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Book Review: Night Shift Dragons by Rachel Aaron

Night Shift Dragons by Rachel Aaron

Title: Night Shift Dragons

Author: Rachel Aaron

Series: DFZ #3

Genre: Urban Fantasy (ish)

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: They say family always sticks together, but when you’re your dad’s only lifeline and the whole world—humans, dragons, and gods—wants you dead, “family bonding” takes on a whole new meaning. My name is Opal Yong-ae, and I’m in way over my head. I thought getting rid of my dad’s bad luck curse would put things back to normal. Instead, I’m stuck playing caretaker to the Great Dragon of Korea. That wouldn’t be so bad if he wasn’t such a jerk, or if every dragon on the planet wasn’t out to kill him, or if he was my only problem.

Turns out, things can always get worse in the DFZ. When a rival spirit attacks my god/boss with the aim of turning the famously safety-optional city into a literal death arena with Nik as his bloody champion, I’m thrust onto the front lines and way out of my comfort zone. When gods fight, mortals don’t usually survive, but I’m not alone this time. Even proud old dragons can learn new tricks, and with everything I love falling to pieces, the father I’ve always run from might just be the only force in the universe stubborn enough to pull us back together.
 -Goodreads

The Review:

I’ve read almost everything Rachel Aaron/Bach has published and she’s easily one of my favorite authors. Even so, this little Heartstrikers spinoff series takes the cake as one of the best I’ve read from her.

Some of her series have these amazing 5-star moments but don’t sustain the same consistency of momentum. She’s an exceptional writer who even has a book on how to write 10000 words a day, but sometimes that significant word count comes at the cost of conciseness and efficiency. The final two Heartstriker books, for example, I think could’ve comfortable been edited down to a single, amazing novel. As it was, the drawn out plot and endless discussions about the plot had me questioning whether I’d still enjoy her as a self-published author as much as I did when she went the trad route.

Well, this trilogy alleviated all of those concerns. The DFZ trilogy is the most consistently good from start to finish she’s written to date. And also one of the most fun, which is saying something considering how awesome her story ideas always are.

I most appreciated the character growth, specifically between the main character and her familial relations. The dynamic was relatable and downright hysterical at times and I thought the growth felt more organic than not. I also loved getting more immersed in the DFZ (basically a living city) and learning more about how it has evolved. The main conflict for this book was completely satisfying and even involved an element of competition.

Recommendations: while I think this trilogy might be fun on its own, you’d miss a lot of nuance about the city and the dragon society if you didn’t read Heartstrikers first. Not to mention that reading these first would spoil the entire Heartstrikers series. So proceed at your own discretion. These are an absolute delight and a really cool mix of urban fantasy setting & writing style, fantasy concepts and creatures, and YA-reminiscent characters (without all the annoying tropes). Highly recommend!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Light of All That Falls by James Islington

The Light of All That Falls by James Islington

Title: The Light of All That Falls

Author: James Islington

Series: Licanius #3

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: The Light of All That Falls concludes the epic adventure that began in The Shadow of What Was Lost, the acclaimed fantasy blockbuster from James Islington. The Boundary is whole once again, but it may be too late. Banes now stalk Andarra, while in Ilin Illan, the political machinations of a generation come to a head as Wirr’s newfound ability forces his family’s old enemies into action. Imprisoned and alone in a strange land, Davian is pitted against the remaining Venerate as they work tirelessly to undo Asha’s sacrifice – even as he struggles with what he has learned about the friend he chose to set free. And Caeden, now facing the consequences of his centuries-old plan, must finally confront its reality – heartbroken at how it began, and devastated by how it must end. -Goodreads

The Review:

A superb conclusion to one of my new favorite fantasy trilogies!

My reread of the first two book in preparation for the finale was definitely a highlight of 2020. It hadn’t been that long since I’d read them initially, but there’s a lot of complexity to the story and the characters that made the refresher necessary. The added benefit is that the books were even better upon my reread, as I was able to retain all the details.

I’ve said it before, but part of the reason this series appeals to me so much is the overall writing style. It takes classic fantasy elements and then twists and enhances them into something modern and complex. I felt the comfort you only get from old novels of the genre, but was completely engaged in the endless plot dynamics. The series definitely requires more concentration than normal. Not quite Gardens of the Moon level, but up there if you want to appreciate all the nuances. I wish the first time around I’d paid more attention to name distinction because it was really easy to slip into character confusion (via audio, anyway). It’s not a light read by any means, but it’s well worth the effort.

Spoiler-free, I found the conclusion really satisfying. The ultimate resolution was something I predicted, but it was written so well that I still had all the feels (that’s a mark of a good author – even when you know it’s coming, you can still experience the gut-punch). Overall, I think in this case the quality of the ending and conflict resolutions was weighted more heavily for this series because of how layered the plot had been. I’d been so patient, trusting that the payoff was worth wading through the complexity, and I was not disappointed. There were so many fantastic “reveals” in this book, and I can’t help but feel a little like a gushing fangirl whenever I talk about them.

Recommendations: I was holding out for the conclusion before making my final assessment, and it absolutely did not disappoint. The Licanius Trilogy is now a favorite and an official Obsessive Bookseller recommend. I’d hand it to anyone who loves classic fantasy but wants more complexity and dynamics in their novels.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Velocity Weapon by Megan E. O’Keefe

Velocity Weapon by Megan E. O'Keefe

Title: Velocity Weapon

Author: Megan E. O’Keefe

Series: The Protectorate #1

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 3.5/5 stara

The Overview: Sanda and Biran Greeve were siblings destined for greatness. A high-flying sergeant, Sanda has the skills to take down any enemy combatant. Biran is a savvy politician who aims to use his new political position to prevent conflict from escalating to total destruction. However, on a routine maneuver, Sanda loses consciousness when her gunship is blown out of the sky. Instead of finding herself in friendly hands, she awakens 230 years later on a deserted enemy warship controlled by an AI who calls himself Bero. The war is lost. The star system is dead. Ada Prime and its rival Icarion have wiped each other from the universe. Now, separated by time and space, Sanda and Biran must fight to put things right. -Goodreads

The Review:

Overall, Velocity Weapon was an entertaining read. Probably in the upper half of scifi novels I’ve read lately. It’s very character-driven and political, involving two worlds on the brink of war. I appreciated the slightly more complex ideas and thought the non-human characters were handled especially well. I also liked the initial suspense – it had a lot of interesting and dynamic plot points to keep the pages turning. If I can say nothing else about the book, it was consistent from start to finish…

… which may have been why the novel ultimately left me feeling underwhelmed.

I definitely don’t mind a slow-burn plot that takes a while to unfold all of its mysteries. I do mind, however, when that slow burn doesn’t eventually escalate, as was the case with Velocity Weapon. It kept the same plodding pace through the entire novel when everything about the story supported a careening finish. Unfortunately, the height of interest for me hit at about the halfway point and never really went back up from there.

The good news is, at least it was consistently good. If you like the book right from the beginning and know what to expect, chances are you’ll continue to like it well into the second novel.

Series status: I set down the second book in favor of other series I was more impassioned about. However I can see myself picking it back up eventually because the series is written well and has a lot of merit.

Recommendations: pick this scifi up for a slow-burn, character-driven political novel.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells

Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells

Title: Fugitive Telemetry

Author: Martha Wells

Series: Murderbot #6

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating:  4.5/5 stars

The Overview: “No, I didn’t kill the dead human. If I had, I wouldn’t dump the body in the station mall.” When Murderbot discovers a dead body on Preservation Station, it knows it is going to have to assist station security to determine who the body is (was), how they were killed (that should be relatively straightforward, at least), and why (because apparently that matters to a lot of people—who knew?). Yes, the unthinkable is about to happen: Murderbot must voluntarily speak to humans! -Goodreads

The Review:

I’ll be the first to admit that I love Murderbot so much that anything published in the series immediately gets a baseline rating of three stars… anything I find particularly amusing above and beyond expectation launches it up from there. The full-length novel had all the Murderbot attributes but, after some distance from my initial impressions (and review), I don’t think the extended plot did the story any favors. It was a bit repetitive and could’ve benefitted from a more generous edit. Coming back home to another novella in Fugitive Telemetry was exactly what the series needed to refresh itself back absolutely superb rather than just merely awesome.

I loved this one. Probably my second favorite after Rogue Protocol. As always, Murderbot was a scream (the humor kind), but what struck me in this one was how much the character has grown. It’s definitely still an antisocial introvert, but you can now read between the lines to see that it actually is finding a bit of begrudging comfort out of its “relationships” and gets a little butt-hurt whenever someone snubs it over a prejudice. My favorite scenes here were the ones involving it trying to work with the humans on their very inefficient terms. Hysterical.

The mystery was very satisfying and the pacing was spot-on. I had to stop myself from devouring too fast because who knows when we’ll get another one. Martha Wells has truly created a unique voice that is as memorable as it is funny.

Recommendations: I’m a huge fan of everything about this series and plan to continue recommending it as often as I can. Murderbot is my spirit animal. I don’t care how much I read, I’ll never get tired of his sardonic nature. The series is especially recommendable because the installments are so short – they give people a chance to try them out without a huge time commitment. I don’t know about everyone else, but I was sold on the very first line…

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Tackling the TBR [64]: December 2020

tackling the TBR

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:

December 2020 TBR Tackler Shelf:

I’m late again posting… it has been a really busy work month (with a 4 year old in tow) and my pregnancy has stolen what little energy I have left (hence the minimal reviews… my backlog is growing). And my reading time has suffered a bit as well as a result. luckily, I’ve picked out a relatively conservative TBR Tackler Shelf to cap out the year – most of my energy going towards savoring Rhythm of War. Many people in my reading group have already finished it, but I’m sitting pretty at about 20% with no intention to rush through it. I read Oathbringer so fast when it came out that I missed most of the details along the way and didn’t retain much (as discovered during my reread in November). So this one I really want to do right. I’ve three YA to supplement the month and have Rage of Dragons lined up to read for my book club. All things considered, maybe a relaxed, Stormlight-filled month is exactly what the doctor ordered. :)


Have a great month in reading!

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Colonyside by Michael Mammay

Colonyside by Michael Mammay

Title: Colonyside

Author: Michael Mammay

Series: Planetside #3

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: A military hero is coming out of disgrace—straight into the line of fire… Carl Butler was once a decorated colonel. Now he’s a disgraced recluse, hoping to live out the rest of his life on a backwater planet where no one cares about his “crimes” and everyone leaves him alone. It’s never that easy. A CEO’s daughter has gone missing and he thinks Butler is the only one who can find her. The government is only too happy to appease him. Butler isn’t so sure, but he knows the pain of losing a daughter, so he reluctantly signs on. Soon he’s on a military ship heading for a newly-formed colony where the dangerous jungle lurks just outside the domes where settlers live. Paired with Mac, Ganos, and a government-assigned aide named Fader, Butler dives head-first into what should be an open and shut case. Then someone tries to blow him up. Faced with an incompetent local governor, a hamstrung military, and corporations playing fast and loose with the laws, Butler finds himself in familiar territory. He’s got nobody to trust but himself, but that’s where he works best. He’ll fight to get to the bottom of the mystery, but this time, he might not live to solve it. -Goodreads

The Review:

When Michael Mammay publishes a new book, I am so there. His writing, characters, and plots have drawn me in like few others, and Colonyside was no exception. I’m thrilled to have another Planetside novel to add to my collection.

Butler’s character profile is one of my favorites. His no-bullshit attitude is incredibly appealing (for the same reasons I love Corey’s Avasarala from the Expanse series) and I appreciate that his character seems to have grown and adapted a bit since the first book. I LOVE how analytical he his. His perceptions of the world and how other people tick is a constant through-line of the series. Psychoanalyzing people’s motives is something that always fascinated me, and he takes it one step further by using that analysis to influence and manipulate to get the outcomes he wants. It’s extremely satisfying. Because I’m so enamored with it, I eat up every page, but I could see how that constant evaluation might get a bit repetitive for other readers. It certainly worked for me though.

Of the three Planetside novels, this one was the most relaxed, probably because the stakes weren’t as high. But I didn’t mind that because the plot was fast-moving and the mystery interesting. The first two books had a fantastic payoff at the end (shocking me out of my seat), but this one lacked a bit of that for me, mostly because I predicted where it was going. I missed that element of surprise, but other than that really got into the characters, the setting, and the politics.

Recommendations: Planetside is one of my all-time favorite scifi novels and a very high recommend for any fan of the genre. The audio version is superb – R.C. Bray’s performance really elevating the character (my full audio production review is available on AudioFile.com). I enjoyed it so much I endorsed it for an Earphones Award. The series continues to delight and entertain me with each installment and I’m hoping it’s not the last we’ll see of Carl Butler. 

I’d like to thank Avon and Harper Voyager, Netgalley, and Michael Mammay for the chance to read an early copy of Colonyside!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes