explain ad nauseam in the text why certain things were/were not the case. When this happened it degraded the story down to a YA level with its ever so slight condescending tone.

It may not seem like it at this point, but overall I enjoyed the book. The fun stuff was superb enough to overshadow the negatives by far (I really love the idea of following Corin as he levels-up his magic skills). However if I do decide to continue the series, my expectations for development in the next book are considerably higher.

Recommendations: if you’re like me, you’ll delight at the magic school awesomeness this book contains and be eager to pick it up even though that’s really the entire focus of the story (maybe especially because it’s the entire focus). It’ll still evoke a sense of nostalgia and give you a lot of great magicking to stick your teeth into.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Million Dollar Demon by Kim Harrison

Million Dollar Demon by Kim Harrison

Title: Million Dollar Demon

Author: Kim Harrison

Series: The Hollows #15

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: To save the city, Rachel Morgan will need to show some teeth in the next Hollows novel from #1 New York Times bestselling author Kim Harrison. The new master vampire of Cincinnati has arrived . . . and she wants Rachel Morgan out. No matter where Rachel goes, Constance is there–threatening Rachel’s allies, causing city-wide chaos, and, to add insult to injury, even forcing Rachel out of her current quarters. Ever since Rachel found a way to save the souls of vampires, the old undead’s longtime ascendancy has been broken. Now Constance sees eliminating Rachel as the key to consolidating her own power. Rachel has no desire to be enthralled or killed–and she’s terrified of what may become of the city if Constance forces a return to the ancient ways. But even a witch-born demon can’t stand against the old undead–at least, not alone. And if Rachel refuses to claim the role of Cincinnati’s master demon, the city will tear itself apart, taking her and all those who stand beside her with it. -Goodreads

The Review:

Rachel Morgan is every bit as enjoyable now as she was 10 years ago. Only now there’s an element of nostalgia that makes any new Hollows book that much more special. The quality has not diminished one iota and the plot is, if anything, only getting more interesting.

There are a few UF series on the market that might be continuing well past their prime (ahem), but Harrison’s work is definitely not among them. I’ve said this before, but my favorite thing about this author is how well she slows down the happenings in the story to really focus on nuances of character and internal development. There’s plenty of action to spice it up, but for the most part she allows you to feel truly connected to the characters and involved in the scenes. Her writing is quite differentiated from the rest of urban fantasy, having more of that high fantasy quality and writing style (she also writes fantasy under the name “Dawn Cook.” I love her Truth series). She carried a lot of that slow burn development over to this series, making it one of the strongest in the genre. While it’s not quite my all-time favorite, she immerses you so well into the story that it’s responsible for my single favorite moments in an UF work (Black Magic Sanction wrecked me).

I love how the demon’s story progressed in this book. There are a lot of things building and developing that I’m betting are going to have a great payoff later. I also appreciated the nice balance of old beloved characters and new additions to keep it spicy. One thing I liked in particular is how Harrison used situations and other characters to solidify what a likable character Rachel is. It’s a cool writing technique that really captured my interest the whole way through. And at this point in the series Rachel is still experiencing growth, which is awesome. The only thing that might have made it better is a more momentous ending. But other than that, it satisfied on every account and I can’t wait to get my hands on the next one.

Recommendations: I consider the Hollows a staple in the urban fantasy genre. It’s a slow-burn, character-focused series with gradually snowballing plots that eventually knock your socks off. Even after ending the series at book 13 then revamping (pun), it hasn’t lost any of the amazing quality. If you like any of my recs below but haven’t given this a try, you’re in for a treat!

I’d like to thank Berkley Publishing Group, Kim Harrison, and Netgalley for the chance to read and review an early copy of Million Dollar Demon. :D

Other books you might like:

By Niki Hawkes