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Book Review: The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley

The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley

Title: The Emperor’s Blades

Author: Brian Staveley

Series: Unhewn Throne #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 5/5 stars!

The Overview: The circle is closing. The stakes are high. And old truths will live again… The Emperor has been murdered, leaving the Annurian Empire in turmoil. Now his progeny must bury their grief and prepare to unmask a conspiracy. His son Valyn, training for the empire’s deadliest fighting force, hears the news an ocean away. He expected a challenge, but after several ‘accidents’ and a dying soldier’s warning, he realizes his life is also in danger. Yet before Valyn can take action, he must survive the mercenaries’ brutal final initiation. Meanwhile, the Emperor’s daughter, Minister Adare, hunts her father’s murderer in the capital itself. Court politics can be fatal, but she needs justice. And Kaden, heir to an empire, studies in a remote monastery. Here, the Blank God’s disciples teach their harsh ways – which Kaden must master to unlock their ancient powers. When an imperial delegation arrives, he’s learnt enough to perceive evil intent. But will this keep him alive, as long-hidden powers make their move? -Goodread

The Review:

This review has been a long time coming, as Emperor’s Blades is still one of the best books I’ve read this year (actual Goodreads update: “5/5 stars! And a new addition to my shelf of favorites!”). But for some reason I’ve been stalling on writing the review. Maybe because I know logically the book had a few problems and won’t work for everyone, but I tell you, every single aspect of the story worked for me. So I’m going to proceed fangirling as if I was unaware of of the things others found fault in. ;P

To start it off, y’all know how much I love books that have training sequences and competition, and Emperor’s Blades had both in abundance! These Kettral warriors train endlessly in a really brutal regiment to become deadly strike force… and I ate up every single moment. What’s more, the giant birds (badass mofos (cover image background) that for all intents and purposes are feathered dragons), were the cherry on top of what was an already riveting segment. I found this POV (Valyn) the most compelling through the series, made even better by all the great side characters around him.

And then we move into another POV (Kaden) who is going through training for a religious order and brings with him a whole host of skill-honing (more along the lines of mind-over-body and minor magic-wielding). While Valyn’s POV was fast paced action and excitement, Kaden’s provided a slow burn to break it up. Both were equally interesting to me at this point in the series (this is the problem I get into with waiting too long to review – reading the rest of the series inevitably affects my overall impressions).

And then we have the final POV, Adare. I really liked the political intrigue this perspective offered, and spent most of the book fascinated with this character. I sincerely couldn’t figure out if she was that painfully nieve, or if there was a grander plan in place I’d yet to discover (you’ll have to tell me what you think – I won’t spoil anything here). What I saw in this first book was the potential for some really great character growth with Adare, and that prospect enticed me.

This book also contained a mini murder mystery that had me actively trying to narrow down “whodunnit.” I absolutely love when a book gets me analyzing things about it when I’m not actively reading it, so you can see why Emperor’s Blades was such a success for me. I’m just going to try my hardest to forget that someone spilled the beans on whodunnit before I got that far… I’m not bitter.

Overall, Emperor’s Blades had all of the things that excite me about reading fantasy – in abundance! I won’t endorse it as the perfect read, but it was a perfect match for me and I loved every single gut-wrenching moment.

Series status: I’ve since finished the entire series and enjoyed it as a whole. The last two are perhaps not quite as good as this first book, but they’re still very much worth reading (mere 4/5 stars ;P). I’ll definitely be picking up anything else Brian Staveley chooses to write.

Recommendations: if you glance at that cover and are even mildly interested in what you see – give the book a go! It’s a well-done trilogy that offers lots of action and excitement. I would feel comfortable handing this to both seasoned fantasy readers and those new to the genre. A great pick! :)

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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The Overflowing Bookshelf Challenge: Getting Organized!

The Overflowing Bookshelf Challenge: Getting Organized!

While working on my massive New Bookshelves Project (Instagram), I also took the time to get organized for my Overflowing Bookshelf Challenge. During the reshelving process, I decided to forego my typical alphabetical order arrangement for my unread titles in favor of a descending “priority” lineup. I’m going to share how this new reorganization has set me up for success with my challenge.

I can’t tell you how much time I’ve wasted staring at my collection, researching titles, and creating shelves on Goodreads while trying to get straight which books I should be reading first. I couldn’t find a great way to keep track of everything, so I’d have to re-look up the same titles constantly, wasting precious brain power and reading time. Clearly I needed a better way to organize these titles, and I took me an embarrassingly long time to realize the best solution would be to physically move them around in my collection instead of creating endless digital lists. #brilliant

Since I had to pull all the titles off the shelves anyway for the bookshelf swap, I took the time to painstakingly research each book to check for audio availability (either through audible, library overdrive, or physical CDs at my local branch – 3 sources for each title!! It took forever). Eventually I had everything separated into 3 categories:

1. Books available on Audio for Free!
2. Books available on Audio for a Cost.
3. Books without an Audio option.

I then arranged them from highest to lowest priority on the shelves in their own respective sections. The image at the beginning of this post is how it turned out. :) Here are the top shelves (or, the highest priorities) within each category:

I love it. This new shelving layout allows me to immediately see what’s on the docket, and it made it immeasurably easier to identify which bottom priority titles were up for eviction from my house (researching these bottom titles required another several hours of effort, but I was able to remove 99 from my shelves, which I’m super proud of).

What im left with are titles I’m genuinely interested in reading and a clear, fool-proof plan for reading them all: start with the highest priority and work my way back.

As I’ve explained before, I’m not the fastest at getting through physical reads for a plethora of reasons (eye strain, arcs, phone distractions, etc), so most of my book enjoyment these days come from audiobooks (it’s a bonus that I can listen to them all day at work). So this is the main reason why I chose to separate my collection accordingly. It also frees up more time for physical reads and will enable me to work though my collection that much faster. Here’s the first physical read series I’m Tackling:

Overall, even though it took a ton of time and effort, I’m 100% pleased with how it turned out and think I’ve taken out most of the obstacles I was facing for getting a handle on my collection. Here are some current stats (not including YA titles…I haven’t touched those yet):

Audio Free: 183
Audio $: 139
Non-Audio: 270
Total Non-Read: 691
Titles for Donation: 99 -> 14%!! (I was shooting for 10%)
New Total: 592

Once I let go of my donation pile, I’ll have 592 books to read. Figure I can do about 5 a month (leaving 5 for non-owned titles), then I should be able to get through all of these in 9.87 years. That may seem like a lot, but before I started thinning out my collection some years ago, I was looking at a 40 year TBR pile. The goal has ever been to get the TBR down to a “manageable” level, and 10 years was my goal. My new goal is 9 years (540 titles) – let’s take it in baby steps. :)


Thanks for following along my challenge journey. My next post will be about the much-needed reorganization of my unread YA titles. And then, dare I say, I’ll be finished with this project and can focus on challenge updates from there on out. :)

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

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Top Ten Books I’ve Read So Far in 2018!

Top Ten Books I’ve Read So Far in 2018!

I’ve had a pretty decent year in reading so far, and a few of these titles have even been added to my very conservative list of all-time favorites. What’s more, I actually wrote reviews for most of them (that’s a big wow for me). So, in no particular order:


The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley

Emperors Blades by Brian Staveley [5/5 stars]

This review has been a long time coming, as Emperor’s Blades is still one of the best books I’ve read this year (actual Goodreads update: “5/5 stars! And a new addition to my shelf of favorites!”). But for some reason I’ve been stalling on writing the review. Maybe because I know logically the book had a few problems and won’t work for everyone, but I tell you, every single aspect of the story worked for me. So I’m going to proceed fangirling as if I was unaware of the things others found fault in. ;P To start it off …This is a sneak peak of an upcoming review scheduled July 20, 2018.

Child of a Mad God by R.A. Salvatore

Child of a Mad God by R. A. Salvatore [4/5 stars]

I’ve been reading (and enjoying) R.A. Salvatore for almost 20 years, so what struck me as profound during Child of a Mad God was how well-rounded a writer he has evolved into. He was always an accomplished storyteller, but compared to his early works in the world of Corona (published in the late 1990s) it’s immediately clear how next-level his work has become. Child of a Mad God was superbly written and I don’t have a single critical thing to say about any craft-related aspect of this book – it was excellent. I didn’t realize this book was part of the Corona …Read Full Review

Siren by Kiera Cass [4.5/5 stars]

No one is more surprised than me how much I freaking loved this book. Cass and I have a bit of a hit or miss relationship where I’m either 100% on-board fangirling… or throwing the book in disgust. Luckily, The Siren fell into the former category – something I wasn’t led to expect based on some brutal early reviews I read for the book. I have a theory as to why it caused such harsh reactions for fans of Cass’ work: The book is less about the romance, where the main love interest is kept on the periphery for most of the book …Read Full Review

Knight's Shadow by Sebastien De Castille

Knights Shadow by Sebastien de Castell [4.5/5 stars]

Considering how polarized my opinion was for Traitor’s Blade, it’s surprising even to me how thoroughly I enjoyed Knight’s Shadow. It must have been the perfect combination of elements to satisfy my mood because even while reading it I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why I liked it so much. It just had that addictive quality that kept pulling me back to it in favor of other things, which is something books don’t do to me a lot these days. The balance between humor and grit was well done, so I enjoyed laughing while …Read Full Review

His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik

His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik [4.5/5 stars]

Woe is me for not having read this years ago! I had this amazing dragon book sitting unread on my shelf for over 10 years… and I’m surprised no one revoked my membership to the dragon obsession club (not a real thing). In all fairness, the way people described this book and series gave me a very different impression than what the first book actually entailed. They’d say, “it’s an alternate military history, but with dragons.” I’m sure that description is completely accurate for the series as a whole, but had someone mentioned even briefly that His Majesty’s Dragon was less about …Read Full Review

[July 17, 2018] Nyxia Unleashed by Scott Reintgen

Nyxia Unleashed by Scott Reintgen [4/5 stars]

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 …This is a sneak peak of an upcoming review scheduled July 16, 2018.

Burn for Me by Ilona Andrews

Burn for Me by Ilona Andrews [4.5/5 stars]

Everybody who said “ignore the cover, this book is awesome!” was absolutely right. I should preface this review by saying that I recently got up to date with the Kate Daniels series (my current holy grail of urban fantasy), so I’m still riding the high from all the amazing things I experienced there. My opinion of Burn for Me was definitely influenced by my feelings for these authors in general. Had I read this first, I’m certain the rating would’ve been more conservative because I’d have still been trying to assess how I felt about the writing. Since I already know …Read Full Review

All Systems Red by Martha Wells

Murderbot Diaries (the whole thing) by Martha Wells [5/5 stars]

Murderbot might be my spirit animal. I loved this novella. It had a fun plot and, more importantly, it had a killer main character (pun intended) who will speak to your inner introvert like no other. And it was funny. I wasn’t expecting to laugh so much at a SecUnit POV, but the situational humor and dialogue delighted me at every turn. Good humor will spark a higher rating in me every time, and it almost feels like a bonus that everything else was so good too. Overall, All Systems Red had all the components I look for in a sci-fi …Read Full Review I have a fun full-series narrative review coming July 23, 2018.

Iron and Magic by Ilona Andrews [5/5 stars]

Iron and Magic somehow managed to become my favorite Ilona Andrews book to date! It joined a very small percentage of books allowed on my all-time favorites list, and no one is more surprised at that than me. It’s a true testament to these writers’ skills that they managed to make me fall in love with a book about a character I don’t even like. And furthermore to get me feeling deep empathy towards him. I can say with confidence coming out of this book that I’m 100% rooting for Hugh (even though he’s still an ass ;P). He was always an interesting …Read Full Review

Menagerie by Rachel VincentMenagerie by Rachel Vincent [4.5/5 stars]

I reeled so much from this book but I never got around to writing a review. It was a fantastic surprise and I’m very eager to see how the trilogy concludes in Fury this fall. :)

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I can’t single out just one as my very favorite, but my top 3 are easily Emperor’s Blades, Iron and Magic, and All Systems Red. Here’s hoping the remainder of 2018 is just as awesome. :)

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Empire of Ashes by Anthony Ryan

Title: Empire of Ashes

Author: Anthony Ryan

Series: Draconis Memoria #3

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: For hundreds of years, the Ironship Trading Syndicate was fueled by drake blood–and protected by the Blood-blessed, those few who could drink it and wield fearsome powers. But now the very thing that sustained the corporate world threatens to destroy it. A drake of unimaginable power has risen, and it commands an army of both beasts and men. Rogue Blood-blessed Claydon Torcreek, Syndicate agent Lizanne Lethridge, and Ironship captain Corrick Hilemore, spread to disparate corners of the world, must rely upon the new powers and knowledge they have gained at great price to halt its forces–or face the end of all they know. -Goodreads

The Review:

Empire of Ashes solidified Draconius Memoria as one of the best series I’ve ever read!

For me this book started out with a bang and didn’t let up until the whirlwind finale. So much action and conflicts coming to a head that I wouldn’t recommend venturing into the last 25% if you have to get up early the next morning. This isn’t the kind of book easily set aside.

My favorite part was the convergence of storylines. This multiple POV series is unique for me because I feel equally drawn to all of the characters. It made for an amazing read because no matter which perspective had the stage, I was enjoying the ride immensely. Seeing how each person’s tale ended was particularly satisfying, as was the conclusion. I was really nervous this final book was going to be a letdown after how hard I’ve been fangirling for the series. It had a lot to live up to, and I’m so happy to report that it delivered.

As you would assume, this final book focuses more on action and conflict than exploration. The discovery of so many breathtaking places in the first two volumes is what helped solidify this series as a favorite. However in Empire of Ashes exploration is set aside in favor of action, conflict, and momentum. I missed that component a little, but at some point I guess it had to end (maybe I’m most upset that it ended at all – I want more!!). The story also contained quite a few answers to some burning questions I’ve had throughout the series. I find that the more I know, the more I want to discover. I’ll just throw it out there that this world is screaming for a prequel trilogy – there’s so much cool stuff packed into the histories that I feel we’ve only just scraped the surface thus far (Anthony Ryan, please write more!). :)

Let’s talk a minute about the dragons (or drakes, if you want to get picky). I absolutely love how well this series portrays dragons. Every aspect of their existence on this world and how it’s in conflict/harmony with humanity was in line with my favorite types of dragon stories. They’re not magical or ethereal, but their raw bestial attributes makes them feel magical, but still like the type of beings that could exist in our world. It might be funny to call them “realistic” dragons, but that’s how my dragon-obsessed mind thinks about them and why I loved them so much. Add to all of that practical uses for their blood (in the same vein that metals are useful to humans in Sanderson’s Mistborn series), and consider me sold.

Overall, Empire of Ashes had a lot of expectations to hold up to, and I’m thrilled it met all of mine. I’m still kind of reeling from the ending, but I’m certain that these gorgeous hardcovers will have a place of honor on my favorites shelf from here on out.

Recommendations: this series has quickly become my #1 recommend for fantasy readers, especially those who love dragons. It’s a cool flintlock fantasy that promises adventure, excitement, and intrigue at every turn. It is among my personal favorites and has the Obsessive Bookseller’s official stamp of endorsement. ;)

I’d like to thank Berkley Publishing Group, Anthony Ryan, and NetGalley for the chance to read and review an early copy of Empire of Ashes. It was my most anticipated release of 2018, and you seriously made my year! :)

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Coming Soon: Bloody Rose by Nicholas Eames

[August 28, 2018] Bloody Rose by Nicholas Eames

Title: Bloody Rose

Author: Nicholas Eames

Series: The Band #2

Genre: Fantasy

Release Date: August 28, 2018 <-Release dates are subject to change. This date is accurate as of the day I composed this post.

The Overview: Live fast, die young. Tam Hashford is tired of working at her local pub, slinging drinks for world-famous mercenaries and listening to the bards sing of adventure and glory in the world beyond her sleepy hometown.

When the biggest mercenary band of all rolls into town, led by the infamous Bloody Rose, Tam jumps at the chance to sign on as their bard. It’s adventure she wants – and adventure she gets as the crew embark on a quest that will end in one of two ways: glory or death. It’s time to take a walk on the wyld side.-Goodreads

Nik’s Notes:

Kings of the Wyld was one of the more pleasant surprises of 2017. I laughed at the irreverent humor more than I thought I would – it was just stupid-funny enough to win me over without being just stupid. The whole book gave me similar vibes as Locke Lamora and Greatcoats, and I’m finding this weird sub genre of “cheeky grimdark” (I just made that up. I don’t know if it’s officially a thing, but it’s definitely a thing I enjoy) is really working for me. Bloody Rose is a spinoff of sorts with a different cast of characters and I’m eager to see if it will have the same flair.

Who else is ready to bust a gut? :)

by Niki Hawkes