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Book Review: Search Image by Julie E. Czerneda

Search Image by Julie E. Czerneda

Title: Search Image

Author: Julie Czerneda

Series: Web Shifter’s Library

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: Esen’s back! And the dear little blob is in trouble again. Things began so well. She and her Human friend Paul Ragem have opened the doors to their greatest accomplishment, the All Species’ Library of Linguistics and Culture. They’re prepared for clients to arrive, but trouble comes knocking instead. First is Paul’s family, who’d mourned his supposed death years ago. Understandably, feelings are bent. But what matters? Paul’s father has gone missing. Before he can convince Esen to help him search, a friend shows up to use the Library. A crisis in the Dokeci System is about to explode into violence. To have a hope of stopping it, Evan Gooseberry needs answers. Unfortunately, the artifact he brought in trade holds its own distracting secret. A touch of very familiar blue. Lesy’s “signature,” left on all her creations. Web-flesh. The race is on. Paul, to find his father. Esen, to search for the rest of her Web-sister while helping Evan stop a war. What none of them realize is the price of success will be the most terrible choice of all. -Goodreads

The Review:

Can I fanigirl a minute over a new Esen novel?? 😭😭

I have to say, even though I loved how the first trilogy ended, I had a true booknerd freakout when I heard there was another Esen novel in the works. Czerneda has long been my favorite sci-fi author, and amazing, funny, awkward, compassionate characters like Esen are a big part of why I recommend her books so often.

It’s abundantly clear Czerneda loves this character as much as her fans do. Her writing in Search Image showed so much exuberance, it was the most fun I’ve seen her have to date (there’s always an element of fun and humor, but she really leveled up here). It’s obvious she delighted in this project, and her enthusiasm within her writing was infectious (and my favorite overall takeaway from the story). I can’t wait to see what fun she comes up with next!

Admittedly, I didn’t remember a lot from the first trilogy before diving into this one (it has been 10+ years), and so I’m certain I missed a few nuances and details, but that didn’t really limit my enjoyment much. Search Image had one of my favorite settings so far (an all-inclusive alien library), and and abundance of interesting aliens. Czerneda’s world building and attention to biological detail is amazing, and something I always look forward to in her books.

Recommendations: if you’re new to this author, I’d recommend starting with Beholder’s Eye. That trilogy had the perfect blend of story, humor, character, concept, and world-building for me, and I find myself recommending it often. If you love it as much as I did, then you’ll have this gem to look forward to next! :)

I’d like to thank Berkley Publishing Group, Julie E. Czerneda, and Netgalley for the chance to read and review an early copy of Search Image!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Planetside by Michael Mammay

Title: Planetside

Author: Michael Mammay

Series: N/A (…yet)

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 5/5 stars!!!

The Overview: War heroes aren’t usually called out of semi-retirement and sent to the far reaches of the galaxy for a routine investigation. So when Colonel Carl Butler answers the call from an old and powerful friend, he knows it’s something big—and he’s not being told the whole story. A high councilor’s son has gone MIA out of Cappa Base, the space station orbiting a battle-ravaged planet. The young lieutenant had been wounded and evacuated—but there’s no record of him having ever arrived at hospital command. The colonel quickly finds Cappa Base to be a labyrinth of dead ends and sabotage: the hospital commander stonewalls him, the Special Ops leader won’t come off the planet, witnesses go missing, radar data disappears, and that’s before he encounters the alien enemy. Butler has no choice but to drop down onto a hostile planet—because someone is using the war zone as a cover. The answers are there—Butler just has to make it back alive… -Goodreads

The Review:

Planetside is one of the best books I’ve read this year.

Everything about it hit the spot. It’s about a semi-retired Colonel who gets recruited to investigate circumstances surrounding a missing lieutenant. Right off the bat I loved the main character. He had a very no-bullshit approach to things, and his dry humor cracked me up constantly. In some ways, he reminded me a bit of both Avasarala (Expanse – she’s the bomb) and John Perry (Old Man’s War), to give you an idea the type of character profile we’re dealing with here. I think Colonel Butler could’ve been just sitting there reading a newspaper and I still would’ve eaten up every moment.

Planetside also offered an interesting mystery to solve, and I particularly enjoyed the intel-gathering aspect of the story. It made me feel involved, and the incremental reveal of each new piece of info was perfectly done. It also did an amazing job building momentum. You all know how much I love that gradually building plot that eventually sweeps you into a headlong careen to the end. Planetside definitely did not disappoint in that regard. I finished the book on a high, ready to go again.

Colonel Butler’s dry humor, as I mentioned, really was the highlight of the book for me. The way he spoke, processed information, and dealt with people sent me into constant giggle fits. I love dry, subtle situational humor and it’s placement was superb. All great components aside, the fact that Planetside amused me so much is probably the main reason it landed itself on my conservative all-time favorites list. I can’t wait to see what Michael Mammay comes up with next!

Recommendations: love sci-fi? Planetside is my new #1 rec for you. I loved everything about this book and will probably be talking about as often as I can for a while. It had the perfect balance of mystery, humor, and action.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

Title: Long Way to a Small Angry Planet

Author: Becky Chambers

Series: Wayfarers #1

Genre: Science Fiction (Space Opera)

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: Follow a motley crew on an exciting journey through space—and one adventurous young explorer who discovers the meaning of family in the far reaches of the universe—in this light-hearted debut space opera from a rising sci-fi star. Rosemary Harper doesn’t expect much when she joins the crew of the aging Wayfarer. While the patched-up ship has seen better days, it offers her a bed, a chance to explore the far-off corners of the galaxy, and most importantly, some distance from her past. An introspective young woman who learned early to keep to herself, she’s never met anyone remotely like the ship’s diverse crew, including Sissix, the exotic reptilian pilot, chatty engineers Kizzy and Jenks who keep the ship running, and Ashby, their noble captain.-Goodreads

The Review:

Wow, this book was downright cheerful! Is that allowed in sci-fi? It totally should be.

A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is definitely a character-driven story. There is a loose plot, but 90% of the focus is on the relationships between the characters. In my eyes, it’s the epitome of a true space opera. I found a lot of enjoyment out of just relaxing into the characters and letting them make me laugh. I don’t think I’ve ever read a lighthearted sci-fi that wasn’t over-the-top cheeky (like Hitchhiker’s), and this book struck a nice balance between levity and realism. The humor was more understated and situational (my personal preference), but what really stood out was the level of optimism infused into the characters. They dealt with a few relatable hard moments, but always maintained a positive outlook on each other and the situation. It was super refreshing. Especially considering how many dark books I’ve been reading lately. The pure joy in this this book caught me off guard in the best way possible.

Good aliens are a huge requirement for me to get behind a space-travel sci-fi. Chamber’s creature creation was great – she provided several different biological makeups and unique cultures. She even used their differences to make a few subtle points against prejudice (awesome). If I had one minor criticism: other than a few mannerisms and physical differentiations, most of the alien species came across very “human” (quirky humans, but still very familiar in the ways they communicated and processed information). When compared to my favorite sci-fi author, Julie Czerneda, I found a few things about their construction just shy of ideal, but that certainly didn’t take away from my enjoyment (because, after all, the more human they feel, the more I relate to them). So, as far as relative enjoyability of each POV, Chambers’ aliens were excellent. :)

As I’ve mentioned, the story is very character-driven, so much so that it only touches briefly on external conflicts beyond the Wayfarer ship. But brief doesn’t necessarily mean unimportant. The details provided made this universe feel really established, and it opened up possibility for a lot of cool interspecies conflicts in future books. I have a feeling it’s all going to add up to a profound experience at some point.

Series status: this lighthearted tale was exactly what I needed between some of my heavier reads. I’ve already picked up the next book.

Recommendations: if you like sci-fi and are in the mood for something lighthearted and fun, you can’t pick a better candidate than LWtoSAP. I also think this would be a great transition novel for readers who want to get into the genre, but are intimidated by the heavier military/technology/conceptual sci-fis. It’s definitely going on my list of “fun” books to recommend.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Coming Soon: Search Image by Julie E. Czerneda

Title: Search Image

Author: Julie E. Czerneda

Series: Web Shifter’s Library #1

Genre: Science Fiction

Release Date: October 2, 2018 <-Release dates are subject to change. :)

The Overview: Esen’s back! And the dear little blob is in trouble again. Things began so well. She and her Human friend Paul Ragem have opened the doors to their greatest accomplishment, the All Species’ Library of Linguistics and Culture. They’re prepared for clients to arrive, but trouble comes knocking instead. First is Paul’s family, who’d mourned his supposed death years ago. Understandably, feelings are bent. But what matters? Paul’s father has gone missing. Before he can convince Esen to help him search, a friend shows up to use the Library. A crisis in the Dokeci System is about to explode into violence. To have a hope of stopping it, Evan Gooseberry needs answers. Unfortunately, the artifact he brought in trade holds its own distracting secret. A touch of very familiar blue. Lesy’s “signature,” left on all her creations. Web-flesh. The race is on. Paul, to find his father. Esen, to search for the rest of her Web-sister while helping Evan stop a war. What none of them realize is the price of success will be the most terrible choice of all. -Goodreads

Nik’s Notes:

A new Esen novel??!! 😭

Czerneda is my favorite sci-fi author, and her Web Shifters series is my favorite from her to date. I thought it was over, so I’m SO HAPPY she decided to continue the story. She always has the perfect balance of great characters, awesome aliens, and situational humor – all of which make her books an absolute delight to read. I can’t wait!!!

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Nyxia Unleashed by Scott Reintgen

[July 17, 2018] Nyxia Unleashed by Scott Reintgen

Title: Nyxia Unleashed

Author: Scott Reintgen

Series: Nyxia Triad #2

Genre: Teen Science Fiction

Release Date: July 17, 2018

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: Emmett Atwater thought Babel’s game sounded easy. Get points. Get paid. Go home. But it didn’t take long for him to learn that Babel’s competition was full of broken promises, none darker or more damaging than the last one. Now Emmett and the rest of the Genesis survivors must rally and forge their own path through a new world. Their mission from Babel is simple: extract nyxia, the most valuable material in the universe, and play nice with the indigenous Adamite population. But Emmett and the others quickly realize they are caught between two powerful forces—Babel and the Adamites—with clashing desires. Will the Genesis team make it out alive before it’s too late? -Goodreads

The Review:

I’m really pleased with this sequel. The story seems more in line with what I think people were expecting from the first book: highly-trained teens dropped on an alien planet to mine Nyxia. There was less competition in this book than the first, and I missed a bit of that head-to-head drama, but the good character dynamics remained strong. What it offered instead was a new world to explore – complete with diverse flora and fauna, a fascinating planetary history, and indigenous beings with a breathtaking culture. Nyxia Unleashed was filled with countless moments of wonder and awe.

The world-building was superbly done and by far my favorite element of the book. There was so much creative and beautiful imagery throughout that I’m left with a solid vision of this alien world. Very well done. The natives were a lot of fun to learn about, especially when their culture clashed with our earthen norms. It was an experience for sure, and one that truly transported me.

So, while the world-building and diverse cast of characters were enough to satisfy this harsh critic, I admit the logistics of the plot – primarily the “grand scheme” on all three sides of the conflict, were a little thin. It required a “just go with it” attitude at times and made me nervous that the final book isn’t going to culminate to the satisfying ending I’m craving. It doesn’t lessen how I feel about the wonders this book showed me (truly awesome), but it might play into how I feel about the series as a whole depending on how the complexities of plot are handled in the final book. Fingers crossed.

It’s also worth noting that I really like the narration of the main character. He has a lot of depth that comes from good backstory and continues to get better as he’s shaped by these experiences. I especially love the whole “file this under C – for creative” thing he’s got going on because it speaks to a deeper coping mechanism that allows him to compartmentalize trauma and just get things done. I’ve never seen anything quite like it, and I love it.

Series status: Going strong. It has the potential to end up among my all-time favorites. You’d better believe I’ll be hounding for a copy of the final book, asap. :)

Recommendations: As I said with the first book, this is an awesome recommend for Red Rising fans who don’t mind all of those gritty components watered down to fit a YA market. It has the same competitive edge, interesting characters and camaraderie, and overall atmosphere. I’m a fan.

I’d like to thank Random House Children’s, Scott Reintgen, and Netgalley for the chance to read and review an early copy of Nyxia Unleashed. Approval for this title made my day!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Niki’s Book Journal [June 2018]

Niki’s Book Journal [June 2018]

This month saw the official launch (on my blog) of my Overflowing Bookshelf Challenge. Along with that went a complete library reorganization and newfound commitment to getting a handle on my overwhelming physical TBR.

Last month I complained that I wasn’t good at prioritizing time to read – something I really wanted to change. I feel as though I’ve made excellent strides by setting myself a few goals. They included a stricter “bedtime” of 11:30 (where I don’t actually have go to sleep, I just need to be in bed with a book winding down from the day). My goals also entail setting my phone out of reach when sitting down to read. If my phone is handy, I grab it. I found myself picking it up to “check something” on average every two pages because I guess my addicted brain can’t focus without extra stimulation at the point (it’s maddening). In any case, both of those things seemed to work, and I got through at least twice as many pages in June than previous months. Win.

Now if I can only bust through five times my normal, I’ll get through my collection in no time. ;)

On to the Mini Reviews:

Saint's Blood by Sebastien De Castell

Saints Blood (Greatcoats #3) by Sebastien de Castell [3.5/5 stars]

Even though Saints Blood contained my least favorite story components of the series, I still was 100% totally on board with the writing and the characters. De Castell manages to strike a brilliant balance between making you cringe at truly awful events and making you laugh at the way the main characters think about and handle them. You know you shouldn’t be laughing because of what just happened, but the Greatcoats are just so damn funny you can’t help yourself. All I can say is, de Castell has completely won me over from the rough start in book 1, and I’m genuinely excited to finish the series out (and move on to Spellslinger).

White Hot by Ilona Andrews

White Hot (Hidden Legacy #2) by Ilona Andrews [4/5 stars]

These authors continue to impress me with their ability to deliver consistently amazing stories filled with action, romance, mystery, magic, and a whole lot of fun. What I liked most about White Hot is how it advanced the overall arc of the trilogy, and how we got to dig a little deeper into what makes Rogan tick. What I didn’t care for too much in this one was the behavior of Nevada – she came off really stubborn and immature at times (a trademark of Kate Daniels is that she’s stubborn, but she usually at least acknowledges the irrationality and uses it to calculatingly prove a point… Nevada was just being petty). The dynamic didn’t work for me, but it was a small issues in the whole scheme of how much I’m enjoying this series. It’s very much on par with what you can expect from an Ilona Andrews novel, and I’m eager to devour all the things they’ve written. 

Zoe's Tale by John Scalzi

Zoe’s Tale (Old Man’s War #4) by John Scalzi [4/5 stars]

Discovering that this cheeky sci-fi series continued book 4 with an even cheekier YA POV was a bag of mixed emotions. I haven’t had the best luck with YA lately, but I loved the character Zoe. If anyone could pull off integrating this unconventional new perspective into an adult series, it would be Scalzi. Happily, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it may have revitalized the series for me. At first I was a bit bored with it’s shared (or dual) timeline with Last Colony (book 3) because I’m not the biggest fan of backtracking. However, Scalzi quickly shifted focus to new events that actually added to the “big picture” of what happened in Last Colony and, as a result, improved my opinion of both perspectives. The end of Zoe’s Tale was particularly satisfying, and overall it reinvigorated my interest in the series. Nice. :)

Broken (Women of the Otherworld #6) by Kelley Armstrong [3.5/5 stars]

Broken was a decent bounce-back from Haunted, with the added benefit of Elena once again as the POV. I’d heard this was another Elena book before diving in, and I admit to setting some expectations that it would also be another “werewolf” book with all the same intense feels as the first two. Er… kind of not the case. If anything, I’d call this a “zombie” book – a hybrid of Elena’s great POV and the plot structure of the Paige books. Not a bad combination, because it made for a fun mystery read, but I’d be remiss if it didn’t admit I missed a little of that carnal component that was so strong in the first book (not just the sex, but the overall intensity between every character). Even so, I’m at the point in the series where storylines and characters are starting to cross and I’m loving the convergence enough to keep my enthusiasm pumped for what’s to come. As with Haunted, Armstrong incorporated a mystery based on real world infamous criminals (Jack the Ripper, in this case), and I appreciate how creatively they’re being integrated into this supernatural world. I hope this book marks the upward swing of the series. :)


Overall, I think I’m on my way to establishing good reading habits, but I still have a lot of work to do. My question for you is: when do you prioritize time to read? Is it something you have to work at?

by Niki Hawkes