Tackling the TBR [77]: January 2022

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:

January 2022 TBR Tackler Shelf:

I have so many books I’m eager to get to. If I’m not careful, I’ll send myself into another burnout. I was absolute shit in December at reading one book at a time – I double booked myself at the beginning of the month and started a bunch of titles at once, then proceeded to spend the remainder of the month digging myself out of that reading hole. One thing led to another and I let the highest priority book for the month expire at the library before I had a chance to finish it. Oye.

New year, new goals. Now that I have a fresh taste of what getting bogged down by too many titles at once feels like, I can approach January a little more thoughtfully. I have a buddy read for the Wayward Children books and another for the first Cradle novel and yet another for the next Vlad Taltos novel. And one obligation read in the form of “Far From the Light of Heaven” by Thompson for Audiofile magazine. And Doors of Sleep for my book club. It seems like a lot. I’m perhaps not being thoughtful enough. Beyond that, I will be continuing Age of Ash (my top priority) and Trouble with Peace (it will happen this month).

These are the carefully laid plans to continue series and be present for the commitments I’ve made. However, with the turn of the year and all of the inevitable goal setting that gets done, I slowly realized that most of my TBR this month are obligation reads to one degree or another. Most I actually want to read, mind you, but they’re perhaps not the most enticing books in my TBR…

So I’ve compiled two lists this month. The first one is a list of titles I feel like I should read. The following is a list of books that caught my eye that I’m feeling eager to start:

Books I have my eye on…

I’m trying to figure out why I’m not allowing myself to pick any of these up. When downsizing my incomplete series a few years ago, I got really mindful about adding too many new ones per month, and so always make a concerted effort to progress and finish more than I start. However, I think those habits I’ve nurtured are now working against me – I don’t feel free to pick up series on a whim unless they’re for a proposed buddy read. I might practice loosening up a bit this month by just diving into one of these books. It feels weird, lol. Ultimately, it will depend on if I finish Last Graduate and Trouble with Peace in time, because those are definitely not feeling like obligation reads. Everything else is expendable.

I’ll let you how it goes in next months post.

Have a great month in reading!

by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: You Sexy Thing by Cat Rambo

Title: You Sexy Thing

Author: Cat Rambo

Series: None Listed ATM

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: Just when they thought they were out… TwiceFar station is at the edge of the known universe, and that’s just how Niko Larson, former Admiral in the Grand Military of the Hive Mind, likes it. Retired and finally free of the continual war of conquest, Niko and the remnants of her former unit are content to spend the rest of their days working at the restaurant they built together, The Last Chance. But, some wars can’t ever be escaped, and unlike the Hive Mind, some enemies aren’t content to let old soldiers go. Niko and her crew are forced onto a sentient ship convinced that it is being stolen and must survive the machinations of a sadistic pirate king if they even hope to keep the dream of The Last Chance alive. -Goodreads

The Review:

Wait!! Don’t let the title scare you off – this is a new space opera series from TOR.

They’re taglining it as “Farscape meets The Great British Bake-off” and yes, I can see the comparison to Farscape and yes, a restaurant and cooking plays a roll in the story… however, I think they’re overselling the food aspect. I was expecting the setting and the overall story to have more to do with owning and operating a business – the restaurant as the central point which all of the other components/conflicts revolve. However, it was more just a quick novelty, and then we moved on to dealing with minor bad guys from the main character’s past.

Truth be told, in a market flooded with similar stories, the cooking was the only aspect that initially differentiated it from the rabble. Since that wasn’t really the focus, everything else was just okay, run-of-the-mill space opera. I didn’t have any particular connection to the characters. The conflict felt like a side story to all of the setup for the “Hive Mind,” from which they’d originally opened a restaurant to escape. And it used my least favorite writing tool of “just give me a chance to explain!” – “No!!” near the end that sucked what enjoyment I was having out of it.

However, that’s just me being a bit over critical. I’ve read so many space operas lately that I can’t often find joy in a basic, fun story like this one – I also need more depth, a bit of substance, and an overarching plot I can get behind. So, if you’re not grouchy like me, you might appreciate the lighthearted fun this novel offered and enjoy the interesting cast of characters.

Oh! One thing to it’s huge credit is the creation of many non-humanoid main characters. Not only were they fun concoctions, but talked, behaved, and interacted with the other characters in a way totally not human, which I loved. The story also contained an A.I. Spaceship, who’s emotional growth and development was by far the most interesting takeaway from the story. So, the book still has a lot of things going for it, personal expectations aside.

Originally receiving a review copy of this for audio production quality, I thought I’d also mention that the narrator for the audiobook, Vivienne Leheny, did a great job animating all the diverse beings and making them feel even more alien. Her performance definitely added to the experience.

Recommendations: If you’re seeking a lighthearted, quirky space opera read, this is a great pick. It won’t offer a lot of depth and substance, but it will offer the fun-factor.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: Daisy’s Run by Scott Baron

Title: Daisy’s Run

Author: Scott Baron

Series: Clockwork Chimera #1

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

The Overview: Rule #1: Don’t blow up and die. Rule #2: Always follow Rule #1 if at all possible. Life in deep space could be a drag sometimes, but Daisy supposed things could have been worse. She was still alive, after all, which was always a plus in her book. Now if only she could figure out who, or what, was endangering her return home, things would be just peachy. It had been one hell of a way to start the day––being rudely snapped from a deep cryo-sleep, and in the middle of a ship-wide crisis to boot––but Daisy was pleased to note that the ship had not decompressed, the crew hadn’t been blasted into space, and, most importantly, they hadn’t simply blown up. At least not yet. But being stuck on a damaged ship in the inky depths of space as it limped toward Earth was not exactly the relaxing trip home she’d imagined. With the powerful AI supercomputer guiding the craft beginning to show some disconcerting quirks of its own, and its unsettling cyborg assistant nosing into her affairs, Daisy’s unease was rapidly growing, as was her bigotry toward artificially intelligent beings. Add to the mix a crew of mechanically-enhanced humans, any one of whom she suspected might not be what they seemed, and Daisy found herself with a growing sense of dread tickling the periphery of her mind. Something was very much not right––she could feel it in her bones. The tricky part now was going to be figuring out what the threat was, before it could manifest from a mere sinking feeling in her gut into a potentially deadly reality.  –Goodreads

The Review:

This was almost a DNF.

I put the book down around the 45% mark, and it was only a random set of circumstances that had me picking it back up again about a week later. And what good fortune that I did, because only a few minutes into the revisit, the plot suddenly turned on its head and went from a basic scifi space story to an interestingly original take.

The book had a lot of good setup, but IMO it took way too long to get to the section where the author starting inputting his original ideas. I mean, I lost patience with it long before it hit that point but kept pushing through before finally giving up on it. Sure, the prose had a good flow and the dialogue was witty and fast-paced, but it wasn’t showing me anything I hadn’t seen a million times before… until the midway point. Then it offered a bunch of interesting twists, nice world building, and a good variety of settings. Ultimately, I’m glad the reading gods intervened and kept me reading.

Aside from it being what I thought was a highly predictable read initially, one of the reasons I felt okay putting it down was that I didn’t like the main character as much as I could have. Her dialogue was incredibly unrelatable, sounding more like a male character than female, especially in regards to the sex scenes. It seemed like it was more a conjuring of how some men wish women sounded rather than an organic depiction of a woman with more masculine speech, if that makes sense. Women don’t usually high five each other and use phrases like “I just got laid.” It conflicted with my paradigm. And it made the character seem forced.

There’s a specific tool many storytellers use in books and films to perpetuate plot that I just cannot stand: a misunderstanding between two characters that could be cleared up with a two minute conversation, but is dragged out because the main character is just too distraught ::high drama!!:: to hear anything else on the matter. It drives me crazy. It’s easier to pull off in books because you can only have one character speaking at a time, but it’s not realistic. How hard is it to talk over someone? This book used that tool not only once, but a couple of times to perpetuate the conflict. I realize this is a very personal peeve, so if that trope doesn’t bother you at all (and you can make it to the halfway point), the rest of the components are all there for a good story.

Series status: I probably won’t be continuing the series at this time, although I can see why it has gained some favor with other readers on Goodreads.

Recommendations: this scifi took a long while to get to the selling point of the novel. The great unique spin on things was perhaps a big enough payoff to warrant the wait, so if you pick it up, give it at least until the halfway mark before making the call.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: Beyond Varallan by S.L. Viehl

Beyond Varallan by S.L. Viehl

Beyond Varallan by S.L. Viehl

Title: Beyond Varallan

Author: S.L. Viehl

Series: Stardoc #2

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 2/5 stars

The Overview: Dr. Cherijo is living the perfect life–if you think that finding out you’re a clone, then being declared “non-sentient” by your father/creator is your idea of perfect.Things could be worse. But when the Human League comes after her, with bounty hunters of every race trying to bring her in, Cherijo figures it can’t get any worse… Until someone begins stalking her dreams. -Goodreads

The Review:

This series took a weird direction.

And considering the basic premise is a genetically manipulated xenobiological medical doctor proficient in operating on aliens, that’s really saying something. This second installment had a lot of issues. I didn’t hate it, but it stole some of my confidence that the author would be able to sustain me for an entire series.

The first issue was extremely erratic decision making by the main character. She was almost idiotically irrational at times throughout the book and I could argue that most of the senseless conflicts derived solely from her weird behavior. It just didn’t make sense. And that’s one thing that always drives me crazy in books. Now, as it turns out, there was an explanation for some of her actions, which alleviates my annoyance a little, but it was probably too little too late. It seemed a tad early in the series to be messing with the character profile so much because to a degree you’re still trying to establish character and endear them to your audience. The person I read about in this book was vastly different than the one in the first book and I most decidedly did NOT enjoy her new POV. The author took a risk and unfortunately I don’t think it paid off.

The plot was equally all over the place. I quite enjoyed the mystery – it’s the consistent through-line that kept me reading when I was unsure about a lot of other things. But all of the other storyline components were just friggin weird. A lot of the traditions and laws of the alien species hosting the MC seemed like mere constructs contrived solely to prolong the conflicts of the story (because they didn’t make any sense). There continued to be a theme of personal violations and “almost” rape scenes. And the back and forth between the main character and one of the aliens was so unnecessary and ridiculous that I kept wondering why she was being so stupid by not removing herself from the situation. It was hard to read.

So why didn’t I DNF with all of those objections? Setting aside the fact that I already own the entire series and DNFing means I’ve been hauling them around for 20 years for nothing, I truly love reading about all of the medical procedures performed on aliens. It was so cool! And quite realistic and thorough. The author has a surgical background and it definitely shows. It’s the main selling point of the story for me and one of the main reasons I might actually still continue with the series (for at least one more book – the first book was great, so I’m hoping this one was a fluke). The author managed to pull me back in just enough at the end to give the benefit of the doubt going forward.

Recommendations: this book was a flop compared to the first one, but had just enough good moments to keep me reading til the end. I recommend at least the first one for readers who love scifi with excellent alien creations and world building. The jury is still out on the series as a whole. Stay tuned…

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: Velocity Weapon by Megan E. O’Keefe

Velocity Weapon by Megan E. O'Keefe

Title: Velocity Weapon

Author: Megan E. O’Keefe

Series: The Protectorate #1

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 3.5/5 stara

The Overview: Sanda and Biran Greeve were siblings destined for greatness. A high-flying sergeant, Sanda has the skills to take down any enemy combatant. Biran is a savvy politician who aims to use his new political position to prevent conflict from escalating to total destruction. However, on a routine maneuver, Sanda loses consciousness when her gunship is blown out of the sky. Instead of finding herself in friendly hands, she awakens 230 years later on a deserted enemy warship controlled by an AI who calls himself Bero. The war is lost. The star system is dead. Ada Prime and its rival Icarion have wiped each other from the universe. Now, separated by time and space, Sanda and Biran must fight to put things right. -Goodreads

The Review:

Overall, Velocity Weapon was an entertaining read. Probably in the upper half of scifi novels I’ve read lately. It’s very character-driven and political, involving two worlds on the brink of war. I appreciated the slightly more complex ideas and thought the non-human characters were handled especially well. I also liked the initial suspense – it had a lot of interesting and dynamic plot points to keep the pages turning. If I can say nothing else about the book, it was consistent from start to finish…

… which may have been why the novel ultimately left me feeling underwhelmed.

I definitely don’t mind a slow-burn plot that takes a while to unfold all of its mysteries. I do mind, however, when that slow burn doesn’t eventually escalate, as was the case with Velocity Weapon. It kept the same plodding pace through the entire novel when everything about the story supported a careening finish. Unfortunately, the height of interest for me hit at about the halfway point and never really went back up from there.

The good news is, at least it was consistently good. If you like the book right from the beginning and know what to expect, chances are you’ll continue to like it well into the second novel.

Series status: I set down the second book in favor of other series I was more impassioned about. However I can see myself picking it back up eventually because the series is written well and has a lot of merit.

Recommendations: pick this scifi up for a slow-burn, character-driven political novel.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells

Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells

Title: Fugitive Telemetry

Author: Martha Wells

Series: Murderbot #6

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating:  4.5/5 stars

The Overview: “No, I didn’t kill the dead human. If I had, I wouldn’t dump the body in the station mall.” When Murderbot discovers a dead body on Preservation Station, it knows it is going to have to assist station security to determine who the body is (was), how they were killed (that should be relatively straightforward, at least), and why (because apparently that matters to a lot of people—who knew?). Yes, the unthinkable is about to happen: Murderbot must voluntarily speak to humans! -Goodreads

The Review:

I’ll be the first to admit that I love Murderbot so much that anything published in the series immediately gets a baseline rating of three stars… anything I find particularly amusing above and beyond expectation launches it up from there. The full-length novel had all the Murderbot attributes but, after some distance from my initial impressions (and review), I don’t think the extended plot did the story any favors. It was a bit repetitive and could’ve benefitted from a more generous edit. Coming back home to another novella in Fugitive Telemetry was exactly what the series needed to refresh itself back absolutely superb rather than just merely awesome.

I loved this one. Probably my second favorite after Rogue Protocol. As always, Murderbot was a scream (the humor kind), but what struck me in this one was how much the character has grown. It’s definitely still an antisocial introvert, but you can now read between the lines to see that it actually is finding a bit of begrudging comfort out of its “relationships” and gets a little butt-hurt whenever someone snubs it over a prejudice. My favorite scenes here were the ones involving it trying to work with the humans on their very inefficient terms. Hysterical.

The mystery was very satisfying and the pacing was spot-on. I had to stop myself from devouring too fast because who knows when we’ll get another one. Martha Wells has truly created a unique voice that is as memorable as it is funny.

Recommendations: I’m a huge fan of everything about this series and plan to continue recommending it as often as I can. Murderbot is my spirit animal. I don’t care how much I read, I’ll never get tired of his sardonic nature. The series is especially recommendable because the installments are so short – they give people a chance to try them out without a huge time commitment. I don’t know about everyone else, but I was sold on the very first line…

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes