DNF Q&A: Cygnet by Patricia McKillip

Title: Cygnet

Author: Patricia Mckillip

Series: Cygnet #1&2

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 1/5 stars [DNF]

The Overview: In the realm of fantasy, one name stands out from the crowd. For many years, Patricia A. McKillip has charmed readers with her unique brand of prose magic (Locus). Now, for the first time in one volume, she offers two of her classic tales-The Sorceress and the Cygnet and The Cygnet and the Firebird-which delve into the fate of the Ro family and an otherworld rich in myth and mayhem, magic and adventure. -Goodreads

The Q&A:

This is a reviewing feature I’ve been eyeballing on one of my favorite book blogs There Were Books Involved (who’s website has since been deleted) for a couple years now because I think it’s an excellent way to talk about an unfinished book fairly. I’m incredibly grateful because Nikki (the brains behind the blog, who has a most excellent name)  kindly allowed me to steal the idea and questions for my own blog. As my list of “amazing books to read” continues to grow, I find I have less and less time and patience to devote to the books I’m just not enjoying. I never would have considered DNFing a book ten years ago, but then I came across a quote, “Read the best books first, for you might not have the chance to read them all,” and have since made it my personal mantra. So let the Q&A begin!

Did you really give Cygnet a chance?

It was clear to me from the first few chapters that this author and I weren’t going to get along. Surprisingly, I read almost 45% of the first book (this is a two-in-one compilation) and even considered finishing it since it was such a fast read. Then I decided I’d rather spend the time on something else…

Have you enjoyed other books in the same genre before?

I’m not really sure in what genre to classify this. Weird classic fantasy? What I have enjoyed are these other works that verged from the norm, but actually in a good way. All other resemblances are coincidental.

Did you have certain expectations before starting it?

Well, based on the cover, I was hoping it would have something to do with dragons who just happen to be called “cygnets” in this book, but alas it is referring to an actual swan. Maybe dragons make an appearance later on, but I didn’t make it far enough to report. I was also expecting dated writing, but not to the degree where it made the prose hard to understand/follow.

What ultimately made you stop reading?

Among other things, it was too ridiculous and I don’t have the patience for a lot of far-fetched elements in my books. By the time he was going through a cabin with a thousand rooms in the middle of a swamp and given a couple of prophecies to follow to have an effect on eternal beings, I was out. The story was so far removed from what I signed up for in the first chapter, and nothing about it made sense. My objections with the plot were boundless. And on top of that I didn’t like the writing style at all. It was disjointed and used a lot of incomplete sentences. I’m all about creative prose, but when it’s at the expense of your reader actually understanding what you’re trying to say, it’s too much. I could’ve kept reading, but I knew I was so uninvested that even had I finished, the rating wasn’t going to be any better than a two star. If that.

Was there anything you liked about Cygnet?

Um.. perhaps the basic concept at the beginning and it’s unconventionality. But the latter might be a stretch because I think it was perhaps a bit too unconventional. I still appreciate people who march to their own drum, even if I don’t want to go watch the parade.

Would you read anything else by this author?

No. In fact reading this one convinced me it would be wise to donate my other McKillip books. We’re just not on the same brainwave.

So you DNF’d the book – would you still recommend it?

I would not feel okay recommending this book in place of the vast array of others I think were more enjoyable fantasy works. Perhaps if you like more whimsical, ridiculous fantasy like Piers Anthony, this will be more up your alley, but I find I lack the patience for it.

by Niki Hawkes


Tackling the TBR [83]: August 2022

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 2022 TBR Tackler Shelf:

Last month I didn’t post a Tackling the TBR for July… and I didn’t notice until about the 20th (Facepalm). That oversight is just one of the consequences I’m facing for having so much content to generate between three main platforms (here, Booktube, and Patreon). I do think it a testament to how much I’ve been doing that I didn’t even notice until the month was almost over. Me and my OCD have been working hard to not be too bothered by July’s missing post.

Last month I read so many books. Short books, but all the same it was a wonderful month with a momentum I hope to carry over into August. I’m FINALLY caught up from my snowball of too many books going at once (which started in March and had taken me this long to fix), and true to my theory, it has made ALL THE DIFFERENCE in my reading life. I’m thrilled.

Books are fun again! They’re not taking me forever to read. And I can choose what I want next on the lineup without digging myself a deeper hole with current reads. It has been lovely.

Now that I’ve simplified my day to day reading life, I’m striving to do the same with my overall reading world. I’ve so many open series right now vying for my attention that it can sometimes take YEARS to get back to something I’ve started. My goal for the next few months is to focus on closing out as many started series as possible, and my TBR reflects that.

This month I’m mostly looking at tomes – the bigger books that take more of a time commitment – with hopes of progressing a lot of chunkier fantasy series. Next month I’ll probably turn my focus to reading outstanding series with only one or two books away from completion. I plan to document my progress with this on my YouTube channel.

Overall, reading is amazing again and I can’t wait to see what kind of dent I can make into this more conservative lineup. Wish me luck!

Have a great month in reading!

by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: Joust by Mercedes Lackey

Title: Joust

Author: Mercedes Lackey

Series: Dragon Jousters #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: Vetch was an Altan serf working the land which had once been his family’s farm. Young and slight, Vetch would have died of overwork, exposure, and starvation if not for the anger which was his only real sustenance–anger that he had lost his home and family in a war of conquest waged by the dragon-riding Jousters of Tia. Tia had usurped nearly halt of Alta’s lands and enslaved or killed many of Vetch’s countrymen. Sometimes it seemed that his entire cruel fate revolved around dragons and the Jousters who rode them. But his fate changed forever the day he first saw a dragon…. -Goodreads

The Review:

I’m thrilled to say that Joust held up to the test of time.

I’d first read it some 15 odd years ago, back when I’d done more than dip my toes into the fantasy, but didn’t yet consider myself a well-rounded reader of the genre. I was worried a reread would showcase a story I’d given a lot of concessions to because of how much I love dragons. While that’s probably still the case today, time and distance didn’t alter my enjoyment of the book in the slightest.

Having buddy read Joust both times, it’s clear I’m always the one in the group who rates it the highest. Others like the story well enough, but sometimes struggle with the pacing. As someone who loveslovesloves the idea of following along the minutia, day-to-day monotony of taking care of a dragon, every part of this story sang to my soul. I even loved the few parts where he’s organizing his master’s chambers, lol. It was an immersive experience and I loved it.

The book does a great job at showcasing the dragons. They are the focal point of the story and Lackey doesn’t take a lot of extra time, save at the beginning, to highlight the external plot of this world. It was there, for sure, but the focus was ever on the dragons themselves. At this point in the series, I really couldn’t have cared less about what was going on beyond the walls of the dragon stables, but do concede that the conflict felt rather thin. I do remember it getting a bit more important and more well-done as the series progressed, but I’d have to continue my reread to be sure.

Recommendations: if you’re as enamored with dragons as I am, you’ll have a lot of fun with this series. It remains one of my all-time favorites, perhaps even more so after my reread. Venture in expecting a slow, intimate plot centered on a boy and his dragon. :)

Other DRAGON books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: Locklands by Robert Jackson Bennett

Title: Locklands

Author: Robert Jackson Bennett

Series: Founders #3

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: A god wages war—using all of humanity as its pawns—in the unforgettable conclusion to the Founders trilogy. Sancia, Clef, and Berenice have gone up against plenty of long odds in the past. But the war they’re fighting now is one even they can’t win. This time, they’re not facing robber-baron elites, or even an immortal hierophant, but an entity whose intelligence is spread over half the globe—a ghost in the machine that uses the magic of scriving to possess and control not just objects, but human minds. To fight it, they’ve used scriving technology to transform themselves and their allies into an army—a society—that’s like nothing humanity has seen before. With its strength at their backs, they’ve freed a handful of their enemy’s hosts from servitude, even brought down some of its fearsome, reality-altering dreadnaughts. Yet despite their efforts, their enemy marches on—implacable. Unstoppable. [It goes on, but really even if you don’t know a little of what it will be about by this point in the series, I doubt you’re paying much attention to lengthy overviews]. –Goodreads

The Review:

Locklands was a satisfying ending to a unique trilogy.

If I’m honest, I had a weird reading experience with this series. I read the first book, Foundryside, on a complete whim and absolutely loved it. Within days of finishing, an eARC of Locklands became available and I pounced on it without a second thought.

And then I read Shorefall (book 2) and did not enjoy my experience with it at all (in hindsight I’m thinking it was at least partially due to the lack of voice variation in the audio – everything was delivered in full voice and I felt like the book was screaming at me the whole time).

So there I was, clutching my ereader loaded with the final book in the trilogy and feeling absolutely no motivation to pick it up. But I’d committed. So I read it. And I’m happy to report that I enjoyed my experience with it a lot more than I thought I would.

I don’t normally preface my reviews with so much backstory, but it’s important to note that I went into Locklands almost begrudgingly, so my experience was skewed right from the beginning. In evaluating all three books as objectively as I can, I think Locklands will provide a better than 3-star rating for most readers who have loved the series up to this point. I, however, thought it was a good installment, but not quite on the same wow-scale as the first book.

Locklands brought back more of that awesome magic system involving infusing objects with predetermined commands. It’s such a cool combination of magic systems and I think what I liked most about this final book was seeing how all of the technology evolved over the series and the types of things the characters are able to do with it now by contrast. It’s a very satisfying growth arc, and readers who eat up books where smart characters get more adept at cool systems as the story progresses will likely enjoy this series too.

The book was also a great mix of high and low moments, with a culminating arc at the end which was a complete snowball of events. The book had more dynamics than the second one, and I appreciated that it at least gave me a few moments to breathe between hitting me over the head with action scenes.

Another thing I loved about the first book was finding out more about the lore of the world and all of the magic predecessors. Locklands did a great job answering some burning questions and giving more depth to characters we’ve been curious about since the beginning.

It also avoided excessive evil monologuing, which I appreciate tremendously.

So, while reading this when I wasn’t in the mood was a weird experience, one I’ll take more care to avoid in the future when ARC requesting, ultimately I’m glad I got to see how the trilogy ended. I think readers who are less cranky than me about the whole thing will enjoy it immensely.

Recommendations: if you like cheeky characters, cool & intricate magic systems, and loads of action and excitement, this series is a great pick. The audio worked well for the first book but I’d skip it on the second two.

I want to thank Random House Publishing Group, Robert Jackson Bennett, and Netgalley for the chance to read and review an early copy of Locklands.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

Title: She Who Became the Sun

Author: Shelley Parker-Chan

Series: Radiant Emperor #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: In a famine-stricken village on a dusty yellow plain, two children are given two fates. A boy, greatness. A girl, nothingness… In 1345, China lies under harsh Mongol rule. For the starving peasants of the Central Plains, greatness is something found only in stories. When the Zhu family’s eighth-born son, Zhu Chongba, is given a fate of greatness, everyone is mystified as to how it will come to pass. The fate of nothingness received by the family’s clever and capable second daughter, on the other hand, is only as expected. When a bandit attack orphans the two children, though, it is Zhu Chongba who succumbs to despair and dies. Desperate to escape her own fated death, the girl uses her brother’s identity to enter a monastery as a young male novice. There, propelled by her burning desire to survive, Zhu learns she is capable of doing whatever it takes, no matter how callous, to stay hidden from her fate. After her sanctuary is destroyed for supporting the rebellion against Mongol rule, Zhu uses takes the chance to claim another future altogether: her brother’s abandoned greatness. -Goodreads

The Review:

She Who Became the Sun felt like two books in one.

The first book (i.e. Part 1) was one of my favorite things I’ve read this year. It was a rich, immersive character study with a single POV that was frankly one of the most poignant things I’ve ever read. I felt for this character, I cared about her motives, and I was completely absorbed and 100% there for the journey. Brilliant.

And then Parts 2&3 happened.

It felt like the last two thirds of the book were written by a much less developed writer who went back years later to compose Part 1 (kind of like how Salvatore’s Dark Elf trilogy was a clear showcase of the author’s growth and gives a much stronger intro to the series than his earlier Icewind Dale trilogy). As much as I really wanted to love the rest of the book, it soon degraded into a huge struggle to finish.

Here are some of my objections:

1. The expansion to include multiple POVs. As the brilliance of the story so far was in the connection carefully garnered between the reader and the one main character, branching out to include more POVs without also taking the same time to develop those characters made them come across very, very thin by comparison. And from what I can recall, very little of the page count was given back to that first POV and a lot of what happened to her was viewed from someone else, thereby pushing the reader even further from that original connection.

What’s more, I didn’t think the perspectives that were added were very valuable. One in particular had next to no growth the entire story and basically just spent endless pages hashing and rehashing the exact same conflict with other characters without any action on it. Another character, one I at least appreciated for the unconventionality, felt included solely as a vehicle for delivering a standard of morality, which could’ve been just as effective (perhaps more so) experienced within the main character’s POV. This character’s POVs also felt like a huge tangent.

2. Parts 2&3 didn’t even come close to delivering on the promises made in Part 1. The premise of the book was this girl building an inspiring conviction of who she wants to become and how much pain she’s willing to endure to get there. That’s the type of character who, in my mind, will relentlessly pursue what she wants, regardless of the cost (Rin from Poppy War comes to mind). The trouble is, after that first part, the character did absolutely nothing to help ensure her own success. You want to become a warrior? Great! But… wouldn’t you at least consider learning how to fight? You want to be a leader? Great! But… might it be helpful to get into some academics and study battle tactics and strategies? Oooh!! Or even politics so you can be as successful on the field as off?! Those seem like good ideas. Oh.. you’re going to rely on dumb luck, happenstance, and being considered not a threat? M’kay, good luck. I’m out.

In all seriousness, I didn’t like a single thing about how the main character got from point A to point B. Nowhere in that character mock-up in Part 1 did I see someone who was passive and willing to just sit back to see how things go. I prefer characters who are catalysts of their own destiny and the sheer lack of personal initiative shown by the MC throughout most of the book was maddening.

Had her story continued to develop in a way I found meaningful, I may have been more forgiving about the additional POVs. But as it stands, the book offered me nothing of substance to cling to. Had I not experience this author at the height of brilliance in Part 1, I would’ve definitely called a DNF for the rest of the book. But I kept holding out hope she would come full-circle and dazzle me again.

Even though I remained annoyed at the rest of the book because it didn’t go the way I I expected it to, I’m ironically still sitting here appreciating some of the unconventionally in what I read. The author has some cool ideas for storyline, most of which I hadn’t seen before. Where she lost me was in execution. If we’re going somewhere new, I need to see the plausibility and continue feeling something for the characters (which I didn’t). At the moment, I don’t see myself picking up the second one anytime soon, if at all (not that it’s out yet).

I’d like to add (more positively) that the book was more accessible than I thought it would be. Anytime I see something labeled “Asian fantasy” I go in braced for graphic violence. Even though the subject matter was occasionally tough to read, it was never overly explicit in execution. You knew someone was dying horribly, but you didn’t have to experience it. I remember thinking it was nice to have an option to recommend to readers who don’t enjoy a lot of graphic violence in their books. So it’s a win on that regard, but the book does have a couple of descriptive sex scenes to compensate. As a bookseller I usually had to be aware of both of those things, else customers come back angry with me lol.

Overall, with the amazing 5 star first half and the 1-2 star second half of with some kudos for originality thrown in, I’m landing at a final 3 star rating. I think the first bit was good enough to make it worth your time regardless, but I’m still feeling a little let down.

Recommendations: pick this up for an unconventional Asian fantasy with one of the strongest beginnings on the market. Be aware, though, that the story changes significantly in Part 2.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: The Thief Queen’s Daughter by Elizabeth Haydon

Title: The Thief Queen’s Daughter

Author: Elizabeth Haydon

Series: Lost Journals of Ven Polyphene

Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: On his first day on the job as Royal Reporter of the land of Serendair, King Vandemere sends young Charles Magnus Ven Polypheme–known as Ven–on a secret mission within the walls of the Gated City. His quest? To discover the origin of a mysterious artifact given to the king’s father. The king warns Ven to take care–because once you enter the Gated City, you might never be allowed to leave. Within its walls, all sorts of exotic merchandise not found anywhere else in the world can be bought or sold. But not only merchandise. Dreams, wishes, memories…even childhood…can be sold–or stolen. The Gated City is ruled by the powerful Raven’s Guild, and the guild is ruled by the Queen of Thieves. Ven and his friends enter the Gated City ready for adventure. But when one friend is kidnapped and it is revealed that they are traveling in the company of the runaway daughter of the Queen of Thieves herself, their adventure turns deadly. For the ruthless Thief Queen will stop at nothing to get her daughter back! -Goodreads

The Review:

I love when robust fantasy authors tackle Middle Grade and YA.

Responsible for one of the most poignant fantasy series I’ve ever read – Symphony of Ages, Haydon continues to dazzle me with with her rich world-building, magical adventure, and interesting characters in this MG series set in the same world.

The first book, The Floating Island, was an experience. Easily one of the strongest books I’ve read in the MG market. And what made it fun was the traveling/adventure, fun companions, all the riddles and puzzles, and the unique composition of the book itself. Told as a reconstruction of recovered journals, it is a mix of journal entries, illustrations, and fill-in text to complete the story between the first-hand accounts. I loved every moment, and was especially eager to dive into this second book.

I didn’t find The Thief Queen’s Daughter quite as strong as the first book. It had a really interesting setting – a thief market, where the bulk of the story took place. While this cool new place was explored to my satisfaction, I missed the expansive settings from the first book a bit. The novelty of the place was awesome – so many cool magical shops and items. I think my younger self would be marveled at all the discoveries.

I’m kind of weird (as we’ve no doubt established) in that if I know anything about a story from diving in, I’m less likely to feel invested. The process of discovery is my main draw to reading, so if I come across any spoilers, it can completely wreck the experience for me. This is the reason why I don’t read book overviews. And why I’m no fun to buddy read things with. But no matter how careful I am, I can’t avoid seeing the freaking title of the book. So it’s exciting main reveal? Oooooohhhh, yeah I knew that already. This is a case where someone should’ve thought it through more. Rant over.

Recommendations: this is such a magical MG series that would be my pick to hand-sell to families looking for great, accessible stories to read together. It has something for everyone, and as an adult I’m enjoying every moment.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes