Book Review: Jade City by Fonda Lee

Title: Jade City

Author: Fonda Lee

Series: Green Bone Saga #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Overview: The Kaul family is one of two crime syndicates that control the island of Kekon. It’s the only place in the world that produces rare magical jade, which grants those with the right training and heritage superhuman abilities. The Green Bone clans of honorable jade-wearing warriors once protected the island from foreign invasion–but nowadays, in a bustling post-war metropolis full of fast cars and foreign money, Green Bone families like the Kauls are primarily involved in commerce, construction, and the everyday upkeep of the districts under their protection. When the simmering tension between the Kauls and their greatest rivals erupts into open violence in the streets, the outcome of this clan war will determine the fate of all Green Bones and the future of Kekon itself. -Goodreads

The Review:

Jade City was a decent start to a series.

Going into this book after hearing about it all over the Vlogosphere for a couple of years, I gotta say it was different than I expected. Between comparisons to The Godfather and the severely brutal Asian fantasy books I’ve read over the last couple of years, I actually avoided reading Jade City for a while because I wasn’t sure I was in the mood to brace for all of those gut-punches. Color me surprised to find the violence actually kind of mild.

This isn’t a bad thing – it makes the series more accessible and helps explain its wild popularity. It could be my general moods leaning towards grimdark lately that have me thinking I wish it had more grit, but that’s purely a preference thing. In that same vein, I also thought it would be more down-in-the-streets nitty-gritty, but it ended up being more of a white-collared political drama.

And I do love some good politicking in books. My favorite parts of Jade City were those slower moments where the schrewdness of the characters gained them some advantage or another. It was fun to watch them put their skills to the test. I also appreciated Fonda Lee’s professional background as a lawyer and how her knowledge of crime in general enhanced the story.

While I found all of the characters interesting profiles to read about, I can’t say as though I feel any particular connection to them yet. This may be the only reason I’m not singing praises for the series at this juncture. I’m not too bothered by it though. I’m guessing the magic of the series is in the trilogy as a whole rather than based on the merits of this first book. I look forward to seeing what the next two bring to the table.

One last thing – I wish the Jade magic had been explored more.

Recommendations: pick this book up for a highly character-driven political crime novel. It has just enough magic to add some flavor, but I wouldn’t call that aspects one of the selling points yet. I think a lot of people will (and have had) a lot of fun with this first book.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes


Tackling the TBR [88]: February 2023

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:

February 2023 TBR Tackler Shelf:

Last month I committed to focusing on primarily five series, which went swimmingly and I plan on continuing that this month with Ruin, Warrior, and then a few new in series that will get me up to date in the genre.

THERE’S A NEW KATE DANIELS BOOK! Magic Tides. And somehow I didn’t even know it was coming out!! I dropped everything and picked it up immediately and am already 35% of the way through. I love these authors so much, and this one is just as good as all of their other works. Not to mention I didn’t know they were planning on continuing the KD series considering it kind of ended at book 10. Love it.

I have a fairly conservative (aka realistic) lineup this month of eight books, but the funny thing is that I’m currently reading six of them… O_o! Chalk it up to bad planning on my part, but they all needed to be read near the beginning of the month. Even though I feel a bit scattered, I’m loving everything I’ve picked up so far. Wish me luck to get caught up before March!

Have a great month in reading!

by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: We Ride the Storm by Devin Madson

Title: We Ride the Storm

Author: Devin Madson

Series: Reborn Empire #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: In the midst of a burgeoning war, a warrior, an assassin, and a princess chase their own ambitions no matter the cost in Devin Madson’s visceral, emotionally charged debut. War built the Kisian Empire. War will tear it down. Seventeen years after rebels stormed the streets, factions divide Kisia. Only the firm hand of the god-emperor holds the empire together. But when a shocking betrayal destroys a tense alliance with neighboring Chiltae, all that has been won comes crashing down. In Kisia, Princess Miko Ts’ai is a prisoner in her own castle. She dreams of claiming her empire, but the path to power could rip it, and her family, asunder. In Chiltae, assassin Cassandra Marius is plagued by the voices of the dead. Desperate, she accepts a contract that promises to reward her with a cure if she helps an empire fall. And on the border between nations, Captain Rah e’Torin and his warriors are exiles forced to fight in a foreign war or die. As an empire dies, three warriors will rise. They will have to ride the storm or drown in its blood. -Goodreads

The Review:

If you’re looking for a fun, fast-paced fantasy, this is a great pick.

The author doesn’t waste any time throwing you into the deep end. Luckily the components aren’t too complicated to pick up on. These types of quick reads are always great to make me feel like I’m making progress on something (even though the page count was still about average). The snappy beginning did come at a bit of a cost – enough time wasn’t taken to ground you with the characters and fully establish their motives. So later in the book when suddenly everyone has these grand convictions, it felt a little thin because we lacked the foundation at the beginning. In fact, things went so fast in places that I kept having to backtrack to see if I’d missed anything. This general feeling was a consensus in my Patreon Book Club. Had some of my Patrons not also voiced a bit of struggle with the pacing, I may have just assumed it was an attention-span problem on my end.

Even though the characters didn’t get a lot of grounding, they were still wildly interesting profiles. You have three very different perspectives and each one provides a unique payoff. There’s one in particular who is still a total enigma by the end of the book, and I’m most excited to read on to see what’s going on with her. I love when authors can keep me coming back for more. I also enjoyed the trajectory of the story and the fact that all of my early predictions came to naught. I feel so happy to be reading in a era where authors are no longer following the same old storytelling formula. I think it a theme lately that I keep describing books as “unconventional,” which is thrilling to me – it’s driving my enthusiasm for reading to discover new things. This one had familiar setups but then took a bunch of different directions to the point where I stopped guessing and just started enjoying. Good stuff.

Overall, I’m glad for the time I spent with this book even though it lacked a bit of depth. Sometimes read something fun and uncomplicated is exactly what you need. I’ve forgotten that with all of the heavy tomes I’ve been into lately. It does, however, offer some promising things for future books, so maybe one day I’ll be raving how much fun and substantial this series is… fingers crossed. :)

Recommendations: pick this up for a fun, fast-paced fantasy that will take you on an unconventional ride… into the metaphorical storm.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes


Non-Fiction Book Review: Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Title: Power of Habit

Author: Charles Duhigg

Genre: Non-Fiction [Habits]

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: A young woman walks into a laboratory. Over the past two years, she has transformed almost every aspect of her life. She has quit smoking, run a marathon, and been promoted at work. The patterns inside her brain, neurologists discover, have fundamentally changed. Marketers at Procter & Gamble study videos of people making their beds. They are desperately trying to figure out how to sell a new product called Febreze, on track to be one of the biggest flops in company history. Suddenly, one of them detects a nearly imperceptible pattern—and with a slight shift in advertising, Febreze goes on to earn a billion dollars a year. An untested CEO takes over one of the largest companies in America. His first order of business is attacking a single pattern among his employees—how they approach worker safety—and soon the firm, Alcoa, becomes the top performer in the Dow Jones. What do all these people have in common? They achieved success by focusing on the patterns that shape every aspect of our lives. They succeeded by transforming habits. -Goodreads

The Review:

On reviewing Non-Fiction: Over the last few years I’ve read more and more non-fiction titles, but haven’t yet incorporated them into my reviewing strategy (until now). I didn’t feel inspired to review them as I would a fiction book, so instead I’m presenting non-fiction reviews as more notes and highlights of my favorite takeaways. It’s my way of journaling my experiences with the books so I have references for myself in the future. Here goes..

The Power of Habit is arguably the most well-written non-fiction book I’ve ever read. It’s a deftly woven exploration of habits through the use of case studies, engaging narrative, and individualistic habit implications. When I read James Clear’s Atomic Habits, I came away thinking, “great, I’m going to try to eat better… work out more, etc.,” but while reading Power of Habit it gave me some profound inspirations that I think I can use to help myself through some serious mental health stuff.. yeah, it’s that cool. There were more valuable takeaways from this book than indicated below, I just didn’t start taking notes until about the halfway point.


It’s not about just cutting out a bad habit. It’s about finding something else to do in its place. The habit is the entire ritual of being compelled to do something through a trigger then following through for the payoff. If you want to stop eating cookies, don’t try to cold turkey your reach response for them when you’re hungry/stressed/whatever. Instead follow the habit perfectly but put a healthier alternative in the same spot as the cookies. <-Understanding the forces against change here has been super helpful.

After reading the chapter on Target shopping analysts, I’m now much more concerned with how much data retail companies have on me than I am on what the government has. Our destruction will be orchestrated by Target statisticians lol.

The Habit-Change Experiment:

1. Identify the Routines (what are the cues and rewards?)
2. Experiment with Rewards: change up random things to figure out which reward is driving the routines (the cafeteria/friends/cookie example).
3. Identify the Cue. 1. Where are you? 2. What time is it? 3. What’s your emotional state? 4. Who else is around? 5. What action preceded the urge?
4. Have a plan. Plan for the cue and chose a behavior that delivers the reward you are craving.

Doing these diagnosis experiments helps you gain power over habits that can sometimes feel powerless to change.

Overall rating: 4.5/5 stars. It was excellent.


Book Review: Tyranny of Faith by Richard Swan

Title: Tyranny of Faith

Author: Richard Swan

Series: Empire of the Wolf #2

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: A Justice’s work is never done. The Battle of Galen’s Vale is over, but the war for the Empire’s future has just begun. Concerned by rumors that the Magistratum’s authority is waning, Sir Konrad Vonvalt returns to Sova to find the capital city gripped by intrigue and whispers of rebellion. In the Senate, patricians speak openly against the Emperor, while fanatics preach holy vengeance on the streets. Yet facing down these threats to the throne will have to wait, for the Emperor’s grandson has been kidnapped – and Vonvalt is charged with rescuing the missing prince. His quest will lead him – and his allies Helena, Bressinger and Sir Radomir – to the southern frontier, where they will once again face the puritanical fury of Bartholomew Claver and his templar knights – and a dark power far more terrifying than they could have imagined. -Goodreads

The Review:

One of the best books I read last year!

I liked Justice of Kings quite a bit, but wasn’t blown away by it. Even though the unconventional narrative won me over and I enjoyed my experience, I found the main character a bit hard to read and the mystery a bit underwhelming. By grace of the book gods, I picked up the sequel immediately and I’m SO GLAD I DID!

Gone were my problems with the main character – she grew into her own in a way that felt progressive and organic. I found a personal connection to her I was missing in the first book and as a result was 100% invested. In fact, all of the characters were compelling in their own way, their story arcs taking totally different directions than I was predicting – I love that. My favorite thing about the book, easily, was the relationships and bonds between the characters and the overwhelming sense of camaraderie. I usually have to pick up a Greatcoats novel for that.

The mystery element was awesome, involving a lot of moving pieces and gradually revealing answers without being too over-complicated. If I wasn’t in it completely for the characters, I would’ve been compelled to keep reading anyway just to figure out whodunnit. I loved the mash-up of fantasy/mystery (it read like a fantasy) and especially appreciated the legal components included in the book. There was this great debate of morality and justice on the merits of following the letter of the law vs. the spirit of it, which was particularly good food for thought and added a lot of depth. It’s great when authors can present grey-area problems that don’t have a clear right answer. It’s up to the characters to decide which hard decision to make and I find the thought-process fascinating. This is an intelligently written book.

The magic system was also a lot more realized. I usually don’t have patience for metaphysical components, but here it was handled well enough that for once it didn’t bother me.

And to boot: it was funnier.

Overall, I can’t wait for the next one!

Recommendations: pick up this series for great character companionship, an interesting exploration of justice, and an unconventional POV writing style. This series gets better and better as it goes along.

I’d like to thank Richard Swan, Orbit Books, and Netgalley for the chance to read and review an early copy of Tyranny of Faith – I loved it! :D

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: Sweep of the Heart by Ilona Andrews

Title: Sweep of the Heart

Author: Ilona Andrews

Series: Innkeeper Chronicles #5

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: Welcome to Gertrude Hunt! We are so happy to see you once again. Your innkeepers, Dina Demille and Sean Evans, will see to your every need. No matter what accommodations you require, the inn will oblige. Physics are not an issue for us. Our Red Cleaver Chef is delighted to impress you with his culinary mastery. Rest assured that your safety is our first priority. Enjoy yourselves, relax, and above all, remember the one rule all visitors must abide by: the humans must never know. Sweep of the Heart is a serial novella set in the Innkeeper Chronicles featuring Sean Evans and Dina Demille. -Goodreads

The Review:

A new book from IA I hadn’t realized was coming out? Sign me up immediately!

These authors are some of the very few who qualify for the “drop everything and pick up on release day” category. As the Innkeeper series is actually a web serial first and only later published into volumes, I suppose I could be even more on the ball and read them as they’re published. As it is, these books are very episodic and wildly entertaining.

My favorite thing about Sweep of the Heart was the alien interactions. Hosting a matchmaking event at the Inn, the main characters had to navigate many off-world politics while keeping their guests from being eaten by other guests. It was loads of fun – the different biological makeups adding even more variety to an already enjoyable read. I also liked the element of competition in the book, as these species were all in attendance seeking the hand of a single ruler in marriage. Now, how the marriage and, er, succession producing would work between two different alien species was a little over my head, but the technicalities of it didn’t seem to take away my enjoyment of the story.

That’s something I can say about all of IA’s works. They’re so much fun and some of the few stories that can take me out of critical mode into just enjoy it mode almost every time. The fun components here were entertaining enough that I think under different circumstances I may have given it a five stars, but it took me a bit longer than it should have to get reacclimated with the story and the characters. It had been so long since I’d read book four that I spend a lot of time at the beginning trying to remember context and who everyone was (yet another reason why I should probably follow the series online instead of waiting for it to go to print). Once I figured it out though, it was smooth sailing to the end.

I consumed this one on audio and would endorse going that route for the series. Most of IA’s works are narrated by Renee Raudman, but this one was performed by Nora Sofyan and honestly I didn’t even notice the shift until researching for this review. I thought she did an excellent job at bringing the story to life and had a good mix of character accents.

Recommendations: the Innkeepers is another delightful series from my ultimate favorite urban fantasy writers. If you want the full effect of everything going on in this series, consider reading the Edge series first, as there is some crossover.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes