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Book Reviews: The Dresden Files [Books 13-15] by Jim Butcher

The Dresden Files [Books 13-15]
by Jim Butcher

I can definitely see why Jim Butcher is considered a staple in the Urban Fantasy genre – he has an excellent main character (who is a tad whiny at times, but that’s kind of why I like him), loads of paranormal that will continually ding your creep-o-meter (even though I admit it doesn’t take much to set mine off), and plenty of action, humor, and intrigue. Overall, if you’ve never read an urban fantasy, this author is a great place to start. The best thing about him is that he seems to get better with each book.


Ghost Story

I’d been warned that Ghost Story was a “reset” novel of sorts and nowhere near as good as the rest of the series. I’d been dreading it, but found (to my surprise) that it was a decent read. It offered glimpses into many of the supporting characters that we wouldn’t have gotten otherwise (the unusual circumstance of the book gave Harry an unique POV). It also was kind of funny – something I always enjoy about Butcher’s work. Load all that together with a couple of compelling mysteries, and you have yet another Dresden success. I think most of the objections come from Ghost Story feeling so different from the rest of the books, and the fact that not a lot really happens within it. I agree it’s not quite as strong as some of its predecessors, but it still gets a solid 3-star (I liked it) rating.

3/5 stars


Cold Days

There seems to be an overwhelming consensus that Ghost Story is the weakest of the Dresden Files, but I have to say I enjoyed Cold Days even less. My issues were twofold: I couldn’t figure out how certain side conflicts played into the plot as a whole (because they didn’t – they were just fillers), and I didn’t particularly like the way the author expanded the conflict. He didn’t quite “jump the shark,” but he expanded beyond the rules of the world he’d been developing up until this point in a way that felt forced – almost as if he’d been running out of ideas. Which, in all fairness, at 15 books published, was probably the case. All of the other factors such as character, humor, action, and mystery were consistent with his great storytelling, it was just the conflict construction that left me wanting a bit more. The good news? I accidentally started Skin Game before this one and loved what I’d read so far, which bodes well for what’s to come…

2/5 stars


Skin Game

Following my two least favorite books of the series, I went into Skin Game fearing Jim Butcher had lost his touch and had dragged the story on too long. What a delightful surprise when Skin Game turned out to be one of, if not my favorite Dresden book so far. It had a strong plot (complete with an interesting bad guy), a good integration of the many fantastic side characters, and, of course, a ton of that snarky humor. It quickly turned a novel I was determined to “get through” into a book I couldn’t put down. Skin Game reinvigorated my enthusiasm for the series and I am genuinely excited to see where the story goes next. I don’t know how I’m going to keep myself occupied now that I’m finally up to date with this series. It seems like I’ve been working on it for ages…

4.5/5 stars


If you haven’t picked up a Dresden book yet, just know you’re in for a well-conceived and sustainable series, jam-packed with scary monsters and a lot of snark. I consider them a must-try for any urban fantasy fan.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Twisted Citadel by Sara Douglass

Twisted Citadel by Sara Douglass

Title: Twisted Citadel

Author: Sara Douglass

Series: Darkglass Mountain #2

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: In a time of magic and danger, three new heroes have stepped forward—Ishbel Brunelle, priestess of the Serpent Coil; Isaiah, the Tyrant of Isembaard; and Maximilian, the Lord of Elcho Falling. Yet despite their best efforts, the Dark God Kanubai has risen. And worse yet, war approaches—backed by the evil, insidious DarkGlass Mountain, hordes of insatiable Skraelings ravage the land. While the trio struggles to keep its armies and alliances alive, the SunSoars have their own challenges, including the chance to rejoin the magical Star Dance at long last, and the appearance of the Lealfast, long-lost kin to the Icarii. The Lealfast and the Icarii may be friends . . . or deadly enemies. And as tensions rise between the two races, Axis SunSoar revives his elite Strike Force in a desperate bid to stop the darkness. -Goodreads

The Review:

Reading Twisted Citadel provoked a lot of nostalgia for how much I enjoyed Sara Douglass’ Wayfarer Redemption series. As it turns out, The Darkglass Mountain trilogy is an indirect continuation, something I wish I’d known – I’d have devoured it ages ago! I quite enjoyed The Serpent Bride – the first book in this trilogy, but Twisted Citadel dragged a little bit for me. There was a lot of talk and interpersonal drama, but the overall conflict only moved forward a few paces. I’m always weirdly engaged in these books even though the pacing is often sluggish – but there always seems to be enough moving parts and dynamics to keep me interested, which is why I ended up giving Twisted Citadel a 3 star (I liked it) rating. What kept me engaged in this one was the amount of character growth Ishbel, the main character, experienced (it might have been a little too 180 to be totally realistic, but I still enjoyed it). I also like where I think the story is headed, which bodes well for the final book, The Infinity Gate.

I’m no military strategist, by any means, but I’d like to think I’ve read enough fantasy books with militaristic components to recognize when it’s done well. Unfortunately, I thought the strategy in Twisted Citadel was very poorly executed. A lot of the decisions made by the leaders didn’t make any sense. Many times the explanation to an odd move was: “well, it’s not a typical tactic, and I’ve no presentation to make to tell you why it’s a good idea, but let’s try it anyway and gamble with the last remnants of humanity and see how it goes, shall we?” It was definitely written more to get the characters from point A to point B than to provide any kind of interesting tactics. While there are a lot of things I’d recommend this series for, masterfully coordinated battles are not one of them. I think the author was more focused on the interpersonal drama than anything else, which she definitely does with flair.

It was only after diving into this trilogy that I realized many of Sara Douglass’s books are connected. I prefer reading things in published, if not chronological, order and wish I had known which to pick up first. If you’re interested in Sara Douglass, I’d recommend the following reading order:

Wayfarer Redemption [6]
Threshold [1]
Beyond the Hanging Wall [1]
Dark glass Mountain [3]

Darkglass Mountain contains heavy spoilers for Threshold and Beyond the Hanging Wall, but also refers back occasionally to Wayfarer Redemption in a way that makes me glad I picked those up first. There is also one carryover character from Wayfarer Redemption who won’t have any significance to you if you haven’t read that series first. At this point I don’t believe her Crucible or Troy Game series have anything to do with this world, but I’ve been mistaken before…

Overall, I’m very excited to see how this saga ends. They’re the type of books that you can put down for years and pick back up without missing a beat. They’re very immersive, relaxing reads that have a lot of unique and interesting story elements. While Sara Douglass is not my first fantasy recommend, I definitely think she’s worth a looksie if you like the genre.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames

Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames

Title: Kings of the Wyld

Author: Nicholas Eames

Series: The Band #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: GLORY NEVER GETS OLD. Clay Cooper and his band were once the best of the best — the meanest, dirtiest, most feared crew of mercenaries this side of the Heartwyld. Their glory days long past, the mercs have grown apart and grown old, fat, drunk – or a combination of the three. Then an ex-bandmate turns up at Clay’s door with a plea for help. His daughter Rose is trapped in a city besieged by an enemy one hundred thousand strong and hungry for blood. Rescuing Rose is the kind of mission that only the very brave or the very stupid would sign up for. It’s time to get the band back together for one last tour across the Wyld. -Goodreads

The Review:

I read Kings of the Wyld as part of a Buddy Read with my favorite Goodreads group, Fantasy Buddy Reads (where the author even showed up to say a few gracious words – how cool is that?!). This is one of those unique books that got devoured as soon as it came across my radar. If you have any knowledge of my colossal TBR pile, you know that most things that land on it sit there for 5+ sometimes even 10+ years before it gets read. The premise for Kings of the Wyld sounded so interesting, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to read it asap.

The book was hysterical.

And not just mildly amusing, but the kind of funny that still has me laughing at some of the moments several months later. To set the stage, a retired band of mercenaries (who have become old, fat, and in some cases drunk) pull themselves back together to go on a quest. The main character goes reluctantly, and his sardonic attitude towards everything is what gives this book such a strong voice. All of the characters were individualized and funny in their own way (my favorite of which being Arcandius Moog – the gay wizard who’s quite comfortable questing in a onesie, thank you very much), but they all had to put their differences and arguments aside to accomplish their goal. Add to that a ton of nerdy references, and you have one hella fun book!

What surprised me the most was not just the funny stuff, but how equal of an impact the more serious, deeper moments had on the story. They may have been far between, but the emotional investment I felt was just as strong as for a fantasy without all of the humor. It meant to me that Nicholas Eames was in it to write more than just a fun book – he also succeeded in producing one with substance.

I’ve discovered throughout the years that I am a somewhat inpatient reader. There are so many books on my TBR that it becomes increasingly difficult to stop everything and just enjoy each book for the journey it offers. Kings of the Wyld was mostly about the journey – the pacing focused more on character-building and humor than it did the destination (that is, until things got rolling near the end, then it didn’t let up). What I’m trying to say is, Kings of the Wyld reinvigorated my passion for discovering new authors, took me out of my carefully laid reading plans, and made me appreciate the journey for the first time in a long while.

Overall, this is going to be a very easy book for me to recommend. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had customers ask me for a funny fantasy book and all I could do was point out two popular authors whose humor didn’t quite work for me (Piers Anthony and Terry Pratchett… masters of their genre, but not works that I could personally stand behind based on my own experience… don’t be mad at me.) Finally, I have the start to a killer fantasy with tons of humor and substance – one that I can recommend with confidence. If you’re sick of the same old stuff, or are in the mood for a good laugh – Kings of the Wyld is my pick for you!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: A Kingdom Besieged by Raymond E. Feist [+ a series assessment]

A Kingdom Besieged by Raymond E. Feist

Title: A Kingdom Besieged

Author: Raymond E. Feist

Series: The Chaoswar Saga #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: Midkemia’s fifth and final Riftwar—the devastating Chaoswar—explodes in the opening volume of Raymond E. Feist’s spectacular new epic fantasy trilogy of magic, conflict, and world-shattering peril. A Kingdom Besieged is a breathtaking adventure that brings back Pug—first introduced in Feist’s classic debut novel, Magician, and now Midkemia’s most powerful sorcerer—who faces a major magical cataclysm that forces him to question everything he’s ever held as true and dear…including the loyalty of his beloved son Magnus. -Goodreads

The Review:

The end of the Riftwar world is nigh, and I feel an odd mix of relief and elation. I think the series may be ending with a lot of repeating elements, having been dragged on a little too long… but at the same time, it has been nice to come “home” to the author that sparked my love of fantasy.

I already like the Chaoswar Saga better than the Demonwar Saga. It took a while for things to get going and for all the “players” to be reintroduced, but once it did, it had my interest. Feist included an interesting POV from a creature in one of the demon realms, adding a nice bit of perspective to the overall story, which I’m excited to see develop. Overall, A Kingdom Besieged was enjoyable, containing enough nostalgic elements to keep me interested, but not enough to knock my socks off.

I do have a few critical thoughts about these later works, especially concerning character development. Some of the text practically screams with Feist’s desperate desire to stay relevant and a live up to all the great characters he’s written in previous books. Unfortunately, I think he’s going about it the wrong way – instead of taking the time to develop strong new characters, he shamelessly name-drops. He’s trying to build them up by emphasizing how similar they are to their predecessors, but only succeeds in paling them by comparison, at least in my mind. Here’s a badly paraphrased example:

“Oh, you’re a son of the Duke of Crydee? And an archer to boot!! Look how amazing you are! Why, I’d say you have all the skill and bearings that your great Grandsire, Martin, had. Do you remember how amazing he was?? Splitting-image, I tell you!”

And he doesn’t do this just once, but with every new prominent character we meet. It doesn’t help matters that many of these characters are actually descendant from original characters. I admit I’m at the point where I no longer remember (or care) which generation we’re on.

So, despite a decided quality drop in these later books, I still think (at this point) the series is worth finishing, but the final verdict will be told with the last two Chaoswar books. If you haven’t started this series yet, here’s my recommended reading order:

Riftwar 1 & 2 [2] Loved #1!
The first 100 pages of #2 is a struggle – keep going!

Empire [3] Loved!
Riftwar 3 & 4 [2] Loved!
Krondor’s Sons [2] Loved!
Serpentwar Saga [4] Loved!
Riftwar Legacy [3] Didn’t like…
Conclave of Shadows [3] Loved!
Darkwar Saga [3] Liked.
Demonwar Saga [2] Hated!
Chaoswar Saga [3] The jury is still out…

The Riftwar Legacy is a side trilogy apparently based off of a video game. It lacked the sophistication of the other series and had no particular relevance to future books (that I can remember, anyway). I’d skip those. If the Chaoswar ends well, it MIGHT be worth suffering through Demonwar… I’ll let you know lol. ;)

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Tackling the TBR [26]: August 2017

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:

August 2017 TBR Tackler Shelf:

This month my focus is on progressing and finishing series that I’m really enjoying. All of these titles are from the “high priority” section of my Incomplete Series list, so I know I am in for a lot of good reading. The one I am most excited to get into is the conclusion to Jemisin’s Fifth Season trilogy… It should be good!

Tackler Carry-Overs


Niki’s Incomplete Series Challenge [Via Fantasy Buddy Reads]

June 2017 Titles Tackled:

Niki’s July 2017 Progress Update:

Series Finished: 0

 Series Brought UTD: 4
Firebrand – A.J. Hartley
Obsidian and Stars – Julie Eshbaugh
The Operator & Waylaid – Kim Harrison
Midnight Jewel – Richelle Mead

Series Progressed: 4
A Kingdom Besieged – Raymond E. Feist
Gunmetal Magic Ilona Andrews
The Rose Society – Marie Lu
Drive – James S.A. Corey

New Series Started: 2
Traitor’s Blade – Sebastien de Castille [started in March, just finished]
Old Man’s War – John Scalzi

Abandoned: 0
The Young Elites – Marie Lu
The Darkest Minds – Alexandra Bracken
Daughter of Smoke & Bone – Laini Taylor

YTD Totals:
Finished Series: 8
Up To Date Series: 16
Series Progressed: 32
New Series Started: 16
Abandoned: 4

Here’s my full Incomplete Series list, in case anyone is curious.


What books are you Tackling this month? Even if you don’t specifically use my system, feel free to share your versions of how you manage your TBR pile (and the links to your posts if applicable) in the comments. :)

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

Old Man's War by John Scalzi

Title: Old Man’s  War

Author: John Scalzi

Series: Old Man’s War #1

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: John Perry did two things on his 75th birthday. First he visited his wife’s grave. Then he joined the army.The good news is that humanity finally made it into interstellar space. The bad news is that planets fit to live on are scarce– and alien races willing to fight us for them are common. So: we fight. To defend Earth, and to stake our own claim to planetary real estate. Far from Earth, the war has been going on for decades: brutal, bloody, unyielding... -Goodreads

The Review:

I’m so glad I finally started The Old Man’s War series – it’s every bit as good as I’d hoped it would be. Filled with humor, action, exploration, and a touch of sentimentality, if you’re looking for your next great sci-fi read, this may be it! The book is essentially about John Perry, a 75-year-old man who signs up for the Army to fight an intergalactic war. John’s POV was my favorite element of the book. His “wisened” outlook on life and general mannerisms were a delightful contrast to the hard-assed whippersnappers who usually star in good sci-fi. The POV definitely elevated an already good story to a fantastic one, but lord save me from old-man jokes (okay, fine. I laughed at all of them).

I also really love to the type of science fiction the book was: a perfect blend of technological advancement, alien interactions, and militaristic elements. The best part is, I think Scalzi has only just scratched the surface of it’s potential in this first book. The first half of the novel moved at a significantly slower pace than the second half, which was great because it felt more organic, giving the latter parts of the book higher impact by contrast. So rest assured, if you pick it up and wonder if it actually goes somewhere, the answer is an emphatic yes – and hang onto your seats when you get there. Incidentally, the slower sections were my favorites.

I mentioned a bit of sentimentality at the beginning of the review. There is a, shall we say “softer” element near the end of the book that I didn’t necessarily care for. It’s the only thing that pinged against my rating, even though it really wasn’t a big factor in the whole scheme of things. I liked the idea, but thought it was a bit too heavy-handed. I’m hoping it will smooth out a bit in the second book (which I will definitely be reading ASAP).

Overall, Old Man’s War was one of the most interesting science fiction I’ve read. I think it fits the bill as both a must-read for seasoned sci-fi lovers and a great introductory novel for new readers of the genre. If you loved Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game as a young adult (as I did), Old Man’s War is its perfect evolution.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes