Review: Booked for Murder

Image credit: BarnesandNoble.com

Synopsis

Life as a bodyguard and driver for the rich, famous, and powerful is dangerous on a good day, and after sustaining a crippling injury while on duty, Janette’s left with few options. Having signed a ‘for life’ contract but unable to work, she uses her skills to disappear. Her new life as a librarian suits her. Nobody cares she limps and sometimes requires a cane to walk. She’s wanted for her knowledge, not her lethal magic. She’s surrounded by books, a woman’s best friend. But when her former employer’s best friend is murdered on the steps of her library, old loyalties and secrets might destroy her – or set her free. Teaming up with her co-workers to find the killer might keep her from being booked for murder, but unless she’s careful, she’ll find out exactly how far her ex-boss will go to reclaim what is rightfully his. Her. For life.

Review

Read: November 2021

Review: 1 star out of 5

Usually my worst reads originate from places where the books are cheap or free, since lower prices make me more willing to take the risk. Booked for Murder is not one such book. I spent a whole $15 Libro credit on it. Do I regret it? Yes. But is that loss mitigated by my chance to vent on this blog? Absolutely.

In case you haven’t surmised from the title, Booked for Murder is about a magical murder – the murder of a senator, to be specific. Should be at least a little bit interesting, right? Oh, if only. There are too many things wrong with this book for it to be even remotely considered passable.

So where do I even start?

The first problem is Janette herself, which is doubly unfortunate since she narrates the book in first-person. Blain tries to depict Janette as this perfect person who is amazing at everything; both in spite of and because of this, Janette is unlikable. I tired quickly of everyone, including Janette herself, rambling about how amazing she is – about how magically talented she is, how clever she is, how sweet she is. Like, congratulations, you figured out via testing on cattle that you can shoot blood a million feet or whatever. Are you proud of your animal cruelty? Janette is so powerful that in order to hide from her boss (whom she obnoxiously calls her “ex-boss” throughout the book even well after readers discover that she is on a first-name basis with the guy), she had to fake having a low magical capacity because her real one is so phenomenally high.

It’s normal to admire someone for their gifts and qualities, but everyone’s appreciation of Janette’s talents errs egregiously into the territory of abject fawning. What exacerbates my irritation, though, is that for as much as everyone effusively gushes over Janette, that lionization doesn’t seem earned to me. Supposedly Janette is so smart that she can hack into police files in just a few minutes and leave almost no trace, but she’s not clever enough to realize that hiding in the same city as Bradley, changing her last name, and wearing glasses like some Perry the Platypus knockoff bullshit will not ultimately conceal her effectively. The author attempts to portray Janette as jocular, but her jokes are awkward and often carried on to the point where a listener questions whether she’s serious. (I kid you not, she spends a whole minute joking about setting politicians – the people she and her group are ostensibly trying to save – on fire, even after it’s become clear that the joke has exhausted its welcome.) But congratulations, bitch, because being a talented store-brand bloodbender who can shoot bovine blood a gajillion meters away apparently compensates for your insipid personality. The only things I can appreciate about Janette are her love for her cat (whom she rescued as a kitten) and her love of books, but that’s not enough to outweigh everything I can’t stand about her.

Really, almost every character is either annoying, straight-up bizarre, or both. Like, the head librarian of the New York Library is randomly and conveniently also mortician or some shit. Bradley’s mom is almost as imperious as her son is, and she thinks it’s cool to “take in” a Black girl as a child and then employ her as a maid, and then adopt her after she’s become an adult. (Author lady, if Jezabela is supposed to be your Black rep, maybe don’t make your only explicitly Black character be a fucking maid.) Janette’s dad is weirdly, creepily obsessed with punishing her with the switch. He rambles about it for minutes at a time. And after not seeing or hearing from Janette for three years, her parents see fit to remark that her cat is an acceptable temporary substitute for grandchildren. Can you imagine being reunited with your child after three years and grousing about how bummed you are that they haven’t popped out grandchildren, let alone shacked up with somebody? Yeah, me neither.

And then there’s Bradley. We the readers are supposed to root for Janette and Bradley to at last admit their feelings for one another and bang it out, but few love interests who are unworthier than this entitled little scum nugget come to mind. This scuzzball thinks he owns the damn world and can do whatever the fuck he wants because he has money and (supposedly) is hot. He is possessive even for a guy who holds a woman’s indentured servitude contract (yeah, we’ll get to that later). He insists on doing everything for Janette, an importunity that breaches the threshold of pesky to lodge itself firmly into creepy territory. Bradley might not make all of Janette’s decisions for her, but he certainly seems that he’d like to. Various controlling behaviors of Bradley’s are excused under the pretense of pampering or doting on Janette. Clearly he has no reservations about telling HIPPA to go fuck itself, snooping through her medical records, or making appointments for her, because that’s exactly what he does. I don’t care if that’s normal for the world they live in; it’s still eerie. These aren’t the only instances of blatant overreach on Bradley’s part; there are so many that I can’t pick many more off the top of my head. What I can tell you is that like half of my notes consist of comments like “What a shithead” and “You fucking pompous iguana,” and you can bet that those are all about Bradley. I know I just spent a gigantic chunk of this review complaining about how simultaneously boring and weird Janette is, but even I think she deserves better than this self-absorbed, toxic-masculinity-riddled asshole. Get the hell out of here, Bradley, you’re not fooling me with your “I’m friends with a eugenicist but I disagree with him” claptrap.

The rest of this book is… I just hate it. Everything is too similar to the real world, and none of the things that set the book’s universe apart from the real world are charming or enchanting or even interesting. The magic system is horrendously bland. I’m also disturbed by how casually the so-called “for-life contracts” are treated. It’s one thing to write your character as accepting of obviously morally reprehensible practices for the sake of the story. But usually when an author crafts a world with a patent injustice baked into it, the voice typically expresses some kind of condemnation for that injustice, even if the characters endorse the abhorrent behavior. I did not pick up that vibe in this book. I’m not saying that the author is pro-slavery/-indenture, just that the narration doesn’t seem to hold the expected tacit remonstrance. Maybe I just wasn’t paying sufficient attention to pick that up, but the notion that my attention might have strayed so seriously is another testament to how good this book isn’t. But how could I possibly be interested when the dialogue frequently runs off on tangents such as how the tax structure of the investigative cell works. (By the way, dear book characters, if your investigative cell has tax laws it needs to follow, it’s probably sanctioned by law; therefore, you are not vigilantes.)

Aside from the presence of a cat, the other thing this book has going for it is physically disabled character representation via the main character, but let’s be honest: You can find solid disabled character representation and lovable characters, an entertaining plot, and an interesting world in the Aurora Cycle. Don’t waste your time with this book.

Review: A Deadly Education

Image from BarneasandNoble.com

Synopsis

I decided that Orion Lake needed to die after the second time he saved my life.

Everyone loves Orion Lake. Everyone else, that is. Far as I’m concerned, he can keep his flashy combat magic to himself. I’m not joining his pack of adoring fans.

I don’t need help surviving the Scholomance, even if they do. Forget the hordes of monsters and cursed artifacts, I’m probably the most dangerous thing in the place. Just give me a chance and I’ll level mountains and kill untold millions, make myself the dark queen of the world.

At least, that’s what the world expects. Most of the other students in here would be delighted if Orion killed me like one more evil thing that’s crawled out of the drains. Sometimes I think they want me to turn into the evil witch they assume I am. The school certainly does.

But the Scholomance isn’t getting what it wants from me. And neither is Orion Lake. I may not be anyone’s idea of the shining hero, but I’m going to make it out of this place alive, and I’m not going to slaughter thousands to do it, either.

Although I’m giving serious consideration to just one.

Review

Read: July 2021

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

What if the Hogwarts staff one day looked out at all the students in the Great Hall, said, “Fuck these little shits,” and collectively noped out of Hogwarts, leaving the kids to fend for themselves against whatever magical mishaps and whackadoodle, murderous beasties cropped up?

Your answer is the Scholomance. In the Scholomance, though, you’d be so lucky as to have only Hagrid’s blast-ended skrewts and the occasional basilisk out to kill you. The food is sometimes contaminated. Scholomance kids are attacked by deadly maleficaria on a regular basis (at least once per month) – and not all survive. You’re crazy if you go to the bathroom alone. The result is a Machiavellian, hardscrabble milieu that necessitates alliances, business deals, and politicking to boost your chances to survive. Sometimes kids even make friends.

Naomi Novik could’ve easily chosen the most advantaged kid to narrate the story. (That would be Orion Lake, the son of a New York enclave official, who is widely known for his lion’s heart, generosity, and his singular combat skills.) Instead, Novik opts for one of the school’s biggest loners: Galadriel “El” Higgins. El is charming in that she isn’t readily likeable – or at least not likeable in the traditional sense. She’s smart, determined, fiercely independent, and prickly, while also being deeply flawed. Novik lets El’s strengths be her weaknesses and her weaknesses be her strengths; her attributes are neither purely beneficial nor purely detrimental to her survival. El’s echinated exterior at first leaves her isolated and therefore disadvantaged in terms of survival, but later on it does earn her a few real friends and the respect of some efficacious potential allies. Furthermore, El could be extraordinarily powerful, but the moral and physical costs of that power deter her from taking full advantage of it. A refreshingly imperfect heroine, El’s delightfully acerbic stream of consciousness lends a conversational feel to the narration. It’s also wonderful to witness El develop as a person. She begins the book by not really having friends, just folks willing to do business with her, and gradually emerges from her shell. I love how her relationship with Orion blossoms into a friendship instead of just taking off into a romantic relationship right away. I’ll be interested to see further developments on that front (PLEASE!!!!), and I’m hoping for further progress in El’s burgeoning friendships with Aadhya and Liu.

Novik clearly has exerted a huge amount of effort into creating the Scholomance world, and that effort has borne fruit. The world Novik has crafted in the Scholomance universe is assiduously imagined and thoroughly explained. Novik’s worldbuilding, however, is sometimes awkward. She has a tendency to monologue her way through worldbuilding via El, and if the material weren’t so damn interesting I’d probably hate the infodumping. As much as I was enthralled by the subject matter, I often had a sense of… being unmoored. Sometimes I’d be wrapped up in the information and then think to myself, “Wait, where is this going?” However, El’s social status and introverted personality, alongside the isolation of the Scholomance’s occupants in general, allow the hefty information style to fit just a little bit better than it should have. Still, I can’t help but think that so much of the book’s content focuses on worldbuilding that the plot is edged out – or that Novik just wanted to fill more pages than a less heavy-handed approach would have.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t address the elephant in the room: the racist locs paragraph. Yes, Naomi Novik wrote a whole damn paragraph about “lock-leeches” that lay eggs in locs and whose larvae can kill the host. (I guess my library’s copy is the old version.) Now all racism is stupid, but this instance is especially stupid because Novik had to 1) conceive the idea, 2) write it out, 3) decide that it was fine to have written it, and 4) send in her manuscript to editors, and this somehow all passed the sensitivity read. To her credit, Novik offered a frank apology and made some serious efforts to correct her error, but the unfortunate fact remains that the incident happened and is hurtful.

A Deadly Education begins a potential-packed series in a dark, gritty setting full of characters likeable not because they are perfect, but because they are so very human. While Novik’s worldbuilding can be as much a ballast as it can be an attractant, A Deadly Education is an entertaining read worthy of picking up. Just look for later printings of it – and if you happen to get ahold of the oldest printing, be aware of why that paragraph on locs is problematic.

To learn more about race-based hair discrimination and what you can do, visit TheCROWNAct.org.

Review: House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City, #1)

Image from BarnesandNoble.com

Synopsis

Bryce Quinlan had the perfect life – working hard all day and partying all night – until a demon murdered her closest friends, leaving her bereft, wounded, and alone. When the accused is behind bars but the crimes start up again, Bryce finds herself at the heart of the investigation. She’ll do whatever it takes to avenge their deaths.

Hunt Athalar is a notorious Fallen angel, now enslaved to the Archangels he once attempted to overthrow. His brutal skills and incredible strength have been set to one purpose – to assassinate his boss’s enemies, no questions asked. But with a demon wreaking havoc in the city, he’s offered an irresistible deal: help Bryce find the murderer, and his freedom will be within reach.

As Bryce and Hunt dig deeper into Crescent City’s underbelly, they discover a dark power that threatens everything and everyone they hold dear, and they find, in each other, a blazing passion – one that could set them both free, if only they’d let it.

Review

Read: July 2021

Rating: ?????

Spoiler warning! Major plot details will be discussed in this review. Turn back now if you don’t want to see them!

After reading the atrocious abomination that is A Court of Silver Flames, I dabbled in negative reviews of both that book and House of Earth and Blood. My plans to read HoEaB were scrapped, at least for the moment. But I decided that my stint of good books had continued long enough, and I wanted some trash. (Reading garbage amplifies your appreciation for the quality material, you know.)

Basically, I picked HoEaB up as a hate read, but I ended up not hating it. I liked it. This book chronicles a substantive mystery with deep personal connections to one of our detective heroes. Bryce Quinlan lost her best friend, her romantic interest, and a whole wolf pack of friends to a particularly gruesome murder and is struggling to cope with the grief and guilt even two years later. Counting on Bryce’s interest in avenging her friends’ murders and in not looking like a suspect herself, Governor Micah Domitus, an Archangel, pairs Bryce up with his slave (yes, you read that correctly), Hunt Athalar. Hunt’s primary motivation – a drastic reduction in his slave debt – is soon joined by his burgeoning feelings for Bryce (which you probably will see coming if you’ve ever been exposed to any kind of romance). If you hate slow-paced stuff, this book isn’t for you, but I found that the pacing fit well with the story HoEaB has to tell.

I didn’t expect to be as invested in the characters as I was. Ruhn is shaping up to be a promising character, and I hope that the next installment will focus more heavily on him. (Bonus: I think Maas is setting up an excellent slow-burn romance between either Hypaxia and Ruhn or Hypaxia and Tharion. Either would be fine.) Also, I love hacker-type characters, and I didn’t know I needed a Fae hacker until Declan Emmett came along. He had better have more point-of-view pages in the next book too, damn it. Even Bryce grew on me. Above all, though, Danika is unquestionably the real star of this book. Her love of animals and sense of justice are eternally endearing. Her friendship with Bryce is so wholesome. Her machinations foil the bad guy, an immortal of several hundred years, for two years after her own death. Micah isn’t exaggerating when he says, “Danika’s the smart one.”

So if you enjoyed so much of the story, why couldn’t you just pick a rating? you wonder. Well folks, between those reviews I read and my own experience reading literally every single one of Maas’s novels – and in particular, the abomination that is A Court of Silver Flames – I noticed stuff that once would have flown under my radar. Here’s my shit list:

Many people have been complaining about Maas’s dearth of diversity in her books, and I absolutely understand where they’re coming from. Juniper, a faun, is basically described as being Black, but she doesn’t really have the page time or character development for her presence to amount to much more than tokenism.

  • The slapdash tokenism diversity is frustrating. Lack of diversity alone is not usually enough to sink a book, but it certainly can degrade the quality, and it can give the impression that authors are neglecting to raise awareness about minorities and their treatment through their platforms. Many people have been complaining about Maas’s dearth of diversity in her books, and I absolutely understand where they’re coming from. Juniper is basically described as being Black, but she doesn’t really have the page time or character development for her presence to amount to much more than tokenism. What’s more, Juniper is in a lesbian relationship with Fury… and that’s all we hear about it. I mean, I guess it’s nice that being LGBTQ+ is such a non-issue in Crescent City; however, I think that Maas should remember the context in which the real-world audience lives when approaching these sorts of things. Maybe Maas is planning to focus more on Juniper and/or Fury in House of Sky and Breath, but if past behavior is any indicator, she likely will not.
  • Certain phrases are repeated ad nauseum. I get it. Bryce thinks Hunt is hot. That said, the phrase “her toes curled” does not need to appear as many times as it does. And of course, because this is an SJM book, we got a visit or two from someone’s “considerable length.”
  • Danika surrenders her eternal life in the Bone Quarter for Bryce’s Ascent. Can’t my girl get a break?
  • Does Bryce really need to end up with that much power? Stories tend to be more interesting when your characters aren’t living battering rams or nukes. I love seeing characters solve problems with their intelligence, their skills, and/or their grit. Unfortunately, by the end of the book, Bryce is a battering ram. A Court of Silver Flames, as another review points out, has the same damn problem. Bryce already has the Starborn ability and the Horn. Now she gets to be more powerful than the Autumn King? The crappiest part is that Bryce probably would have not needed Danika’s spirit to evaporate in order to survive the Ascent if she’d just stuck with her inborn power level.
  • Shut the hell up about how hot Bryce is. We get it. A character crushing on another character is bound to remark upon the physical appearance of their crush multiple times. Still, not all thoughts should be shared – or at least, not all thoughts should be shared more than once.
  • Maas needs help writing men better. “He’d admit it: males would do a lot of fucked-up things for someone who looked like that” seems pretty insulting to men, if you ask me. Maas seems to be under the impression that men have little self-control. Also, what the fuck with “Fucking Hel, his voice – silk and steel and ancient stone. He could probably make someone come by merely whispering filthy things in their ear”? Does Micah have to be a walking talking orgasmatron? That’s fucking ridiculous.
  • One of the biggest problems with this book is the potential plagiarism at the very end. Other readers have noticed that “like calls to like” is an axiom in the Grisha trilogy. (The Tumblr post in the link includes other examples that I think might be a stretch.) I’d heard about this in relation to the A Court of Thorns and Roses series, but I brushed it off. Those words are relatively common, and maybe it’s toeing the line of copying, but it’s not that huge. Demon-fighting light powers don’t belong exclusively to Leigh Bardugo either; it’s a theme as old as shit. But when those two things – a demon-fighting light power and the phrase “like calls to like” – it definitely crosses the line from “uncomfy but not horrible” to “yikes.” Alina’s power is light that can combat darkness and monsters. Bryce’s Starborn power is basically the same thing. Combined with “like calls to like,” it seems like pretty blatant plagiarism – or at least bad editing.

Overall, this first installment of Crescent City is both intriguing and also… uncomfortable and disappointing at times. I don’t regret reading it, but it’s not my new favorite thing like it might have been three or four years ago. Maas’s various issues can, have, and will diminish the fun that this book, in a less adulterated state, should be.

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Disclaimer: This review contains links to other blogs/social media posts associated with other reviewers. I am not collaborating with them, nor does the appearance of their links in this review imply endorsement of my blog or this post. I have simply included the links to connect my readers with the material to which I am responding.

Review: Truthwitch (The Witchlands, #1)

Image from BarnesandNoble.com

Synopsis

On a continent ruled by three empires, some are born with a “witchery,” a magical skill that sets them apart from others.

In the Witchlands, there are almost as many types of magic as there are ways to get in trouble—as two desperate young women know all too well.

Safiya is a Truthwitch, able to discern truth from lie. It’s a powerful magic that many would kill to have on their side, especially amongst the nobility to which Safi was born. So Safi must keep her gift hidden, lest she be used as a pawn in the struggle between empires.

Iseult, a Threadwitch, can see the invisible ties that bind and entangle the lives around her—but she cannot see the bonds that touch her own heart. Her unlikely friendship with Safi has taken her from life as an outcast into one of reckless adventure, where she is a cool, wary balance to Safiya’s hotheaded impulsiveness.

Safiya and Iseult just want to be free to live their own lives, but war is coming to the Witchlands. With the help of the cunning Prince Merik (a Windwitch and privateer) and the hindrance of a Bloodwitch bent on revenge, the friends must fight emperors, princes, and mercenaries alike, who will stop at nothing to get their hands on a Truthwitch.

Barnes and Noble

Review

Re-read: June 2021

Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

The Witchlands is one of those series that I stumbled upon by surfing through the Nook Store’s “$2.99 and Under” section – a favorite place of mine to snag books. In retrospect, I got even more bang for my buck than I originally thought, since Truthwitch would’ve been more than worth its cover price, let alone the measly $3 I shelled out for it.

Two-and-a-half years ago, when I first read Truthwitch, I very much enjoyed it but felt somewhat… adrift. Susan Dennard has built such an expansive world in the Witchlands that readers might feel overwhelmed. But that feeling is the good sort of overwhelm – the kind you experience when something is saturated with intricate detail, yet there are still so many questions that demand answers. Reading the rest of the series and then re-reading Truthwitch dissipates any remaining confusion. This first book of a truly spectacular series proves to be an excellent introduction to the riveting story Dennard has to tell.

The pace of this book could be best described as “barreling” or “breakneck.” Seriously, the action never ceases. It all kicks off with a bungled heist, and Safi and Iseult spend the rest of the book running. Dennard isn’t bad at writing fight scenes either – which is a good thing, because there are plenty of skirmishes throughout the novel. The characters are multidimensional, complex, and dynamic. Each viewpoint character has some hangup to battle with: Safi’s uncontrolled recklessness, Iseult’s failure to live up to the expectations of both her mother and her society as a Threadwitch, Merik’s temper, and Aeduan’s struggle to discern exactly which morals he holds. While Truthwitch decidedly focuses on Safi’s character development, the other characters experience distinct – if slower and subtler – progression of their character arcs.

There is only one reason I knocked off half a star: Dennard’s writing sometimes feels a bit unwieldy, the type of awkward that often accompanies an author still trying to figure out how to best guide readers through their story and illustrate their characters. For instance, I remembered there being sexual and romantic tension between Safi and Merik, but I forgot how ridiculously horny Merik is during the last hundred pages or so. Occasionally, the characters make what appear to be (and sometimes are) completely boneheaded mistakes, but those mistakes usually end up painting them as realistic people who are imperfect and who fuck up, all while keeping the book at a healthy distance from a disastrous “idiot plot” saga. Really, the plot is so amazingly good and the characters are so wonderful that it’s easy to forgive most of the bumps in the road.

Whether you’re reading Truthwitch for the first time or revisiting it, prepare to find yourself in a fascinated daze at the end. Considered in isolation from its successors, I highly recommend Truthwitch. Considered along with its successors, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Spoiler-Light Review: Rule of Wolves (Nikolai Duology, #2; Grishaverse, #7)

Image from Barnes and Noble website.

Synopsis

The wolves are circling and a young king will face his greatest challenge in the explosive finale of the instant #1 New York Times–bestselling King of Scars Duology.

The Demon King. As Fjerda’s massive army prepares to invade, Nikolai Lantsov will summon every bit of his ingenuity and charm—and even the monster within—to win this fight. But a dark threat looms that cannot be defeated by a young king’s gift for the impossible.

The Stormwitch. Zoya Nazyalensky has lost too much to war. She saw her mentor die and her worst enemy resurrected, and she refuses to bury another friend. Now duty demands she embrace her powers to become the weapon her country needs. No matter the cost.

The Queen of Mourning. Deep undercover, Nina Zenik risks discovery and death as she wages war on Fjerda from inside its capital. But her desire for revenge may cost her country its chance at freedom and Nina the chance to heal her grieving heart.

King. General. Spy. Together they must find a way to forge a future in the darkness. Or watch a nation fall.

Barnes and Noble

Review (Spoiler-Light Version)

Read: May 2021

Rating: 5 stars out of 5!

Spoiler warning: This review will contain spoilers for all preceding Grishaverse books (Grisha Trilogy, Six of Crows Duology, King of Scars, and possibly even The Language of Thorns). I’ll try to be circumspect about the precise events of Rule of Wolves, but there will be mild spoilers for this book.

Spoiler version: Coming soon!

Two years of waiting have rewarded me with this enthralling, suspenseful, fulfilling masterpiece. Between finishing re-reading Six of Crows (via audiobook with my mother and sister) and reading Rule of Wolves, I’m reminded exactly why I love Leigh Bardugo’s stories so damn much.

This book is emotional. Be prepared for a hurricane of feelings. Be prepared to squeal with joy, and be prepared to sob. I don’t often cry over book character deaths, but the death in this book tore me apart. Yet, in love and friendship, there is still happiness to be found. This is especially true for fans of the canon ships. If you’re a diehard Kanej shipper like I am, even the brief allusions to their relationship will thrill you. And needless to say, the Zoyalai moments are smoldering, even without sex scenes. Bardugo has crafted an excellent romance in which she captures the intimacy between Zoya and Nikolai without much physical contact. Nina’s romance with Hanne, too, is natural, especially given how Bardugo balances Nina’s growing feelings for Hanne with her love for her deceased partner, Matthias.

Leigh Bardugo is skilled at handling multiple plot threads and bringing them together in a cohesive climax – which is fitting, because Rule of Wolves is, as I interpret it, meant to be a quasi-finale of the Grishaverse. (Bardugo has stated that this is a “farewell for now,” although she plans to return to the Grishaverse later.) While Nikolai and Zoya are in Ravka and Kerch preparing for war with Fjerda, Nina is also preparing for war from within Fjerda itself, and Mayu, Ehri, and Tamar head off to Shu Han to extirpate the kherguud. And all of it makes sense. The resolutions to our heroes many, many challenges are realistic and believable.

Rule of Wolves is one of those books in which you should pay very close attention to detail if you want a chance at correctly inferring any of the plot twists. I repeatedly would flip back through the book to refresh myself on details – partially because I’m a pedantic sucker for detail and partially because I wanted to formulate my best guess as to what would happen next. Everything is used – and there’s a lot of material to incorporate. Politicking! Magic! Spying! Mini-heists! War! Slow-burn romances! It’s all here, and Bardugo doesn’t waste a single scrap of it. If you haven’t read Rule of Wolves yet – or any of the rest of the Grishaverse, for that matter – you’re cheating yourself worse than Kaz cheats Pekka Rollins and Nikolai cheats death.

June 2021 Update

Hello again, and thanks for visiting!

Sooo last month I’d planned to post more often, but my final paper got in the way. The good news: That paper is out of the way now.

And the even better news:

I FINISHED MY DEGREE. I’M GRADUATING!

I’m both excited and anxious to begin my searches for jobs and remote master’s programs, but honestly, after the last year of school, one thing I’ve been very much anticipating is reading whatever the fuck I want. I’ve been doing just that, and you will be hearing about those books here on this blog.

Blog Announcements

As I announced in last month’s update, I am planning to renovate this blog – give it a little facelift. Now that I have more time on my hands, those renovations are getting underway. Again, you will see some changes on the Book Hawk, but bear with me while I straighten everything out.

For books that I thoroughly enjoy and therefore want more people to read, I’ve been trying to keep my reviews light on spoilers. Limiting spoilers, however, can curtail the material that I can discuss; it leaves me feeling constrained. Hence, I’ve settled on a compromise: For select books, I will post two versions of my review – one light on spoilers and one loaded with them. That way, you, my reader, can take your pick of how much you want divulged about a book, and I can cover the topics that I think need to be addressed. Please note that I will be incorporating the spoiler-light review into the spoiler review. (I’m not going to write a whole new review for the same book.)

Upcoming Reviews

Priority Content

  • Rule of Wolves (spoiler-light version): I promised you guys this one last month.
  • Libertie: I just finished the audiobook.
  • The Burning Blue: This nonfiction account of the Challenger disaster of 1986 was my first physical ARC won from a Goodreads giveaway.
  • Truthwitch: In preparation for the release of the next book in one of my favorite series ever, I am rereading Truthwitch, Windwitch, and Bloodwitch.

Tentative Additional Content (or The Stuff I’ll Get To If I Have the Time)

  • Rule of Wolves (spoiler version): I already have this review in the works.
  • A Climate for Death: I really wanted to love this Great Lakes-based thriller/mystery, but I can’t say I’m terribly impressed.
  • Windwitch and Bloodwitch: Whether or not these are reviewed this month will depend on how fast I read.
  • The Lost Apothecary: C’mon. I finished this two months ago.

And now, without further ado, I present to you my review of Rule of Wolves.

Mini Review: Sightwitch (Witchlands, #2.5)

Credit: Barnes & Noble

Synopsis

Sisters with the gift of Sight—Sightwitches, who can see into the future—are of a rare and ancient order. Raised in a secluded convent, they await the invitation of their goddess to enter the depths of the mountain and receive the sacred gift of foretelling.

But for young Ryber Fortiza, that call never comes. As the only sister without Sight, Ryber has devoted herself to the goddess. Surely, if she just works hard enough, she will finally be gifted like everyone else.

Until one day, all Sisters who possess the Sight are summoned into the mountain—and never return. Now Ryber, still Sight-less, is the only one left. Can she, who has spent her life feeling like th weakest, be the one to save her Sisters and the ancient power they protect?

On her journey underground, she encounters a young captain named Kullen Ikray, who has no memory of who he is or how he got there. Together they trek ever deeper, the mountain tunnels filled with mysteries and horrors. And what they find at the end will alter the fate of the Witchlands forever.

Barnes & Noble

Review

Read: May 2021

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

This review contains spoilers for Truthwitch and Windwitch, and mild spoilers for Bloodwitch.

I’d heard that Sightwitch was extremely important to the rest of the Witchlands series. I mean, I never doubted that, but wow. Anybody reading the Witchlands series must read this novella. And when I say you need to read it, I mean you should read either a physical or digital text copy. While I haven’t listened to the audiobook, a friend of mine has, and I can imagine that he might have missed out on quite a bit. Dennard uses different fonts for the beginnings of diary entries and for notes, and without being able to see those fonts, listeners might feel a little lost. The fonts are an excellent choice for both aesthetic and storytelling purposes: They provide an extra means of understanding the characters, and they indicate who the narrator is.

When I read Truthwitch, I was heartbroken when Kullen cleaved and when Ryber mourned his loss and subsequently left Merik’s crew. In my opinion, readers encountered Ryber and Kullen often enough and in sufficient depth to be impacted by those events, but they didn’t know Ryber and Kullen as well as the two of them deserved to be known. Sightwitch is a marvelous explanation of Ryber’s origins and a poignant, bittersweet peek at Kullen prior to his cleaving.

On Ryber and Kullen’s end, this book is far from romance-heavy. Ryber is intent on finding her Threadsister, Tanzi, and the rest of the Sightwitches who have been her family for the majority of her life. Given that fact, along with the time span in which Ryber knows Kullen, it’s much more natural for a few brilliant sparks to fly between them than it is for a fully fleshed romance to form in this story. Eridysi, on the other hand, sees her romantic relationship develop into something solid. Despite Eridysi never writing out the general’s full name, their romance is compelling nonetheless.

Perhaps more than anything else, though, Sightwitch is a vessel of world-building – in the best way possible. Dennard has introduced readers to a variety of fascinating aspects of the Witchlands world, and here she explains the most important lore pieces to readers while telling two riveting stories. Vivia’s underground city, the Paladins, Eridysi, the doorways, Sightwitches, ice, the blade and the mirror, the Rook King – all of them are part of this intriguing tale. This is the kind of tie-in that prompts you to reread all the other books in the series just so you can pick up everything you missed before, and I intend to do just that. Even if you’ve already read Bloodwitch, this book is a major eye-opener that can’t be skipped.

Book Review: Dead in the Water

Image from Barnes and Noble website

Synopsis

Camille Ellis is the Earthen Conclave’s golden girl. Her peculiar talent solves cases with a touch. She isn’t afraid of getting her hands dirty, but every bright star casts a shadow, and her deepest scars lurk just beneath the skin.

A routine consultation goes sideways when a victim’s brother gets involved in the investigation. Riding the edge of grief, the warg will go to any lengths to avenge his sister’s death. Even if it means ensuring Cam’s cooperation at the jaws of his wolf.

When the killer strikes again, Cam is caught between a warg and a hard place. To save the next victim, she must embrace her past. Even if it means dragging her darkest secrets into the light of day.

Amazon

Review

Read: March 2021

Rating:

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

Spoiler warning!

This is one of those books that I read just for the sake of meeting my Goodreads goal this year. I never thought it looked spectacular, but what the hell, it was short, so why not?

Here are my highest praises for Dead in the Water: It isn’t an agonizing read, and I don’t wish death upon all the characters. In fact, I’m rather fond of Harlow and Dell and would almost be interested in learning more about their stories.

Edwards seems like she might have a grasp on how to write mysteries, but her potential is obfuscated by her terrible world-building. I actually had to check Goodreads to ensure that I was definitely reading the first book in the series or double back in the book itself because I felt like I was constantly missing huge chunks of information. Edwards has stints in the book where readers flounder for information and others that consist mostly of amazingly awkward infodumps. For instance, there’s a scene in which Cam scores a gigantic lead in her case – a moment when readers should experience vicarious triumph and realization through her. Instead, the prospectively intriguing conversation is repeatedly interrupted by Cam’s lengthy explanations about the book’s setting and system. There’s a balance between providing background to readers ahead of an event and filling them in as they go, and Edwards absolutely does not strike it.

I’m overall unimpressed with the characters too. I mentioned above that I kind of like Dell and Harlow, but it’s worth noting that that affection isn’t terribly strong. Cam is a prosaic protagonist – and an unimpressive detective. She’s just not that good at her job. The book I’m currently reading features a young woman who is decidedly not a career detective, and she is much better at solving mysteries, noticing details, reasoning her way through problems, and utilizing the tools at hand than Cam ever proves herself to be. Immediately following Dead in the Water with Firekeeper’s Daughter only highlighted Cam’s shortcomings as a detective. You know who else is a better detective than Cam? Her love interest. Cord Graeson has no access to all of the awesome law enforcement resources that Cam does, and he still puts stuff together much more quickly than she does. Also, if you’re a detective who routinely gets into cars with strange, grief-ridden people who can turn into wolves, you’re even more of a fucking moron than a civilian who does the same thing. And when she’s trying to figure out one female character’s motive for doing something for money, she reasons that the girl just wants the money to buy more makeup and clothes because that’s all that matters to that little hussy, right?!?! She doesn’t need food or shelter, just stupid shorts and expensive cosmetics! So yeah, I’d feel completely comfortable calling Cam an idiot.

I’m not rooting for Graeson as the love interest either. He is a smug, smarmy asshole – and he’s creepy. He follows Cam covertly because he needs her help and doesn’t trust her bosses. That’s a tad weird, but on its own I can understand that. But eventually his behavior descends into grabbing Cam and sniffing her and fucking abducting her. After kidnapping her, he tries to defend his behavior by arguing that Cam wouldn’t leave the case behind anyway. Well then, dickbag, if that’s the case, why didn’t you just ask her?? Bonus: When Harlow is getting attacked by magical hedgehogs, he stands around observing the event and inquiring whether Harlow, Thierry, and Cam need assistance. Oh, so now you’re good with asking before acting, pal? Fuck you.

When I began writing this review up, I intended to award it a whole two stars; as I wrote, however, I realized just how stupid this book is and downgraded my assessment to 1.5 stars. Only read this if you have a quota to fill. Otherwise, skip it.

March Update: What to Look Forward To

Hello, everyone! Thank you so much for stopping by. I’m in my last two months of school, so things are pretty busy. Still, I’ve made time for books – I kind of need to in order to retain my sanity. Here’s what’s coming up on The Book Hawk.

Main Priorities

  • Aurora Rising: I’m just about done with it, so I should post the review later this week. Even though the beginning was rough, my decision to stick with the book has proven wise.
  • A Court of Silver Flames: Those of us who’ve read the A Court of Thorns and Roses series have spent the better part of the last four years eagerly anticipating this book. I’ve come to realize that I prefer Sarah J. Maas’s earlier (read: less super smutty) works to her newer stuff, but that doesn’t mean I’m not expecting a good story!
  • Sightwitch: Witchlands is one of my very favorite series, but I’ve yet to actually read Sightwitch. In preparation for the upcoming release of Witchshadow, I’m going to finally crack open Sightwitch – and then reread the other books!
  • Rhythm of War: Reviewing this one might be a challenge simply because of the sheer volume of material involved, but I’m up for it. I’ve been reading it slowly so I can prolong my enjoyment, since the next installment won’t be available until 2023 or something. If you haven’t read The Stormlight Archive yet, I cannot recommend it highly enough. Brandon Sanderson is a master.

Tentative Additional Content

If I have time this month, I’ll post some of this stuff. If not, I’ll push it into April.

  • Aurora Burning: Despite my initial doubts about its predecessor, I’ve decided I’m enjoying the series enough to continue on.
  • Dawnshard: What can I say? I’m on a Brando Sando binge.
  • Fractured Stars: I have no idea what this is. I bought it months ago and can’t recall what it’s about.
  • Firekeeper’s Daughter: The only reason this one is on this list and not the “Main Priorities” one is because I just discovered its existence last night. I’m eagerly anticipating its mid-March release, partially because the debut author, Angeline Boulley, is a member of the Sault Sainte Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians from my own state of Michigan!

If you have suggestions for me, feel free to share in the comments! Thanks again for visiting The Book Hawk.

Book Review: The Kaerling

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Synopsis

When Otta and Erl are banished from their village for angering the gods, they embark on a peculiar quest.

Commanded by a wandering god, Otta is obliged to follow the strange, elusive “unicorn’s trail.” Her twin brother, Erl, has lost his memory and is struggling to discover who he is and where he is.

As they travel further from the shelter of the Homestead, the siblings discover unpleasant traits in their personalities. They must learn to adapt and change before they are driven apart.

Who is the wandering god? Just what is the “unicorn’s trail” and where will it lead? What are the kaerlings? And who are the brown-robed travellers that trespass in Otta’s dreams?

Review

Read: Summer 2019

Rating: 1.5 stars out of 5

A few months ago, I received an email from Freya Pickard asking me to review the first book of her Kaerling series. I’m ashamed that I didn’t complete this review much sooner, but ya know how life happens and ya get really busy. Anyway, I’m flattered that Ms. Pickard reached out to me to request a review.

In my reviews, I strive to adhere to the policy of honesty, and the honest truth is that I am unimpressed – and often befuddled – by Silver Fire. The story itself could be interesting, but it’s weighted down by a variety of issues. For one thing, the writing is choppy. Not only are the sentences often stilted-sounding; Pickard also has a tendency to throw in details where they aren’t really pertinent. In fact, those randomly placed details don’t shape the setting enough to prevent the reader from feeling like they’re just… watching a flipbook. There isn’t much buildup to plot events, either. Stuff simply happens very suddenly. My biggest beef, however, is with Erl’s amnesia. I get that amnesia is not always a blanket blackout, but I don’t get why Erl remembers one thing but forgets something else even though the thing he forgets is related to the thing he remembers. The best example: His concept of human decency is intact enough for him to sympathize with an ethnic minority and defend their right to live in their native land, but not enough for him to remember that attempting to rape anyone – especially the girl who insists that she is his twin sister – is a mega no-no. His priorities when he apologizes to her later are completely out of whack too. “This incest thing seems important to you so I’ll stop” doesn’t strike me as the first thing someone who has committed sexual assault against their sibling should say to said sibling; what they should say is more along the lines of “oh my god, I’m sorry I tried to rape you and I understand this not-being-raped thing is important to every human being so I’ll stop”. This whole incest/sexual assault ordeal adds nothing to the plot of the story; instead, it serves as just a giant what-the-fuck dead-end subplot. 

What I can say for Silver Fire is that I wasn’t bored while reading it. Whether that was because of the fast-paced plot, sheer curiosity, or the potential of the story itself, I really couldn’t tell you. Maybe it was all of the above. In any case, I’ll probably try reading the next installment of The Kaerling, just for kicks. 

Image and synopsis are from BarnesandNoble.com.