Image

Tackling the TBR [56]: April 2020

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:

April 2020 TBR Tackler Shelf:

Physical Copies:

Audiobooks:

My TTTBR post is a little early this month, but I finished all the titles on last month’s list and found myself needing to get organized. I’ve been much more active in the book community since the end of January and have started requesting and accepting review copies from publishers again… and I’m a bit overwhelmed (and very excited!). I should be reading the ARCs in order of pending publication, but I couldn’t help but start the new Dresden book asap. :)


Have a great month in reading!

by Niki Hawkes

Image

Book Review: Anya and the Dragon by Sofiya Pasternack

Title: Anya and the Dragon

Author: Sofiya Pasternack

Series: Anya #1

Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: Anya and the Dragon is the story of fantasy and mayhem in tenth century Eastern Europe, where headstrong eleven-year-old Anya is a daughter of the only Jewish family in her village. When her family’s livelihood is threatened by a bigoted magistrate, Anya is lured in by a friendly family of fools, who promise her money in exchange for helping them capture the last dragon in Kievan Rus. This seems easy enough, until she finds out that the scary old dragon isn’t as old—or as scary—as everyone thought. Now Anya is faced with a choice: save the dragon, or save her family. -Goodreads

The Review:

Anya and the Dragon was a lovely middle grade story with enough interesting elements to make it a great pick for kids to read with their parents.

I haven’t had a lot of patience for middle grade novels lately, but considering the premise and the fact that it got recognized at the ALA Media Awards, I decided to accept a review copy…

And I liked it. ^_^

It’s always fun to see different cultures represented in fantasy books, and I thought the author did an especially good job at immersing the reader in the “Tenth century Eastern Europe” lifestyle (insofar as is appropriate for a middle grade book). It also covered a few more serious topics dealing with prejudice and oppression of Jewish families at that time, which was nice to see. Both of these factors are why I think the book has so much hype.

Anya was a great main character. Faced with a moral dilemma, she showcased her ability to make hard decisions, and I appreciate that she was so humble even when she was being most brave. A lot of MG heroes seem to have to put on over-dramatic airs and make a lot of stupid decisions to prove they’re worthy, but Anya’s demeanor was subtle and lovely. The positive takeaway was that actions driven by kindness can be powerful too.

Here’s the caveat: there weren’t a lot of fantasy elements through most of the novel (well, that’s not strictly true – they were there in the background, but never really felt like the focus). The selling point was the relatable main character and the cultural immersion. The dragon doesn’t come into play until much later in the book, and when it does, it’s vastly different than I think most fantasy readers will expect. Mostly because it’s geared to be more accessible to kids. It’s friendlier storytelling, if that makes sense. I didn’t dislike it – it was actually kind of fun to be surprised a bit, but when I became apparent that the fantasy elements were secondary, I felt my enthusiasm and attention waning. That aside, it was still a fun story.

Recommendations: this is a lovely, culturally-infused middle grade book that would be fun to read with a child (or to have them read on their own). I think it may be a tad too accessible for adult fantasy enthusiasts, but it’s entertaining nonetheless if you’re in the mood for something light. It’s definitely better than most middle grade novels I’ve tried lately, so we’ll give it big kudos for that. :)

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

Image

Book Review: Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie

Before They are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie

Title: Before They Are Hanged

Author: Joe Abercrombie

Series: First Law #2

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: Superior Glokta has a problem. How do you defend a city surrounded by enemies and riddled with traitors, when your allies can by no means be trusted, and your predecessor vanished without a trace? It’s enough to make a torturer want to run – if he could even walk without a stick. Northmen have spilled over the border of Angland and are spreading fire and death across the frozen country. Crown Prince Ladisla is poised to drive them back and win undying glory. There is only one problem – he commands the worst-armed, worst-trained, worst-led army in the world. And Bayaz, the First of the Magi, is leading a party of bold adventurers on a perilous mission through the ruins of the past. The most hated woman in the South, the most feared man in the North, and the most selfish boy in the Union make a strange alliance, but a deadly one. They might even stand a chance of saving mankind from the Eaters. If they didn’t hate each other quite so much. Ancient secrets will be uncovered. Bloody battles will be won and lost. Bitter enemies will be forgiven – but not before they are hanged. –Goodreads

The Review:

The first book was good, with flashes of brilliance… this one was better.

I’ve heard so much about this series. When talking to normal people (those who don’t read more than just casually), Abercrombie’s name comes up a lot. It’s a mainstream series that, for the most part, lives up to all the hype. It’s credited as one of the first Grimdark novels, and that sentiment is much more apparent in this second book than the first. Authors these days are taking things a lot further, but you can definitely see the base influence here. I held off on reading it for several years because said normal people kept talking about how hard the torture scenes were to read. As it happens, almost every other Grimdark series I’ve read so far has been worse (much worse), so don’t let that scare you if you’re holding off for similar reasons (or don’t let it overly entice you haha).

The Blade Itself (book #1) came across very much like a setup novel. The characters were worth spending time with and the overall story was interesting, but when it came down to actual plot-progression, not a whole lot happened. That’s where Before They Are Hanged improved: pivotal moments happened left and right and the story finally caught up with all the other brilliant story components. I loved it. There were a few moments in particular that I’m still thinking about weeks later, which says a lot about the content. I’ll be reading everything I can get my hands on from this author.

My only criticism at this point is the lack of relatable female characters. The women are either conniving, simpering, or so hard they might as well be men with breasts. And so far their contributions to the story has more to do with what they can offer the men rather than instigators of plot advancement. It’s a minor criticism because I still enjoyed the hell out of this book, but it did affect my rating, so that’s why I’m highlighting it. When compared to Brian McClellan (a writer I’ve been reading alongside Abercrombie who has incredibly similar components but ALSO manages to give satisfying characters of both genders), you can see why my current reading experiences would lead me to believe the lack of relatable female characters is was a missed opportunity worth mentioning. However, Glokta might be good enough on his own to compensate tenfold…

Recommendations: Before They are Hanged was a fantastic continuation to the First Law Trilogy – removing all reservations I had about the series from the first one. It has one of the best characters in fantasy (Glokta), some gritty action, and a lot of substance. I’ll happily recommend it as a staple of the genre.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

Image

Tackling the TBR [55]: March 2020

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:

March 2020 TBR Tackler Shelf:

Here’s a miracle: I actually finished all the books on my TBR Tackler Shelf for February! I’m not sure what exactly shifted, but I all of the sudden found myself back in the glorious reading groove I’ve been missing the last couple of years. I’m planning to enjoy it as long as possible. This month my ambitions include a couple of continuations, a book I’ve been rainy-day saving for a long time (Inda), and two review copies. If I have a chance, I’ll also be continuing with my reread of the Licanius books. My first inclination is to add more books to my shelf, but I don’t want to discourage future me with too many ambitions. :)


Have a great month in reading!

by Niki Hawkes

Image

The Obsessive Bookseller’s Mini Book Review Blitz! [4]

Mini Book Review Blitz!

It has been a while since I’ve put one of these together, but I’ve come across a lot of stories lately that were either too short or just didn’t garner enough emotion (good or bad) to warrant full reviews. Here are some snapshot opinions:


Book Info: Ark [Forward Collection] by Veronica Roth

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

I probably wouldn’t have picked up Ark had it not been a review obligation (audiobook production review), but I’m glad I did. It was a lot more understated than I was expecting – a story more about human connection and the little things that make us tick rather than some grand tribute to the end of the world. The main character was a horticulturist trying to catalogue as many plant species as possible before earth gets hit by an asteroid. Humanity had already gone through the grieving process and has settled into a subdued acceptance of Earth’s fate, and the MC’s calm, somber voice was my favorite thing about the story… it was intentional and fitting. All that said, I was expecting a twist or something to change the energy level of the story… to amp up the excitement or pull on my emotions. But it kind of faded out the same way it came in: chill. Overall it was an entertaining short, yet I’d caution you to throw out preconceived notions of Roth’s writing patterns before diving in and just enjoy it for the subtle short that it is.


The Stone in the Skull by Elizabeth Bear

Book Info: Stone in the Skull [Lotus Kingdoms #1] by Elizabeth Bear

Rating: 2/5 stars

I’m writing a mini review for this one because, even though it has only been a couple weeks since I finished the book, I couldn’t tell you much about it. It’s set in the same world as her Eternal Sky series, and I couldn’t help but wonder while reading if she was riding the success of previously developed characters and relationships (which were lost to me) instead of composing something fresh. It certainly felt like I was missing some key components and to be frank – not a whole lot happened. Two of the female characters were so similar, it took me more than half the book to realize they weren’t the same person (this is also a good time to point out that Bear used a lot of pronouns instead of calling the characters by name). It was an interesting, exotic world that I enjoyed reading about, there just wasn’t enough meaningful plot advancement to give me something to really dig into (… and there was a distinct lack of advertised dragons). One thing I did enjoy – I absolutely loved Bear’s writing voice. This is my first book from her, and the prose was one of the most lovely I’ve ever read in a fantasy novel (seriously). So I’m not done experimenting with her yet. I just wish I’d had more to rave about with this one.


The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson

Book Info: The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

As my second time through this novella by Sanderson (this time experienced via graphic audio for a professional review), I liked the reread just as much. The basic premise is rife with authentic Sanderson creativity and world-building – a magic system using detailed stamps to reforge items into something new. I love reading about any magic element that requires a lot of skill, so the craft descriptions throughout the story were my favorite sections. I also thought the main character had a lot of interesting dualities. There were a few moments where her decisions surprised me, and I love that. Overall, of all the shorts from Sanderson (I think I’ve read them all), this is a top 3 for me.


Book Info: Randomize [Forward Collection] by Andy Weir

Rating: 1/5 stars

Upon finishing this short story for a published review, my first thought was: “what the hell did I just read?” My second was “where have I seen this author before?” Um, yeah, it’s the author who wrote the well-know book “The Martian.” I had to reconcile the seemingly pointless story with the weight behind a name like that. I haven’t read the The Martian yet, but I’m surprise he took the direction of hacking casino systems instead of something even more futuristic. I could definitely see a scientific thinker behind the words while reading, which now makes me think I’ll love the Martian even more, but the story left me feeling kind of “meh.” And I think the only reason is that I didn’t find the subject matter particularly interesting. There are so many heist stories now, you have to have a lot of fun with them to gain any traction, and this one was very straight-laced. It also delved into heavy technical description which almost made my eyes roll back into my head a few times. It was close. Overall, I’m interested in the brain behind this story enough to read more works from Weir, but I could’ve happily passed on this one.


by Niki Hawkes

Image

Book Review: Part-Time Gods by Rachel Aaron

Part-Time Gods by Rachel Aaron

Title: Part-Time Gods

Author: Rachel Aaron

Series: DFZ #2

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: Life in the magical mess of the Detroit Free Zone is never easy. When you’re laboring under the curse of a certain prideful, overbearing dragon, it can be down right impossible. My name is Opal Yong-ae, and I’m a Cleaner. At least, I used to be. Thanks to the supernatural bad luck that turns everything I do against me, these days I’m more of a walking disaster. Getting rid of this curse is the only way to get my life back. Unfortunately, dragon magic is every bit as sneaky and deadly the monsters behind it, and just as hard to beat. But I’ve never been one to take her doom at face value. Cornered doesn’t mean defeated, and in an awakened city that rules herself, dragons are no longer the biggest powers around. -Goodreads

The Review:

More adventures in the DFZ!! This delightful spinoff series is shaping up to be even more solid than Heartstrikers… I’m loving it.

I binged Part-Time Gods in a single day – its one of those fun, lighthearted books that function as palate-cleansers between heavier fantasy novels. The story revolved around MC Opal going to creative extremes trying to shake off a dragon curse laid on her, which was my favorite element of the book. It added on to the already interesting premise (reminiscent of the show Storage Wars), and gave a much more in-depth exploration the DFZ – a place/entity that has captured my attention since the first Heartstrikers book. And I haven’t even mentioned the dragons and how much I love their haughty, stubborn personalities (the hard-headedness between Opal and her father is a really satisfying contest of wills – I can’t wait to see it played out). All the things, people. This is a killer series.

The only thing holding me back from full praise is the budding love story… I have a few reservations. The characters are adorable and a total perfect fit, but the romantic tension isn’t working well for me. The characters are behaving almost unnaturally to avoid that “getting together” moment and I feel like there’s a lot of extremely forced and unnecessary conflict in play to keep them apart (plus a dose of uncharacteristic stupidity). It’s coming across as more of a writer’s construct to save some of the tension for the next book (which I can appreciate), but there was so much clear chemistry between the characters in this book (also a good thing) that dragging it on felt contrived. Hopefully this means the next book will be on fire.

Recommendations: If you like dragons, fun characters, and books that don’t fit the mold, this is my pick for you. Heartstikers was awesome – containing some of the best “omg!” moments I’ve read in ages, but it lacked a little consistency (I thought books 4 & 5 should’ve been tightened into a single story). This DFZ spin-off is so far much more even, and I’m loving every moment. Rachel Aaron/Bach is among my shortlist of favorite authors for a reason. Give her books a try for some fun!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes