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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

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Book Reviews: Steeplejack & Firebrand by A.J. Hartley [+Giveaway!]

Titles: Steeplejack and Firebrand
Author: A.J. Hartley
Series: Alternate Detective #1&2
Genre: Teen Fiction
Rating: 4/5 stars

Steeplejack and Firebrand were two of the most unique books I’ve ever read – the type of stories that continue to resonate long after you finish them!

The books were successful on several accounts. The “whodunit” detective mystery was engaging, made all the more compelling by Anglet’s (the main character) personal stake in solving the crime. Her involvement felt more organic than not, and the passages dedicated to developing her convictions and motives were my favorites of the book. She also had a heartfelt side story going on, which offered a satisfying amount of character depth. Anglet is definitely the best part of this series.

The second best part is the inclusion of diversity of characters and an author who wasn’t afraid to write about unfair class systems and discrimination. He offered a variety of dynamics between races not usually seen in YA, for which I applaud. Anglet is a non-white main character, and in a market clamoring for more diversity in books, she was a breath of fresh air. My only issue is that the cover art makes her race a little ambiguous – I would’ve liked to see her more strongly represented.

The books take place in what feels like a 1920s era city, complete with tall buildings (obviously, based on the need for steeplejacks), a neat alternate light/energy source, and plenty of dirty-dealings and underground crime. Interestingly enough, this urban setting is fringed by hippo-occupied rivers, lion-prowling brush lands, and native tribes people. Needless to say it made for a unique atmosphere. I wasn’t totally convinced of its feasibility, given pollution issues and humanity’s tendency to dominate and destroy any threats around major hubs. Then I discovered A.J. Hartley spent some time in South Africa doing research for this series… and now imagine the story reflects this weird dichotomy fairly accurately. It’s still hard for me to wrap my brain around, but I can’t deny that the threat of charging hippos and lurking crocodiles added a lot of spice to the story. Sometimes it’s the most unlikely of real-life situations that are the most unbelievable in fiction. Side note: A.J. Hartley has to be one of the most interesting authors I’ve come across (you can see what I’m talking about on his website).

Both novels were equally compelling. While Firebrand didn’t have quite as much growth for the main character, it made up for it by having her become much more immersed in her new “career.” At one point near the beginning I thought it was flirting with hokey, then the author surprised me with an awesome twist, and I was hooked!

Overall, this series (so far) has been incredibly entertaining, memorable, and thought-provoking. I was especially glad to see a YA/Mystery hybrid that felt like a true merge of those genres (where the mystery felt sophisticated enough to appeal to readers of that market). Overall, there wasn’t a single thing I didn’t like about Steeplejack or Firebrand – both exceeded my expectations with flying colors. I’m eagerly awaiting another Alternate Detective novel.

I want to think the publicists at TOR/Forge and A.J. Hartley for a chance to read and review an early copy of Firebrand – I enjoyed it thoroughly!


Steeplejack and Firebrand Giveaway!

Open to US and Canada Residents!
Click on the link to enter:

  a Rafflecopter giveaway

A winner has been chosen and notified. Thanks for entering! :)

 I wish this went without saying, but please verify your GR friendship/Blog following status before claiming entries (all of your entries will be disqualified if you’re dishonest or mistaken).

This giveaway will run until midnight [MST] on Friday July 21, 2017. Good Luck! :)

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Coming Soon: Royal Bastards by Andrew Shvarts

Title: Royal Bastards

Author: Andrew Shvarts

Series: N/A (as of yet)

Genre: Teen Fantasy

Release Date: May 30, 2017

The Overview: Being a bastard blows. Tilla would know. Her father, Lord Kent of the Western Province, loved her as a child, but cast her aside as soon as he had trueborn children. At sixteen, Tilla spends her days exploring long-forgotten tunnels beneath the castle with her stablehand half brother, Jax, and her nights drinking with the servants, passing out on Jax’s floor while her castle bedroom collects dust. Tilla secretly longs to sit by her father’s side, resplendent in a sparkling gown, enjoying feasts with the rest of the family. Instead, she sits with the other bastards, like Miles of House Hampstedt, an awkward scholar who’s been in love with Tilla since they were children. -Goodreads

Nik’s Notes:

Royal Bastards is one of those books I had to resist from requesting on NetGalley (if you caught my ARC Management Tips: How to Avoid Over-Requesting post, you’ll understand why this is a big deal). It just looks so dang interesting! But luckily the release date is not that far off. It appeals to me on a few levels – the summary makes it sound cheeky, the context of the story promises a lot of mischief, and the overall “feel” I’m getting from the book is making me reminiscent of Locke Lamora (Lynch), Kvothe (Rothfuss), and Jimmy the Hand (Feist). It’s probably a little unfair to expect so much from a YA debut, but if it’s half as good as these other works, I’ll be happy. :)

Has anyone read this yet? Thoughts??

 by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Winter by Marissa Meyer

Winter by Marissa Meyer

Titles: Winter

Author: Marissa Meyer

Series: Lunar Chronicles #4

Genre: Teen Fantasy

Rating: 2/5 stars

The Overview: Princess Winter is admired by the Lunar people for her grace and kindness, and despite the scars that mark her face, her beauty is said to be even more breathtaking than that of her stepmother, Queen Levana. Winter despises her stepmother, and knows Levana won’t approve of her feelings for her childhood friend–the handsome palace guard, Jacin. But Winter isn’t as weak as Levana believes her to be and she’s been undermining her stepmother’s wishes for years. Together with the cyborg mechanic, Cinder, and her allies, Winter might even have the power to launch a revolution and win a war that’s been raging for far too long. Can Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter defeat Levana and find their happily ever afters? -Goodreads

The Review:

Dear YA,
I think we need to see other people. It’s not you, it’s me.
Love, Niki

There was nothing wrong with Winter – it was a perfectly delightful conclusion to the Lunar Chronicles. I just found myself struggling to finish it. Maybe it could have been a bit shorter, as there were a few repetitive elements, but then I’d probably be complaining that it needed to be more robust. I did end up really appreciating how Meyer infused the fairytales so seamlessly, and that goes for the series as a whole. Overall, despite my incredibly conservative, perhaps unfair rating of Winter, I actually do consider this series one of the easiest to recommend. It’s filled with a lot of fun, several organic romances, and a unique storyline.

It’s clear I’m just not feeling YA lately. I knew this day would come eventually. I’m not hating on the genre, by any means. Some of my all-time favorites have come from it. I just need to break up with it for a while. ;P

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

Title: The Rithmatist

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Series: Rithmatist #1

Genre: Teen Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: More than anything, Joel wants to be a Rithmatist. Rithmatists have the power to infuse life into two-dimensional figures known as Chalklings. Rithmatists are humanity’s only defense against the Wild Chalklings. Having nearly overrun the territory of Nebrask, the Wild Chalklings now threaten all of the American Isles. As the son of a lowly chalkmaker at Armedius Academy, Joel can only watch as Rithmatist students learn the magical art that he would do anything to practice. Then students start disappearing—kidnapped from their rooms at night, leaving trails of blood. Assigned to help the professor who is investigating the crimes, Joel and his friend Melody find themselves on the trail of an unexpected discovery—one that will change Rithmatics—and their world—forever. -Goodreads

The Review:

I hope no one gets tired of hearing me say “I read another Sanderson, and it was amazing!” because I say it a lot.

The Rithmatist, while not as sophisticated as some of Sanderson’s high fantasy (for obvious reasons), is still one of my new favorite works from him. The magic system was particularly fun to read about – Rithmatists who duel one another using chalk drawings (ground wards for defense, animated chalk drawings for offense),and set in a school setting where they learn everything from geometry (for proper ward creation) to complex dueling strategies, to boot! I love when books introduce some sort of competition, especially magic-related. The Rithmatist definitely reminded me of Hermione’s role in Harry Potter – very academically inclined and whenever she was around I felt like I learned a lot about magic. Joel fit that roll for me here – he knew so much about the Rithmatists’ craft that, by the end of the book, I felt like an expert too. The friendships formed in this book were also reminiscent of HP, and I especially love that Joel and Melody’s relationship was organic and atypical – very different from most YA.

The book also had a fun “whodunit” style mystery that did a great job keeping me guessing all the way until the end. If I can’t figure out who the culprit is by the halfway point (or better yet, if I’m certain I know who it is and I’m wrong), the author has done a great job weaving together a good mystery – as was the case here. I felt invested in the story because I was constantly trying out different theories of whodunit. With so many things keeping me glued to the pages, it’s no surprise I devoured it so quickly.

Overall, The Rithmatist had a great mix of good characters, compelling mystery, and magic infusion. It hit an A+ for me on all accounts and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who likes fantasy. This is one of those titles I find easy to recommend because it has appeal for a wide range of readers. Before diving in, I was under the  impression The Rithmatist could essentially function as a stand-alone novel – not the case. I need the next one like, yesterday! According to the author’s 2016 “State of the Sanderson” post, we should be seeing a sequel “Soooooon.”

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Top Ten Upcoming 2017 Book Releases!

I may have mentioned at some point that I write bi-weekly reviews for a local newspaper [suindependent.com]. Recently they requested an upcoming releases feature and I was more than happy to oblige. Some of the text may look familiar from other posts I’ve done, but don’t let that distract from your excitement of these awesome new books!

Top Ten Upcoming 2017 Book Releases!


Book Info: Apex by Mercedes Lackey [Hunter #3]

Release Date: September 5, 2017

Mercedes Lackey strikes again!! Hunter and Elite are easily my favorite YA releases from the last couple of years. They have interesting characters, great action, awesome fantasy elements (with a slight dystopian twist), and a storyline revolving in no small part around competition. I totally devoured them, and have been waiting impatiently all year for the next book.


Book Info: Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson [Stormlight Archive #3]

Release Date: November 14, 2017

I imagine Oathbringer is number one on most people’s list of most anticipated releases of 2017. The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance are two of the best books I’ve ever read and I consider them must-reads for the genre. Having read everything Sanderson has on the market, I’m justifiably confident that this third Stormlight Archive book is going to be amazing! I CAN’T WAIT!!!


Book Info: Into the Bright Unknown by Rae Carson [Goldseer #3]

Release Date: October 10, 2017

Carson’s Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy is my all time favorite teen fantasy series, and I have to say, even though the Walk on Earth a Stranger and Like a River Glorious leaned more towards historical fiction than fantasy, I enjoyed them immensely. This author writes amazing characters, compelling plot lines, and completely immerses her readers into her stories. I have no doubt Into the Bright Unknown will be a stellar conclusion to this great series.


[May 16, 2017] Assassin's Fate by Robin Hobb

Book Info: Assassin’s Fate by Robin Hobb [Fitz and the Fool #3]

Release Date: May 9, 2017

I’m very passionate about Hobb’s epic Fitz and the Fool saga. There have been so many profound moments throughout it, and it only seems to get more poignant with each book. I’m especially excited for Assassin’s Fate because it’s likely going to incorporate characters from The Rain Wilds series (which focused heavily on dragons <3), so I couldn’t be more excited. This is the sort of armchair adventure series that’s guaranteed to be a good read every time. I can’t wait!


Book Info: Midnight Jewel by Richelle Mead [Glittering Court #2]

Release Date: June 27, 2017

Richelle Mead has long been one of my top authors. The Glittering Court was the perfect cure for my Selection (the series by Kiera Cass) hangover. It had smart writing, girls in pretty dresses, and a fun dynamic between all the characters. Even though the story took an odd turn (for my tastes, anyway), I’m still eager to see where things go in the Midnight Jewel.


Book Info: Iron Gold by Pierce Brown [Iron Gold #1]

Release Date: October 31, 2017

If you haven’t yet read Red Rising [check out my Trilogy Review], chances are good that you’ve at least heard of it. And let me assure you, it’s worth every bit of the hype it receives. Iron Gold is a next-generation continuation of the story, and you’d better believe I’m excited to read it. Brown created such a cool framework for his society, and I am most eager to see how it has evolved after Morning Star’s events. October can’t come too soon!


August 15, 2017

Book Info: Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin

Release Date: August 15, 2017

I raved about this series in my reviews of Fifth Season & Obelisk Gate, and can’t imagine Stone Sky being any less brilliant. It’s such a unique story. Maybe a little hokey on occasion, but I guarantee you’ve never read anything quite like it. I’m mostly looking forward to having all of my questions answered… there are so many layers of mystery in this series that will hopefully come together with a bang.


Book Info: Persepolis Rising by James S.A. Corey [The Expanse #7]

Release Date: December 5, 2017

Reason for Recommending: The Expanse series is easily my favorite space opera science fiction on the market. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every book so far and hope Persepolis Rising regains some of that awesome momentum that Babylon’s Ashes was missing. The series has a lot of action, great characters, and tons of memorable moments. If you haven’t picked it up yet, what are you waiting for? It’s awesome!


Book Info: Legion of Flame by Anthony Ryan [Draconis Memoria #2]

Release Date: June 27, 2017

Reason for Recommending:  The Waking Fire is one of the best books I’ve ever read – it felt like it was written just for me! Dragons, adventure, steampunk, and so much more – it was awesome! Sandrunners: A Draconis Memoria short story was pretty good, but it didn’t do much to hold me over. I’m so excited for Legion of Flame, I can hardly stand it. Is it June yet?


Book Info: Obsidian and Stars by Julie Eshbaugh [Ivory and Bone #2]

Release Date: June 13, 2017

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. I am really hopeful that this sequel will feel a little more organic and free-flowing. I’m anticipating liking it even more. Ivory and Bone had such a cool prehistoric setting that I find myself already eager for more!


With so many great upcoming releases to look forward to, I feel I still have the best of 2017 to look forward to. I’ve added all of these amazing books (plus a few honorable mentions) to a shelf on my Goodreads page if you’d like to go read more about them. Please note that release dates are subject to change at any moment (and do), so don’t take my word as final. Happy reading! :-)

by Niki Hawkes