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:


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


Book Review: Song of the Risen God by R.A. Salvatore

Song of the Risen God by R.A. Salvatore

Title: Song of the Risen God

Author: R.A. Slavatore

Series: The Coven #3

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 2/5 stars

The Overview: War has come to Fireach Speur. The once forgotten Xoconai empire has declared war upon the humans west of the mountains, and their first target are the people of Loch Beag. Lead by the peerless general, Tzatzini, all that stands in the way of the God Emperor’s grasp of power is Aoelyn, Talmadge, and their few remaining allies.

But not all hope is lost. Far away from Fireach Speuer, an ancient tomb is uncovered by Brother Thaddeus of the Abellican Church. Within it is the power to stop the onslaught of coming empire and, possibly, reshape the very world itself. –Goodreads

The Review:

I’m finally paying for not reading all the backlist Corona titles. As a result, Song of the Risen God was my least favorite of the trilogy by a landslide.

There wasn’t anything technically wrong with the book, but it didn’t work for me on a few accounts. The beauty of this series so far has been in the slow-burn, intimate development of two or three main characters. The pacing is part of the brilliance because it draws you in and makes you feel every pain and victory with a carefully-constructed poignancy. It was the most in-depth I’ve ever read from Salvatore and speaks to his evolution as a writer. Songs of a Risen God felt like a regression. The plot broadened, which is ideal for the final book in the series, but so did the number of POVs. It bounced around so much, we didn’t get a chance to reimmurse into any of the characters, and as a result, it felt very superficial. I did not care for the inclusion of the enemy’s POVs. It felt too much like an old Drizzt novel (just call them “orcs” and it’s the same formula) and it took away any suspense that comes from the reader not knowing how the enemy thinks and operates. To compound that, the enemy came off almost child-like in their development despite the fact that they were still committing horrendous atrocities.

Another issue I had was the inclusion of so many characters and places from past Corona novels. As a fresh reader, none of these characters had any substance or meaning for me. I think the nostalgia-factor was supposed to make up for their almost casual inclusion of the story, but I found them somewhat unnecessary (although I probably would’ve delighted in seeing some familiar faces had I been current with all the works). But for my personal experience, it resulted in page after endless page of the characters explaining to each other why they’re relevant and rehashing old novels. Then you add the current characters explaining to the old ones countless times about what they’ve been doing over the last two books, and I wanted to slam my head into a wall. It was tedious. And by the time everything culminated to the final chapters and some really cool shit happened, I was so worn out that it didn’t affect me the way it should have.

Overall, what a disappointment. But the good news is that my reading experience and expectations are probably different than most of those inclined to pick up this series, so maybe the masses will have more luck with it. I stand by my recommendations of the first two books, which are textbook in character depth, pacing, and overall writing quality. I just wish it had ended with a bang!

Recommendation: long-time Corona fans wont want to miss this finale, but series-skippers like me might struggle with how different it is from the first two books.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: Sweep of the Blade by Ilona Andrews

Sweep of the Blade by Ilona Andrews

Title: Sweep of the Blade

Author: Ilona Andrews

Series: Innkeeper Chronicles #4

Genre: Fantasy… kinda

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: Maud Demille was a daughter of Innkeepers. She knew that a simple life wasn’t in the cards, but she never anticipated what Fate would throw at her. Once a wife to a powerful vampire knight, Maud and her daughter, Helen, had been exiled for the sins of her husband to the desolate planet of Karhari. Karhari killed her husband, and Maud had spent a year and a half avenging his debts. But now all the debts are paid. Rescued by her sister Dina, Maud had swore off all things vampire. Except she met Arland, the Marshal of House Krahr. One thing led to another and he asked for her hand in marriage. She declined. Try as she might, she can’t just walk away from Arland. It doesn’t help that being human is a lot harder for Maud than being a vampire. To sort it all out, she accepts his invitation to visit his home planet. House Krahr is a powerful vampire House, and Maud knows that a woman who turned down the proposal from its most beloved son wouldn’t get a warm reception. But Maud Demille never shied from a fight and House Krahr may soon discover that there is more to this human woman than they ever thought possible. -Goodreads

The Review:

I hate to say it, but this is my least favorite Ilona Andrews book so far… although even a bad IA book is still worthy of 3 stars.

It wasn’t what I was expecting at all. The whole framework of the Innkeeper novels is built around Dina, her Inn, and the overall goal of finding her parents. This was a HUGE tangent from that, focusing on the sister (Maud) in a continuation of things that happened in the third Innkeeper book. It doesn’t take place on Earth and it’s plot is 100% removed from any momentum the series has built so far. I wouldn’t consider it a waste of pages, because it’s still and Ilona Andrews work and everything they do is enjoyable to read, but as far as series satisfaction is concerned, I’m annoyed. This should’ve been a spin-off (or a novella) instead of a continuation. Maybe if there had been even a thread of the original plotline present, I would’ve been satisfied, but no such luck.

All that said, it wasn’t a BAD book. It included fun characters, an exploration of a vampire home world (filled with vampire politics, scheming, and warfare), and most notably, continued a romance between two characters. I liked reading about all of theses things… it’s just not what I signed up for. Compound that with the fact the first 20% was a complete recapping of things I already knew from the book before it (just in more detail), and I’m still annoyed. It soothes the blow a little bit to consider that the chapters are first published as a free online serial, then compiled later into book format, so my rant may not be that justified… but still. 

Recommendations: I’m not saying skip it, but I’m saying I knew exactly what I wanted from a book 4 in a series, and this was not it. Even so, these authors dazzle me so often, even a book I didn’t care for from them gets 3 stars, so that’s still an endorsement for the quality of all things IA. I’m sure this will play into future novels, but suffice to say it wasn’t my favorite.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durst

Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durst [April 21, 2020]

Title: Race the Sands

Author: Sarah Beth Durst

Series: N/A

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 5/5 stars!

The Overview: Life, death, and rebirth—in Becar, everyone knows that who you are in this life will determine what you are in your next life. The augurs can read your fate in your aura: hawk, heron, tortoise, jackal, human. Armed with that knowledge, you can change your destiny with the choices you make, both in this life and your next. But for the darkest individuals, there is no redemption: you come back as a kehok, a monster, and you will always be a kehok for the rest of time.

Unless you can win the Races. -Goodreads

The Review: 

I loved everything about Race the Sands! Hooked from the very first page, the interesting character profiles is what struck me first. Tamra had a great backstory: she’s a highly skilled trainer (old injuries keeping her from competing in the kehok races herself), and an incredibly badass character (with enough flaws to make her realistic). Both she and the other characters had great motive from those backstories – compelling enough to sustain the whole plot. Very well done.

Characters aside, I love books that incorporate training or education in a skill not found in our world. In this case, it was kehok riding (kind of like horse racing, but on wicked chimeras). The training wasn’t the forefront of the story, but it was incorporated often enough to satisfy my cravings for it. It all took place in a desert world where the people revolve their lives around a reincarnation-based religious structure. It was a cool concept. I’ve seen similar frameworks in other stories, but often the reincarnation ends up being a false belief. In this world, those who die really are reborn according to how they lived their lives. It added an interesting dynamic to an already cool plot. I loved every moment. It’s not the most sophisticated fantasy I’ve ever read, but it’s definitely one of the most fun.

I like Durst’s writing style. She’s telling stories robust enough for an adult market, but her characters and overall presentation are accessible enough to appeal to the YA crowd. When I first read Queen of the Blood (book #1 in her Renthia series), I initially thought it was an elevated YA novel… meaning I liked it, lol). Her main influence is Tamora Pierce, and you can definitely see that in this work. The writing itself is beautifully done – she has an exhibition of page hooks at the end of her chapters that are superb enough to be noticeable…. they made the book hard to put down.

Durst’s storytelling really sings to my soul. In the acknowledgments section of Race the Sands, she talked about what sparked her love for fantasy and shaped her journey as a writer – both of which I found personally inspiring as I look at my own budding career. It motivated me to dust off my manuscripts and continue chasing my goals. This section in particular jumped out at me:

I believe that fantasy is a literature of hope and empowerment. It can serve as a light in the darkness,as a guide towards strength, and as an escape from pain. It is my secret hope that someone will read Tamra and Raia’s story and realize that they can be who they want to be, that the can shape the world, that they can race the sands – and win.

I’ll never forget the profound impact her words had on me. It’s awesome when books can influence your life beyond just reading and reviewing.

Recommendations: Race the Sands was an incredibly fun book that will appeal to both adult fantasy fans looking for something lighter and YA fans looking to pick up something more robust. And to add to its recommendability, it’s a stand-alone novel, so you can pick it up without huge commitment. It’s one of my favorite books I’ve read in a while, and I can’t wait to share it with peeps I know are going to love it too.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes


Mini Book Review: One Fell Sweep by Ilona Andrews

One Fell Sweep by Ilona Andrews

Title: One Fell Sweep

Author: Ilona Andrews

Series: Innkeeper #3

Genre: Fantasy. Kinda

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: Dina DeMille may run the nicest Bed and Breakfast in Red Deer, Texas, but she caters to a very particular kind of guest… the kind that no one on Earth is supposed to know about. Guests like a former intergalactic tyrant with an impressive bounty on her head, the Lord Marshal of a powerful vampire clan, and a displaced-and-superhot werewolf; so don’t stand too close, or you may be collateral damage.

But what passes for Dina’s normal life is about to be thrown into chaos. First, she must rescue her long-distant older sister, Maud, who’s been exiled with her family to a planet that functions as the most lawless penal colony since Botany Bay. Then she agrees to help a guest whose last chance at saving his civilization could bring death and disaster to all Dina holds dear. Now Gertrude Hunt is under siege by a clan of assassins. To keep her guests safe and to find her missing parents, Dina will risk everything, even if she has to pay the ultimate price. Though Sean may have something to say about that!!Goodreads

The Review:

This was easily the best Innkeeper novel yet. The plot had a lot more depth. It’s clear where the series is headed now, and I find myself eager for the next book. I don’t know how they manage to hodgepodge so many genres without the story feeling clunky and piecemeal, but they do. It’s kind of brilliant – a fun blend of scifi (aliens), urban fantasy (supernatural characters), and fantasy (magic system). It also incorporates those very specific character dynamics the IA team is well known for. The actual conflict resolution for this one was a bit too tidy, but everything leading up to it was wildly entertaining. I loved the aliens (and the twist involving the aliens at the end), but I’ve always been a sucker for good creature creation, so that’s not surprising (I’d like to point out some similarities to another excellent scifi author – Julie Czerneda). Overall, everything these authors produce is quality, Innkeeper Chronicles being no exception! 

IA fans: for me this one ranks just above the Edge series and a notch or two below Hidden Legacy (however, if you plan on reading Edge, do those first to avoid some minor spoilers… wink wink). These books are functioning as perfect palate-cleansers between heavier series, and I’ve no idea what I’m going to do with myself when I run out of IA titles. I’ve been spoiled so far!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson

Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson

Title: Gardens of the Moon

Author: Steven Erikson

Series: Malazan Book of the Fallen #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: The Malazan Empire simmers with discontent, bled dry by interminable warfare, bitter infighting and bloody confrontations with the formidable Anomander Rake and his Tiste Andii, ancient and implacable sorcerers. Even the imperial legions, long inured to the bloodshed, yearn for some respite. Yet Empress Laseen’s rule remains absolute, enforced by her dread Claw assassins. For Sergeant Whiskeyjack and his squad of Bridgeburners, and for Tattersail, surviving cadre mage of the Second Legion, the aftermath of the siege of Pale should have been a time to mourn the many dead. But Darujhistan, last of the Free Cities of Genabackis, yet holds out. It is to this ancient citadel that Laseen turns her predatory gaze. However, it would appear that the Empire is not alone in this great game. Sinister, shadowbound forces are gathering as the gods themselves prepare to play their hand… Conceived and written on a panoramic scale, Gardens of the Moon is epic fantasy of the highest order–an enthralling adventure by an outstanding new voice. -Goodreads

The Review:

Gardens of the Moon was fantastic… aside from the fact that it took me a whole year to read it.

From countless discussions with book friends, it’s clear to me that Malazan is not just a casual read, it’s a commitment of time, mental energy, and emotion. It stands on a pedestal as one of the most all-encompassing series on the market and I would be doing my passion an injustice not exploring it to the fullest. I genuinely wanted to see what all the hype is about, and GotM book made a strong first impression.

But this isn’t the first time I’ve picked up this book….

Back in 2002 when I first became a bookseller, I was dazzled by the idea that I could check out hardcovers from the store for free. So I snagged a sparkling new copy of Gardens of the Moon off the shelf and started reading. I have to say, I was NOT prepared for this type of unconventional storytelling back then. I expected to meet a handful of characters and stick with them throughout the book. Erikson threw so many characters at me all at once, I quickly lost track of them all and ended up skimming for a while to see if I could find anybody familiar in the text. You know how when you’re disengaged from a book, your eyes can read for days but your mind doesn’t actually absorb anything? That was me. I was in it enough to appreciate the atmosphere of the story, but everything else was a blur.

Oh, how I wish I knew what to expect back then so that I could be standing her today saying “Malazan? I read that years ago.” But alas, I wasn’t ready.

… I still don’t know if I am.

The book requires a ton of concentration if, like me, you want to get as much out of the experience as possible. Perfectionists will have a more difficult time with this series than those who are able to go with the flow. However, the vast majority of people I’ve talked to say it’s well worth the effort (there’s practically an army of Malazan enthusiasts in my Goodreads group, Fantasy Buddy Reads. Even mention Malazan casually there and half a dozen impassioned readers will bombard you with their feels. It’s kind of inspiring). It definitely won’t take most people an entire year to get through it, but it will help considerably if you venture in knowing what you’re signing up for.

In my read, I managed to keep track of all the characters, which in itself is a miracle. The presentation is so unconventional – you’re thrust in the middle of a robust world and meant to navigate it without explanation. You just get a front row seat for all the happenings. This format is partly why I think the book makes you feel like you’re a part of the story, gets you so worked up about the characters, and sticks in your brain long after you put it down. Compound that with world-building that feels almost unrivaled, and you have a guaranteed escape. Everything disappeared around me when I picked it up. GotM is more than just a good read, it’s an EXPERIENCE.

But because of how much of a commitment it required compared to the output of just this first book, I’m saving my 5 stars for upcoming books I’ve been assured are going to rip out my soul. I can’t wait.

Thanks, FBR peeps for encouraging my initial exploration of the series (and for teasing/cheering me on as it took so long to get through… I think Petrik finished the entire series by the time I made it through the first book) and Miche, for the recent conversation that reignited me back into it. Y’all rock. <3

Recommendations: GotM is not for the faint of heart. It’s evoking in every sense of the word and a clear masterpiece of the genre. I’d recommend it highly to hard-core fantasy fans who don’t mind books that require more concentration.

Other books you might like: 

by Niki Hawkes

Notes: comments are welcome, but please be mindful that spoilers can’t be marked in the comment sections and there are still a few of us stragglers who also want the full experience of the series. Thank you!