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Novella Reviews: Wayward Children 1-3 by Seanan McGuire

Book Info: Every Heart a Doorway (book #1)

Rating: 4/5 stars

I’d been eyeballing this series since a friend recommended it to me a couple of years ago. I’d thought they were full-length novels, but was pleased to discover the series as bite-sized novella chunks. Very satisfying.

This first book could’ve taken a lot of directions. One of my favorite things about it is that I was never quite sure where the author was going with the story. Seanan McGuire is, most prominently, an author I look to for the unconventional. I loved that most of this book took place at a boarding school for these wayward children. School settings are my favorite, and this had enough “learning cool new things” components for it to be a good one. Then the tale took on an unexpected murder mystery, and I found myself completely on board.

Granted, the magic of this first book was more in what it promised in future books rather than just on its own merit. It had a lot of great setup, and the anticipation for what’s to come is why I was left feeling really positively about it.

Book Info: Down Among the Sticks and Bones (book #2)

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

So far, this was my least favorite of the series. While I continued to like the writing voice and overall concept, I had a lot of issues with pacing and plot decisions.

I was very interested in the backstory of these two characters, and appreciate the almost nursery-rhyme presentation of the narrative early on. However, the beginning was a bit long-winded, especially considering readers already knew what was going to happen from the first book.

Then we get to the new realm, and that’s really where my disappointment in how it was executed manifested. First off, the world itself wasn’t very well-realized. There were enough atmospheric details and explanations that my brain could sort of create a picture, but the narrow focus on just immediate characters made it feel like we were walking around in little bubbles. It didn’t seem like a real place with a functioning society. It felt like a big old castle with only three occupants and a town with only two or three folk, until the mob scene drew them out of the forest. Or wherever they were hiding. I’m finding it hard to explain, but essentially, the world-building was really thin, and more there for overall atmosphere creation than anything else.

One of the most compelling things about this series is allowing me to psychoanalyze these very troubled characters and try to figure out what circumstances and trauma cause them to behave the way they do. This opportunity is probably why I’m so tickled with the series so far, because it’s giving my brain a lot of extra food for thought (keeping me engaged). Based on what we know about these characters so far in the series, their behavior at the end of the book did not make a lot of sense to me. Both girls felt wildly out of character, and it bothered me enough that in my Buddy Read for the story, we spent a lot of time discussing what would’ve made more sense to have happen. The biggest dock to my rating was from this unsatisfying inconsistency of character.

However, this is just one facet of the story McGuire is building, so I was still eager to pick up the next book, despite some objections with this one.

Book Info: Beneath the Sugar Sky

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

I’d no idea what to expect next. Would the series take all the characters in the first book and use the following novellas to tell their backstories like they did in Down Among the Sticks and Bones? I was okay with that trajectory, but feared I’d miss the boarding school element too much to stay invested. Luckily for me, Book 3 managed to progress the storyline developing at the boarding school while also giving some great backstory tidbits and other world exploration.

It was fantastic.

Or should I say “fantastical” because we got to explore our first nonsense world in this novella.

I, for one, am definitely more at home in the logical worlds, but since the beauty of this installment was more about the characters and the sense of adventure and camaraderie, it didn’t bother me too much (I have a hard time with the ridiculous in books, which is why my stint into Piers Anthony, Pratchett, and Douglass Adams was very, very brief). Overall I love how it progressed the story in multiple worlds and how it started a convergence of realms.

Additionally, Beneath the Sugar Sky had a number of instances where it promoted female body positivity which was integrated naturally, feeling very organic to the character profiles, and 100% freaking fantastic. It also explored the idea that your worth as a person is made up of so many components that aren’t always tangible or visible things, and continually appreciating those things rather than focusing on external appearance and how society indicates you “should” be can be a very powerful shift in mindset. It’s not ignoring the stigmas around you, because that’s nigh impossible in the culture we live in, it’s allowing reality to be what it is and still have a quiet confidence in why you are special. Cora is definitely a character I’ll have my eyes on going forward. Loved.

Overall, this series (so far, books 1-3) has been an absolute highlight to my year, and I can’t wait to explore more. I appreciate that I’m getting much more out of these books than just your basic portal fantasy story. I’ve come away with so much unexpected food for thought, which is incredibly exciting.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Novella Review: Dawnshard by Brandon Sanderson

Dawnshard by Brandon Sanderson

Title: Dawnshard

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Series: Stormlight Archive #3.5

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars!

The Overview: When a ghost ship is discovered, its crew presumed dead after trying to reach the storm-shrouded island Akinah, Navani Kholin must send an expedition to make sure the island hasn’t fallen into enemy hands. Knights Radiant who fly too near find their Stormlight suddenly drained, so the voyage must be by sea. Shipowner Rysn Ftori lost the use of her legs but gained the companionship of Chiri-Chiri, a Stormlight-ingesting winged larkin, a species once thought extinct. Now Rysn’s pet is ill, and any hope for Chiri-Chiri’s recovery can be found only at the ancestral home of the larkin: Akinah. With the help of Lopen, the formerly one-armed Windrunner, Rysn must accept Navani’s quest and sail into the perilous storm from which no one has returned alive. If the crew cannot uncover the secrets of the hidden island city before the wrath of its ancient guardians falls upon them, the fate of Roshar and the entire Cosmere hangs in the balance. –Goodreads

The Review:

Stormlight Archive fans: this novella is totally worth your time!

And so far it’s one of my favorite tangents to date. Following one of my favorite tangent characters to date: Rysn. I must love books that take place on the high seas because I seem to enjoy all of them. Maybe it’s the sense of adventure and discovery they offer. The excitement of facing the unknown. In this case the adventure was to a storm-shrouded island, the discovery was everything on said island (and a bunch of technological revelations along the way), and the many unknowns of this world in general are what keep me eagerly coming back for more. I want to know what else has been lurking around this series that I haven’t noticed yet. I love how much depth Sanderson has already built into Roshar, and I’d be willing to bet we’ve only just scratched the surface. World-building is one of the things I value most in books, and this one had so many cool additions. All in a very satisfyingly short number of pages. I can’t wait to see how it all ties in to the series as a whole. Also, I would like a pet Chiri-Chiri.

Recommendations: read it.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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The Obsessive Bookseller’s Mini Book Review Blitz! [4]

Mini Book Review Blitz!

It has been a while since I’ve put one of these together, but I’ve come across a lot of stories lately that were either too short or just didn’t garner enough emotion (good or bad) to warrant full reviews. Here are some snapshot opinions:


Book Info: Ark [Forward Collection] by Veronica Roth

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

I probably wouldn’t have picked up Ark had it not been a review obligation (audiobook production review), but I’m glad I did. It was a lot more understated than I was expecting – a story more about human connection and the little things that make us tick rather than some grand tribute to the end of the world. The main character was a horticulturist trying to catalogue as many plant species as possible before earth gets hit by an asteroid. Humanity had already gone through the grieving process and has settled into a subdued acceptance of Earth’s fate, and the MC’s calm, somber voice was my favorite thing about the story… it was intentional and fitting. All that said, I was expecting a twist or something to change the energy level of the story… to amp up the excitement or pull on my emotions. But it kind of faded out the same way it came in: chill. Overall it was an entertaining short, yet I’d caution you to throw out preconceived notions of Roth’s writing patterns before diving in and just enjoy it for the subtle short that it is.


The Stone in the Skull by Elizabeth Bear

Book Info: Stone in the Skull [Lotus Kingdoms #1] by Elizabeth Bear

Rating: 2/5 stars

I’m writing a mini review for this one because, even though it has only been a couple weeks since I finished the book, I couldn’t tell you much about it. It’s set in the same world as her Eternal Sky series, and I couldn’t help but wonder while reading if she was riding the success of previously developed characters and relationships (which were lost to me) instead of composing something fresh. It certainly felt like I was missing some key components and to be frank – not a whole lot happened. Two of the female characters were so similar, it took me more than half the book to realize they weren’t the same person (this is also a good time to point out that Bear used a lot of pronouns instead of calling the characters by name). It was an interesting, exotic world that I enjoyed reading about, there just wasn’t enough meaningful plot advancement to give me something to really dig into (… and there was a distinct lack of advertised dragons). One thing I did enjoy – I absolutely loved Bear’s writing voice. This is my first book from her, and the prose was one of the most lovely I’ve ever read in a fantasy novel (seriously). So I’m not done experimenting with her yet. I just wish I’d had more to rave about with this one.


The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson

Book Info: The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

As my second time through this novella by Sanderson (this time experienced via graphic audio for a professional review), I liked the reread just as much. The basic premise is rife with authentic Sanderson creativity and world-building – a magic system using detailed stamps to reforge items into something new. I love reading about any magic element that requires a lot of skill, so the craft descriptions throughout the story were my favorite sections. I also thought the main character had a lot of interesting dualities. There were a few moments where her decisions surprised me, and I love that. Overall, of all the shorts from Sanderson (I think I’ve read them all), this is a top 3 for me.


Book Info: Randomize [Forward Collection] by Andy Weir

Rating: 1/5 stars

Upon finishing this short story for a published review, my first thought was: “what the hell did I just read?” My second was “where have I seen this author before?” Um, yeah, it’s the author who wrote the well-know book “The Martian.” I had to reconcile the seemingly pointless story with the weight behind a name like that. I haven’t read the The Martian yet, but I’m surprise he took the direction of hacking casino systems instead of something even more futuristic. I could definitely see a scientific thinker behind the words while reading, which now makes me think I’ll love the Martian even more, but the story left me feeling kind of “meh.” And I think the only reason is that I didn’t find the subject matter particularly interesting. There are so many heist stories now, you have to have a lot of fun with them to gain any traction, and this one was very straight-laced. It also delved into heavy technical description which almost made my eyes roll back into my head a few times. It was close. Overall, I’m interested in the brain behind this story enough to read more works from Weir, but I could’ve happily passed on this one.


by Niki Hawkes

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Novella Review: Auberon by James S.A. Corey

Title: Auberon

Author: James S.A. Corey

Series: The Expanse #8.5

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Overview: Auberon is one of the first and most important colony worlds in humanity’s reach, and the new conquering faction has come to claim it. Governor Rittenaur has come to bring civilization and order to the far outpost and guarantee the wealth and power of the Empire.

But Auberon already has its own history, a complex culture, and a criminal kingpin named Erich with very different plans. In a world of deceit, violence, and corruption, the greatest danger Rittenaur faces is love. -Goodreads

The Review:

A full review for a novella?! Only when it’s from James S.A. Corey. These novellas usually focus on periphery characters, and I love how in-depth and meaningful the authors make them. The stories are always about the human connection and digging into what motivates us. Auberon took a few pages to warm up, but quickly built momentum. I was totally enthralled by the end. There’s one scene in particular that about had me out of my seat in shock. And that ending! O_O

Auberon dives into the culture and struggles of an outpost colony. It presents some interesting dynamics regarding settlements that take on lives of their own, moving increasingly away from the entities that originally colonized them. It’s seems, no matter the setting, humanity is self-serving when resources are scarce, dragging its corruptive ways to the edges of the universe. Then throw in a character (Gov. Rittenaur) who’s supposed to show up and restore focus and order to this lot with absolutely no backing save his supposed “authority”… and you have a fascinating tale. And a stressful one.

And amidst all of those exterior dynamics, the story also provides an examination of personal vices and how they shape our behavioral patterns. I personally found Rittenaur’s vice especially poignant: perfectionism. A need for things to go according to plan and a strong desire for structure. The story really immersed you into the internal struggles of these characters, and I also thought the authors did an especially good job at incorporating sensory detail.

I’m not usually one for novellas unless it’s a series I’m super passionate about (The Expanse qualifies), and even then, I find they often don’t add a whole lot to the main story. The Expanse novellas are the exception. They may not always have direct influence on the story, but they always immerse you into what it means to be human – the point of the whole series, IMO. Auberon was a glimpse into the lives of those on the fringes of society, and it was a heart-wrenching one at that. These authors are brilliant at making me care about even the most insignificant players, and I’m always holding my breath, wondering what choices they’re going to make. People are beautiful, wretched, resourceful, loving, greedy, and always full of surprises, and this novella highlighted that variety for me.

Side note: apparently they incorporated a character from the Churn (another Expanse novella) but I read them so far apart I didn’t make the connection (or even remember the character lol). I’m not sure how this story will play in the bigger picture (if at all), but it was a good teaser to keep me satiated until the final novel comes out (I can’t wait!!).

Recommendations: The Expanse is one of the easiest series to recommend – it has a little bit of everything and is consistently good throughout the series (happily ignoring the tangent that was book 4). And the novellas are equally as good. If you haven’t picked any up, now’s a good time to start with the finale just around the corner…

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Niki’s Narrative Novella Review: The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells

Omg – the alliteration was unintentional (but the best thing I’ve done all week). This post is about my reading experience with Murderbot Diaries and why it’s now one of my favorite mini-series.

Niki’s Narrative Novella Review (Spoiler-Free)
The Murderbot Diaries

By Martha Wells
[5/5 stars]

All Systems Red by Martha Wells

All Systems Red: All Systems Red seemed to have everything I’d been hounding for in a good sci-fi – an interesting character, a compelling mystery, exploration, and some cool technology shit. Five pages into this novella and I was able to check off all the things. Hell, one sentence into this book and I knew we were going to get along (Wells is so good at opening lines. I haven’t even read The Wizard Hunters yet, but for years now I’ve been using it as a positive example of how to hook a reader). Murderbot was just so goddamned funny that I constantly felt on the verge of uncontrollable giggles the entire time. It spoke to my very introverted self like we’d been besties for years (ironically), but also spurred a level of compassion from me I haven’t given to a book in a long while. I came away from this first novella feeling like I’d just read a gem.


Artificial Condition: My feelings going into AC were tentative optimism. After all, sequels are never as good as the first, right? So if this could hold up to even 75% on how much I enjoyed All Systems Red, then I’d be good. The first few chapters were slowly paced and I really enjoyed reimmursing into Murderbot’s brain. Wells even had me laughing early on with MB’s interaction with a new character. And then the plot thickened and we were on our way to answering some questions. I lost myself for a few hours as the story snowballed to the end with a fantastic momentum that perhaps was even more of a ride than the first book. At this point, I went “omg, give me the next one,” and proceeded to troll the publisher and review sites until I lucked into a copy (okay, I didn’t really troll, but I was still exceptionally lucky).


[August 7, 2018] Rogue Protocol by Martha Wells

Rogue Protocol: I braced myself for this book. My trust in this author and this series was so strong by this point that I just hopped in and buckled up without even asking where we were going. And I was treated to possibly my favorite of the bunch (it’s like combing fine hairs). With all the key components right up front, some amazing Murderbot feels that kind of rocked some of my perspectives on life (that’s deep), and crazy whirlwind action that almost gave me whiplash, it rocked. If I wasn’t convinced from how much I loved the first two books, I was definitely a huge, unapologetically screaming fangirl by this point. Holy smoley that was good.


[October 2, 2018] Exit Strategy by Martha Wells

Exit Strategy: I entered into this final installment a little worried. For the character, for my emotions, for that heightened expectations that comes from reaching the end of something truly fantastic and hoping the quality holds up. I was not disappointed. Exit Strategy had the perfect balance of all the amazing elements that make this series so special. Did I shed a tear at some point during this book? I can’t remember. It might have been a combination of laughing and crying, or just something in my eye. Either way, I have strong opinions about how much I’d love to see this world expanded on more. I still have a few questions, but more importantly I’d miss Murderbot too much. In an interview I read, Wells mentioned that this is the end of the story arc, but she’s already thinking about what to do with it next (yay!).

So if you need me, I’ll be in my cubicle recharging from this series and trying not to get snot on my phone. I really hate it when I leak.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Novella Review: Legion: Skin Deep by Brandon Sanderson

Legion: Skin Deep by Brandon Sanderson

Title: Legion: Skin Deep

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Series: Legion #2

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars!

The Overview: Stephen Leeds, AKA “Legion,” is a man whose unique mental condition allows him to generate a multitude of personae: hallucinatory entities with a wide variety of personal characteristics and a vast array of highly specialized skills. As the new story begins, Leeds and his “aspects” are hired by I3 (Innovative Information Incorporated) to recover a corpse stolen from the local morgue. But there’s a catch. The corpse is that of a pioneer in the field of experimental biotechnology, a man whose work concerned the use of the human body as a massive storage device. He may have embedded something in the cells of his now dead body. And that something might be dangerous… What follows is a visionary thriller about the potential uses of technology, the mysteries of the human personality, and the ancient human need to believe that death is not the end. Legion: Skin Deep is speculative fiction at it most highly developed. It reaffirms Sanderson’s place as one of contemporary fiction’s most intelligent—and unpredictable—voices. -Goodreads

The Review:

Both Legion novellas were absolutely delightful. The concept was unique (a brilliant man whose “not crazy”, but harbors several human aspects who help him store information and solve crimes), the mysteries were interesting, and the writing was superb – yup! It’s definitely a Sanderson. What I especially loved about Skin Deep was the humor – I laughed so much through the first half I went back and read it again – you can tell Sanderson had a lot of fun writing it. The resolution to the mystery may have been wrapped up a little too conveniently for my tastes, but I still liked it. Overall, if you’re in the mood for something different – or if you’re mega Sanderson fan (like me <3) who hasn’t yet read it – Legion is the perfect pick!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes