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Tackling the TBR [35]: June 2018

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:

June 2018 TBR Tackler Shelf:

I don’t have a very concise reading list this month (clearly). I’m in the middle of a massive personal library reorganization, trying to prep for my Overflowing Bookshelf Challenge (it’s currently linked to my ongoing tracker on Goodreads, but I’ll be putting together a feature on here within the next couple weeks). Basically, I have too many books that have jumped up into “high priority” status so, instead of picking a focus like I should, I’m just going to set lofty goals and fail to achieve them. :P Right now I’m torn between kicking off this new challenge and trying to maintain my Incomplete Series Challenge. I think I’m going to wrap up a bunch of series this month, which will free me up to dig into my collection going forward.

  • In the top row are books I’ve already started reading, along with ones on deck for my Incomplete Series Challenge.
  • In the middle row are ARC commitments, along with a few buddy reads I’ve signed up for.
  • In the bottom row are books I’ve selected as starting points for my Overflowing Bookshelf Challenge (Scott!! I know, I know, I changed my mind again on Demon Apostle. I’m going through a book crisis and can’t make up my mind what I want to do).

The titles that immediately jump out at me are Empire of Ashes and the two Murderbot books – I’m stoked to dive into those. I’m also excited to finally have the Word and the Void by Brooks in the lineup because they were recommended to me YEARS ago by a friend (thanks, Jonathan!! I’m finally reading them). I recently watched the two seasons of Shannara and, issues with the execution of the show aside (the second season was much better), the overall concept and ideas kind of reinivigorated my enthusiasm to get back to that series. Word and the Void is first in the chronological reading order, so here goes nothing.

Do you have any reading priorities or challenges you’re tackling this summer? I’d love to hear your game plan! :)

by Niki Hawkes

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Mini Book Review: All Systems Red by Martha Wells

All Systems Red by Martha WellsTitle: All Systems Red

Author: Martha Wells

Series: Murderbot Diaries #1

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 5/5 stars

The Overview: In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety. But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern. On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid — a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is. But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth. -Goodreads

The Mini Review:

Murderbot might be my spirit animal.

I loved this novella. It had a fun plot and, more importantly, it had a killer main character (pun intended) who will speak to your inner introvert like no other. And it was funny. I wasn’t expecting to laugh so much at a SecUnit POV, but the situational humor and dialogue delighted me at every turn. Good humor will spark a higher rating in me every time, and it almost feels like a bonus that everything else was so good too. Overall, All Systems Red had all the components I look for in a sci-fi and I can’t wait to see where the story goes next!

Series status: I plan to read all the things… in fact I may hound for ARCs and purchase hardcovers for my collection.

Recommendation: All Systems Red seems to me the epitome of the best the genre has to offer, so whether your looking to get into sci-fi or are an established reader seeking your next good read, All Systems Red earned its spot as a staple in my recommendation arsenal.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Title: Ancillary Justice

Author: Ann Leckie

Series: Imperial Radch #1

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest. Once, she was the Justice of Toren – a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy. Now, an act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with one fragile human body, unanswered questions, and a burning desire for vengeance. -Goodreads

The Review:

I’ve been systematically devouring as many of these sci-fi series as I can get my hands on (fueled by James S.A. Corey, Ann Aguirre, Martha Wells, and Rachel Bach, to name a few), and I’d been saving Ancillary Justice for a rainy day. I was certain I was going to love it… but unfortunately it fell a little short of my expectations.

For the first third of the book I thought I was having an issue with my ability to concentrate. I found the writing really dense and it was often difficult to figure out what was happening. Sometimes rereading passages would help, but more often than not I felt like I was missing something. It distanced me from the story and made me feel disconnected from the characters. Around the 30% mark, it finally started to draw me in with a few action scenes and got better from there. By the time I finished, I was glad I’d read it, but holy cow that was a rocky start. My conservative rating is a reflection of that and the fact that the book lacked some depth.

The potential for political intrigue was one of my biggest motivators to keep reading. The dynamics were so interesting early on that I really thought it was going to expand into something profound. All the ingredients were there, they just didn’t get manipulated enough for any sort of payoff. It lacked a nefarious edge to really get me down and gritty with the story, so I came away feeling like I’d just read a whole lot of fluff (with potential).

I did have some positive takeaways: The book started with a great concept and maintained a strong voice throughout. It also boasts one of the more fascinating POVs I’ve come across (non-human, which was a delightful surprise). Those items alone saved it to a “I liked it” rating.

I’m kind of an outlier when compared to the mass majority of stellar ratings, but I do have a Goodreads friend who had similar issues with this book, but explained them a lot better [see his review]. He talked about his theory for it’s success based on people being fascinated by the various stylistic elements and I’m not ashamed to admit I’m one of those people – I really love when an author can show me something I’ve never seen before. But the rest of his points were spot-on with my impressions of this book (nice review!).

Recommendations: I’m not as wide read with sci-fi as I’d like to be (yet), but I’ve definitely read several I liked better than Ancillary Justice. Despite that, it’s still recommendable for its interesting concept, characters, and overall story. It’s not the first book I’d hand you in the genre, but it would certainly come up in conversation. Keep this one in mind after you’ve read my other sci-fi recs first. ;)

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Persepolis Rising by James S.A. Corey

November 7, 2017

Title: Persepolis Rising

Author: James S.A. Corey

Series: The Expanse #7

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview:In the thousand-sun network of humanity’s expansion, new colony worlds are struggling to find their way. Every new planet lives on a knife edge between collapse and wonder, and the crew of the aging gunship Rocinante have their hands more than full keeping the fragile peace. In the vast space between Earth and Jupiter, the inner planets and belt have formed a tentative and uncertain alliance still haunted by a history of wars and prejudices. On the lost colony world of Laconia, a hidden enemy has a new vision for all of humanity and the power to enforce it. New technologies clash with old as the history of human conflict returns to its ancient patterns of war and subjugation. But human nature is not the only enemy, and the forces being unleashed have their own price. A price that will change the shape of humanity — and of the Rocinante — unexpectedly and forever… -Goodreads

The Review:

The only thing I hated about Persepolis Rising is how long it’s going to make me wait for the next book.

I always come away from an Expanse novel reeling. Sometimes from massive events, but often just from the profound depth of character. This series continues to illustrate what it is to be human and I can’t help feeling deeply affected by the sentiment within each novel. A short interaction between two characters in this book (maybe 3 pages worth?) had the power to become one of the most memorable moments of the series for me. It’s those little moments made bigger by the depth of their history and meaningfulness of the nuances that makes this series so stellar. Needless to say, I’m a fan.

As far as “stuff happening,” the lack of which was my only issue with Babylon’s Ashes, Persepolis Rising delivered on plot advancement and regained much-needed momentum for the series. I’ve been trusting the authors to evolve it into something, well, expansive at some point, and they’re delivering with flair. Other than a segment in the middle (where I had an oddly difficult time concentrating), Persepolis Rising offered a snowball ride to a great story climax that has me almost angry that I can’t pick up the next book immediately.

Recommendations: The Expanse is easily my favorite space opera/science fiction series on the market. The series has a lot of action, great characters (like, really great), and tons of memorable moments. I’d hand it to people looking to get into the genre. But at this point I would beat longtime scifi fans over the head with the first tome if they haven’t given it a try yet.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: To Guard Against the Dark by Julie E. Czerneda

Title: To Guard Against the Dark

Author: Julie E. Czerneda

Series: Reunification #3 [A Clan Novel]

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: The final book in the hard science fiction Reunification trilogy, the thrilling conclusion to the award-winning Clan Chronicles.

Jason Morgan is a troubling mystery to friends and enemies alike: once a starship captain and trader, then Joined to the most powerful member of the Clan, Sira di Sarc, following her and her kind out of known space.

Only to return, alone and silent. -Goodreads

The Review:

I laughed, I cried, I loved the journey.

The main things I look forward to in Czerneda’s novels are: awesome aliens, great relationships, and situational humor. To Guard Against the Dark had a perfect combination of all three and, in my opinion, was a fitting way to bring the saga to an end.

Series-enders have a tendency to take themselves too seriously, getting so caught up in building a good story arc that they sometimes forget all the little things that make them special. Czerneda couldn’t have delighted me more with her inclusion of all of my favorite elements (Drapsk, more Drapsk, and Huido) in this novel. It was so much fun! The balance of sentimentality and humor was phenomenal. She got it right. :-) Venturing in, I was worried the story would get too existential, focusing on my least favorite elements of the series, the Watchers and the M’hir (usually represented in the Interludes). Even though those elements played a significant role in the finale (and are the basis behind the entire saga), I found them much less ambiguous than in past novels. Finally we get some answers! 

The publisher is advertising that you can jump right in this series without having read anything else, but in my opinion what makes it special and interesting is that it’s a true merge of stories from her Trade Pact Trilogy (to be read first) and her Stratification Trilogy (which I think needs to be read second even though it’s a prequel trilogy). The whole saga is a great journey with incredibly memorable characters; very well worth reading. I’d recommend it if you like sci-fi that focuses more on characterization and aliens than space exploration, military, and technology (for the record, I like both). My recommendation is especially strong if you like aliens because no one does creature creation better than Czerneda! Side note: I would like a stuffed animal Drapsk for my Birthday, please.

I want to thank Berkley Publishing Group, DAW, and Julie E. Czerneda for a chance to read and review an early copy of To Guard Against the Dark. What a fitting end!

Other books you might like (including more Czerneda):

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Last Colony by John Scalzi

The Last Colony by John Scalzi

Title: The Last Colony

Author: John Scalzi

Series: Old Man’s War #3

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: Retired from his fighting days, John Perry is now village ombudsman for a human colony on distant Huckleberry. With his wife, former Special Forces warrior Jane Sagan, he farms several acres, adjudicates local disputes, and enjoys watching his adopted daughter grow up.

That is, until his and Jane’s past reaches out to bring them back into the game–as leaders of a new human colony, to be peopled by settlers from all the major human worlds, for a deep political purpose that will put Perry and Sagan back in the thick of interstellar politics, betrayal, and war. -Goodreads

The Review:

This is the point in the series where the story needed to make me fall in love with it as much as the first book did. Coming off a decent, albeit underwhelming second novel (Ghost Brigade), I wanted Last Colony to evolve into a series I could endorse as passionately as The Expanse. Alas, while I was thoroughly entertained from start to finish, the book did leave a few points to be desired.

My biggest complaint is the lack of description. Scalzi has all of these interesting alien species, but I’m at the halfway point in the series and couldn’t begin to tell you what they look like. I love myself some xenobiology, but I feel the author has taken what should be a selling point to the series and glazed over it with ambiguity.

At least Last Colony saw the return of my fav, John Perry, and an interesting convergence of storylines from the first two books. The humor came back in force and played a huge factor in my overall enjoyment.

At the end of the day, while I’ve concluded there are some weaknesses to this series, all the strengths add up to give me an easy sci-fi,  perfect for a light reading mood. My Fantasy Buddy Reads group on Goodreads has called it “hefty fluff” or “fluff-plus” and I don’t think it inaccurate. I would definitely recommend it anyday for someone in the mood for a bit of fun.

Other books you might like:

 

by Niki Hawkes