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Niki’s Book Journal [September 2018]

Niki’s Book Journal [September 2018]

September was a slow month in reading. It took me almost two weeks to get through Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself (liked it) and I haven’t really read anything of substance since. It’s not a lack of desire, but more a lack of time and some shifting priorities (I’ve been doing a ton of research trying to formulate a better fitness plan, and at work I’ve been doing more tv watching and YouTube surfing than audiobook listening). I’ve also been a little stressed and mentally distracted, so when I do pick up a book, it’s usually not for long.

Slow month aside, I’m still working to reach some reading goals by the end of the year. A friend and I started a challenge on FBR that involves a race to zero-out all of our outstanding incomplete series by the end of the year (she’s totally going to kick my ass lol). To that end, I created a little tracker in my bullet journal to help me plan.

As I mentioned in my Instagram post, I hate the way it turned out haha, but it’ll work just fine for functionality.

On to the mini reviews!!


The Lion of Senet by Jennifer Fallon

Lion of Senet (Second Sons #1) by Jennifer Fallon [3.5/5 stars]

The Lion of Senet was a very character-driven novel. Even though it had an interesting overall plot, the main appeal was how richly the characters were developed and how well they played off of one another. It reminded me a little of Robin Hobb’s Liveship trilogy in that all the characters were flawed (some I outright despised) but I still managed to have compassion for them because they were well written. The whole book was decent, but somewhere around the 75% the story really took off, and I found myself glued to it. I also really liked the overall concept (a subtle religion vs science juxtaposition) and it was fascinating to see how blind faith shaped the characters and the society. I’m very curious to see where Fallon takes it next.

Brief Cases by Jim Butcher

Brief Cases (Dresden Files #15.1) by Jim Butcher [4/5 stars]

Brief Cases was just what I needed to hold me over for the next Dresden book. It had a few short stories I’d read before (in his Working for Bigfoot collection, which honestly I could’ve done without both times), but the ones that were new to me, I absolutely loved. The highlights were AAAA Wizardry, which is a sort of school setting case study (which I always seem to love), Even Hand, a previously printed short about the fascinating Johnnie Marcone, and it all culminated in Zoo Day, easily my favorite story of the bunch. Zoo Day provided a lot of character exploration between Harry, Maggie, and Mouse, and may have even given an insight to where the series is headed next. This collection is a definite keeper for Dresden fans, and I think y’all will have a lot of fun with it (I sure did).

Personal Demon (Women of the Otherworld #8) by Kelley Armstrong [3.5/5 stars]

I’m at the point in this series where I still love all the characters, but I’m basically only reading because they’re fun books and I want to see how it ultimately ends. Every now and then, one will reinvigorate my passion for the series (ahem, No Human’s Involved), but for the most part, I pick them up knowing, if nothing else, the story is going to mindlessly entertain me (not a bad thing). Personal Demon had an interesting main character, and I enjoyed learning more about the demon magic in the world, but nothing truly profound struck me about it. I did like the infusion of all the other characters, but wasn’t crazy about the love interest. Even so, I’m still looking forward to the next book. :)

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: No Humans Involved by Kelley Armstrong

No Humans Involved by Kelley Armstrong

Title: No Humans Involved

Author: Kelley Armstrong

Series: Women of the Otherworld #7

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: It’s the most anticipated reality television event of the season: three spiritualists gathered together in one house to raise the ghost of Marilyn Monroe. For celebrity medium Jaime Vegas, it is to be her swan song—one last publicity blast for a celebrity on the wrong side of forty. But unlike her colleagues, who are more show than substance, Jaime is the real thing. Reluctant to upstage her fellow spiritualists, Jaime tries to suppress her talents, as she has done her entire life. But there is something lurking in the maze of gardens behind the house: a spirit without a voice. And it won’t let go until somehow Jaime hears its terrible story. For the first time in her life, Jaime Vegas understands what humans mean when they say they are haunted. Distraught, Jaime looks to fellow supernatural Jeremy Danvers for help. As the touches and whispers from the garden grow more frantic, Jaime and Jeremy embark on an investigation into a Los Angeles underworld of black magic and ritual sacrifice. When events culminate in a psychic showdown, Jaime must use the darkest power she has to defeat a shocking enemy—one whose malicious force comes from the last realm she expected... -Goodreads

The Review:

Color me surprised – I think this was my favorite installment since the first book!

I wasn’t even sure I liked Jamie (the POV) when I met her early on in the series. She’s a slightly off-beat character who wasn’t introduced in the most flattering light, but as the series progressed, she’s slowly become one of the most interesting characters of the lot. I think the fact that she started out slightly unlikable has made it more profound for me to have such a turnaround of opinion. It also brings in some real-world considerations (something I don’t usually endorse while reading, lol) about the pitfalls of judging someone before you really get to know them. This might sound too sappy, but my favorite thing about Jamie is how compassionate she is – she’s always the first to jump up and offer help. And what I didn’t like about her at first is now the thing I appreciate most – that she unapologeticly dances to her own beat and owns it. :)

And then there’s the added benefit of her story containing my favorite love interest to date…

Another reason I liked No Humans Involved so much is my general interest in anyone practicing a skill at a high level. Jamie’s particular talent (necromancy) was a huge focal point of the book and I really enjoyed seeing the depth of her knowledge on it. She managed to show off what she can do without ever actually “showing off,” making her all the more interesting. The interactions between her and the other “necros” were particularly satisfying and comprised my favorite scenes from the book.

Series Status: Overall, No Humans Involved was a huge success and completely reinvigorated the series for me. The next book is already on deck. :)

Recommendations: The Women of the Otherworld series may have its ups and downs, but the high moments by far outweigh the lows. If you’re a fan of the genre, this is definitely one I’d recommend as a “staple” read. Each book is so different, you’re bound to find at least a couple of winners, no matter your specific urban fantasy tastes. :)

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Haunted by Kelley Armstrong

Haunted by Kelley Armstrong

Title: Haunted

Author: Kelley Armstrong

Series: Women of the Otherworld

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

The Overview: The afterlife isn’t all it’s cracked up to be… Former supernatural superpower Eve Levine has broken all the rules. But she’s never broken a promise—not even during the three years she’s spent in the afterworld. So when the Fates call in a debt she gave her word she’d pay, she has no choice but to comply. For centuries one of the ghost world’s wickedest creatures has been loosed on humanity, thwarting every attempt to retrieve her. Now it has fallen to Eve to capture this demi-demon known as the Nix, who inhabits the bodies of would-be killers, compelling them to complete their deadly acts. It’s a mission that becomes all too personal when the Nix targets those Eve loves most—including Savannah, the daughter she left on earth. But can a renegade witch succeed where a host of angels have failed? -Goodreads

The Review:

Haunted is my least favorite WotO book to date. I liked the main character and how she tied into the series as a whole, but I can’t say that I enjoyed the story that much. First off, it was a bit too erratic, bouncing around from weird place to weirder place so often that I never really felt grounded in the story. Granted, it takes place primarily in the afterlife where the “rules” of what’s possible are a lot more flexible, but it was actually the main murder mystery plotline that I wish had been more straightforward (although I do give kudos for the incorporation of actual murders from our world for total story immersion – very creative).

Another issue I had is 100% what I would call a “personal problem” and not something I really hold the book at fault for. I just have a hard time reading about bad things happening to children. It wasn’t graphic or anything, but it’s one of my vulnerable “nope” subjects in books. Almost anything else I can compartmentalize as “it’s just a book,” but not that. The other thing that got me was a mass-shooting scene. With all the horrible shit that’s happening in the world right now, I need books to escape, not to be reminded. Objectively, I can look at all of these as story elements that fit the plot and characters, but emotionally and mentally I have to admit that I just did not enjoy reading about them.

Despite my lower rating and opinion of this book, I recognize it as an important component to getting the full experience out of this series, now that I have an idea how the afterlife and its beings function. I also appreciate how with each book the scope of characters we care about broadens. I’m still earnestly looking forward to the next book.

Recommendations: overall, the series is still a success for me, but I’m finally forced to admit agreement to the quality decline. Because of that, I’d probably start my recommendations with a few other urban fantasies that are more consistent. However, this series is by no means down and out – I’m very hopeful I’ll enjoy the rest of it. We shall see. :)

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Reviews: Dime Store Magic and Industrial Magic by Kelley Armstrong

Dime Store Magic: 4/5 stars
Industrial Magic 4/5 stars

It took me a loooooong time to get around to continuing this series with Dime Store Magic. I loved Bitten and Stolen, but found myself a little bitter that the series would start following different characters from there. I think my overall sentiment was “well, if continuing is going to feel like starting a new series, it doesn’t matter when I read them (salty reader, party of one).” For the most part, that was true. The story in books 3&4 focuses on Paige and her involvement in the witch and sorcerer communities (Elena’s story is a footnote, and werewolves take a backseat to other supernatural beings). It does tie back to Stolen, but more in a spin-off kind of way.

I’m not going to lie – I didn’t hate it.

I think I can see what Armstrong is trying to do with the series, and think nowadays I’m more in the mood to appreciate a series that takes a little longer to get to the payoff. What it has going for it are interesting and sassy female characters (I think Paige is one of the most relatable uf leads I’ve come across even if she is a little typical), good mysteries, romance, and writing that you can really lose yourself in. The story components weren’t earth-shattering, but I absolutely love where I think it’s going and look forward to seeing through some potential plot points.

Dime Store Magic offered a good Kate Daniels/Julie* relationship between Paige and Savannah and had a lot of excellent witchy moments (by witchy I mean supernatural spell casting and other creepy shit). It also had a decently organic romance, which I always appreciate. I finished this book feeling genuinely excited to see where the story went next. I even picked up Industrial Magic within a couple weeks (a turnaround that’s pretty unheard of with me). *Side note: I realize this was probably written before the KD series, but as I’m a super fan of that one now, everything must be compared. ;P

Industrial Magic was less about Paige’s relationships and more about the politics and dynamics within the witch and sorcerer communities (with a dash of necromancer and vampire). It expanded the plot sufficiently for me even though the story went in a different direction than I was expecting. It was much more inclusive of other supernatural groups, which made the whole world feel more robust and well-developed. The further I read, the more I appreciate how Armstrong is writing this series.

Overall, comparing books 3&4 to 1&2 is like apples to oranges. They’re still fruit sitting together in the same basket, but the sampling experience is vastly different. Elena’s story was more carnal and sensory, whereas I would call Paige’s more thoughtful and conceptual. Armstrong did a great job adapting her storytelling to both of these unique POVs, but I can see how such a drastic change caused a lot of readers to complain of a quality decline. They say the apples aren’t as good; I say that’s because you bit into an orange when you were expecting an apple.

Recommendations: I personally think there’s more than one type of urban fantasy, and books 3&4 strike a very different note than books 1&2 (as discussed above). As someone who likes most types, I’d recommend both as long as you’re prepared for the change. These haven’t landed at the top of my uf list yet, but they’re making a very compelling (and entertaining) case. :)

Other books you might like:

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Book Review: Stolen by Kelley Armstrong

stolenTitle: Stolen

Author: Kelley Armstrong

Series: Women of the Otherworld #2

Genre: Urban fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: It was in Bitten, Kelley Armstrong’s debut novel, that thirty-year-old Elena Michaels came to terms with her feral appetites and claimed the proud identity of a beautiful, successful woman and the only living female werewolf. In Stolen, on a mission for her own elite pack, she is lured into the net of ruthless Internet billionaire Tyrone Winsloe, who has funded a bogus scientific investigation of the “other races” and their supernatural powers. Kidnapped and studied in his underground lab deep in the Maine woods, these paranormals – witches, vampires, shamans, werewolves – are then released and hunted to the death in a real-world video game. But when Winsloe captures Elena, he finally meets his match.

The Review:

I absolutely devoured Bitten, the first book in the series (I’d been trying out different urban fantasies over the last several months and Bitten was easily one of my favorites). Then someone mentioned that it had been adapted for a show in Canada and, even better, that it was on Netflix. Flash forward two days (because I binge watched it) and I was completely hooked! I knew I loved the author’s writing, the characters, the story, and the show, so you’d better believe I scrambled to get ahold of the second book.

There was only one problem: the first book was meant as a standalone, so reading Stolen felt like reading another first book.

Normally, this would feel like a tragedy, as I love seeing the progression of a plot line over several books. In this case however, it kind of worked. Stolen was at least told from Elena’s perspective, and the writing was just as killer as ever. And the show “Bitten” did a fantastic job tweaking the story in a way that allowed them to end with a cliffhanger, which means the second season will at least give me that continuation I so desperately crave. Everybody wins… well, I do anyway.

That said, I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of Stolen. Just as with the first book, I was completely absorbed, dragging it out whenever there was a spare moment to see what happened next. I read a lot, but I seldom feel addictively drawn back to a book, and Kelley Armstrong has managed to do that not once, but twice to me… needless to say, I will be continuing on. Although I admit I am a bit nervous about that. You see, she changes characters from here on out, and I’m so attached to Elena that I’m afraid I won’t enjoy it as much. At least I can be sure that whatever direction the story takes, the writing is going to be superb! And the craft – Armstrong has an incredible instinct for story, which makes me think I will love whatever tale she decides to weave together.

Overall, I wish I hadn’t waited so long to pick up this author. I can definitely see why she is considered a staple in the urban fantasy genre. I would highly recommend her to anyone who enjoyed authors like Patricia Briggs and Kim Harrison. I would doubly recommend the show to fans of True Blood – it was great for all the same reasons… in fact, I may have loved it even more.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Bitten by Kelley Armstrong

bittenTitle: Bitten

Author: Kelley Armstrong

Series: Women of the Otherworld #1

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: Elena Michaels seems like the typically strong and sexy modern woman, She lives with her architect boyfriend, writes for a popular newspaper, and works out at the gym. She’s also a werewolf. Elena has done all she can to assimilate to the human world, but the man whose bite changed her existence forever, and his legacy, continue to haunt her. Thrown into a desperate war for survival that tests her allegiance to a secret clan of werewolves, Elena must recon with who, and what, she is in this passionate, page-turning novel that begins the Women of the Otherworld series.

bitten 2

The Review:

I don’t know what it was about this book, but I found myself glued to it constantly. I was seriously walking around my kitchen only half paying attention to the dinner I was making because I didn’t want to stop reading long enough to focus. Granted, I would probably do that with every book if they were all old paperbacks, but I have a tendency to collect hardcovers that I barely cracked the spine on. Paperbacks, however, are a whole new ballgame and I dragged this one everywhere with me. So, my total absorption could be partly due to how mobile the book was, but I’m sure most of it was because it was a great urban fantasy and I was in the perfect mood for precisely that.

While there is some excellent world building right up front, this is not one of those books that dives into the conflicts at the very beginning. The story progression often times alternated with big chunks of back story. I know to some this is a huge faux pas, but I don’t mind information dumps as long as I’m interested in what’s being presented. And I was – it was formatted in a way that revealed character and dug up old skeletons as the story went on, and I quite liked it. The best bits of the story, however, was when the action started.

I liked this book for the same reason that I enjoyed Stray by Rachel Vincent, in that there are a bunch of lovable male characters surrounding a single female. Watching the dynamics between each of them was a lot of fun to read about.

As with many urban fantasies, this one contained a great deal of, shall we say, steamy content. I have no shame in admitting that I enjoy a bit of steam in my books, and I’d say this one was about a 5/10 on the steam scale. The trouble is, the object of Elena’s lust was a character I didn’t particularly care for. He wasn’t a total asshat, but he wasn’t my type, either. In fact, there are two other men in this story who I actually liked a lot better. I’m hoping something develops with them in the future…

Anyway, Armstrong has long been considered a staple for the genre, and I’m glad to have finally picked up one of her books. I have to thank Chanzie over at Mean Who You Are for including this as an option for her Book-of-the-Month. I invited myself to read along, and I’m so glad I did (if you’d like to help her pick her next book, the voting is in the right-hand sidebar of her website… I’m pulling for either Cremer or Peeler). This is definitely not the last of Armstrong that I plan to read, and will most likely be picking up her Awakening YA trilogy next.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes