Image

Book Review: Sufficiently Advanced Magic by Andrew Rowe

Title: Sufficiently Advanced Magic

Author: Andrew Rowe

Series: Arcane Ascension #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Overview: Five years ago, Corin Cadence’s brother entered the Serpent Spire — a colossal tower with ever-shifting rooms, traps, and monsters. Those who survive the spire’s trials return home with an attunement: a mark granting the bearer magical powers. According to legend, those few who reach the top of the tower will be granted a boon by the spire’s goddess. He never returned. Now, it’s Corin’s turn. He’s headed to the top floor, on a mission to meet the goddess. If he can survive the trials, Corin will earn an attunement, but that won’t be sufficient to survive the dangers on the upper levels. For that, he’s going to need training, allies, and a lot of ingenuity. The journey won’t be easy, but Corin won’t stop until he gets his brother back. -Goodreads

The Review:

This book was completely packed with magic school awesomeness from cover to cover. All of the elements I’m always clamor for more for in other works. But as I approached the last 25% of the book, I (and Carrie) couldn’t help but wonder:

Can you have too much of a good thing?

Probably. Especially if it comes at the sacrifice of sufficiently paced plot advancement. It was amazing to read about the complex magic system, all of the different types of mages, the magical creatures, and the endless stream of practical applications. It’s so much fun to sit in on a magic class and learn alongside the students (my favorite story type, actually). Add on top of that arena-style battles and choose your own adventure towers with puzzles to solve and creature to kill, what’s not to love?! But after a while even those amazing ideas and great execution start to feel like cheap entertainment when there’s not an overall plot of substance driving the story. I will say it did finally wrap up in the last 5% of the book with a series of decent “reveals,” and the payoff was probably worth the wait. Even so, it had me questioning a DNF at about the 80% mark. I’m glad I kept reading.

The main character has a few interesting quirks but unfortunately nothing truly flawed in a way that makes achieving things a problem. He’s overly smart, overly proficient, and overly lucky when it came to academics. Even the things he was supposed to be bad at often turned into admirable accomplishments. I personally found him irritatingly pedantic. Like ::pushes glasses up nose:: “Ummm, yeah how do I know you are who you really say you are? You could’ve listened in at any time to get that info. But I guess asking for reassurance is pointless because if you weren’t you, you’d just tell me what I want to hear anyway. But how am I supposed to trust you? Jump through some hoops for me even though you’re a teacher and my arbitrary worries shouldn’t even technically count for sh$t.” And many other similarly pointless sequences. It speaks of a character who’s desperate to prove how smart he is. Which is an interesting construct but it wasn’t presented as if it were deliberate. And that’s not the only thing I think was slightly over-done.

It’s as if the author anticipated certain plot holes and implausibilities and instead of just embracing it (after all, the entire story is his fabrication, he can do what he wants and we’d more or less go along with it) or dropping in a few subtle counters, he periodically has characters explain ad nauseam in the text why certain things were/were not the case. When this happened it degraded the story down to a YA level with its ever so slight condescending tone.

It may not seem like it at this point, but overall I enjoyed the book. The fun stuff was superb enough to overshadow the negatives by far (I really love the idea of following Corin as he levels-up his magic skills). However if I do decide to continue the series, my expectations for development in the next book are considerably higher.

Recommendations: if you’re like me, you’ll delight at the magic school awesomeness this book contains and be eager to pick it up even though that’s really the entire focus of the story (maybe especially because it’s the entire focus). It’ll still evoke a sense of nostalgia and give you a lot of great magicking to stick your teeth into.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

Image

Book Review: Million Dollar Demon by Kim Harrison

Million Dollar Demon by Kim Harrison

Title: Million Dollar Demon

Author: Kim Harrison

Series: The Hollows #15

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: To save the city, Rachel Morgan will need to show some teeth in the next Hollows novel from #1 New York Times bestselling author Kim Harrison. The new master vampire of Cincinnati has arrived . . . and she wants Rachel Morgan out. No matter where Rachel goes, Constance is there–threatening Rachel’s allies, causing city-wide chaos, and, to add insult to injury, even forcing Rachel out of her current quarters. Ever since Rachel found a way to save the souls of vampires, the old undead’s longtime ascendancy has been broken. Now Constance sees eliminating Rachel as the key to consolidating her own power. Rachel has no desire to be enthralled or killed–and she’s terrified of what may become of the city if Constance forces a return to the ancient ways. But even a witch-born demon can’t stand against the old undead–at least, not alone. And if Rachel refuses to claim the role of Cincinnati’s master demon, the city will tear itself apart, taking her and all those who stand beside her with it. -Goodreads

The Review:

Rachel Morgan is every bit as enjoyable now as she was 10 years ago. Only now there’s an element of nostalgia that makes any new Hollows book that much more special. The quality has not diminished one iota and the plot is, if anything, only getting more interesting.

There are a few UF series on the market that might be continuing well past their prime (ahem), but Harrison’s work is definitely not among them. I’ve said this before, but my favorite thing about this author is how well she slows down the happenings in the story to really focus on nuances of character and internal development. There’s plenty of action to spice it up, but for the most part she allows you to feel truly connected to the characters and involved in the scenes. Her writing is quite differentiated from the rest of urban fantasy, having more of that high fantasy quality and writing style (she also writes fantasy under the name “Dawn Cook.” I love her Truth series). She carried a lot of that slow burn development over to this series, making it one of the strongest in the genre. While it’s not quite my all-time favorite, she immerses you so well into the story that it’s responsible for my single favorite moments in an UF work (Black Magic Sanction wrecked me).

I love how the demon’s story progressed in this book. There are a lot of things building and developing that I’m betting are going to have a great payoff later. I also appreciated the nice balance of old beloved characters and new additions to keep it spicy. One thing I liked in particular is how Harrison used situations and other characters to solidify what a likable character Rachel is. It’s a cool writing technique that really captured my interest the whole way through. And at this point in the series Rachel is still experiencing growth, which is awesome. The only thing that might have made it better is a more momentous ending. But other than that, it satisfied on every account and I can’t wait to get my hands on the next one.

Recommendations: I consider the Hollows a staple in the urban fantasy genre. It’s a slow-burn, character-focused series with gradually snowballing plots that eventually knock your socks off. Even after ending the series at book 13 then revamping (pun), it hasn’t lost any of the amazing quality. If you like any of my recs below but haven’t given this a try, you’re in for a treat!

I’d like to thank Berkley Publishing Group, Kim Harrison, and Netgalley for the chance to read and review an early copy of Million Dollar Demon. :D

Other books you might like:

By Niki Hawkes

Image

Tackling the TBR [69]: May 2021

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 2021 TBR Tackler Shelf:

Well, I made it through the audiobook last month… kind of. Not so much for my two physical reads (which is why Million Dollar Demon and Aurian are in the lineup… again).

I didn’t pick up a single book for about two week in April. Probably the longest I’ve gone without reading something in 10+ plus years. I was struggling with mental health (postpartum depression, among other things) and was feeling very overwhelmed. Interestingly, it was my lack of motivation to pick up books that cued me into realizing there was something more than fatigue going on. I’m seeking help for those issues and am starting to feel more myself again. But my reading definitely suffered last month.

In addition to all of that, I lost several hours a day to this ridiculous game on my phone. I think I was trying to escape my uncomfortable feelings, but whatever the case I caught a glance at my screen-time data and almost had a cow. I’ve been walking around for weeks bitching about the fact that I don’t have enough time to work on all the projects I want to, but for some reason it took seeing that data to wake me up to how I was wasting my life. And this is coming from someone who has been heavily pursuing digital minimalism for the past several months. I deleted the app (that was hard to do lol) and decided I’ll leave it deleted until I no longer have projects I really want to work on (which probably wont happen – I always have something going on – but it has been a nice motivator to tackle them all). 

Reading drama aside, this month I’m continuing my Malazan journey with some short story fillers. I’m reading the second Scythe book because I like the first one a lot more than I thought I was going to. And I picked up a review copy of Son of the Storm (audio production quality over at Audiofilemagazine.com). That should be enough to keep me occupied the whole month. I’ve a personal goal to finish the ongoing physical reads as soon as I can so I can finally get to something else


Have a great month in reading!

by Niki Hawkes

 

Image

Book Review: Blood Heir by Ilona Andrews

Title: Blood Heir

Author: Ilona Andrews

Series: Aurelia Ryder #1

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: Atlanta was always a dangerous city. Now, as waves of magic and technology compete for supremacy, it’s a place caught in a slow apocalypse, where monsters spawn among the crumbling skyscrapers and supernatural factions struggle for power and survival. Eight years ago, Julie Lennart left Atlanta to find out who she was. Now she’s back with a new face, a new magic, and a new name—Aurelia Ryder—drawn by the urgent need to protect the family she left behind. An ancient power is stalking her adopted mother, Kate Daniels, an enemy unlike any other, and a string of horrifying murders is its opening gambit. If Aurelia’s true identity is discovered, those closest to her will die. So her plan is simple: get in, solve the murders, prevent the prophecy from being fulfilled, and get out without being recognized. She expected danger, but she never anticipated that the only man she’d ever loved could threaten everything. One small misstep could lead to disaster. But for Aurelia, facing disaster is easy; it’s relationships that are hard. –Goodreads

The Review:

I love these authors so much. Unfortunately Blood Heir was my least favorite book in a long while.

And not because of the story. They did an excellent job giving MC Julie a refresh that made the plot feel new and exciting. The twist was plausible and the affect her changes (and the secrecy around them) had on all of the characters around her were super interesting. I find myself eager for a second book to see how that aspect develops They even did a good job carrying the storyline beyond the end of the Kate Daniels series. Anytime a book allows me more time in this world with these characters, I’m in my happy place.

That said, the actual construction of this story left me wanting a bit. The Ilona Andrews team usually doesn’t waste a lot of page count on recap and explanations, but omg the first 40% of the book and a good number of info dumps beyond that was a struggle to read. I get it to a degree – we’re immersing in a character who hasn’t had a lot of page time for a few books, and it has been a few years since the KD series ended. What’s more, they have to set the stage for any new readers to come along (within reason) so the book can stand on its own. And I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I needed a bit of recap. However, I don’t think I needed quite as much. Especially the explanations about what happened to Julie since she left the area years ago. The changes she went through were so interesting, I think it would’ve been more effective to reveal them incrementally as she interacted with other characters. As it is, the info was just dumped in whenever it became relevant. And because these explanation passages were so prevalent, it slowed the plot down to a snail’s pace, making it hard to get into the story. It felt more like a recap episode to get readers ready for the throw-down in future books. This is definitely not consistent with their usual works. I’m chalking it up as a fluke/victim of circumstance and looking forward to their next Julie book. I really hope there is one.

Recommendations: these are my favorite urban fantasy authors. Even though this particular book wasn’t a hit, it doesn’t tarnish my opinion of what this duo is capable of. As a spinoff that takes place after the end of the Kate Daniels series, so I wouldn’t recommend reading it as a stand alone.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

Image

Tackling the TBR [68]: April 2021

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:

April 2021 TBR Tackler Shelf:

I’m mostly satisfied with my reading completion in March. I finally finished Deadhouse Gates and managed to also find time for Blood Heir by Ilona Andrews and The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie. I went back to work from maternity leave and have been striving to find a balance between work/kids/reading. I discovered I missed my littles so much while I was at work that I didn’t bust out my headphones very often while home with them. Reading may have to transition to something I do at work and during commutes, which doesn’t offer a lot of time throughout the week. Careful title selection will be even more key than ever because if I’m going to find precious time to read, the book better at least be something I’m really going to enjoy. 

To that end, I’m continuing series with authors I already know and love and starting a new YA trilogy for my book club. Maybe by this time next month I’ll have found a new rhythm. 


Have a great month in reading!

by Niki Hawkes

 

Image

Book Review: Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson

Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson

Title: Deadhouse Gates

Author: Steven Erickson

Series:  Malazan #2

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: In the vast dominion of Seven Cities, in the Holy Desert Raraku, the seer Sha’ik and her followers prepare for the long-prophesied uprising known as the Whirlwind. Unprecedented in size and savagery, this maelstrom of fanaticism and bloodlust will embroil the Malazan Empire in one of the bloodiest conflicts it has ever known, shaping destinies and giving birth to legends. -Goodreads

The Review:

I started Deadhouse Gates in January… Of 2019.

The writing is dense, no bout a doubt it, but it took a lot longer than it probably should have to get through the book considering how good it is. Part of my problem is that I’m a perfectionist and a completionist, so if I was going to tackle a series like Malazan, I wanted to make sure I got the full experience from it. There are so many characters and places referenced that it really does take a lot of extra concentration to keep it all straight. And I don’t know about you, but as soon as I start to lose focus and get confused on which character I’m reading about, my level of engagement and investment in the story drops significantly. So I read this at a snail’s pace, utilizing kindle’s X-ray feature what seemed like every freaking page to make sure I knew who or where or what was being referenced. Not to mention that the writing itself is very abrupt and succinct, especially surrounding revelations and epiphanies, so I constantly had to reread passages to make sure I understood all of its implications. All in all, a very slow process. And one that is not conducive to dragging out the reading over several, uh, years. I kept putting it down in favor of things that took less effort and eventually, this past January 2021, decided to lay everything else aside and commit fully to Malazan. I restarted the book and overall, with my full attention devoted, it took about three months to read.

It was soooooo worth the effort!

There’s no doubt in my mind that this book and series (as far as I’ve gotten) are masterpieces brilliant in their originality, expansiveness, and execution. The reading experience is unlike anything I’ve come across before (clearly) and the total immersion required almost guarantees you’re going to take a few gut punches. I can see why so many proficient fantasy readers hold Malazan on a pedestal – it’s truly an amazing story.

Believe it or not, DG was actually a little easier to follow than Gardens of the Moon. There were fewer new characters to follow and it seemed like we circled back to them more frequently. I particularly loved the elegant plot construction. It was an intertwined, unfolding “dance” of information and convergence of characters that built to an amazing peak that left my brain wheeling. It was so thoughtful and so well-executed. I truly can’t wait to see what the author has in store for me next. Now that I think I’ve gotten the hang of reading this series, I’m hoping I’ll be able to clip along a bit faster.

So how do I rate something like this? If I’m applying based on merit alone, it’s a solid 5 stars. However I think it’s important to also consider my actual reading experience with the book, and the fact that it took so much time and effort should be represented (even though that’s just as much on me as it is the writing). 4.5 stars it is.

Recommendations: this is one of the most remarkable books I’ve ever read and I consider the series a must-try for fans of the fantasy genre. It’s not for everyone and will require a lot more concentration than most novels, but the payoff is well worth the effort. Maybe try not to be as anal-retentive as I was in keeping the details straight and just enjoy the process (after all, if an element is truly important the author will most assuredly highlight it again at some point). If you can get into the swing of it, get ready for one of the coolest reading experiences you’ll ever have!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes