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Novella Review: Dawnshard by Brandon Sanderson

Dawnshard by Brandon Sanderson

Title: Dawnshard

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Series: Stormlight Archive #3.5

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars!

The Overview: When a ghost ship is discovered, its crew presumed dead after trying to reach the storm-shrouded island Akinah, Navani Kholin must send an expedition to make sure the island hasn’t fallen into enemy hands. Knights Radiant who fly too near find their Stormlight suddenly drained, so the voyage must be by sea. Shipowner Rysn Ftori lost the use of her legs but gained the companionship of Chiri-Chiri, a Stormlight-ingesting winged larkin, a species once thought extinct. Now Rysn’s pet is ill, and any hope for Chiri-Chiri’s recovery can be found only at the ancestral home of the larkin: Akinah. With the help of Lopen, the formerly one-armed Windrunner, Rysn must accept Navani’s quest and sail into the perilous storm from which no one has returned alive. If the crew cannot uncover the secrets of the hidden island city before the wrath of its ancient guardians falls upon them, the fate of Roshar and the entire Cosmere hangs in the balance. –Goodreads

The Review:

Stormlight Archive fans: this novella is totally worth your time!

And so far it’s one of my favorite tangents to date. Following one of my favorite tangent characters to date: Rysn. I must love books that take place on the high seas because I seem to enjoy all of them. Maybe it’s the sense of adventure and discovery they offer. The excitement of facing the unknown. In this case the adventure was to a storm-shrouded island, the discovery was everything on said island (and a bunch of technological revelations along the way), and the many unknowns of this world in general are what keep me eagerly coming back for more. I want to know what else has been lurking around this series that I haven’t noticed yet. I love how much depth Sanderson has already built into Roshar, and I’d be willing to bet we’ve only just scratched the surface. World-building is one of the things I value most in books, and this one had so many cool additions. All in a very satisfyingly short number of pages. I can’t wait to see how it all ties in to the series as a whole. Also, I would like a pet Chiri-Chiri.

Recommendations: read it.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Tackling the TBR [67]: March 2021

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:

March 2021 TBR Tackler Shelf:

Whelp that didn’t go well.

I’m about 60% through Deadhouse Gates (I’ve been reading consistently, it’s just really dense) and 20% through The Heroes, but other than that haven’t touched my TBR for February. I might have made more progress, but my hold for Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang came in a week or two before my hold on The Heroes, so I decided to read that one instead since it was technically a carry over from January. I’m annoyed I’m so far behind my planned reading schedule for the year already, but really, it was developed more to help me stay focused on the titles that matter most rather than to be a do-or-die regiment. I really shouldn’t have decided to take on Malazan if I wanted to stick to a schedule, anyway.

So my TBR Tackler Shelf is identical to February’s and as much as that bugs me, it definitely reflects my reading life accurately. Hopefully I’ll be able to make a dent in it this month. I do return to work from maternity leave in a couple weeks, so that should give me a little more quiet time to absorb more books (surprisingly it’s not the newborn sapping my mental energy, but my four-year-old. I love him so much, but his constant chatter and need for attention make it impossible for me to read heavy fantasy novels when he’s home. #momlife).


Have a great month in reading!

by Niki Hawkes

 

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Book Review: The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang

Title: The Dragon Republic

Author: R.F. Kuang

Series: The Poppy War #2

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: In the aftermath of the Third Poppy War, shaman and warrior Rin is on the run: haunted by the atrocity she committed to end the war, addicted toopium, and hiding from the murderous commands of her vengeful god, the fiery Phoenix. Her only reason for living is to get revenge on the traitorous Empress who sold out Nikan to their enemies. With no other options, Rin joins forces with the powerful Dragon Warlord, who has a plan to conquer Nikan, unseat the Empress, and create a new Republic. Rin throws herself into his war. After all, making war is all she knows how to do. But the Empress is a more powerful foe than she appears, and the Dragon Warlord’s motivations are not as democratic as they seem. The more Rin learns, the more she fears her love for Nikan will drive her away from every ally and lead her to rely more and more on the Phoenix’s deadly power. Because there is nothing she won’t sacrifice for her country and her vengeance. -Goodreads

The Review:

Overall The Dragon Republic was a good continuation even though it lacked a bit of the magic from the first book.

The Poppy War ended with such a bang, I kind of expected this second book to maintain that epic, large-scale momentum. Instead it kind of regressed and had more of a narrow focus on characters and their various relationships and connections. The larger conflict of the series did eventually make some good progress (in a way I really liked), but overall not a lot for the page count. I’ll admit I wasn’t in much of a hurry to pick this up after finishing the first one. The main draw of PW was the testing/schooling/training aspects and I was skeptical the author would be able to keep my interest without that huge selling point. As it turns out, I still quite enjoyed the book even though there were a few specific things that kept me from loving it.

I did not particularly like the main character’s growth arc (or lack thereof) in this novel. In the first book she was an understated badass who was willing to burn herself bloody to instigate change. Flaws aside, one thing that could always be said about her is that she knew what she wanted and fought with everything she had to get it. To have her suddenly become a pawn who just bends over at everyone else’s whims was really disappointing. I mean, this girl ::insert spoiler on what happened at the end of the first book:: clearly has the world at her fingertips but can’t stand up to a few petty rulers? It just didn’t make any sense. I know there were a few factors at play surrounding her mental health and PTSD, but it’s how easily she gave in and accepted pathetic threats and ultimatums as the only possible choices that bothered me. She was so passive! And I didn’t like how stagnant it made the story. This was not the same character. Plenty of things were happening TO her, but not a whole lot happened BECAUSE of her, and that distinction is why I rated the book sort of low.

I also got kind of tired of hearing her dwell on certain tragic events from the first book. It reminded me a bit of YA love stories where the MC’s whole world is a boy and nothing else really matters. I wouldn’t have minded it as much had it not lasted almost the entire book. Angsty. That’s the word I’m looking for. The book felt angsty.

One thing I really love about the series is the writing. Kuang is a brilliant writer who knows how convey the deep emotions of her characters in a way that makes me feel it in my gut. I can blather all day about criticisms of plot, but when it comes down to it I’ll not soon forget how this series has made me feel so far. It’s rather gut-wrenching. I also am fascinated with the overall idea for the story and can’t wait to see where she takes it in the final book. Although it has elements I’ve seen before, I’ve never read anything quite like it, and the originality is very refreshing. I’ve heard the final book is one of the better trilogy-enders out there, so I’ll definitely be reading on to see how she wraps everting up.

Recommendations: a breath of fresh air in the market, the series continued well in this second book. Not quite as strong as the first novel, it still had beautiful writing, lots of action, and a few memorable moments. I’d hand the series to fantasy fans who value originality and cultural diversity in books.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Beyond Varallan by S.L. Viehl

Beyond Varallan by S.L. Viehl

Beyond Varallan by S.L. Viehl

Title: Beyond Varallan

Author: S.L. Viehl

Series: Stardoc #2

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 2/5 stars

The Overview: Dr. Cherijo is living the perfect life–if you think that finding out you’re a clone, then being declared “non-sentient” by your father/creator is your idea of perfect.Things could be worse. But when the Human League comes after her, with bounty hunters of every race trying to bring her in, Cherijo figures it can’t get any worse… Until someone begins stalking her dreams. -Goodreads

The Review:

This series took a weird direction.

And considering the basic premise is a genetically manipulated xenobiological medical doctor proficient in operating on aliens, that’s really saying something. This second installment had a lot of issues. I didn’t hate it, but it stole some of my confidence that the author would be able to sustain me for an entire series.

The first issue was extremely erratic decision making by the main character. She was almost idiotically irrational at times throughout the book and I could argue that most of the senseless conflicts derived solely from her weird behavior. It just didn’t make sense. And that’s one thing that always drives me crazy in books. Now, as it turns out, there was an explanation for some of her actions, which alleviates my annoyance a little, but it was probably too little too late. It seemed a tad early in the series to be messing with the character profile so much because to a degree you’re still trying to establish character and endear them to your audience. The person I read about in this book was vastly different than the one in the first book and I most decidedly did NOT enjoy her new POV. The author took a risk and unfortunately I don’t think it paid off.

The plot was equally all over the place. I quite enjoyed the mystery – it’s the consistent through-line that kept me reading when I was unsure about a lot of other things. But all of the other storyline components were just friggin weird. A lot of the traditions and laws of the alien species hosting the MC seemed like mere constructs contrived solely to prolong the conflicts of the story (because they didn’t make any sense). There continued to be a theme of personal violations and “almost” rape scenes. And the back and forth between the main character and one of the aliens was so unnecessary and ridiculous that I kept wondering why she was being so stupid by not removing herself from the situation. It was hard to read.

So why didn’t I DNF with all of those objections? Setting aside the fact that I already own the entire series and DNFing means I’ve been hauling them around for 20 years for nothing, I truly love reading about all of the medical procedures performed on aliens. It was so cool! And quite realistic and thorough. The author has a surgical background and it definitely shows. It’s the main selling point of the story for me and one of the main reasons I might actually still continue with the series (for at least one more book – the first book was great, so I’m hoping this one was a fluke). The author managed to pull me back in just enough at the end to give the benefit of the doubt going forward.

Recommendations: this book was a flop compared to the first one, but had just enough good moments to keep me reading til the end. I recommend at least the first one for readers who love scifi with excellent alien creations and world building. The jury is still out on the series as a whole. Stay tuned…

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Floating Island by Elizabeth Haydon

The Floating Island by Elizabeth Haydon

Title: The Floating Island

Author: Elizabeth Haydon

Series: The Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme #1

Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: Long ago, in the Second Age of history, a young Nain explorer by the name of Ven Polypheme traveled much of the known and unknown world, recording his adventures. Recently discovered by archaeologists, a few fragments of his original journals are reproduced in this book. Great care has been taken to reconstruct the parts of the journal that did not survive, so that a whole story can be told… Charles Magnus Ven Polypheme–known as Ven–is the youngest son of a long line of famous shipwrights. He dreams not of building ships, but of sailing them to far-off lands where magic thrives. Ven gets his chance when he is chosen to direct the Inspection of his family’s latest ship–and sets sail on the journey of a lifetime. Attacked by fire pirates, lost at sea and near death, Ven is rescued by a passing ship on its way to the Island of Serendair. Thankful to be alive, little does Ven know that the pirate attack–and his subsequent rescue–may not have been an accident. Shadowy figures are hunting for the famed Floating Island, the only source of the mystical Water of Life. They think Ven can lead them to this treasure, and will stop at nothing to get it–even murder. In a narrative that alternates entries from his journals and drawings from his sketchbooks, Ven begins the famous chronicles of his exciting and exotic adventures–adventures that would later earn him renown as the author of The Book of All Human Knowledge and All the World’s Magic. –Goodreads

The Review:

Middle grade books have a special place in my heart, but I’ll admit that it’s difficult to find titles that give me the same overall satisfaction as adult novels (for obvious reasons). So when one comes along with substance and depth, I geek out. Aside from Harry Potter, Fablehaven, and a handful of others, my list of MG favorites is a short one… and now Floating Island is among them!

Not that I’m terribly surprised. As a longtime fan of Haydon’s Symphony of Ages series, I’d hoped the quality of writing and storytelling would be on par with her adult fantasy, and it was. What’s more, this series takes place in the same world as SoA, which solidified my interest in it even more because I have the mechanisms and histories of the world as a solid baseline. That said, it does stand really well on its own for those new to Haydon’s works.

What I liked most was the sense of adventure and discovery the pages offered. And the concept: a young boy traveling to new places and documenting his findings along the way. Granted there wasn’t a ton of discovery in this first book, but it set the stage nicely for what I hope will be a wild ride in future books.

The writing was anything but simplistic. Told in an almost lyrical fashion, the tale is spun with a distinctive elegant voice that somehow elevates the fantastical nature of the story. It’s a lot more sophisticated than I’ve seen from the genre, but not in a way that makes it any less accessible to kids. It’s a true testament to quality that it can appeal to a wide range of ages. I loved the delivery – which included a bunch of passages from Ven’s Journal, the art, and also loved that the plot had enough twists to keep me guessing.

I’ve only one gripe, and it’s a marketing critique: there aren’t any dragons in this first book. I mean, I’ve read the adult series, so I still felt their presence to a small degree, but for anyone who’s only read this series I imagine the cover art doesn’t seem relevant at all. But dragons sell books. Just look at me. I’m pretty sure I bought these before knowing what they were, solely on the cover art. But misrepresentation for sake of sales is a new personal gripe of mine.

Recommendations: Floating Island was a great little adventure and one of the best I’ve read from the genre in a long while. It has great writing, interesting world building, and fun characters, all adding up to a story that will appeal to both kids and adults alike. It’s set in the same world as Haydon’s Symphony of Ages series but can be read independently. I enjoyed it so much, it is now among my personal favorites for the middle grade genre.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Tackling the TBR [66]: February 2021

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:

February 2021 TBR Tackler Shelf:

I may have been a little overly optimistic for my January selections. Deadhouse Gates is fantastic so far but going MUCH slower than I’d anticipated because I’m reading it at a snail’s pace. Not to mention I had a baby this month and the combination of sleep deprivation and taking care of a tiny human doesn’t leave me a lot of reading time. In any case, I bumped a title off my list for February to give myself a chance to finish DG, then on to another Abercrombie and a much-anticipated buddy read for Malice. I don’t think I’m going to get through them all this month, but at least I’m focusing on the best books first. Progress not perfection, as they say.

I did some reading analytics at the end of 2020 and realized 90% of the books I was rating poorly were YA, yet I read almost 20 of them last year. On the flip side, almost all of the fantasy books I read got high ratings (I was really selective in choosing my titles, so this didn’t surprise me). It occurred to me that all of that effort I’m spending on books I’m not really liking could be much better spent on ones I’m statistically more likely to enjoy based on my analysis. So 2021 has become the year of as many fantasy novels as I can possibly cram in. Consisting of Malazan, Faithful and the Fallen, First Law, and many others I’ve been “saving” for a rainy day. I’m cashing in for the rainy year that was 2020. So far this change has served me well. 


Have a great month in reading!

by Niki Hawkes