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Book Review: The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi

Title: The Kaiju Preservation Society

Author: John Scalzi

Series: N/A

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: When COVID-19 sweeps through New York City, Jamie Gray is stuck as a dead-end driver for food delivery apps. That is, until Jamie makes a delivery to an old acquaintance, Tom, who works at what he calls “an animal rights organization.” Tom’s team needs a last-minute grunt to handle things on their next field visit. Jamie, eager to do anything, immediately signs on. What Tom doesn’t tell Jamie is that the animals his team cares for are not here on Earth. Not our Earth, at at least. In an alternate dimension, massive dinosaur-like creatures named Kaiju roam a warm and human-free world. They’re the universe’s largest and most dangerous panda and they’re in trouble. It’s not just the Kaiju Preservation Society that’s found its way to the alternate world. Others have, too–and their carelessness could cause millions back on our Earth to die. -Goodreads

The Review:

This book was such a delight. When it first came across my radar, it seemed exactly the breath of fresh air I needed to recharge my reading routine. And it was.

I even loved reading the author’s comments at the back of the book detailing his writing journey through 2020. His story struck me as especially poignant, and these words describing the Kaiju Preservation Society endorsed his book perfectly:

KPS is not… a brooding symphony of a novel. It’s a pop song. It’s meant to be light and catchy, with three minutes of hooks and choruses for you to sing along with, and then you’re done and you go on with your day, hopefully with a smile on your face.

And a smile on my face is absolutely where it left me. Which is the same for all the books I’ve read by him so far, actually. To that end, if you’ve ever read a Scalzi book then you are familiar with his cheeky writing style, fun plots, and quick-witted characters. Take all that you know about him and imagine what he would do within a Kaiju Preserve… Yeah, it was awesome and epic and an absolute riot!

The tone of the novel was definitely my favorite part. I love the dry humor and constant banter between characters. I also appreciated their sense of camaraderie. And the Kaiju!! Holy crap, the Kaiju. They were so cool to read about – it made me feel, for a small moment, like I was a Kaiju naturalist on this grand adventure myself, which was awesome.

The plot and the characters didn’t have a ton of depth, but that didn’t bother me – it wasn’t really needed for the type of story presented. It was, perhaps, too heavy on the back and forth dialogue explanations on occasion, but it more than made up for it with a plethora of heart-pounding action scenes. Overall, it was a perfect light read that came to me at precisely the right time. I love that I read it.

Recommendations: this is an absolute must for fans of Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series. If you’re in the mood for a fun, light-hearted reads with cheeky humor, plenty of action, and fun characters, this is an awesome pick.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Tackling the TBR [79]: March 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:

March 2022 TBR Tackler Shelf:

February was an interesting reading month. I delightfully carried over my enthusiasm for dropping strict reading structures and allowing myself to read what struck my fancy in that moment. It led to a lot of staring at my shelves, wondering what I was in the mood for haha. But overall, aside from a few reading obligations I’m wrapping up, it was another successful month. I even picked up a few nonfiction to fill the space between reads, which is the epitome of embracing mood reading for me (because it’s stuff I generally don’t use for my content creation).

This month is seeing me trying to wrap up a few obligations I signed up for before my epiphany. I’ve a buddy read for Thousand Names (which I’m excited for but still a bit stressed because I’m not sure how I’m going to do it all) and Shadow of the Gods for my book club. In the Shadow of Lightning is one I’ve been sneaking peaks at here and there and am already 15% in – it’s my “physical” read for the month, and I’m excited to devote most of my time to it. The only thing that comforts me is, no matter what I decide to spend time on from this list, it will be stellar reading.


Have a great month in reading!

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Misfit Soldier by Michael Mammay

Title: The Misfit Soldier

Author: Michael Mammay

Series: Misfit Soldier #1

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: Sergeant Gastovsky–Gas to everyone but his superior officers–never wanted to be a soldier. Far from it. But when a con goes wrong and he needs a place to lay low for a while, he finds himself wearing the power armor of the augmented infantry. After three years on a six-year contract, Gas has found his groove running low-level cons and various illegal activities that make him good money on the side. He’s the guy who can get you what you need. But he’s always had his eye out for a big score–the one that might set him up for life after the military.

When one of his soldiers is left behind after a seemingly pointless battle, Gas sees his chance. He assembles a team of misfit soldiers that would push the term “ragtag” to its limits for a big con that leads them on a daring behind-the-lines mission, pitting him not only against enemy soldiers but against the top brass of his own organization. If he pulls this off, not only will he save his squadmate, he might just become the legend he’s always considered himself. He might also change the way the entire galaxy looks at this war. But for any of that to happen, he has to live through this insane plan. And charm rarely stops bullets. -Goodreads

The Review:

Yep, it’s official: Mammay is my favorite scifi author.

I find myself genuinely excited for each new book, and that giddy anticipation for a new book is something I haven’t experience a lot of lately. These are my feel-good scifi reads – make way, Becky Chambers.

One of my favorite things about Misfit Soldier was the humor. The characters find themselves in a few awkward situations, but the overall tone of the narration and cheeky perspective of the main character is what makes this book so charming. Gas is such a fun character – equal parts resourceful and able to bullshit his way through the rest. Even the cover tag line, “One Man. No plan. What could go wrong?” Practically drips with that sardonic humor that I love so much about Mammay’s books. All of his works so far have been quick-witted and filled with that dry situational humor I love so much, and this was no exception. One scene in particular had me busting a gut… so good.

I also really enjoyed the structure of this book. Essentially, it was a science fiction high-stakes heist novel! There’s a grand scheme which required the gathering of a highly skilled (and quirky) team, but instead of breaking into a bank for some loot, they were figuring out how to get planetside behind enemy lines to retrieve a soldier. I love reading about people with special skills in any field, so it was especially fun to see these people work together to make things happen. All with a great payoff to boot. It’s one of those stories where you have to let go a bit and trust the process that there’s more going on than what’s on the surface.

Overall this was an absolute delight – I can’t wait to read what he comes out with next.

Recommendations: if you love cheeky scifi like Scalzi’s Old Man’s War and Wells’ Murderbot, this book is right up your alley. Great characters, fun plot, and excellent dry humor – what’s not to love?

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Novella Review: Where the Drowned Girls Go by Seanan McGuire

Title: Where the Drowned Girls Go

Author: Seanan McGuire

Series: Wayward Children #7

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: Welcome to the Whitethorn Institute. The first step is always admitting you need help, and you’ve already taken that step by requesting a transfer into our company. There is another school for children who fall through doors and fall back out again. It isn’t as friendly as Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. And it isn’t as safe. When Eleanor West decided to open her school, her sanctuary, her Home for Wayward Children, she knew from the beginning that there would be children she couldn’t save; when Cora decides she needs a different direction, a different fate, a different prophecy, Miss West reluctantly agrees to transfer her to the other school, where things are run very differently by Whitethorn, the Headmaster. She will soon discover that not all doors are welcoming… -Goodreads

The Review:

I’ve had so much fun with this series. It’s such a breath of fresh air between all of the dense fantasy novels I’ve been reading lately.

I don’t generally read overviews, preferring to go into everything a little blind. With this series, I was even less inclined to see what was next – the surprise of what McGuire had in store for me was one of the main draws of the series. Even when I get an indication from the title, as was the case here, I still never know what direction the author is going to take, and I love that. In a market where there’s a lot of formulaic storytelling, something that’s completely unconventional is a welcome variation.

I wasn’t totally sure what this novella would bring, but I was hopeful it would still follow one of my favorite characters of the series so far: Cora. I really love everything about her. Even though Beneath the Sugar Sky wasn’t her story, I found meaning in her POV – an acceptance of herself and a celebration of body positivity that was inspiring. Her growth arc in this book was a little more understated, but it gave her a lot more dimension and I can see the buddings of some profound convictions forming that will hopefully play a role in future installments.

So far in the series we’ve experienced some pretty weird stuff. Hair-raising phenomenon like shocking murders, corpse reanimation, and man-eating kelpies. But this novella, which takes place in our realm, was easily the eeriest one yet. It had that very clinical, white-coat regimented conviction that there’s something wrong with these kids and they’re going to “fix” them no matter what. Certain elements regarding this part of the story introduced what I thought was a brilliant idea for an overarching conflict for the series. And although I’ve been terrible at predicting so far where things are going to go next, I really hope that idea is explored heavily in future novellas. As is, I cannot wait for the next one!

Recommendations: this portal fantasy series is awesome if you like cool concepts, unconventional storytelling, great representation in characters, and food for thought beyond what’s on the pages.

I would like to thank TOR Publishing for an early copy of Where the Drowned Go – it prompted a read of the whole series that ended up being a highlight of my year. Thank you!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Novella Reviews: Wayward Children 4-6 by Seanan McGuire

Book Info: In an Absent Dream (#4)

Rating: 5/5 stars! (Yes, a solid 5/5 – a rare occurrence for me)

This was by far my favorite installment of the series. Not only did it follow whom I consider the most interesting character introduced in the first book (among many), it also told her story in a perfectly-paced, completely absorbing manner. It doesn’t hurt matters that this was also my favorite world that we’ve been to thus far – a “goblin” market where everything is a transaction, and committing to more than you can handle comes with some serious consequences. To be totally honest, I’m not sure where the “goblin” aspect factors in, surmising that it’s based on lore I’m not familiar with. Regardless, it was vibrant and eerie and I loved every moment. Several of these novellas have given me food for thought – introducing ideas beyond the scope of the book that have me pondering well beyond the pages – but this is the first one that really made me feel something for the characters. It was beautiful and tragic and lovely and heart-wrenching, and if I wasn’t already committed to reading the rest of the series before, I certainly am now.

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Book Info: Come Tumbling Down (#5)

Rating: 2/5 stars

Truthfully, anything would’ve seemed second-rate to the In an Absent Dream (the book right before this one), but then take into account how much I already didn’t love this set of characters and how less than enthusiastic I was to spend more time with them and, well, here we are.

I had a lot of issues with character plausibility and consistency of behavior in Down Among the Sticks and Bones, but those luckily didn’t bother me much here. I initially liked that it was going to involve more of the wayward children, but they really didn’t contribute much to the plot. No, indeed, to me they felt like just extra bodies moving from place to place without any real purpose other than to produce a couple of awkward setups for the next novellas (and weird additions to the world that didn’t seem to fit at all. Contrived). With the previous book, I read it slowly, savoring every word and hoping it would continue forever. In this one, I found myself speed reading, impatient to just get it over with “for crying out loud.” The author and I obviously differ in our preferences. These characters seem to be her favorites, as she only narrated the two audiobooks associated with them. And who knows? Maybe the change in voice and lack of the beautifully subtle character nuances achieved by the other narrator is the underlying reason why I’m not loving these as much. Whatever the reason though, I’m hoping we’ll lay this world to rest for a while and focus on the many other cool prospects out there.

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Book Info: Across the Green Grass Fields (#6)

Rating: 3/5 stars

In most of the novellas, I’ve really enjoyed the backstories for the characters where we get a glimpse at the traumas they’ve faced that led them to their doors. Occasionally though I think it takes too much time away from the world-exploration aspect of the plot. While this was actually my favorite backstory yet, I think it came at the sacrifice of the world we eventually got to visit. But I’ll get there in a moment.

These books have a lot of extra meaning for me. They’re incredibly inclusive and talk openly about issues children face when they don’t conform to our society’s outdated definition of what it means to be “normal.” It was kind of a weird experience to see these young girls deal with “clicks” and snap judgments from a Queen Bee at a very young age. You usually don’t see representation like that in media until the teen years (Mean Girls) but things like ostracizing and bullying by ignoring people starts sooo much earlier than we’re led to believe. It did for me, and so even just reading about a hint of what it’s like going through that was oddly therapeutic – kids do horrible things to other kids and oftentimes it’s not even for a clear reason. It’s most definitely not because the victim did anything “wrong.”

I’ve mentioned I love the bit of psychological evaluation I can do while reading this series – it keeps me so engaged. It’s not a preachy series by any means, nor does it set out to send a “after school special” message. These are just the personal meanings I’VE gotten out of it, and thought I’d actually share a little more of my thoughts in this review.

Before I forget, I’d also like to mention that this is the first time in the series where I started looking at the doors as saving graces – things that come around because the kids desperately need them – and not just unfortunate hazards that befall them. They’re not at nefarious as I’d once thought them, and it has given the series just a little more of a spark.

So the world we visited: by all accounts, it should’ve been one of my favorites, and indeed it did a good job introducing the fun (the unicorns, is all I’m sayin’). I liked the world itself and the types of creatures in it. I love what it meant to the main character to be there.

What I didn’t like was the conflict. It felt so thin. So incredibly unbelievable. And considering all the weird stuff that goes on in these worlds that I just accept without a blink, that’s quite the criticism. It felt like an afterthought. Not well-imagined. And almost a throwaway effort. So while the first of the book had a lot of substance and was bordering on another high rating for the series, the second half brought it back down to moderately good. I’ll take it, but I wish there’d been more.

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Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Age of Ash by Daniel Abraham

Title: Age of Ash

Author: Daniel Abraham

Series: Kithamar #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: Kithamar is a center of trade and wealth, an ancient city with a long, bloody history where countless thousands live and their stories unfold.This is Alys’s.When her brother is murdered, a petty thief from the slums of Longhill sets out to discover who killed him and why.  But the more she discovers about him, the more she learns about herself, and the truths she finds are more dangerous than knives. Swept up in an intrigue as deep as the roots of Kithamar, where the secrets of the lowest born can sometimes topple thrones, the story Alys chooses will have the power to change everything. -Goodreads

The Review:

Abraham’s writing sings to my soul.

I find his stories incredibly addicting. I had a massive TBR in between me and this book, but kept finding myself opening it to read a couple pages at a time. The first several passages were so gripping, by the time I was “supposed” to be reading it, I was already almost 20% in.

There are so many things I love about Abraham’s stories. One being the subtle, yet robust world building that just oozes off the pages while you’re focused on other things. He doesn’t take a lot of time setting the scene, but when he does, it’s beautiful and absorbing. Kithamar feels like a real place, a familiar place. Yet at the same time it’s unique in so many ways that only living day-to-day with another culture can bring. I loved spending time on these streets, filth and all, and can’t wait until I get to go back.

Another thing I love is the deep character immersion that only happens when an author isn’t self-conscious about taking his time to really immerse you with his characters. I thrive on that kind of connection and found myself despairing, angry, and a whole myriad of other emotions right alongside them. I talked to the book a couple times, which for me is a sign of true investment. And the cool thing is he probably hasn’t even scratched the surface on what’s planned for this series (with upcoming perspectives for characters we saw only on the periphery here), and that’s incredibly exciting.

This was one of those books I enjoyed so much, I could set aside my over-critical mind and just appreciate the journey. It’s only in retrospect while trying to compose this review where I consider what might not work for other readers. There were no major earth-shattering revelations in this story. Very few what I’d call “action” scenes. And in truth I find it hard to describe exactly why reading it was as wonderful as it was, aside from highlighting broader themes of Abraham’s work. It’s one of those cases where if his writing and unique perspective of subtle, character-driven storytelling works for you, then this book is a grand slam. And after hearing some things about the big-picture development of the series as a whole, I’m so there for every last word.

Recommendations: if you love subtle, immersive world-building and highly character-driven novels, then Age of Ash will be right up your alley. I loved my experience with Long Price Quartet and so far Kithamar is starting out just as strong.

I’d like to thank Orbit Books, Daniel Abraham, and Netgalley for the chance to read and review an early copy of Age of Ash – y’all made my year!

Other Books You Might Like:

by Niki Hawkes