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Book Review: Little White Lies by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Title: Little White Lies

Author: Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Series: Debutantes

Genre: Teen Fiction

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Overview: Eighteen-year-old auto mechanic Sawyer Taft did not expect her estranged grandmother to show up at her apartment door and offer her a six-figure contract to participate in debutante season. And she definitely never imagined she would accept. But when she realizes that immersing herself in her grandmother’s “society” might mean discovering the answer to the biggest mystery of her life-her father’s identity-she signs on the dotted line and braces herself for a year of makeovers, big dresses, bigger egos, and a whole lot of bless your heart. The one thing she doesn’t expect to find is friendship, but as she’s drawn into a group of debutantes with scandalous, dangerous secrets of their own, Sawyer quickly discovers that her family isn’t the only mainstay of high society with skeletons in their closet. There are people in her grandmother’s glittering world who are not what they appear, and no one wants Sawyer poking her nose into the past. As she navigates the twisted relationships between her new friends and their powerful parents, Sawyer’s search for the truth about her own origins is just the beginning. Set in the world of debutante balls, grand estates and rolling green hills, Little White Lies combines a charming setting, a classic fish-out-of-water story, and the sort of layered mystery only author Jennifer Lynn Barnes can pull off. -Goodreads

The Reviews:

Jennifer Lynn Barnes is one of my favorite writers for her intelligent, almost interactive writing style. She’s an author I trust to take me on a wild ride and keep me guessing the entire way. Little White Lies had all of those great components (even if it was a little more lighthearted than I’m used to reading from her) topped off with some good old southern charm… and snark.

I have to say, the story took a while to get going. I never read more than the first one or two sentences of an overview (mostly to avoid what I consider spoilers), relying on author familiarity and friends’ endorsements to choose titles. As a result, I leave it up to the book to provide an inciting moment to kick things off… however, it took reading almost 20% of Little White Lies before I felt I had a grasp on what the story was supposed to be working towards (which is passable, but still a tad to long for my tastes).

Aside from the slow beginning, most of the book provided that addictive, engaging plot full of twists and turns. The basic idea behind the story was perhaps not as compelling as that found in her Naturals series (it’s a bit easier to feel suspense when you’re dealing with a multiple homicide story as opposed to a reluctant debutant playing a game of “who’s your daddy”), but as always, she found a way to make it fun..

The characters in this book were wildly entertaining, but I never really felt a connection with any of them. Their profiles were animated enough that they almost came across as caricatures than actual people (which upped the fun but lowered the substance). The main character had a good inner story, but she never really let down her tough exterior front to let the reader in. The Naturals series had several instances of deep character explorations dealing with motive (frighteningly poignant at times), so I think my expectations were inflated by how wicked cool I’ve seen her present characters in the past. Overall, they were good, but I think me wanting a little more was the biggest factor against my rating.

Series status: the Debutantes series is currently slotted for two books, and I’ll definitely be picking up the second one when it comes out (fall 2019?).

Recommendations: Little White Lies is a fun (I’ve said that word a lot this review) YA story about debutants getting up to no good. The shenanigans will give you a few laughs and the mysteries will keep you turning pages. It’s not the most profound thing I’ve read from this author, but it’s still worth noting if you like these types of books. :)

Other books you might like:

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

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Book Review: Nyxia Unleashed by Scott Reintgen

[July 17, 2018] Nyxia Unleashed by Scott Reintgen

Title: Nyxia Unleashed

Author: Scott Reintgen

Series: Nyxia Triad #2

Genre: Teen Science Fiction

Release Date: July 17, 2018

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: Emmett Atwater thought Babel’s game sounded easy. Get points. Get paid. Go home. But it didn’t take long for him to learn that Babel’s competition was full of broken promises, none darker or more damaging than the last one. Now Emmett and the rest of the Genesis survivors must rally and forge their own path through a new world. Their mission from Babel is simple: extract nyxia, the most valuable material in the universe, and play nice with the indigenous Adamite population. But Emmett and the others quickly realize they are caught between two powerful forces—Babel and the Adamites—with clashing desires. Will the Genesis team make it out alive before it’s too late? -Goodreads

The Review:

I’m really pleased with this sequel. The story seems more in line with what I think people were expecting from the first book: highly-trained teens dropped on an alien planet to mine Nyxia. There was less competition in this book than the first, and I missed a bit of that head-to-head drama, but the good character dynamics remained strong. What it offered instead was a new world to explore – complete with diverse flora and fauna, a fascinating planetary history, and indigenous beings with a breathtaking culture. Nyxia Unleashed was filled with countless moments of wonder and awe.

The world-building was superbly done and by far my favorite element of the book. There was so much creative and beautiful imagery throughout that I’m left with a solid vision of this alien world. Very well done. The natives were a lot of fun to learn about, especially when their culture clashed with our earthen norms. It was an experience for sure, and one that truly transported me.

So, while the world-building and diverse cast of characters were enough to satisfy this harsh critic, I admit the logistics of the plot – primarily the “grand scheme” on all three sides of the conflict, were a little thin. It required a “just go with it” attitude at times and made me nervous that the final book isn’t going to culminate to the satisfying ending I’m craving. It doesn’t lessen how I feel about the wonders this book showed me (truly awesome), but it might play into how I feel about the series as a whole depending on how the complexities of plot are handled in the final book. Fingers crossed.

It’s also worth noting that I really like the narration of the main character. He has a lot of depth that comes from good backstory and continues to get better as he’s shaped by these experiences. I especially love the whole “file this under C – for creative” thing he’s got going on because it speaks to a deeper coping mechanism that allows him to compartmentalize trauma and just get things done. I’ve never seen anything quite like it, and I love it.

Series status: Going strong. It has the potential to end up among my all-time favorites. You’d better believe I’ll be hounding for a copy of the final book, asap. :)

Recommendations: As I said with the first book, this is an awesome recommend for Red Rising fans who don’t mind all of those gritty components watered down to fit a YA market. It has the same competitive edge, interesting characters and camaraderie, and overall atmosphere. I’m a fan.

I’d like to thank Random House Children’s, Scott Reintgen, and Netgalley for the chance to read and review an early copy of Nyxia Unleashed. Approval for this title made my day!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes