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Niki’s Book Journal: August 2018

Niki’s Book Journal [August 2018]

I realize we’re already 1/3 of the way into September, but I’d been keeping this journal through August and it would really bug me to combine it with September and have a month missing. So here we are, lol.

August was a weird month of reading. I started out with a bang – sticking to a schedule (without it feeling like it was an obligation), and crushing my time spent reading from previous months. And then the last week or two of the month approached, and I realized three things: a bunch of high-priority new releases were going to hit the market, I’d signed up for several buddy reads (without writing them down or, you know, actually planning for them), and several of my library holds had just come in much earlier than planned. I felt overwhelmed and inundated with good books (#firstworldproblems) and it kind of paralyzed me a bit. I went from finishing 6+books a week at the beginning of August to barely completing a single one in almost 2. I also lost my writing voice and couldn’t wrap my brain around composing a review. The whole situation was weird – I haven’t had something knock me off my game this bad since December of 2013 (yeah, I remember the date haha. This bout wasn’t nearly as weird as that one). Sometimes I guess my brain just needs a break. I only wish it had let me know it was tired ahead of time so I could have at least planned for it a bit, lol. I seem to be back into the swing of things now. :)


Mini Reviews!!

Sword-Bound by Jennifer Roberson

Sword-Bound (Tiger & Del #7) by Jennifer Roberson [3.5/5 stars]

I wouldn’t call anything in this series groundbreaking for the genre, but for the pure fun-factor, it gets an “A” from me. Sword-Bound is a bonus book of sorts, published over 10 years after what I thought was the final book in the series. I really liked how the story arc in the first 6 books ended, so that’s probably why it took me a while to pick this one up. It read a bit like an extended epilogue (and I hear the author is working on yet another continuation), but I found a ton of enjoyment in the familiar banter between Tiger and Del, the infamous sword fights, and the setting and culture that makes these books so memorable. If you’re interested in a light fantasy read, this series is a great pick.

Black Powder War by Naomi Novik

Black Powder War (Temeraire #3) by Naomi Novik [4/5 stars]

Another enjoyable installment in the Temeraire series. The military angle became a little more prominent in this book, but I didn’t mind it as much as I might have in most other circumstances because of one important thing: no matter what else is going on in the story, Novik never forgets to keep the dragons at the center of attention. She always brings it back to them, highlighting the novelty and fun, and I’m certain that’s why I’m always engaged during sections that would be a detriment to any other story (lengthy travel scenes, lots of dialogue, and battle sequences – I should clarify that I love military strategy and combat in general, but after the thousandth and one battle scenes in all things fantasy, they start to sound the same… I lose interest unless it’s done with a unique twist). Overall, I’m still very much in love with the dragons in this series, and am eager to find out where the story goes next. I’ll be picking up a copy of book #4 as soon as possible! :)

Eulalia by Brian Jacques

Eulalia (Redwall #19) by Brian Jacques [3.5/5 stars]

My expectations for Eulalia were simple: I wanted lots of hares, lots of badgers, and lots of scenes within Salamandastron. I mean, just look at the book title! And the cover! Yeah…. all of that not so much. This is the first Redwall book in a while where I feel a little let down. It had a lot of great moments within it, and the one hare within the story has become one of my favorites from the series (Maudie – she’s the bomb lol), but overall my expectations fell victim to some bad marketing choices. Even so, any time I get to spend in this world is good time, so I’ll give it a pass. The new characters and conflicts were as good as ever, and I find myself eager to dive into the next book (I can’t think about how close I am to the end… sad!).


How did your August go? :)

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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: His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik

His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik

Title: His Majesty’s Dragon

Author: Naomi Novik

Series: Temeraire #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: Aerial combat brings a thrilling new dimension to the Napoleonic Wars as valiant warriors ride mighty fighting dragons, bred for size or speed. When HMS Reliant captures a French frigate and seizes the precious cargo, an unhatched dragon egg, fate sweeps Captain Will Laurence from his seafaring life into an uncertain future – and an unexpected kinship with a most extraordinary creature. Thrust into the rarified world of the Aerial Corps as master of the dragon Temeraire, he will face a crash course in the daring tactics of airborne battle. For as France’s own dragon-borne forces rally to breach British soil in Bonaparte’s boldest gambit, Laurence and Temeraire must soar into their own baptism of fire. -Goodreads

The Review:

Woe is me for not having read this years ago!

I had this amazing dragon book sitting unread on my shelf for over 10 years… and I’m surprised no one revoked my membership to the dragon obsession club (not a real thing). In all fairness, the way people described this book and series gave me a very different impression than what the first book actually entailed. They’d say, “it’s an alternate military history, but with dragons.” I’m sure that description is completely accurate for the series as a whole, but had someone mentioned even briefly that His Majesty’s Dragon was less about alt-history as a focus (even though that was an essential setting component) and more about the forming bond between a man and his dragon, I’d have been on board the Temeraire ship years ago. Unfortunately first impressions caused me to hold off. When it came out I was in the middle of college and the last thing I wanted to do was put down one text book and pick up another (even if the new one had dragons). I thought I’d be bored with the historical elements and recycled battle scenes. All the discussions I’d had about it with customers made me think I was getting into a dry historical retelling that took itself too seriously. This is SO NOT THE CASE!!

The relationship between man and dragon is 100% the appeal of the book for me. It’s a slowly paced plot that focuses on the bond and establishes the groundwork for what’s to come. Because of the aforementioned expectations for the series, I’m certain some ventured in looking for battle sequences, military strategy, and loads of historical references, but were bored with their lack (which is an irony considering my boredom might have stemmed from those things being present if I’d read it 10 years ago). As I said, perhaps the series as a whole will offer those things, but for me this book offered perfect immersion into what it’s like to be a dragonrider (or Aerialist) in training.

Now that my tastes have broadened, I’m actually looking forward to seeing the historical immersion in future books, but that alone wouldn’t have been enough to get me to pick up the series. The dragons are my main motivation. Not only was Temeraire a fascinating creature, but so were the many other varieties of dragons (aka Niki’s dragon heaven). I loved the training aspects and can’t wait to see those put into good use, I loved the commander of the training encampment (you’ll see), and I loved the relationships and dynamics beginning to form between all the trainees and their dragons. Basically, this is the book I’ve been hounding to find all my life. 😭

The slow burn of this novel might have bored a few people, but I reveled in every single moment. It had me so wrapped up, I even shed a tear or two (I can’t remember the last time a book made me cry). The combination of a fantastic main character, sentient dragons (filled with awesomeness), and the overall theme of the series set His Majesty’s Dragon up as one of the best books I’ve read in a while. I can’t wait to get my hands on the next one!

Recommendations: Read this book if you like dragons. It’s a bonus if you also like alt-history. ;P

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

uprooted-by-naomi-novikTitle: Uprooted

Author: Naomi Novik

Series: N/A

Genre: Teen Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life. Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood. The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her. But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose. -Goodreads

The Review:

Uprooted was such a cool book! I picked it up on a total whim. I mean, I didn’t even know what it was about, only that the blogosphere was going nuts over it and that it had something to do with a dragon (Newsflash! The Dragon is actually a person, go figure). Anyway, I was prepared to commit to only a few chapters, but before I knew it I was halfway through it and completely enamored. I’m so used to reading series (in fact, I couldn’t tell you the last time I read a standalone) that the pure awesomeness of experiencing a complete start to finish story in one well woven little package caught me off guard. I really liked it!

This is my first visit into Naomi Novik’s work, and I can tell you that after my experience with Uprooted, it definitely won’t be the last. Because the book was a standalone, it made it easier for me to appreciate how well the story was constructed. It had a lot of layers and dynamics which kept me glued to the pages the whole way through. Novik has a beautiful writing voice that was sophisticated without taking itself too seriously. I especially appreciated the bits of humor throughout.

And the characters! They really were the main reason I kept reading with such gusto. The story essentially revolves around an apprentice (a girl named Agnieszka) and her master (The Dragon). The two had an interesting dynamic together and both had great character arcs throughout the story. Agnieszka was one of the most endearing characters I’ve come across. Far from perfect (and having those imperfections thrown in her face constantly), she still somehow managed to grab hold of her inner confidence and stay unapologetically true to herself. Even going so far as to use those flaws to her advantage. I adored her and wish the book actually was a series so I could spend more time with her.

Overall, Uprooted was a breath of fresh air and one of the best books I’ve read this year. I find it very easy to recommend, with one disclaimer: the book has some sexual content.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes