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Book Review: The Cerulean by Amy Ewing

Title: The Cerulean

Author: Amy Ewing

Series: “Untitled Duology” #1

Genre: Teen Fantasy

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

The Overview: Sera has always felt as if she didn’t belong among her people, the Cerulean. She is curious about everything and can’t stop questioning her three mothers, her best friend, Leela, and even the High Priestess. Sera has longed for the day when the tether that connects her City Above the Sky to the earthly world below finally severs and sends the Cerulean to a new planet. But when Sera is chosen as the sacrifice to break the tether, she doesn’t know what to feel. To save her City, Sera must throw herself from its edge and end her own life. But something goes wrong and she survives the fall, landing in a place called Kaolin. She has heard tales about the humans there, and soon learns that the dangers her mothers warned her of are real. If Sera has any hope to return to her City, she’ll have to find the magic within herself to survive. -Goodreads

The Review:

What I appreciate most about Ewing is her abundance of cool concepts. I loved the society she created in her Lone City trilogy, and the one conceived here was just as interesting (and even more outside the box). Concept was definitely the biggest draw here for me and easily the main reason I kept reading until the end.

Unfortunately, with that cool concept came not a whole lot of substance as far as plot was concerned. Most of the scenes featured extensive explanations about the world (which I didn’t totally mind) and a ton of dialogue. .. but not a whole lot else. There were a few great moments between characters where I felt invested, but for the most part it didn’t give me much to talk about.

One thing I did appreciate – the book is LGBT friendly. And not in that “token” inclusion I’ve seen in YA books historically, but integrated in ways that felt more authentic (to be fair, I’m no sure how well it represented the community, but I still appreciate the diversity). In a book with very few external happenings, it really is all about the characters and how they relate to one another.

Overall, I liked the concept and general character profiles. However I didn’t think there were enough moving parts or overall plot points to warrant such a long book. I personally craved more substance and depth. And maybe a little grit to make me feel something rather than just read about it.

Series status: this is a duology and I’m not sure yet if I’ll pick up the sequel. I have an affection for Ewing’s stories and appreciate her concepts and style of writing, but this book did not give me anything to sink my teeth into.

Recommendations: if you’re looking for a unique YA tale that’s highly character-driven, The Cerulean is a great pick. It was a bit tame for my tastes and needed more external conflicts, but it was still a lovely read that I think will appeal more to readers who prefer YA as their main genre.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Disasters by M.K. England

The Disasters by M.K. England

Title: The Disasters

Author: M.K. England

Series: N/A

Genre: Teen Science Fiction (kind of)

Rating: 1.5/5 stars

The Overview: Hotshot pilot Nax Hall has a history of making poor life choices. So it’s not exactly a surprise when he’s kicked out of the elite Ellis Station Academy in less than twenty-four hours. But Nax’s one-way trip back to Earth is cut short when a terrorist group attacks the Academy. Nax and three other washouts escape—barely—but they’re also the sole witnesses to the biggest crime in the history of space colonization. And the perfect scapegoats. On the run and framed for atrocities they didn’t commit, Nax and his fellow failures execute a dangerous heist to spread the truth about what happened at the Academy. They may not be “Academy material,” and they may not get along, but they’re the only ones left to step up and fight. -Goodreads

The Review:

I feel a little mislead by this book.

“Space is hard. Grab a helmet.” <-I don’t know about you, but to me this tagline suggests the Disasters is going to contain a lot of off-planet action scenes. This was very much not the case…

In fact, other than the first chapter, at least 80% of the book takes place on an urban colony practically indistinguishable from a city on earth. There was a lot of running from the authorities and grand schemings for a massive organization takedown, but very little space. This is not a bad thing, per se, but it’s definitely not what I signed up for, and y’all know how much expectations play into my assessment of books.

And that’s not even the whole of it. One cover quote says “a clever, comic thrill ride packed with non-stop action and starring a motley crew that won me over from page 1.” … A motley crew?? These kids were practically prodigy students – highly skilled, brilliant, some clearly hailing from wealthy families…. yeah not exactly what I would consider a motley crew. I spent most of the book wondering at how such preppy students got kicked out of the school in the first place. It just didn’t make any sense.

The final nail in the coffin was that I found most of the book kind of boring. There were a lot of “running from the enemy” scenes, but even then I could feel my interest waning with each chapter. There wasn’t a lot of character exploration, and they all came across a bit superficial.

Perhaps had I not been mislead by this book’s marketing, I would’ve enjoyed it more, but when you sign up for a space book with a motley crew and you end up with a planetside conspiracy story staring last year’s honor students, you feel a little swindled. I genuinely wish I had liked it more.

Recommendations: this book is more for those who like YA conspiracy stories than fans of YA sci-fi. It did not meet my personal expectations enough to endorse, but hopefully I’ll find myself in the minority.

Other books you might like (…better):

by Niki Hawkes

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Coming Soon: Skyward by Brandon Sanderson

Title: Skyward

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Series: Skyward #1

Genre: Teen Science Fiction

Release Date: November 6, 2018 

The Overview: Defeated, crushed, and driven almost to extinction, the remnants of the human race are trapped on a planet that is constantly attacked by mysterious alien starfighters. Spensa, a teenage girl living among them, longs to be a pilot. When she discovers the wreckage of an ancient ship, she realizes this dream might be possible—assuming she can repair the ship, navigate flight school, and (perhaps most importantly) persuade the strange machine to help her. Because this ship, uniquely, appears to have a soul.-Goodreads

Nik’s Notes:

I’d read somewhere that Brandon Sanderson wasn’t interested in telling dragon rider stories because he didn’t feel like he had anything new to bring to the table. As it turns out, Skyward is the twist he’d been searching for, where there are spaceships instead of dragons haha. Part of the reason I love his works so much is the unique, grand vision he seems to bring to everything. Based on the premise alone, I’d say Skyward has the potential to become an all time favorite… no pressure haha. I can’t wait!!!

by Niki Hawkes

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Trilogy Review: Madison Avery by Kim Harrison

The Madison Avery Trilogy
by Kim Harrison
Rating: 2/5 stars

If you can overlook a few flaws, the Madison Avery trilogy is a fun, light YA read.

However, I had a difficult time following my own advice. I have a lot of nitpicky things to talk about in this review and unfortunately, not a lot of positive takeaways.

Once Dead, Twice Shy, the first book, had a few glaring weaknesses – the most prominent being the main character’s propensity for making bad decisions. I don’t mind it when characters make mistakes – flaws and an occasional lax in judgement can go a long way in making a story feel authentic. However, I take exception when every single decision the character makes goes against common sense (and against advice from other characters actively stating it’s a bad idea). Thus the pattern would go: 1. Bad decision made 2. Fallout from the bad decision made 3. The character saying “I’m sorry” and then moving on to the next bad decision.

I lost count of the number of times the character said “I’m sorry” throughout the first book and got really tired of the same spiel over and over again. And what’s worse, those tendencies and attitudes were evident in all of the other characters as well… which I think equals out to a story cluster-you-know-what where perhaps if the characters weren’t getting in their own way, they could’ve focused on adding substance. I think had the book been longer (allowing me more time to get irritated), my rating would’ve dropped proportionately. As it was, the short length actually worked in its favor.

Here’s what bothered me most about that, though: the character never used those failures to grow. There was no reflection on what she could’ve done better (other than the self-blame and apologizing), and I see that as a missed opportunity for more depth. She did use those moments to solidify some convictions, so I guess that’s something, but overall I kept craving more introspection. Incidentally, my biggest negative takeaway from the entire series is that Madison Avery’s character was a flat-lined consistency through the whole thing (and not just because she was dead) and all the focus was on the external conflicts. I should lighten the blow a bit by saying I did actually like her character profile, I just wish she’d given me an opportunity to feel something for her.

The external conflict/focus of the series took a while to become clear. There were moments in the second book where it started budding into something really satisfying, but every time it gained momentum, the focus would shift and it would get ignored for a while. I wonder if part of that was to save the “big profound moment” for the end of the series, but for me, by the time it got there I found my enthusiasm in the pits because it danced around it for so long.

This is one of those cases where my initial rating was going to be a 3 stars (I liked it), but after writing my review and really analyzing how I felt about it, I downgraded to a 2 stars (it was just okay) rating. Does anyone else let their word vomit help solidify their opinions? It doesn’t happen often to me, but when it does, I run with it. Keep in mind that I’ve been unusually harsh on YA lately and had I read these when they first came out, I likely would not have been so critical.

Recommendations: this YA paranormal story is definitely more suited towards younger readers. It doesn’t have a very strong romance angle, which might be perfect for a few readers tired of the same old tropes.

Other books you might like (…better?):

by Niki Hawkes

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Coming Soon: Imposters by Scott Westerfeld

Title: Imposters

Author: Scott Westerfeld

Series: Uglies #5 (perhaps not a direct continuation, but the 5th book nonetheless)

Genre: Teen Dystopia (one of the originators!)

Release Date: September 11, 2018 <-Release dates are subject to change

The Overview: Frey and Rafi are inseparable . . . but very few people have ever seen them together. This is because Frey is Rafi’s double, raised in the shadow’s of their rich father’s fortress. While Rafi has been taught to charm, Frey has been taught to kill. Frey only exists to protect her sister. There is no other part of her life. Frey has never been out in the world on her own – until her father sends her in Rafi’s place to act as collateral for a dangerous deal. Everyone thinks she’s her sister – but Col, the son of a rival leader, is starting to get close enough to tell the difference. As the stakes grow higher and higher, Frey must decide whether she can trust him – or anyone in her life. -Goodreads

Nik’s Notes:

12 years ago I finished Westerfeld’s Extras and immediately started telling friends how excited I was for the next one. To which my best friend replied, “Uhhhh, Niki… I think that was the final book.” O_o

And then I went on a tirade that lasted a few years about how cheated I felt because the book ended with a huge cliffhanger and figurative bomb-drop.

So now, after all this time, I finally get to see where Westerfeld intended the story to go.

Granted, it’s not a direct continuation, but I’m okay with that because I’m most interested in the story’s continuation than I am the characters’.

I may have to reread the series before diving in to refresh that memory. I’m hoping it will have the same appeal to me now that it did in my late teens. :)

Who else is excited??!! :)

by Niki Hawkes

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Niki’s Book Journal [July 2018]

Niki’s Book Journal [July 2018]

The biggest bookish thing that happened this month was that I finished work on my reading/creative space and could finally just sit and enjoy it (I’m planning a bookshelf tour at some point).

It was wonderful. Around two weeks in I decided to designate it the no-phone zone. If I want to listen to an audiobook while working on a project, I’d hookup my wireless headphones, leave the phone set to the right screen in the other room, and click it on remotely whenever I needed it. I think it’s brilliant.

Unrelated (but perhaps spurred by my new anti-phone productivity), I finally set myself into a blogging schedule and came up with a way to plan upcoming posts – more on that later. Not being organized in this area is part of the reason why I’m so bad at getting reviews written and posted. It’s an ongoing goal to pay at least a little attention to everything I read on this platform. People see me reading new things on Goodreads all the time, but never get more than a one sentence – I liked it! RTC (if I had a dime for the number of unreviewed books that still say RTC…).


Mini Reviews!!

Kiss of Death by Rachel Caine

Kiss of Death (Morganville Vampires #) [3/5 stars] by Rachel Caine

I guess it says something about the general lack of robustness of this series that I seldom have more than a paragraph or so to write about it. Possibly this is due to how short each book is, but I think it’s mostly because once you’ve read a couple, you’ve pretty much read them all. Kiss of Death did change it up a bit – taking the characters out of their main setting (for reasons that felt a little inconsistent with the plot so far, but whatever), and I have to say I genuinely enjoyed the journey. These really are the perfect bite-sized reads to help break up the heavy fantasy I’ve been reading and, although my reviews aren’t the most flattering, I’ll be disappointed when I run out of them. They’re slightly off-beat and would be great recommends for older teens (it doesn’t have anything explicit, but it definitely endorses underaged sex). I wish I had devoured these when I was younger and more able to appreciate them, but for now, I’m glad that it still has appeal to me as an adult.

Wildfire by Ilona Andrews

Wildfire (Hidden Legacy #3) by Ilona Andrews [4/5 stars]

I devoured this trilogy so quickly that a lot of it feels like a blur now. If the authors hadn’t announced that there’ll be a novella to wrap things up and a spinoff trilogy on the horizon, I’d probably be complaining that Wildfire left the series a bit incomplete. But I won’t, because there is. :) As much as I love the back and forth between the main characters, my favorite element of this book was digging more into how the different “Houses” of this world function and learning more background info about those dynamics. I also have to give the book kudos for handling an aspect of the love story really well (having to do with jealousy and ignorance, but I won’t hash out the whole thing). In any case, Wildfire and the Hidden Legacy series in general perpetuated my fangirl attitude towards these authors and I can’t wait to devour the few unread series I still have from them.

The Willful Princess and the Piebald Prince by Robin Hobb

The Willful Princess and the Piebald Prince by Robin Hobb [3/5 stars]

Robin Hobb be like “Niki, you think Fitz and the Fool messed you up, you just wait. Ima gut punch you as many times as possible in under 200 pages.” Piebald prince, my friends, is a bonafide tragedy. It was also poignantly written and so starkly engaging at parts, which is exactly what you don’t want in a story that’s setting you up for a throwdown. It has been a month and I’m still not fully recovered. On one hand it was great to see a back history for why the “witted” are so despised in the main Elderling series, but on the other I think I may have been better off remaining ignorant lol. In all seriousness, this was a well-crafted novella on par with Hobb’s other works. My personal dislike of tragic stories definitely affected my rating because, although I love this author, I did not enjoy all the negative feelings stirred up in me while reading this story. Kudos to Hobb for being a skilled enough writer to evoke such a strong reaction in me (she’s my favorite for a reason), but suffice to say I won’t be rereading this tale anytime soon.

The Builders By Daniel Polansky [3/5 stars]

I saw this title pop up on my Goodreads feed and thought “you know, I’ve never tried a grimdark Redwall story – cool!” and then proceeded to devour it that afternoon. It had a clever infusion of woodland creatures into a dark tale of revenge, and I think had it been humans instead of animals I still would’ve enjoyed it. It made me ponder though – were the animals even necessary? In any case, I appreciated the creativity. This is probably the only time I will have the opportunity to refer to a tale of betrayal and murder as “cute,” but that’s exactly what it was. At the very least, it put this author in my radar. It’s a great snack-sized story that I’d recommend if you need something light between books.


Thanks for going on my book journey with me. How was your month in reading? :)

by Niki Hawkes