Image

Book Review Addendum: The Shadow of What Was Lost by James Islington

The Shadow of What was Lost by James Islington

Title: The Shadow of What Was Lost

Author: James Islington

Series: Licanius Trilogy #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 5/5 stars!

The Overview: As a student of the Gifted, Davian suffers the consequences of a war fought—and lost—before he was born. Despised by most beyond the school walls, he and those around him are all but prisoners as they attempt to learn control of the Gift. Worse, as Davian struggles with his lessons, he knows that there is further to fall if he cannot pass his final tests. But when Davian discovers he has the ability to wield the forbidden power of the Augurs, he sets into motion a chain of events that will change everything. To the north, an ancient enemy long thought defeated begins to stir. And to the west, a young man whose fate is intertwined with Davian’s wakes up in the forest, covered in blood and with no memory of who he is… -Goodreads

The (Updated) Review:

Responsible for one of my favorite reading experiences in 2017, I originally reviewed the first two books for a newspaper. I addressed the series as a whole and didn’t have the word count to really delve into specifics of each book. I also averaged my ratings of the two into a 4.5. Not a bad rating, but it didn’t accurately reflect my experience with each book. After finishing my reread in preparation to finish the series, now seems like a great time to update my review.

I loved The Shadow of What was Lost my first time through, but somehow it was even better the second time. I think I mentioned an issue with repetitive word choice near the end to justify the docking of .5 stars, but whatever pedantic mindset made me focus on that must have vanished because I didn’t notice it this time around (and I was looking). I completely loved every single moment. So much so that my re-evaluation places it with a solid 5 stars and a spot on my very conservative all-time favorites shelf.

The book does an amazing job providing that nostalgic classic fantasy/adventure feel. Between the likable nature of all the characters, the lightheartedness of the beginning chapters, and that exciting first spark leading to adventure, it reminded me of the likes of Brooks, Eddings, and Jordan. But it only got better from there as Islington used some cool concepts and concise writing to modernize the story. I love classic fantasy, but find its simplicity something I have to be in a specific mood for. Islington managed to provide the best of new and old. Combine all of that with with a quality Michael Kramer audio production, and we have a winner.

I loved the pacing, the characters, the adventure, the carefully parceled-out information, the twists, the world-building, all of it. The only thing that made it difficult on the first go-round was the similarity of many of the names. It made it difficult and slightly stressful to keep track of everyone. But this time I just kind of sat back and trusted that it would all come together, and that helped a lot. I’m sure these issues would’ve been nil had I been reading the physical copy, but for obvious reasons (Michael Kramer), I sacrificed some clarity for the experience.

Recommendations: this is a phenomenal start to a series that only gained momentum on the reread. I’d hand it to fantasy readers who love that classic fantasy feel, but crave something more complex. I’m reserving final recommendations until I read the last book, but consider The Shadow of What Was Lost an official Obsessive Bookseller favorite!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

Image

Tackling the TBR [58]: June 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:

June 2020 TBR Tackler Shelf:

Physical Copies:

Audiobooks:

I went a little overboard last month signing up for ARCs and setting up Buddy Reads. I think my key to reading a lot is the freedom I get from being able to follow my whims. If I schedule a Buddy Read further out than a week, I’m seldom in the mood to join when the time comes around (plus I suck at timing books out, so I’m inevitably trying to finish one while starting another and that’s where major book slumps happen). So I decided going forward I’m going to request BRs only for books I’m getting ready to start because I hate flaking out on good people.

And ARCs… I wrote an article a few years ago called ARC Management Tips: How to Avoid Over-Requesting and since then I’ve followed my own advice to a T, keeping my feedback ratio at 100% for things I’ve requested (I’m a little shy than that on unsolicited copies). But since I got more active with publishers again, I noticed I’m starting to miss the time I was spending on reading backlist titles. I’m still only requesting ARCs from my most-anticipated list on goodreads, but it seems like more and more of those are becoming available (oh, the hardships lol). I had just decided to give myself a break from ARCs (because, after all, I can still get them and read them on release day) when Emerald Blaze popped up… yeah all my plans out the window. 

The point of all of that is, now that I have my flair for reading back, I’m searching for balance. The reading sweet-spot, if you will. I think I’m getting closer to discovering it…

Mirage, Emerald Blaze, and Death and Relaxation are review obligations and all the other titles are books I’ve been eager to get to. Emerald Blaze is obviously #1, but I’m oddly excited about Betrothed by Cass (my major guilty pleasures).


Have a great month in reading!

by Niki Hawkes

Image

Novella Review: Sweep with Me by Ilona Andrews

Title: Sweep with Me

Author: Ilona Andrews

Series: Innkeeper Chronicles #4.5

Genre: Fantasy. Er, kind of. Scifi?

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: [Goodreads just has a stock-overview for the whole series. This one is about facilitating a meeting at the Inn between a cool magical being and a corrupt business man… among other things] Thank you for joining us at Gertrude Hunt, the nicest Bed and Breakfast in Red Deer, Texas, during the Treaty Stay. As you know, we are honor-bound to accept all guests during this oldest of innkeeper holidays and we are expecting a dangerous guest. Or several. But have no fear. Your safety and comfort is our first priority. The inn and your hosts, Dina Demille and Sean Evans, will defend you at all costs. [But we hope we don’t have to.] Every winter, Innkeepers look forward to celebrating their own special holiday, which commemorates the ancient treaty that united the very first Inns and established the rules that protect them, their intergalactic guests, and the very unaware/oblivious people of [planet] Earth. By tradition, the Innkeepers welcomed three guests: a warrior, a sage, and a pilgrim, but during the holiday, Innkeepers must open their doors to anyone who seeks lodging. Anyone. All Dina hopes is that the guests and conduct themselves in a polite manner. But what’s a holiday without at least one disaster? -Goodreads

The Review:

Now we’re back on track! I really missed Dina and the Inn in the last installment (which was a great read, but it was more a spin-off than a true continuation) so I’m glad to see her back with flair. I really loved the conflict in Sweep with Me and the interesting characters who visited the Inn (the inclusion of so many non-human entities is what makes this series so fun). It hits the spot perfectly for that light-hearted palate cleanser between heavier reads, and sadly finishing this one puts me completely up to date with IA reads (::shrieks:: what am I going to do?!!?). This series has been excellent to recommend to people looking for something light, and it stretches nicely to fill a lot of spec-fic genres (it reads like an urban fantasy, the magic feels very fantasy, yet the concept and world-building is all modern scifi… I love it when books break molds). I can’t wait for the next one. :) Emerald Blaze (the newest Hidden Legacy book coming out August 2020) will have to hold me over!

P.S. I love the cook. He reminds me of Huido in Julie Czerneda’s Trade Pact Universe / Clan Chronicles.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

Image

Mini Review: Blood of Empire by Brian McClellan

Blood of Empire by Brian McClellan

Title: Blood of Empire

Author: Brian McClellan

Series: Gods of Blood and Powder #3

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: The Dynize have unlocked the Landfall Godstone, and Michel Bravis is tasked with returning to Greenfire Depths to do whatever he can to prevent them from using its power; from sewing dissension among the enemy ranks to rallying the Palo population. Ben Styke’s invasion of Dynize is curtailed when a storm scatters his fleet. Coming ashore with just twenty lancers, he is forced to rely on brains rather than brawn – gaining new allies in a strange land on the cusp of its own internal violence. Bereft of her sorcery and physically and emotionally broken, Lady Vlora Flint now marches on Landfall at the head of an Adran army seeking vengeance against those who have conspired against her. While allied politicians seek to undo her from within, she faces insurmountable odds and Dynize’s greatest general. -Goodreads

The Mini Review:

You know those fantasy authors who are so good, you can relax into their writing and just enjoy? That’s McClellan. I’ve been a book reviewer for almost a decade, and it’s difficult sometimes to turn off my critical eye. But every once in a while, a series comes along where I can just sit back and appreciate the journey without all the constant evaluation. These are the kinds of stories that give me fire as a reviewer – the ones that end up on my favorites lists to be recommended for years. There wasn’t a single thing I didn’t love about this continuation trilogy. The quality of every element was so on-point, but by far my favorite component was the characters and the amazing relationships cultivated between them. I go into much greater detail in other reviews for this series, so I’ll save you the repetition, but suffice to say it’s superb. Evaluating all the books I’ve read from him so far, I think Promise of Blood is still my favorite, but only because it was the funniest. The ending of Blood of Empire was great, and I hope it’s not the last we see from this world. He has a new unrelated series starting next year, and I plan to be first in line for it!

Other books you might like:

Image

Book Review: Kingdom of Liars by

The Kingdom of Liars by Nick Martell

Title: Kingdom of Liars

Author: Nick Martell

Series: The Legacy of the Mercenary of Kings #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

The Overview: Michael is branded a traitor as a child because of the murder of the king’s nine-year-old son, by his father David Kingman. Ten years later on Michael lives a hardscrabble life, with his sister Gwen, performing crimes with his friends against minor royals in a weak attempt at striking back at the world that rejects him and his family. In a world where memory is the coin that pays for magic, Michael knows something is there in the hot white emptiness of his mind. So when the opportunity arrives to get folded back into court, via the most politically dangerous member of the kingdom’s royal council, Michael takes it, desperate to find a way back to his past. He discovers a royal family that is spiraling into a self-serving dictatorship as gun-wielding rebels clash against magically trained militia. What the truth holds is a set of shocking revelations that will completely change the Hollows, if Michael and his friends and family can survive long enough to see it. -Goodreads

The Review:

Kingdom of Liars had some good ideas and a wicked cool atmosphere, but the story itself lacked a bit of logical structure and flow.

The atmosphere created, with a shattered moon that periodically rained down on the city, combined well with both the contrasting lifestyles of the different casts of people and the general air of magic and mayhem. It was superb! Easily my favorite element of the story. Even during parts I wasn’t totally sure I was onboard with, I kept reading to see what the world building and society would reveal next. I can say I’ve never read anything quite like this book, and that’s a mark in its favor.

It also included an interesting magic system, but almost as an afterthought. The excerpt and title lead you to believe the characters would face a constant battle between practicing magic and losing memory, but unfortunately all of it happened on the periphery. There wasn’t even a really clear description of how it worked, save a few passing conversations, so it’s definitely the component most primed for expansion in the sequel.

But overall, if I could describe Kingdom of Liars in one word, it would be: contrived.

The second would be disjointed. Most of the reviews I’ve seen state the beginning is slow, but the second half really picks up, making the whole book worthwhile. I can see why they claim this – all of the fun “reveals” take place in the second half… but my personal experience was the opposite. I loved the atmosphere and the concept right out of the gate (and the KILLER prequel), but the longer the story went, the more I became dissatisfied with the trajectory. The plot was all over the place, jumping from event to event without a really solid through-line. I tend to prefer more structure in storytelling; a more natural-feeling flow of events. Because of the first chapter, I knew it was working towards a clear objective, but there were several conversations and tangents that felt unnecessary and didn’t seem to fit within the framework. It was very forced. And because it was forced, it made the main character make so many odd decisions that he came off erratic and impulsive. His wild decisions always defied logic!!! And yet somehow they always worked out… because they were constructed to… and that’s the problem. He never felt like a real person, he felt like a vehicle to advance plot.

Even so, the story did have a bunch of good payoffs, and I did enjoy the writing behind it. Despite my objections to the story construction, the basic writing and conveying of ideas was great, reminding me of the conversational approach Sebastien de Castell uses in his stories (minus the over-the-top flippancy). I’d love to see what this author can do off the cuff, because in this case the plot seemed so tortured and overworked that I didn’t spend as much time enjoying the writing as I would have liked.

Recommendations: Kingdom of Liars, despite having a unique atmosphere and a cool concept, was a bit too contrived for my tastes. If you don’t mind adopting a more “just go with it” attitude, it’ll definitely offer you a memorable story. I can honestly say I’ve never read anything quite like it…

I’d like to thank Gallery Books and Nick Martell for the chance to read an early copy of Kingdom of Liars!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

Image

Tackling the TBR [57]: May 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:

May 2020 TBR Tackler Shelf:

Physical Copies:

Audiobooks:

Reading has been so much fun lately. :) I get the occasional dud here and there, but for the most part, everything I’ve been picking up has been golden! I’m finally in back into a good reading routine, which prioritizes sitting down with a physical book a couple times a day. I’m also signing up for ARCs and getting more involved with Buddy Reads in my favorite Goodreads group. This is awesome – I feel like my old self again ^_^. American Demon is my last current ARC, so once I finish that I’ll finally be diving into Deadhouse Gates (which I started about a year ago…). The Cruel Stars is a review obligation as well, but I’m almost positive it’s going to be one I’ll enjoy. 


Have a great month in reading!

by Niki Hawkes