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Book Review: Sweep of Stars by Maurice Broaddus

Title: Sweep of Stars

Author: Maurice Broaddus

Series: Astra Black #1

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

The Overview: The Muungano empire strived and struggled to form a utopia when they split away from old earth. Freeing themselves from the endless wars and oppression of their home planet in order to shape their own futures and create a far-reaching coalition of city-states that stretched from Earth and Mars to Titan. With the wisdom of their ancestors, the leadership of their elders, the power and vision of their scientists and warriors they charted a course to a better future. But the old powers could not allow them to thrive and have now set in motion new plots to destroy all that they’ve built. In the fire to come they will face down their greatest struggle yet. Amachi Adisa and other young leaders will contend with each other for the power to galvanize their people and chart the next course for the empire. Fela Buhari and her elite unit will take the fight to regions not seen by human eyes, but no training will be enough to bring them all home. Stacia Chikeke, captain of the starship Cypher, will face down enemies across the stars, and within her own vessel, as she searches for the answers that could save them all. The only way is forward. -Goodreads

The Review:

Sweep of Stars was an interesting read.

The first half of the book was very much all about the characters – establishing the many POVs and introducing the reader to their society. My favorite thing about the book was this inspiring sense of community the group created – one where looking out for one another and doing things in the interest of the people rather than the self was commonplace. A place where everyone genuinely cared about one another and found this familial unity because of it. I think our world could use a bit more of the Muungano spirit. Granted, some characters were better at upholding the “Muungano way” more than others, but that’s where the story’s conflicts start to trickle in.

It took a while for the driving plot/purpose of the story to become evident – almost 50% through the book. I was wondering well before that if there WAS going to be an external conflict or if we’d be getting a more B.Chambers-style novel. Craving a bit more from the story, I thought the conflicts sparked a bit of life back into it and provided some decent momentum through the end of the book.

Because the novel was so character-driven from the start, I’m surprised that I didn’t have more of a connection to them. I think part of the problem was the shear number of POVs (7 or 8), so it took a long time to get back to any one character, effectively killing all the momentum. By the time the conflicts started hitting, I cared about what happened, but didn’t feel more than an arms-distance investment in the story as a whole. I think fewer characters and a quicker inciting (a clear one, anyway) moment would’ve gone a long way to improving my experience.

While most of the characters were written in the third person, one was written in second person, one in first, and one in (I believe) first person plural (like, “we do this, we do that”). I’m generally a lot more welcoming than many readers when it comes to authors playing with perspectives in books, especially if it’s incorporated for a purpose. It can lead to some cool payoffs, like the reason for the second-person perspective in N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy (which is brilliant, and still one of my favorite reveals of anything I’ve read). In this case, I imagine the variety of perspectives was fun for the author to play around with, but I didn’t see evidence in this first book indicating it was any more than just a novelty.

To that end, and I’m by no means an expert on this, some of the perspective dynamics didn’t make sense to me. For example, if you have both an “I” (first person) and a “you” (second person) character, doesn’t that usually indicate that it’s the “I” character narrating both perspectives? Like, “I do this and you do that?” And if the two were to come together in the same scene, the “I” (let’s call him Bob) character wouldn’t say “you look at Bob,” he would say, “you look at ME.” … only, that didn’t happen in the book when the characters met, indicating that there are perhaps two “I” perspectives (or three, counting the “we” perspective) and we just haven’t met the third “I” yet? Lol are you confused yet?! I’m still trying to make the POV math add up in my head. The discrepancy wasn’t a huge detraction from the story, but thoughts about it did pull me out a lot more than I wish they had.

Creative POVs aside, the writing was very artfully done. The prose flowed well and some of the basic sentence construction choices screamed to me of a writer who knows his voice and conveys it well. Even though I didn’t always feel connected to the characters and the story, I still appreciated the writing.

As a minor note, I attempted to switch to audio several chapters in for my commute and found it a wildly different experience. The cultural cadence of the narrator put pauses into sentences that weren’t present in the text – giving the narrative a very disjointed feel that I don’t think served the beautiful writing style very well. Because of that I’d suggest going the text route with this one.

Recommendations: this is an interesting Scifi with some great initial ideas. If you enjoy more character-driven Scifi and don’t mind some creative perspectives infusions, this might be a great pick. To get the most out of the prose, skip the audio on this one.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Doors of Sleep by T.A. Pratt

Title: Doors of Sleep

Author: Tim Pratt

Series: Journals of Zaxony Delatree #1

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 2/5 stars

The Overview: Every time Zax Delatree falls asleep, he travels to a new reality. He has no control over his destination and never knows what he will see when he opens his eyes. Sometimes he wakes up in technological utopias, and other times in the bombed-out ruins of collapsed civilizations. All he has to live by are his wits and the small aides he has picked up along the way – technological advantages from techno-utopias, sedatives to escape dangerous worlds, and stimulants to extend his stay in pleasant ones. Thankfully, Zax isn’t always alone. He can take people with him, if they’re unconscious in his arms when he falls asleep. But someone unwelcome is on his tail, and they are after something that Zax cannot spare – the blood running through his veins, the power to travel through worlds… -Goodreads

The Review:

Truthfully, I would not have picked up Doors of Sleep had it not been a book club selection. And even then, I resisted. It’s not my usual brand of novel. But the beauty of a book club is that it encourages you to try things you might not have otherwise, so here we are.

The verdict? It was okay.

I liked the first half better than the second. It introduced the premise for the story, infused some interesting characters, and gave a page-turning conflict. I found myself genuinely interested in continuing.

And then I got to the magic cornucopia.

This is not my first venture into Pratt’s work. The first 6 or so Marla Mason books are among the strongest urban fantasies I’ve ever read. I loved the first few (and the prequel) with a passion… and then lost patience once he started self-publishing them.

His ideas, which are already wildly creative and out-there, got too ridiculous and wild without a publisher’s careful eye on keeping the content geared towards the most mass- appeal. I find I have no patience when the things that happen in the book start to get stupid, but I know my tolerance level is less so than most. I just don’t enjoy the far-fetched.

So when things started taking that turn in Doors of Sleep, I lost a lot of the investment I was feeling in the story. Pair that with some lengthy existential dialogue passages, add a slowdown in pacing, then top it off with some very abrupt, convenient, and non-sequitur character growths, and you have the reasons for my eventual dissatisfaction. I also did not particularly enjoy the antagonists, which I’m sure didn’t help the experience.

Overall, I wish I’d enjoyed it more. It had a lot of promise and a cool idea, which I feel was explored pretty well in this first book. However I probably won’t be continuing the series.

Recommendations: if you appreciate the more conceptual novels and really don’t mind when things get ridiculous/weird, then Doors of Sleep might be your jam. I can definitely say I’ve never read anything quite like it.

Other books you might like (Note: because I’ve never read anything quite like Doors of Sleep, my OBYML selections are just a compilation of the last five weird books I’ve read…. perhaps they’ll strike a similar chord):

by Niki Hawkes

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Tackling the TBR [81]: May 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:

May 2022 TBR Tackler Shelf:

Last month I read quite a few off of my list, but it was a haphazard experience. I find myself venturing into May with no fewer than SEVEN books in progress. That’s way too many. But it’s not unexpected given my usual reading pattern. All that doubling-up I did in March, where I set aside several WIPs to attend to time-sensitive obligations, resulted in me feeling really behind in reading and not able to pick up what I wanted. The problem compounded as I had too many going at once and was rarely rewarded by being able to mark one as “Read” on Goodreads (I live for that payoff). Then I get into a slump and resentful that I haven’t been able to pick up anything new because I’m so buried so I throw everything I’m reading out the window and pick up something totally random (Body Finder, this time around – a YA lovestory/mystery) and end up getting a bit of a second wind from that rogue read.

I AM NOT CONSTRAINED BY MY TBR!

Or, at least that’s how it feels for a couple of weeks, where I give myself permission to start whatever I feel like starting and the rest of the WIPs will be tended to when I have a chance. Maybe it’s the next stage of acceptance? Either way, I approach reading with a bit more peace, but I still hate the situation I’m in. But aside from risking reading burnout by forcing myself to read more in a day than I actually want to, I resign myself to the long-haul.

Right now I’m in the long-haul stage. I recognize that it’s going to take me about two or three months to dig myself out of this reading hole, but I’m getting systematic about it. Most of the books are on my kindle, so I made a game of reading one chapter from each book at a time in rotation. I’ve been doing it for six hours and have been having fun. The next stage will be me getting impatient that I haven’t finished anything in several weeks, so I’ll start speed reading, DNFing, and abandoning for later until I end up with just one or two at a time. By this point I will have been not enjoying my reading experience for at least four months and will vow with every fiber of my being to never let outside obligations get me into this situation again.

But also… there’s an ARC I didn’t think I’d get approved for that just became available. So, maybe I’ll just read that, then get back to my reading restoration plan.

In all seriousness, this is quite the problem for me. I went through several of these reading slump cycles before finally figuring out what caused them all. After spending four months at the beginning of last year digging myself out of this exact same situation, I figured I’d finally learned how to avoid it. And maybe, just maybe, I could have the impatient-free reading life I’ve always hoped for. But my choices have not reflected my newfound values in this, as I continue to ignore what I need for myself in favor of book clubs, getting greedy with ARCS, and agreeing to Buddy Reads (note: it’s not THAT I’m agreeing to these things, it’s WHEN. Like, don’t sign up unless you find yourself between reads and it sounds fun). Perhaps a combination of facing these consequences for the next several months (again) and applying what I just learned from the book “Essentialism,” I’ll learn how to say “No, thank you” to requests and treat reading as a sacred, personal experience. I feel like I’m getting there. I just have to dig through this mountain of books I’ve placed in front of myself first. Wish me luck.


Have a great month in reading!

by Niki Hawkes

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Tackling the TBR [80]: April 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:

April 2022 TBR Tackler Shelf:

Whoops – it’s almost halfway through April and I haven’t posted my TBR! With all the content I’m working on these days, I don’t have a system in place to remind me to upload this post. Most of the time I rely on random cues to let me know it’s getting close to the beginning of a new month and go from there. This month my cue came late haha.

I find myself in a massive reading slump. Compounded obligations from last month and a few looming this month have sucked all the reading enjoyment out of my life. Fortunately, I took most of my hostility out on Shorefall by RJB (which I’ve listed on my TBR but have already finished for the month), that review will be out in just over a week. And went rogue and picked up a random YA, The Body Finder. I threw everything else aside and took four days to read that, and now I’m feeling a little more normal.

I’m allowing myself to read what I feel like reading as much as I can this month, but of all the books on my lineup, I’m hoping to make a concerted effort to get to the final Age of Madness book by Abercrombie. Nothing helps a slump like spending time with Glokta. I’m also excited to get around to the new Kim Harrison, as well as Collapsing Empire by Scalzi.


Have a great month in reading!

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: God’s War by Kameron Hurley

Title: God’s War

Author: Kameron Hurley

Series: Bel Dam Apocrypha #1

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: Nyx is a bel dame, a bounty hunter paid to collect the heads of deserters – by almost any means necessary. ‘Almost’ proved to be the problem. Cast out and imprisoned for breaking one rule too many, Nyx and her crew of mercenaries are all about the money. But when a dubious government deal with an alien emissary goes awry, her name is at the top of the list for a covert recovery. While the centuries-long war rages on only one thing is certain: the world’s best chance for peace rests in the hands of its most ruthless killers. . . -Goodreads

The Review:

I’m glad I went into God’s War knowing what to expect from this author.

When I read Mirror Empire, the first book in the Worldbreaker Saga (which I still need to get back to), I was introduced to a very edgy writer who has incredibly creative ideas, infuses gender-bender alternative viewpoints into her stories, and isn’t afraid to “go there” for a good bit of shock-value. Needless to say, I ventured into God’s War a little more braced than I might have otherwise…

…and was hit over the head with an unconventional story and wildly unique world-building. This society derives magic from the life energy of bugs. And that’s not even the focus of the story! It’s such an afterthought inclusion that speaks to the immersiveness of this story. Right away you’re thrown into the thick of things and abandoned to figure out what type of place this is on your own. There’s practically no time spent easing you into the story, which is par for the course of what I’ve seen from her so far. It’s also why I think her books are a lot more demanding than most.

I liked the initial profile for the main character, Nyx, but found myself getting slightly more dissatisfied with her as the story progressed. It seemed like random quirks kept being added to her personality, perhaps in an attempt to add depth, but it came across a tad contrived. And I think that’s part of the reason the plot felt a little disjointed. Like the author had a ton of ideas on the types of internal conflicts the character should face in order to give her a good arc, but didn’t integrate it through experience shown in the text. It was more like we kept jumping to the point of growth without getting to see the context through which it happened. It was interesting, but it felt clumsy.

I’m really fascinated by a lot of the periphery of this book. Like the bug-based magic system. And an entire societal conflict happening on the outskirts of the story that seem pivotal to the plot but not a lot of details were provided on it. I’m hoping the vagueness so far means she’s building up to a lot of cool moments later, but mark this as me suspending my final evaluation of this book until I see those promises are delivered on later. Fingers crossed.

So overall, this is unlike anything I’ve ever read, which in itself has merit. But between a disjointed and convoluted plot, clunky characterization, and unexplored opportunities, I’m still on the fence for this one. I plan to read the second one eventually, but find myself not super antsy to pick it up soon.

Recommendations: if you like weird scifi/fantasy novels with a lot of unconventional characters and plots, Kameron Hurley is the author for you.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Leviathan Falls by James S.A. Corey

Title: Leviathan Falls

Author: James S.A. Corey

Series: The Expanse #9

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

The Overview: The Laconian Empire has fallen, setting the thirteen hundred solar systems free from the rule of Winston Duarte. But the ancient enemy that killed the gate builders is awake, and the war against our universe has begun again. In the dead system of Adro, Elvi Okoye leads a desperate scientific mission to understand what the gate builders were and what destroyed them, even if it means compromising herself and the half-alien children who bear the weight of her investigation. Through the wide-flung systems of humanity, Colonel Aliana Tanaka hunts for Duarte’s missing daughter. . . and the shattered emperor himself. And on the Rocinante, James Holden and his crew struggle to build a future for humanity out of the shards and ruins of all that has come before. As nearly unimaginable forces prepare to annihilate all human life, Holden and a group of unlikely allies discover a last, desperate chance to unite all of humanity, with the promise of a vast galactic civilization free from wars, factions, lies, and secrets if they win. But the price of victory may be worse than the cost of defeat. -Goodreads

The Review:

It has been almost three months since I read Leviathan Falls, the final novel in the Expanse series, and I’m finally ready to review it.

It was a good book, but it wasn’t the wow moment I had been hoping for.

I had a lot of expectations for this finale. Many ideas of what I wanted to see happen and a mental list of questions I wanted answered. I was more or less let down on all accounts. There were a few hints at answers, but they were presented in a dense, convoluted manner that in no way satiated my curiosity. While the book contained some decent character arc payoffs, it only just touched on the main series ones. The epilogue saved it from total disaster, but yet I am still left with more questions. If for a minute I let go of expectations, I can admit that there was an unconventional subtlety to the ending that had way more of an impact than if it had been sent off with guns blazing (figuratively speaking… mostly), and I admire the beautiful writing and element of craft in its composition… but yet, here I sit, still feeling a bit unsatisfied.

And I think it all comes down to series pacing and structure.

After the earth-shattering amazingness that was Nemesis Games, the series took a new direction. Focusing more on the “expanding” part of the series, it was definitely the beginning of a second arc. One I still felt connected to through many familiar faces. I didn’t necessarily love the new direction, but I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt, putting my overall evaluation on hold until reading the last book. You see, if we weren’t working towards something momentous, did we really didn’t needs these endless pages of build-up? Probably not.

Taimant’s Wrath (book 8) was a slam dunk, completely momentous and profound installment that left me feeling all of those culminating emotions suitable for the end of a series. The trouble is, the series didn’t end there – it took all that great momentum and petered out into the last book.

A lot of the conflicts in book 9 felt contrived. Written in not because it had meaning to the series as a whole, but to give the characters more problems to navigate to perpetuate the story. The antagonist was a character we hadn’t seen before, and while I love the deep integration we get into the world of every human in this series and enjoyed her story, I didn’t think she served any purpose other than as a vehicle for plot advancement. Cut her story out entirely, and all the baggage that came with it, and there would’ve been a lot more room to actually explain what the heck has been going on this entire series. In more than just vague impressions.

If I can be so bold to suggest, the last half of the series would’ve been stronger with a different structure. Ideally books 6, 7, and part of 8 would be combined into one book – giving us enough time to acclimate to the new state of the story but still progressing it forward. Then the best bits of the remainder of 8 (all the momentous stuff that knocked me on my behind) combined with a very trimmed book 9. With perhaps a novella in between detailing the protomolecule’s origins. Or, even better, detailing it somewhere in the main text.

I know, easy enough for me to sit here and analyze and criticize. But that’s part of the reason it took me so long to write this review. I’d been trying to figure out exactly WHY the story felt disappointing. I’d been championing it as my favorite scifi ever since the fifth book came out, and I kept holding onto hope that it would continue to hold that spot after the final novel. The way it stands now, books 5&8 are among the strongest I’ve ever read in any genre, but I now feel compelled to add a few disclaimers when suggesting the series to others.

I’m not all bitter-sauce about it though. There are so many great moments and amazing characters (Avasarala will forever remain my chosen spirit-animal) within this series that make it so much fun to read and recommend. I will always have a special place in my soul for it, even if it didn’t ultimately end where I’d hoped.

Recommendations: if you’re looking for an action-packed space opera with some of the best character work in the business, you can’t go wrong with the Expanse. Even though this finale left me somewhat wanting, I don’t regret a single moment reading it, and in fact still cherish a lot of it.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes