Image

Niki’s Book Journal [January 2019]

Niki’s Book Journal [January 2019]

I’m not gonna lie – these last few months have been difficult. So much so that I’ve been having trouble concentrating on reading, let alone finding the brainpower to compose reviews. For me, hardship always inspires opportunity for growth – the chance to make your life even better than before you got knocked down. And that’s exactly where I’m at in my journey. I finally find myself excited to read again, excited to talk books, excited to jump back into this community I love so much. So thank you to everyone who stuck around when I dropped off the planet. :)

To the mini reviews!


Shadow of the Fox by Julie Kagawa

Shadow of the Fox (Shadow of the Fox #1) by Julie Kagawa [1.5/5 stars]

This is my first foray into Julie Kagawa’s works. While there were a lot of individual components to the story I liked, overall I found it a struggle to get through. The story had a vibe suitable for older teens, but the dialogue was so simplistic and straightforward that it felt like reading a middle grade book. It made it impossible to take any of the characters seriously (especially the villain). Despite that, the book flowed really well and had a good fun-factor element (after all, a half-kitsune MC is pretty cool… parts of the story also reminded me strongly of Kung Fu Panda haha), so I’m sure I’m in the minority with my rating. Perhaps this author is just not for me. #cantwinthemall

Return to Honor by Brian McClellan

Return to Honor (Powder Mage #1.5) by Brian McClellan [4/5 stars]

As the Powder Mage trilogy has officially become one of my favorite series (Promise of Blood was superb!), it’s no surprise I found myself eager to tackle some of the novellas. Return to Honor added depth to a few great side characters in a way that made the main books feel more completed. I can see why the scenes were excluded because it would’ve sidetracked the main plot too much, but I’m delighted I still got to experience it. If you haven’t read the series yet, I’d highly recommend picking this novella up within it. :) There are a bunch of short stories that go along with the series as well, but I was too impatient to get on with the series to make time for them… I hear they’re also good though lol.

Tongues of Serpents by Naomi Novik

Tongues of Serpents (Temeraire #7) by Naomi Novik [3.5/5 stars]

I’m not sure yet how I feel about the series as a whole, but I’ve found myself picking up these novels for a very specific Temeraire “fix,” if that makes sense. The books are all fairly similar but the highlight continues to be the dragons. This novel had them exploring the Australian Outback… basically on the periphery of the Napoleonic War (again), and even though not much happened, per se, I still enjoyed the interplay between the dragons and humans. I’m not getting a lot of substance from these later books, but I’m still glad I’m reading them and I think that’s because the dragon “fun-factor” is strong enough in each book to keep me coming back. It’s also exciting to find out each new tangent destination haha.

Bite Club by Rachel Caine

Bite Club (Morganville #11) by Rachel Caine [2.5/5 stars]

Something about the relationship drama in these books stresses me out. The types of things they fight about would be deal breakers for me, and I find myself less and less satisfied with both the romance and the love interest. I also feel like it’s kind of endorsing unhealthy practices in teens and putting a strong emphasis on “the guy comes before your own wellbeing.” HOWEVER… it also adds and authentic feel to the story and the characters are very believable. So for that reason, I’m not totally mad at it. For the first time, I finally feel like I’m grasping what the final arc of the series might be and that has me more interested than I’ve been in a while to see what happens next. Unrelated: I didn’t get the title reference until just this moment, and it delights me a little lol.


I hope you all had a great month! :)

by Niki Hawkes

Image

Niki’s Book Journal [July 2018]

Niki’s Book Journal [July 2018]

The biggest bookish thing that happened this month was that I finished work on my reading/creative space and could finally just sit and enjoy it (I’m planning a bookshelf tour at some point).

It was wonderful. Around two weeks in I decided to designate it the no-phone zone. If I want to listen to an audiobook while working on a project, I’d hookup my wireless headphones, leave the phone set to the right screen in the other room, and click it on remotely whenever I needed it. I think it’s brilliant.

Unrelated (but perhaps spurred by my new anti-phone productivity), I finally set myself into a blogging schedule and came up with a way to plan upcoming posts – more on that later. Not being organized in this area is part of the reason why I’m so bad at getting reviews written and posted. It’s an ongoing goal to pay at least a little attention to everything I read on this platform. People see me reading new things on Goodreads all the time, but never get more than a one sentence – I liked it! RTC (if I had a dime for the number of unreviewed books that still say RTC…).


Mini Reviews!!

Kiss of Death by Rachel Caine

Kiss of Death (Morganville Vampires #) [3/5 stars] by Rachel Caine

I guess it says something about the general lack of robustness of this series that I seldom have more than a paragraph or so to write about it. Possibly this is due to how short each book is, but I think it’s mostly because once you’ve read a couple, you’ve pretty much read them all. Kiss of Death did change it up a bit – taking the characters out of their main setting (for reasons that felt a little inconsistent with the plot so far, but whatever), and I have to say I genuinely enjoyed the journey. These really are the perfect bite-sized reads to help break up the heavy fantasy I’ve been reading and, although my reviews aren’t the most flattering, I’ll be disappointed when I run out of them. They’re slightly off-beat and would be great recommends for older teens (it doesn’t have anything explicit, but it definitely endorses underaged sex). I wish I had devoured these when I was younger and more able to appreciate them, but for now, I’m glad that it still has appeal to me as an adult.

Wildfire by Ilona Andrews

Wildfire (Hidden Legacy #3) by Ilona Andrews [4/5 stars]

I devoured this trilogy so quickly that a lot of it feels like a blur now. If the authors hadn’t announced that there’ll be a novella to wrap things up and a spinoff trilogy on the horizon, I’d probably be complaining that Wildfire left the series a bit incomplete. But I won’t, because there is. :) As much as I love the back and forth between the main characters, my favorite element of this book was digging more into how the different “Houses” of this world function and learning more background info about those dynamics. I also have to give the book kudos for handling an aspect of the love story really well (having to do with jealousy and ignorance, but I won’t hash out the whole thing). In any case, Wildfire and the Hidden Legacy series in general perpetuated my fangirl attitude towards these authors and I can’t wait to devour the few unread series I still have from them.

The Willful Princess and the Piebald Prince by Robin Hobb

The Willful Princess and the Piebald Prince by Robin Hobb [3/5 stars]

Robin Hobb be like “Niki, you think Fitz and the Fool messed you up, you just wait. Ima gut punch you as many times as possible in under 200 pages.” Piebald prince, my friends, is a bonafide tragedy. It was also poignantly written and so starkly engaging at parts, which is exactly what you don’t want in a story that’s setting you up for a throwdown. It has been a month and I’m still not fully recovered. On one hand it was great to see a back history for why the “witted” are so despised in the main Elderling series, but on the other I think I may have been better off remaining ignorant lol. In all seriousness, this was a well-crafted novella on par with Hobb’s other works. My personal dislike of tragic stories definitely affected my rating because, although I love this author, I did not enjoy all the negative feelings stirred up in me while reading this story. Kudos to Hobb for being a skilled enough writer to evoke such a strong reaction in me (she’s my favorite for a reason), but suffice to say I won’t be rereading this tale anytime soon.

The Builders By Daniel Polansky [3/5 stars]

I saw this title pop up on my Goodreads feed and thought “you know, I’ve never tried a grimdark Redwall story – cool!” and then proceeded to devour it that afternoon. It had a clever infusion of woodland creatures into a dark tale of revenge, and I think had it been humans instead of animals I still would’ve enjoyed it. It made me ponder though – were the animals even necessary? In any case, I appreciated the creativity. This is probably the only time I will have the opportunity to refer to a tale of betrayal and murder as “cute,” but that’s exactly what it was. At the very least, it put this author in my radar. It’s a great snack-sized story that I’d recommend if you need something light between books.


Thanks for going on my book journey with me. How was your month in reading? :)

by Niki Hawkes

Image

Niki’s Book Journal [April 2018]

Niki’s Book Journal [April 2018]

This book journal idea may have just revolutionized my reviewing process. I open up the draft for this post after finishing a book (motivated by the fact that I only have to write a paragraph or so), and before I know it I have a full-length review that merits its own post. The combination of retraining my brain to open WordPress right after finishing a book along with a couple other reading trackers have definitely made a positive impact on my reviewing process. Long story short: I only have two books reviewed in this format for April, but I’m okay with that.

I love this new change in my habits because I’m finding myself drawn to writing more throughout the day (which will hopefully culminate into actually working on one of my novels). And as a HUGE bonus, I’m producing more book content both here and on Goodreads, which is in line with making me the consistent book reviewer I’ve always aspired to be.

During this process, I started a tracker in my bullet journal and discovered that on average I’m finishing 2.5 books per week, but generally I’m only reviewing about 1 pw. I don’t think I’d wrapped my head around that particular disconnect of why I never seemed to catch up on reviews (I mean, really, it’s not rocket science). I knew my efforts weren’t enough, I just didn’t realize precisely how ineffective I was being. No more! I have a new system in place to help me even out that ratio.

I created some tracker in my bullet journal. I’ve had several (basically unused) tracking methods over the years, usually just a list on Goodreads, but a couple of months ago I started a bullet journal and it has drastically improved how I organize all the things. I start with a book progress status bar tracker at the top of my weekly spread:

As you can see, I finished three books that week. Then I take those finished titles and put them into my (ugly but functional) new review tracker:

They key here has been creating a category at the top for each step in the process. Composing a review can take a couple hours, so if I just write “write review for x” I have to be able to commit a lot of time to it before I can check anything off. As I’m super motivated by striking things off lists, having each step listed separately allows me to do just one component of it at a time without getting overwhelmed. It’s definitely making a difference. My next step is to beatify the tracker. :)

Journaling done. On to the books!


Carpe Corpus (Morganville #6) by Rachel Caine [3/5 stars]

I always enjoy the atmosphere and mood Morganville books create, so Carpe Corpus gets a decent rating for that alone. I went into this series (a bit late than most) under the impression that there are a few different story arcs within it. With this novel, I fully expected that supposed culmination of events to really wow me… yeah, not so much. The story seemed to resolve itself so quickly that I was left feeling like I missed something. I mean, I know the books are super short, but still. What I did like about this novel in particular was the stellar character dynamics and relationship progressions. I maintain that these characters feel a lot more rounded and realistic compared to many other YA. I’m definitely still looking forward to continuing the series because reading each one feels like coming home, but overall Carpe Corpus didn’t make much of an impression.

The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan

Son of Neptune (Heroes of Olympus #2) by Rick Riordan [3.5/5 stars]

Son of Neptune was a solid sequel to The Lost Hero and an improvement on all accounts. My biggest complaint of the first novel was the senseless repetition, so it was refreshing for book 2 to have a consice plot where everything had a purpose in building towards the overall arc of the novel. There were still lots of “tangent” monsters to fight, but I thought the encounters were integrated much more seamlessly. And as an added bonus, the main POV was a familiar face that I’ve missed (Percy!!). Son of Neptune also introduced some brand new characters who have the potential to land among my favorites for this author. I’m finding myself eager to pick up Mark of Athena sooner than later, which is an excellent sign.

by Niki Hawkes

Image

Niki’s Book Journal [March 2018]

Niki’s Book Journal [March 2018]

Am I the only one who gets overwhelmed when the “To Be Reviewed” pile starts getting out of hand? I always have the best intentions, but I’m at the point where I have almost 50 unreviewed titles from just the last 6 months. It’s stressing me out! And we’re not even going to talk about all the books I’ve neglected to review beyond the 6 months. My usual solution is to stamp my foot down and say “That’s it!! I’m going to write a review every single day until I catch up!” which is promptly followed by review writing burnout where I don’t feel like doing any more for a couple of months. It’s a vicious cycle.

But I think I may have constructed a solution.

Some amazing (or horrible) books require a lot of time and effort to sit down and review properly, but oftentimes it’s the simplest, most straightforward books that don’t get reviewed because I can’t come up with much to say about them. My new book journal review format will hopefully offer a solution to that problem by giving me a place to log my smaller reviews. Then WHAM! They’ll go live whenever the mood strikes me. Here goes…


Nexus by Scott Westerfeld

Nexus by Scott Westerfeld & Co. [Zeroes #6] 3/5 stars

This was a fun trilogy that I think will appeal to fans of Sanderson’s Reckoners series. It has a very Heroes (the show) feel where kids are born with abnormal abilities. I’ll definitely give the authors kudos for coming up with “powers” I’ve never seen before, such as controlling a crowd’s energy, electronics manipulation, and “throwing” vision (to name a few). They were extremely odd, but oddly interesting at the same time. I’ll most remember the series for it’s diverse cast of characters (with different ethnicities and sexual orientations, something I love seeing more of in books). I also liked the overall plot progression. This final novel offered a nice story arc that seemed a lot grander than the self-induced problems the characters faced in the first book and I appreciated how everything played out. Overall, this trilogy is a fun read, especially if you’re in the mood for something kind of different. It didn’t knock my socks off, but it definitely entertained.

Red Tide by Marc Turner

Red Tide by Marc Turner [Chronicles of the Exiled #3] DNF at 54%

I didn’t put this book down because it was a bad read. I put it down because it was taking me well over two weeks to get to just the 50% mark and I just couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to get into it knowing that it’s meant to be a six book series and there’s not a single peep that the author’s even working on the next book (for more of a reference, all 3 of the released titles came out between May 2015 and September 2016 and it doesn’t look as though he’s shared any updates on his website since). So I was finding it difficult to really care what was going on with no continuation in sight. If the author announces another book, I’ll happily pick this back up where I left off (until then…). For what it’s worth, I liked the story, the world building, the interwoven plot lines, and even the characters (who are extremely one-dimensional). It wouldn’t be the first fantasy series I recommend, but I wouldn’t discourage anyone from reading it, either.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

Girl of Fire and Thorns Stories by Rae Carson 2.5/5 stars

This compilation of three short stories would’ve been exponentially more enjoyable had I read it with the series instead of waiting several years. Considering how little I remembered of the side characters, the first two stories were entertaining enough and I’m sure they added a bit of good backstory. However, the final book (Hector’s story) didn’t really give me any of the feels I wanted even though it was the one I was most looking forward to. I’d long ago learned my lesson about waiting too long to get back to a series, but this experience just helps reinforce how important momentum is to my reading feng shui.

Lord of Misrule by Rachel Caine

Lord of Misrule (Morganville #5) by Rachel Caine 3/5 stars

This is yet another book I would’ve enjoyed more had I continued right away. Alas, I’m grateful for the few subtle drop-in reminders of events in previous books to get me back up to speed for the rest of the series (which I’m planning to continue in a timely manner). I’m always impressed at Caine’s writing and thinks she has some of the better-developed characters in the genre. I know every time I pick up a Morganville book I’m going to be entertained. The storyline for Lord of Misrule specifically felt a little more erratic than previous books. It’s definitely functioning as a setup novel and ended without one whit of resolution (which is good motivation for me to keep reading…thank the book gods for completed series). Overall, I’m excited to dive back into this series.


Thanks for following along! What do you think of this new reviewing format for middle-of-the-road titles? :)

Image

Book Review: Feast of Fools by Rachel Caine

feast of foolsTitle: Feast of Fools

Author: Rachel Caine

Series: Morganville Vampires #4

Genre: Teen Paranormal Romance

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: In the town of Morganville, vampires and humans live in relative peace. Student Claire Danvers has never been convinced, though, especially with the arrival of Mr. Bishop, an ancient, old-school vampire who cares nothing about harmony. What he wants from the town’s living and its dead is unthinkably sinister. It’s only at a formal ball, attended by vampires and their human dates, that Claire realizes the elaborately evil trap he’s set for Morganville.

feast of fools 2

The Review:

Funny story: so Morganville #1 (The Glass House) was actually one of the very first paranormal YA books I’ve ever read. At the time, I really didn’t know what to expect from the genre… and wasn’t really blown away. Fast-forward about a decade and hundreds of YA books later to the moment where I finally decided to continue on in the series. I discovered it is actually way better than I initially gave it credit for. This came about while I was trying to create a top ten YA list – while I could name countless books that I enjoyed, I could not for the life of me come up with ten series that I absolutely LOVED (especially compared to my top ten fantasy list, where I had trouble narrowing it down from twenty). I surprised myself when I realized Morganville had enough merits to make that list.

For one thing, it’s written well. For another, the characters are quirky and well-rounded. Not to mention the plot offers a unique take on the vampire world (which is incredibly appealing considering how many teen vampire books are out there). Overall, it’s gritty, original, and has an abundance of personality and charm.

So with all of those good things said, it made me start to wonder why I initially didn’t enjoy the series as much then as I am now. I think I’ve finally figured it out: the love interest. Morganville (as well as Caine’s Weather Warden series) commit a good portion of their pages to romance. The trouble is, I didn’t find a single one of the male leads appealing. While I can definitely see their merits and why other readers find them attractive, they just aren’t my type. This tells me two things 1) Caine and I have very different tastes in men and 2) I haven’t been able to fully appreciate the story up to this point because I’m not emotionally invested in the love story. Believe me when I say I know how weird of an issue this is… I’ve only come across this problem once or twice before, but three instances for a single author – unheard of! 

The good news is, now that the plot outside of the romance has advanced considerably, I’m finding the series incredibly fun to read. Even though everything still takes place in Morganville, the conflicts have broadened to become more serious and include more characters. I now have a lot more substance to sink my teeth into (pun intended), so I’m definitely excited to see what happens next!

This is a great series for people who enjoy paranormal but are tired of the perfect “bubblegum” atmosphere that most teen books present. This one is fast-paced, quirky, and definitely one of the best of the genre. It doesn’t quite stack up to some of the adult urban fantasies, but holds its own nonetheless.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

Image

Book Review: Chill Factor by Rachel Caine

A oneTitle: Chill Factor

Author: Rachel Caine

Series: Weather Wardens #3

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

The OverviewWeather Warden Joanne Baldwin has protected the human race from monster storms, been killed, reborn as a Djinn, and then restored to her original form. Now she’s throwing the dice to stop an infinitely powerful, deeply disturbed kid-who is holed up in a Vegas hotel-from bringing on a new ice age. 

A one

The Review:

After reading the first three books in both this series and the Morganville series, I have come to the conclusion that Caine’s work just doesn’t sing with me. There is something missing, and I’ve wracked my brain and analyzed the snot out of these books and I think I have finally figured out what it is (see below). I’m pretty sure I’m alone in this, too, because my best friend/favorite-go-to-person for book recommends ranks Morganville number one as far as vampire books go and really enjoyed the first few books in this series as well. It happens, I guess, but I’m still going to take a couple of paragraphs to explore why the book was just “okay”.

My favorite element to this book was the concept – it was the major reason why I bumped the book’s overall rating up from a 1.5 to a 2.5. People with abilities to control the weather with the help of mysterious, beautiful, and downright hostile djinn that are kept as slaves. It is a really neat idea, and for the most part Caine does a great job expanding on it. My only gripe here is that she sometimes managed to turn a fun ability into a highly technical event that made me feel like I was reading a textbook.

I actually really like the writing style – I am a sucker for good use of description and Caine had a couple of really stunning passages that I made note of to study for my own writing. What she accomplishes so well with that great description is a fantastic overall mood for the story. It takes me to a very distinct world with a very distinct feeling, and honestly if I pick the next book up it will be because I miss the overall feel of these novels.

With all of those good attributes, what’s my problem?

The only thing I can figure is that something about the main character, plot, or love interest wasn’t working for me. With this book in particular, I found myself constantly questioning the main character’s rationale (which incidentally took the plot to places I wasn’t invested in). I also didn’t really care for the love interest – while the main character is running around thinking ” OMG, this guy is the most important wonderful thing in the world, I can’t lose him!” I’m over here like, “Whatever, you could totally do better.” I guess this book goes to show just how important it is for me to be invested in the characters, otherwise it’s like pulling teeth to get through the novel.

Recommendations: with all of these things in mind, I probably wouldn’t recommend these books unless someone specifically said they liked the Morganville series (as I had all of the same struggles with those) so if you liked one you’ll probably like the other. As of right now, it’s pretty low on my urban fantasy totem and would have to go somewhere totally amazing in the next one for that to change. For any wary readers out there, this particular book contains language and violence.

by Niki Hawkes

Other books you might like: