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Tackling the TBR [38]: September 2018

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 2018 TBR Tackler Shelf:

I seem to have taken an unplanned mental break from everything these last few weeks (sometimes those are good for you). I’d been sticking to a really strict reading schedule (because all of my library holds came in at once and I wanted to make sure I got to them all) and I think I caused myself a little burnout. As a result, this month I’m back to just listing out 10 priority titles, and I might actually be able to get to them all. I’m most excited for all things Ilona Andrews. :)


Have a great September!

by Niki Hawkes

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Coming Soon: Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds by Brandon Sanderson

Title: Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Series: Legion #1-3

Genre: Fantasy

Release Date: September 18, 2018 <-Release dates are subject to change

The Overview: Stephen Leeds is perfectly sane. It’s his hallucinations who are mad. A genius of unrivaled aptitude, Stephen can learn any new skill, vocation, or art in a matter of hours. However, to contain all of this, his mind creates hallucinatory people—Stephen calls them aspects—to hold and manifest the information. Wherever he goes, he is joined by a team of imaginary experts to give advice, interpretation, and explanation. He uses them to solve problems… for a price. Stephen’s brain is getting a little crowded and the aspects have a tendency of taking on lives of their own. When a company hires him to recover stolen property—a camera that can allegedly take pictures of the past—Stephen finds himself in an adventure crossing oceans and fighting terrorists. What he discovers may upend the foundation of three major world religions—and, perhaps, give him a vital clue into the true nature of his aspects. This fall, Tor Books will publish Brandon Sanderson’s Legion: The Many Lives of Stephen Leeds. The collection will include the science fiction novellas Legion and Legion: Skin Deep, published together for the first time, as well as a brand new Stephen Leeds novella, Lies of the Beholder. This never-been-published novella will complete the series.-Goodreads

Nik’s Notes:

Legion is such a fun story! I love the creativity, the mystery, and the humor infused in every novella, and I’m glad Sanderson didn’t stop with just the first one. This edition is a compilation of the first two stories and the soon-to-be-released final novella (Legion: The Beholder’s Eye). I’m excited to have a nice-looking hardcover of these to add to my collections, as I’m sure I’ll be rereading them for years to come!

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik

Title: Throne of Jade

Author: Naomi Novik

Series: Temeraire #2

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: When Britain intercepted a French ship and its precious cargo–an unhatched dragon’s egg–Capt. Will Laurence of HMS Reliant unexpectedly became master and commander of the noble dragon he named Temeraire. As new recruits in Britain’s Aerial Corps, man and dragon soon proved their mettle in daring combat against Bonaparte’s invading forces. Now China has discovered that its rare gift, intended for Napoleon, has fallen into British hands–and an angry Chinese delegation vows to reclaim the remarkable beast. But Laurence refuses to cooperate. Facing the gallows for his defiance, Laurence has no choice but to accompany Temeraire back to the Far East–a long voyage fraught with peril, intrigue, and the untold terrors of the deep. Yet once the pair reaches the court of the Chinese emperor, even more shocking discoveries and darker dangers await. -Goodreads

The Review:

Throne of Jade offered a relaxing continuation to the story, containing all of the elements I enjoyed in His Majesty’s Dragon. “Relaxing” might seem like an odd term to attribute to a military dragon story, but the smooth writing and slow pacing had me snuggling into my seat under a pile of blankets, enjoying what I would earnestly call a true “armchair adventure.” Exciting action scenes are spliced throughout the tale, but for the most part my expectations for this series has developed into a knowledge that I can just ease back into the immersion and trust that the gradual flow of the story is taking me somewhere worthwhile.

This series is playing havoc on my expectations for it. In His Majesty’s Dragon, I got a beautiful dragon/human bonding story that focused on their budding relationship… when I expected a full-blown military showdown and very little character development. In Throne of Jade, I got a nautical adventure with some great inter-character moments… when I was expecting most of the book to focus on some sort of military conflict with China (are you seeing the pattern here?). Honestly though, a lot of that has to do with marketing. If they really wanted to represent the contents of this book, a more accurate title would’ve been “Voyage to the Throne of Jade,” lol. Slight discrepancy aside, it was still a journey I was on board to take (pun), and the payoff with wonderful things experienced at the end of the book was worth the wait. The beautiful imagery surrounding the unique dragon culture Novik created was stunning, and I love the dynamics it added to the overall story and to Temeraire’s character profile. I can’t wait to see what surprises like this I’m in for in future books. :)

As impressed as I was with the story-weaving and world building, Temeraire and Lawrence are still the selling points of this series, and I imagine that will always continue to be the case. There was a lot of introspective dialogue between them in this installment, and I love how the dragon is beginning to shape some of his convictions. I also love how much I’ve learned about Novik’s vision for dragon culture evolution in this alternate world, and, as with fun surprises, look forward to seeing how she develops this throughout the series.

Series status: Temeraire is currently my #1 priority at the moment, and I’m trying to strike a balance between satisfying my cravings for them with my desire to also avoid burnout lol. Good stuff. :)

Recommendations: I would recommend this series to fantasy readers who don’t mind a slow-moving, character-focused plot. It’s a bonus if you like alternate history stories, but so far that aspect seems to be taking a backseat to general dragon awesomeness.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan

Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan

Title: The Promise of Blood

Author: Brian McClellan

Series: The Powder Mage #1

Genre: Fantasy (Flintlock)

Rating: 5/5 stars!

The Overview: The Age of Kings is dead . . . and I have killed it. It’s a bloody business overthrowing a kingField Marshal Tamas’ coup against his king sent corrupt aristocrats to the guillotine and brought bread to the starving. But it also provoked war with the Nine Nations, internal attacks by royalist fanatics, and the greedy to scramble for money and power by Tamas’s supposed allies: the Church, workers unions, and mercenary forces. Stretched to his limit, Tamas is relying heavily on his few remaining powder mages, including the embittered Taniel, a brilliant marksman who also happens to be his estranged son, and Adamat, a retired police inspector whose loyalty is being tested by blackmail. -Goodreads

The Review:

There wasn’t a single thing I didn’t like about Promise of Blood.

The best components were the characters. It struck me as profound in several places of the book how damn good McClellan was as creating deep connections between his characters to the point where it felt like reading about real people (making it all the more poignant when something happened to one of them). Most authors tell you there’s a connection, McClellan makes you feel it. The character profiles were nuanced and detailed, and they always played brilliantly off of one another. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it done as well as it was in Promise of Blood, so for that alone the book jumps up a few notches.

And then he took those fantastic characters and made them funny as shit. And not in that “I’m clearly adding a joke here” kind of way, but rather he infused humor in the details – subtle gestures, the ways the characters thought about things, and dry wit within the dialogue (aka, exactly the type of funny I prefer in my books). It sent the book up a few more notches.

As if all that wasn’t enough, I also found the plot highly engaging. There was a lot of political maneuvering and a “traitor in the midst” mystery to uncover, from which I found additional entertainment trying to puzzle out.

And then there was even a cool magic system (or two). Before diving in, I would have almost guaranteed you that my biggest takeaway from the book would’ve been the magic system (that sort of world building always amps me up), but surprisingly it was perfectly content to take a backseat to all the other interesting elements. Its casual inclusion in the story was brilliant, and pretty much notched this book into the solid 5-star category for me. Well done, is all I can say. :)

Were there a few pacing issues? Possibly. It’s a slow burn with multiple POVs and allocates a lot of time for dialogue and establishing relationships between characters. I can see how that might cause some to lose interest, especially if they weren’t as engaged with the mystery, humor, and subtle character development. Personally, I ate up every single moment and would gladly sit through a reread. If anything the slower beginning made the whirlwind of the end that much more exciting by contrast.

Series status: I’m on a long waiting list for the next two books, but liked this book well enough to consider buying them outright. Either way, book 2 has the highest priority spot.

Recommendations: Promise of Blood is a highly recommendable flintlock fantasy that will likely appeal to most fantasy readers (especially those who don’t mind a slow burning plot). It had the perfect blend of mystery, magic, humor, and an extra splash of brilliance when it came to the characters. Depending on how the series goes, this could shape up to be a top recommend for me.

Other books you might like (these recs are borrowed from a great post DragonsandZombies did on flintlock fantasy – I’ve read 3 of the 5 listed and can attest to the genre amazingness):

You can check out more great flintlock fantasy recs through her full post. :)

by Niki Hawkes

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Tackling the TBR [37]: August 2018

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 2018 TBR Tackler Shelf:

I found myself almost antsy to set this post up because I’ve been having so much fun lately organizing and scheduling books. (<-Edit, that attitude came back to bite me in the butt… you’ll see). From all appearances, my lineup of books looks the same as always, but I have them arranged a little differently this month.

Top Row: Books I already have copies for and am definitely reading (The Kim Harrison ones are super short, so I’ll be doing that entire trilogy).
Middle Row: Books I have a library hold on and would love to read next month if they arrive in time.
Bottom Row: Books I’m either partway through or am just less excited to read (Gardens of the Moon the exception to both of those).

So… I was so excited for this post, that by the time I went to review it the day before publication, everything had changed (lol, I guess you really can be too prepared). Now EVERYTHING on my list I’m excited to read. :D I left a few blank spaces to accommodate a couple of review titles I know are headed my way.

I’ve been over-scheduling myself these last few months, and that has resulted in several half-finished titles I’d like to get a handle on in August (<- Edit, I already got a handle on them by the end of July and deleted them from this list – go me!). I figure if I stick to my conservative 10 book high-priority list, then I’ll have plenty of time between titles to work on some of these lower priority books (which are just good enough that I don’t want to abandon them outright) (<-Edit, I speed-read a couple of them to the end and abandoned the others). The point of this method is to focus only on high-priority titles, so I’m hoping this visual separation will help keep my attentions on the best books first (because let’s face it, some titles that were high-priority drop down the totem pole once you get into them…but I’d still like to finish what I started). I figure a chapter a day of the less-appealing titles is time I can fit in easily. (<-Edit, I decided they weren’t worth my time and did what I needed to do to free up space for review copies and other titles I know I’ll love). 


So, an unconventional post, but one I’m oddly happy with because it shows the honest struggle it can be to plan out reads sometimes. It also highlights how often throughout the month my reading plans are tweaked.  It’s so weird to feel like I’m both a meticulous planner and a mood reader at the same time. I seem to have finally found a method that allows me to mix the best of both worlds… perhaps I’ll do a post on that soon. :)

The fact that I update my reading schedule almost daily has me wondering if posting a Tackling the TBR more frequently might be more helpful. <-Any thoughts on that idea? Would a weekly or bi-weekly Tackling the TBR post (with a different format) feel like too much? I’d love some feedback. :)

 Have a great August!

by Niki Hawkes

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Niki’s Book Journal [July 2018]

Niki’s Book Journal [July 2018]

The biggest bookish thing that happened this month was that I finished work on my reading/creative space and could finally just sit and enjoy it (I’m planning a bookshelf tour at some point).

It was wonderful. Around two weeks in I decided to designate it the no-phone zone. If I want to listen to an audiobook while working on a project, I’d hookup my wireless headphones, leave the phone set to the right screen in the other room, and click it on remotely whenever I needed it. I think it’s brilliant.

Unrelated (but perhaps spurred by my new anti-phone productivity), I finally set myself into a blogging schedule and came up with a way to plan upcoming posts – more on that later. Not being organized in this area is part of the reason why I’m so bad at getting reviews written and posted. It’s an ongoing goal to pay at least a little attention to everything I read on this platform. People see me reading new things on Goodreads all the time, but never get more than a one sentence – I liked it! RTC (if I had a dime for the number of unreviewed books that still say RTC…).


Mini Reviews!!

Kiss of Death by Rachel Caine

Kiss of Death (Morganville Vampires #) [3/5 stars] by Rachel Caine

I guess it says something about the general lack of robustness of this series that I seldom have more than a paragraph or so to write about it. Possibly this is due to how short each book is, but I think it’s mostly because once you’ve read a couple, you’ve pretty much read them all. Kiss of Death did change it up a bit – taking the characters out of their main setting (for reasons that felt a little inconsistent with the plot so far, but whatever), and I have to say I genuinely enjoyed the journey. These really are the perfect bite-sized reads to help break up the heavy fantasy I’ve been reading and, although my reviews aren’t the most flattering, I’ll be disappointed when I run out of them. They’re slightly off-beat and would be great recommends for older teens (it doesn’t have anything explicit, but it definitely endorses underaged sex). I wish I had devoured these when I was younger and more able to appreciate them, but for now, I’m glad that it still has appeal to me as an adult.

Wildfire by Ilona Andrews

Wildfire (Hidden Legacy #3) by Ilona Andrews [4/5 stars]

I devoured this trilogy so quickly that a lot of it feels like a blur now. If the authors hadn’t announced that there’ll be a novella to wrap things up and a spinoff trilogy on the horizon, I’d probably be complaining that Wildfire left the series a bit incomplete. But I won’t, because there is. :) As much as I love the back and forth between the main characters, my favorite element of this book was digging more into how the different “Houses” of this world function and learning more background info about those dynamics. I also have to give the book kudos for handling an aspect of the love story really well (having to do with jealousy and ignorance, but I won’t hash out the whole thing). In any case, Wildfire and the Hidden Legacy series in general perpetuated my fangirl attitude towards these authors and I can’t wait to devour the few unread series I still have from them.

The Willful Princess and the Piebald Prince by Robin Hobb

The Willful Princess and the Piebald Prince by Robin Hobb [3/5 stars]

Robin Hobb be like “Niki, you think Fitz and the Fool messed you up, you just wait. Ima gut punch you as many times as possible in under 200 pages.” Piebald prince, my friends, is a bonafide tragedy. It was also poignantly written and so starkly engaging at parts, which is exactly what you don’t want in a story that’s setting you up for a throwdown. It has been a month and I’m still not fully recovered. On one hand it was great to see a back history for why the “witted” are so despised in the main Elderling series, but on the other I think I may have been better off remaining ignorant lol. In all seriousness, this was a well-crafted novella on par with Hobb’s other works. My personal dislike of tragic stories definitely affected my rating because, although I love this author, I did not enjoy all the negative feelings stirred up in me while reading this story. Kudos to Hobb for being a skilled enough writer to evoke such a strong reaction in me (she’s my favorite for a reason), but suffice to say I won’t be rereading this tale anytime soon.

The Builders By Daniel Polansky [3/5 stars]

I saw this title pop up on my Goodreads feed and thought “you know, I’ve never tried a grimdark Redwall story – cool!” and then proceeded to devour it that afternoon. It had a clever infusion of woodland creatures into a dark tale of revenge, and I think had it been humans instead of animals I still would’ve enjoyed it. It made me ponder though – were the animals even necessary? In any case, I appreciated the creativity. This is probably the only time I will have the opportunity to refer to a tale of betrayal and murder as “cute,” but that’s exactly what it was. At the very least, it put this author in my radar. It’s a great snack-sized story that I’d recommend if you need something light between books.


Thanks for going on my book journey with me. How was your month in reading? :)

by Niki Hawkes