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Niki’s Book Journal [May 2018]

Niki’s Book Journal [May 2018]

The first half of May was an oddly stressful month of reading. I scheduled way too many buddy reads between the 1st and the 10th, and was forced to play catchup the whole month as a result. It was not relaxing.

The biggest problem is that I suck at prioritizing books that don’t come in audio. Since my turn to audiobooks a couple of years ago (eye strain injury, blah blah), I seem to have lost the ability to make time to sit down and read physical books. I’m too dependent on the flexibility audio provides and often spend any time I do manage to steal dinking around on my phone (I know I’ve said all of this before, but it’s still something I’m working on).

Now that my eyes are mostly better, I want to prioritize making a dent in my physical collection (via my Overflowing Bookshelf Challenge), but getting though even a single book feels like it takes me forever. I used to breeze through 80 – 100 per year, and can’t figure out where the heck I found the time to do that (yes I can – no children, no iPhone, no audiobooks…). Nowadays I’m lucky if I average even 20 books a year at the rate I’m going.

So my goal going into June is to make a concerted effort to choose reading first over other more brainless activities (ahem, phone) and see if I can recapture some of the good reading habits I used to have. My goal is to complete 4 books from my collection (a book a week sounds manageable if I stick to my resolve).


On to the mini reviews!

Part of this book journal idea was to commit a space where I can quickly drop in and review books that don’t have enough material for a full post. Here are my mini reviews from May 2018:

Knight's Shadow by Sebastien De Castille

Knight’s Shadow (Greatcoats #2) by Sebastien De Castell [4.5/5]

Considering how polarized my opinion was for Traitor’s Blade, it’s surprising even to me how thoroughly I enjoyed Knight’s Shadow. It must have been the perfect combination of elements to satisfy my mood because even while reading it I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why I liked it so much. It just had that addictive quality that kept pulling me back to it in favor of other things, which is something books don’t do to me a lot these days. The balance between humor and grit was well done, so I enjoyed laughing while simultaneously sinking my teeth into a rich story. When de Castell is on his game, I have a hard time pulling away. I’ll I can say is, he seems to have found his groove, so if you’ve waffled on continuing the series, consider this gentle encouragement to keep going. :)

Skullsworn by Brian Staveley

Skullsworn (Unhewn Throne #0.5) by Brian Staveley [3/5 stars]

If I could’ve chosen any group from the trilogy to learn more about, it would’ve been the Skullsworn (maybe not necessarily through an early Pyrre perspective, but she’s definitely an interesting character). The Skullsworn are essentially a guild that uses death as worship, so they naturally produce highly skilled assassins. I was hoping to get into the nitty gritty of the training process (kind of like what Staveley did with the Kettral in the first book), but it was more focused on Pyrre’s initiation process and less focused on the group as a whole. It had a few good fast-paced “scheming” moments, but a lot of the book was slower moving than I’d anticipated. I also had a pretty solid prediction early on about one of the major plot points, which unfortunately killed any of the suspense I was supposed to be feeling. It was far from a bust, though. I loved the setting – a alligator ridden swamp/delta with plenty of local lore and voodoo (good cultural immersion always goes a long way with me), so even when I wasn’t always 100% engaged with the plot, I was at least enjoying the atmosphere. Pair that with solid writing and a good ending earned this prequel a solid 3 stars (I liked it) rating. Unhewn Throne is a definite keeper for me, so I’m genuinely looking forward to whatever Staveley produces next.

Demon Spirit by R.A. Salvatore

Demon Spirit (Demonwar Saga #2) by R.A. Salvatore [2.5 stars]

I may have stalled on writing this review a bit longer than necessary, but it should tell you something about my general lack of investment in this book that I can’t remember a single, solitary thing about it even though it has only been a few months since I finished it. Nada. Squat. Zilch. A big fat pile of nothing. So I’m left with only the vague memory of forcing myself through the book without retaining anything (because I was bored – the book didn’t have much resembling plot-advancement, that much I remember). This is not good. Despite love of Salvatore in general and my curiosity for everything that takes place between this book and Child of a Mad God, I’m seriously considering abandoning this series for the time being… or at the very least putting it on the back burner for other things. I just can’t bring myself to invest time in the final book of the trilogy when I had such an unremarkable experience with Demon Spirit. Especially when I have a laundry list of things I’m enjoying more. I’ll probably revisit one day, but not in the near future. Heck, I might even skip ahead just to reinvigorate my interest in the series. I own them all. :/ [update: I wrote this review. I meant every single word. But now I’ve changed my mind and want to give the final book a go… it’s a long story. Lol]

Fade Out (Morganville #7) by Rachel Caine [3/5 stars]

It’s clear I’m getting a little too old to fully appreciate YA problems – they all just seem so unnecessarily dramatic compared to RL issues I’ve been dealing with. Even so, Morganville books continue to offer me that light escape I crave between all the heavy adult fantasy novels. Compared to the other books in the series, nothing truly earth-shattering happened in Fade Out, but I did like the expansion on vampiric history and politics (to a minor degree). These bite-sized stories always put me in a good mood, and I’m genuinely interested to see where Caine takes it next.


That’s it for my musings in May! Thanks to all who read my posts. :)

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Book Review: The Siren by Kiera Cass

Title: The Siren

Author: Kiera Cass

Series: N/A

Genre: Teen Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: Love is a risk worth taking. Years ago, Kahlen was rescued from drowning by the Ocean. To repay her debt, she has served as a Siren ever since, using her voice to lure countless strangers to their deaths. Though a single word from Kahlen can kill, she can’t resist spending her days on land, watching ordinary people and longing for the day when she will be able to speak and laugh and live freely among them again. Kahlen is resigned to finishing her sentence in solitude…until she meets Akinli. Handsome, caring, and kind, Akinli is everything Kahlen ever dreamed of. And though she can’t talk to him, they soon forge a connection neither of them can deny…and Kahlen doesn’t want to. Falling in love with a human breaks all the Ocean’s rules, and if the Ocean discovers Kahlen’s feelings, she’ll be forced to leave Akinli for good. But for the first time in a lifetime of following the rules, Kahlen is determined to follow her heart. -Goodreads

The Review:

No one is more surprised than me how much I freaking loved this book.

Cass and I have a bit of a hit or miss relationship where I’m either 100% on-board fangirling… or throwing the book in disgust. Luckily, The Siren fell into the former category – something I wasn’t led to expect based on some brutal early reviews I read for the book. I have a theory as to why it caused such harsh reactions for fans of Cass’ work:

The book is less about the romance, where the main love interest is kept on the periphery for most of the book, and more about the relationship girl has with her sisters, mother ocean, and (most importantly) her heart. It’s a book filled to the brim with inner conflict as Kahlen struggled to come to terms with her lot in life and find her place in the world. I can see how most readers (misled by the romance-heavy nature of her previous series) might have gotten bored with the plot as it drifted further and further from the love story. As someone who is kind of sick of seeing the same recycled romance in YA, The Siren screamed to me something profoundly different and I enjoyed the shit out of it.

I think this is one I might actually want to reread. Certainly it deserves a spot in my collection (coveted and limited space at the moment). I don’t think it’s a book I could recommend with confidence because it’s a very specific, atypical YA that doesn’t fit the mold, but it definitely fit the bill as the refresh I needed in the genre.

Recommendations: I wouldn’t recommend this necessarily for fans of Cass’ other work because it satiates an entirely different craving. Instead I’d probably hand it to the lovers of those tragic “girls in pretty dresses in a slightly dystopia era” series (which I call “elegant dystopia”). I’d also hand this to someone expressly tired with typical YA romances.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Unraveled by Kate Jarvik Birch [and Blog Tour!]

Title: Unraveled

Author: Kate Jarvik Birch

Series: Perfected #3

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: Ella isn’t anyone’s pet anymore, but she’s certainly not free. After exposing the dark secrets about NuPet’s breeding program, forcing them to repeal the law that allowed genetically modified girls to be kept as pets, she thought girls like her would finally be free. She never dreamed that it would backfire. NuPet may have convinced the public of their intentions to assimilate pets back into society, but Ella knows it’s a lie. They aren’t planning mass rehabilitation…they’re planning a mass extermination.  Now, with the help of a small group of rebels, Ella and Penn, the boy she’d give up her life for, set out to bring down NuPet for good. But when her group gets implicated in a string of bombings, no one is safe. If she can’t untangle the web of blackmail and lies that extends far beyond NuPet’s reach, she won’t just lose her chance at freedom, she’ll lose everyone she loves.

The Review:

I’m a fan of this series. Kate Jarvik Birch is such a lovely writer, and Ella’s story is one I won’t soon forget.

The beauty of the Perfected series was Ella’s inner story. I’ll always hold Perfected (book 1) on a pedestal for how much the innocent love story within touched me. It’s where Ella learned to see herself as a person, and a person of worth at that. Tarnished (book 2) will stick with me for the pit it put in my stomach. It’s where Ella learned the ugly cruelty of the world, but used those experiences to find and shape her convictions. More poignantly, it’s where those convictions blossomed into hope for a better world, and turned into determination to make her vision reality.

Unraveled, this final book of the trilogy, is where Ella, molded by her experiences of love and hardship, stands strong on her own and fights for vindication. Because it’s her choice.

I fully loved the journey and appreciated what each installment brought to the story. Admittedly, some of the events and dynamics in Unraveled required some suspended belief, but because the strength of the series is in the beautifully conveyed concept, I was able to put aside the need for super-realistic and just enjoy the action-packed ride to the end. This is one of those series where delivery makes a difference, and the author’s lovely writing always had me on board. Overall, these beautiful hardcovers get a permanent home on my shelves. :)

Recommendations: Perfected was a trilogy of unforgettably poignant moments that fits snugly into what I’m calling the “elegant dystopia” genre, where pretty dresses and fancy lifestyles are underscored by ugly realities (you know what I mean if you’ve read any… it’s one of my favorite weird sub-genres). Each book offers something different, the first of which landed in my conservative list of all-time favorites.

I’d like to thank Entangled Teen and Kate Jarvik Birch for the chance to read and review an early copy of Unraveled. :)

About Kate Jarvik Birch:  Kate Jarvik Birch is a visual artist, author, playwright, daydreamer, and professional procrastinator. As a child, she wanted to grow up to be either a unicorn or mermaid. Luckily, being a writer turned out to be just as magical. Her essays and short stories have been published in literary journals including Indiana Review and Saint Ann’s Review. She lives in Salt Lake City, Utah with her husband and three kids. Author Website: katejarvikbirch.com Author Twitter: @katejarvikbirch Author Facebook Author Goodreads Author Instagram 
Buylinks: https://entangledpublishing.com/unraveled.html

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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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? :)

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Coming Soon: Unraveled by Kate Jarvik Birch (+COVER REVEAL!)

Let us know what you think of the cover for Unraveled (Perfected, #3) by Kate Jarvik Birch, which releases April 3, 2018!

This cover reveal is brought to you by Entangled Teen.

Nik’s Notes: I am soooo excited for the conclusion to one of my favorite YA series (Perfected even made my top 10). I signed up for a cover reveal and blog tour because I’m incredibly passionate about this series (it’s weird, and I like weird). I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy, and I think the publisher did an awesome job on the cover! That vibrant green will look beautiful on my shelves next to the other two. :)

About Unraveled:

Ella isn’t anyone’s pet anymore, but she’s certainly not free.

After exposing the dark secrets about NuPet’s breeding program, forcing them to repeal the law that allowed genetically modified girls to be kept as pets, she thought girls like her would finally be free. She never dreamed that it would backfire. NuPet may have convinced the public of their intentions to assimilate pets back into society, but Ella knows it’s a lie.

They aren’t planning mass rehabilitation…they’re planning a mass extermination.

Now, with the help of a small group of rebels, Ella and Penn, the boy she’d give up her life for, set out to bring down NuPet for good. But when her group gets implicated in a string of bombings, no one is safe. If she can’t untangle the web of blackmail and lies that extends far beyond NuPet’s reach, she won’t just lose her chance at freedom, she’ll lose everyone she loves.

Want to read more? Pre-order your copy of Unraveled (Perfected, #3) by Kate Jarvik Birch today!

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Amazon | B&N | iBooks | Kobo | Entangled Publishing

About Kate Jarvik Birch:

Kate Jarvik Birch is a visual artist, author, playwright, daydreamer, and professional procrastinator. As a child, she wanted to grow up to be either a unicorn or mermaid. Luckily, being a writer turned out to be just as magical. Her essays and short stories have been published in literary journals, including: Indiana Review and Saint Ann’s Review. She lives in Salt Lake City, Utah with her husband and three kids.

Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Amazon

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Obsidian and Stars by Julie Eshbaugh

Title: Obsidian and Stars

Author: Julie Eshbaugh

Series: Ivory and Bone #2

Genre: Teen Fiction

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

The Overview: After surviving the chaotic battle that erupted after Lo and the Bosha clan attacked, now Mya is looking ahead to her future with Kol. All the things that once felt so uncertain are finally falling into place. But the same night as Kol and Mya’s betrothal announcement, Mya’s brother Chev reveals his plan to marry his youngest sister Lees to his friend Morsk. The only way to avoid this terrible turn of events, Morsk informs Mya when he corners her later, is for Mya to take Lees’ place and marry him herself. Refusing to marry anyone other than her beloved, and in an effort to protect her sister, Mya runs away to a secret island with Lees. And though it seems like the safest place to hide until things back home blow over, Mya soon realizes she’s been followed. Lurking deep in the recesses of this dangerous place are rivals from Mya’s past whose thirst for revenge exceeds all reason. With the lives of her loved ones on the line, Mya must make a move before the enemies of her past become the undoing of her future. -Goodreads

The Review:

If you caught my recent review of Ivory and Bone, you’ll remember me saying I really enjoyed the book, but had a few issues with the logistics feeling a bit forced. Eshbaugh was modeling the story after Pride and Prejudice, trying to follow the same basic storyline. My hope going into Obsidian and Stars was that it would feel a little more organic and free-flowing – which it actually did. The trouble is, I found a different set of issues to complain about long the way…

Obsidian and Stars lost a bit of the magic that made Ivory and Bone so unique. The creative story construction in I&B around an atypical narrative was my favorite part – it was presented as recounting, where a boy told the girl his perspective from the point when they first met. It was so cool! In O&S, however, the POV switched to straightforward first-person. There was also very minimal cultural immersion, which took away the other element that set Ivory and Bone apart. The one consistency I can praise is Eshbaugh’s beautiful writing voice – if I finish the series, it might be for that alone.

My biggest issue, however, were the conflicts.

Most of the obstacles the character faced in Obsidian and Stars were caused by what I viewed as bad decision-making and a general lack of common sense… almost to an infuriating degree. Because of this, I felt very un-invested for most of the novel while they ran around fixing these self-induced problems (most of which also felt incredibly unfeasible – the juxtaposition between teen angst toleration and the harsh realities of prehistoric life are pretty laughable. I overlooked it in I&B, but I lost patience in the second). Furthermore, all of the remaining conflicts were so similar to what happened in the first book that I found myself losing interest even further to the point where it was a struggle to finish.

I’d really hoped the second book would’ve taken the story beyond the narrow framework of the first and really expanded on this cool setting. Despite my disappointment with Obsidian and Stars, I like Eshbaugh’s writing voice and the basic components to her story well enough that I might still pick up the third book when it comes out in 2018. I’m just really hoping when I do I’ll see stronger conflicts and a heavier focus on the things that make this series special.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes