Book Reviews

May 2021 Update: Announcements!

Hello, everybody! Thanks for visiting! Now let’s get down to business.

Upcoming Reviews

I know I’ve been very bad about adhering to my plans for the month, in part because of school and in part because I am an incorrigible procrastinator. Now that things are winding down with school though, I’m hoping to establish a more regular schedule for posting. My goal is a minimum of three review posts per month with an interim period of seven to ten days between each post. Should I have time, I’ll post additional reviews. Here are the book reviews to look forward to this month.

Priorities

  • Firekeeper’s Daughter (Angeline Boulley): I’ve had this one on my review list for weeks now, but I’ve been taking my time with it because this book deserves a thoughtful review. This will be the next review I post. I promise.
  • Rule of Wolves (Leigh Bardugo): This was one of my most anticipated reads of the year, and unlike A Court of Silver Flames, I am far from disappointed in this book. If you haven’t read any of Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse books yet, please do so now. Her novels will change your life for the better. Plus, as amazing as Netflix’s Shadow and Bone is, the books are better. They almost always are.
  • Sightwitch (Susan Dennard): Susan Dennard is another one of my favorite authors – the Witchlands series is so phenomenally good – and Witchshadow will release next month! (I’d like to reread the rest of the Witchlands books after I finish Sightwitch, just to refresh my memory.)

Tentative Bonus Content

  • Rhythm of War (Brandon Sanderson): It’s daunting to contemplate the task of reviewing a twelve hundred-page book, but I’m going to do it soon.
  • One Life (Megan Rapinoe): This beautiful memoir helped me get through finals month.
  • The Lost Apothecary (Sarah Penner): I kept spotting this one on Goodreads and decided to give it a try. If nothing else, I at least wanted to know what everybody was talking about.

Website Makeover!

This blog was born of two driving factors: my love of reading and my lack of confidence in writing. It began as an exercise of attaching something I was passionate about to something that sometimes induces a cumbersome amount of anxiety in me. Eventually, I really came to enjoy writing for my blog for its own sake. As I’ve written more reviews, gotten more followers (thank you!), and become more serious about blogging, I have decided that I will give my site a facelift! Over the next couple of months, I’m going to invest in a custom domain and a logo, reorganize my website so that it’s a little more user-friendly, and do some minor housekeeping (e.g., fixing broken links or media, adding links, etc.). Please bear with me as I renovate!

Thank you again for stopping by. I am very excited about expanding The Book Hawk. Stay safe, everyone!

-Jamie

P.S. If you are eligible for the COVID vaccine in your country, please talk to your doctor or pharmacist and make a plan to get it! I was administered my first dose of the Moderna vaccine last month; I’ll receive my second dose next week.

Flash Review: Aurora Burning (The Aurora Cycle #2)

Image from Barnes and Noble website

Synopsis

Our heroes are back . . . kind of. From the bestselling co-authors of the Illuminae Files comes the second book in the epic Aurora Cycle series about a squad of misfits, losers, and discipline cases who just might be the galaxy’s best hope for survival.

First, the bad news: An ancient evil—your standard consume-all-life-in-the-galaxy deal—is about to be unleashed. The good news? Squad 312 is here to save the day. As soon as they’ve just got to take care of a few small distractions first. Like the clan of gremps who are holding a serious grudge against the squad. And a bunch of illegit GIUTA agents with creepy flowers where their eyes used to be. Then there’s Kal’s long-lost sister, who’s not exactly happy to see him.But with the reappearance of the colony ship that Auri was found on, new clues about Auri—and her powers as a Trigger—begin to come to light. And just in time. Because if Auri can’t learn to master her powers, the squad going to be soooo dead. Shocking revelations, bank heists, mysterious gifts,inappropriately tight bodysuits, and an epic firefight will determine the fate of the Aurora Legion’s most unforgettable heroes—and, you know, the rest of the galaxy.

Barnes and Noble

Review

Read: March 2021

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Spoiler warning!

Aurora Burning isn’t perfect, but like I said about its predecessor, it’s hella fun. Kristoff and Kaufmann seem to have ironed out the majority of their most annoying writing issues and replaced those with excellent character development. Leading the pack in this area is Zila. If you’ve read my review of Aurora Rising, you’ll know that I was peeved to have Zila included as a viewpoint character, only to find that her chapters were the length of my pinkie finger. Zila gets the spotlight in several chapters now, and damn, are those chapters engrossing. Readers finally get a horrifying glimpse into her tragic past and the reason for her emotional detachment; even better, they experience her blossoming out again as she bonds with her team. Finian too gets some truly heartwarming moments in his point-of-view chapters that show him blossoming as a friend and gaining confidence around people. Tyler also gets the opportunity to deal with his feelings for Cat and her loss. His interactions with Ra’haam Cat are dripping with angst. (I WILL GO DOWN WITH THIS SHIP.) Even without his crew, Tyler manages to hold his own, and I think that really reinforces his ability as a leader.

The plot is fast-paced (for the most part). The story opens with a confrontation with a gang of grempfs and barrels on to a skirmish with Kal’s sister Saedii, a bank heist, and another clash with the bad guys. (The bank heist, especially, is hilarious.) That said, I was underwhelmed by Auri and Kal’s time in the Echo with the Eshvaren. And as much as I enjoyed seeing Kal and Auri’s relationship develop in the Echo, those chapters felt… underwhelming, if not frustrating. Yes, Aurora gets her catharsis with her parents and sister, but the training is something of a slog – and training can be fun if it’s written right. Plus, I just dislike Esh as a character. I know that the Eshvaren is not meant to be liked, but they serve more as a annoying minor source of conflict and resolution rather than a fully fleshed out antagonist.

The huge reveal of Caersan being Kal’s father, unfortunately, is totally foreseeable. The handling (read: fumbling) of the crew’s reaction to Kal’s parentage is the main reason I’m knocking a star off this book. I guessed that Kal’s father was the Starslayer from his very first viewpoint chapter of the series, all the way back in Aurora Rising. That predictability renders all the ensuing drama in Squad 312 more contrived and even stupider than it already is. Yes, I understand that Caersan is a genocidal maniac, everyone hates him, how could Kal keep this from us, yada yada ya. But seriously, out of the four other people on board the ship, no one could see the big picture: Adams and de Stoy somehow were able to deliver exactly what was needed to the squad – and have that stash of supplies ready eight years prior to 312 ever needing it – and yet the squad thinks that Adams and de Stoy didn’t know about Kal’s parentage? Finian seems to be the only one even close to grasping this (at least prior to Aurora refusing to believe Kal is on her side until the Starslayer nearly kills her), but he still has not reached this conclusion. Aurora’s reaction is more than a little ridiculous too. When the Eshvaren enjoins her to break up with Kal so he won’t hold her back, her response essentially amounts to “Lmao, get fucked.” But when Caersan outs his son, she’s all jazzed up to ditch poor Kal – literally. On the other hand, the revelation about Tyler and Scarlett’s Waywalker mother is an interesting surprise, and one that Tyler takes in stride. I’m interested in learning more about the story of Jericho and his Syldrathi lover. In fact, I smell the potential for a gripping space opera romance novella.

Aurora Burning still has its kinks, but it’s a worthy read. I’m both eagerly anticipating and dreading the release of Aurora’s End.

Book Review: A Court of Silver Flames (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #4)

Image from Barnes & Noble website

Synopsis

Sarah J. Maas’s sexy, richly imagined series continues with the journey of Feyre’s fiery sister, Nesta.

Nesta Archeron has always been prickly-proud, swift to anger, and slow to forgive. And ever since being forced into the Cauldron and becoming High Fae against her will, she’s struggled to find a place for herself within the strange, deadly world she inhabits. Worse, she can’t seem to move past the horrors of the war with Hybern and all she lost in it.

The one person who ignites her temper more than any other is Cassian, the battle-scarred warrior whose position in Rhysand and Feyre’s Night Court keeps him constantly in Nesta’s orbit. But her temper isn’t the only thing Cassian ignites. The fire between them is undeniable, and only burns hotter as they are forced into close quarters with each other.

Meanwhile, the treacherous human queens who returned to the Continent during the last war have forged a dangerous new alliance, threatening the fragile peace that has settled over the realms. And the key to halting them might very well rely on Cassian and Nesta facing their haunting pasts.

Against the sweeping backdrop of a world seared by war and plagued with uncertainty, Nesta and Cassian battle monsters from within and without as they search for acceptance – and healing – in each other’s arms.

Barnes & Noble

Review

Read: April 2021

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Spoiler warning! There are major spoilers in this review!

Content warning: sex scenes, gore, violence, sexual assault, torture. Some of these topics might be discussed briefly in the review.

So I waited the last three years for this? Count me among the disappointed. It took a lot of consideration for me to settle on a rating for this, and even now I’m uncertain about the score I’ve assigned. I have so many thoughts on this book.

A Court of Silver Flames isn’t without its merits. First off, I’ve been a Nessian shipper since Day One, and this book fulfills my dream of seeing them finally get together. Second, I appreciate the emotional healing that Nesta, Emerie, and Gwyn undergo. I love witnessing the blossoming of supportive friendship between these three – and I love how they absolutely kicked misogynist ass in the Blood Rite. Finally, I see a great deal of promise in Emerie’s and Eris’s characters. Steadfast, reasonable, brave Emerie already has earned a special place in my heart, and Eris is fascinatingly flawed. Hopefully both of them will be further developed as characters in the next installment.

Unfortunately, my complaints about ACoSF far outweigh what I enjoyed about it. Much to the dismay of my grammar-loving heart, Sarah J. Maas has evolved a weird predilection for overusing sentence fragments. Sentence fragments can add dramatic effect when used judiciously; once the author begins liberally tossing them in, they become an annoyance that can only be overlooked if the rest of the story is solid. Maas employs them with almost no discretion. They pop up everywhere. Here are just a few examples:

She felt it a heartbeat later. The presence creeping toward them on soft paws.

Nesta seemed to glow with the attention. Owned it. Commanded it.

Nesta let him see it then. That she bore no ill will toward Feyre or the babe.

I actually looked back in some of my old Throne of Glass books to see if Maas has always been so fond of this writing style, and I don’t think she has. I noticed the frequency of sentence fragments really began to rise in Maas’s books around the time of Empire of Storms and A Court of Thorns and Roses. As of ACoSF, it appears that Maas has fully embraced this irksome pattern and doesn’t intend to rein herself in. Imagine it. If I talked to you like this. In these jagged fragments. Fragments that are disjointed. Fragments that interrupt speech and thought.

That’s fucking irritating, isn’t it?

Speaking of reining herself in, fucking hell, Sarah, dial back with the sex and horniness. Yes, I expect sex scenes in a new adult romance, and while I’m personally a bit more conservative about sex than a lot of people are, I don’t consider myself a super-prude by any stretch of the imagination. My problem isn’t that there are sex scenes – it’s that Maas seems to utilize sex scenes as filler content. There is so much sex in this book that I started skipping sex scenes not because I was offended, but because they were repetitive and generally not important. There is so much sex in this book that it gets boring. Even when they’re not having sex, the characters still think about it with such constancy that it’s a bit disconcerting. The viewpoint characters are endlessly, incorrigibly horny, and Maas spends so many words on that fact that the writing suffers because of it. No one can go seven pages without thinking about themselves or someone else gettin’ busy – and Maas absolutely has to tell you in detail about those thoughts. Instead of incessantly rambling about sex and how hot everyone is, Maas should focus her energy on developing the non-viewpoint characters she left to languish in the corner, only to be brought out to prop up our heroes.

This book lacks the intrigue and action I expect from a Maas book. Although I liked the Oorid scene and the Blood Rite, ACoSF is relatively devoid of the excitement that its predecessors had. The politicking and scheming and world-building potentials of this book are painfully underplayed, and Maas tries to compensate for that by contriving bullshit drama. Given the opportunity to delve further into the threat of Briallyn and Koschei or better explain Nesta’s powers beyond nebulous uber-powerful magic, Maas instead fabricates a last-minute sort-of love triangle between Eris, Nesta, and Cassian that lasts for less than a hundred pages and invents a convoluted, phenomenally stupid subplot surrounding Feyre’s pregnancy.

Seriously, the pregnancy nonsense might have been the biggest fault of the entire seven hundred fifty-page book. Feyre conceives a baby with Rhys, but because Feyre was in Illyrian form during the baby’s conception, the baby has wings. The baby’s bony wings will get caught in Feyre’s birth canal and kill her because of her High Fae anatomy. So what? you shrug. Feyre can shapeshift. Problem solved. Cassian had the same thought.

“So let her change back into an Illyrian to bear the babe.”

Rhys’s face was stark. “Madja has put a ban on any more shapeshifting. She says that to alter Feyre’s body in any way right now could put the baby at risk.”

So wait. Let me get this straight. Feyre can shapeshift her damn eggs, and those eggs are still capable of producing a viable zygote. Rhys knows that the baby’s wings will most likely kill his wife (and himself because of that stupid bargain they made to leave this world together). There are documented cases of High Fae women being killed by their half-Illyrian babies, and if they aren’t killed, they almost certainly will never bear another child. Grievous morbidity or death is certain. Yet even despite all of that, it’s still deemed too great a risk for Feyre to shapeshift so much as her pelvis.

How is the pelvis problem solved? Nesta – who has the power to imbue the House of Wind with a soul, Unmake a Made queen, and Make a brand-new Dread Trove, and who is capable of wielding all three components of the original Dread Trove simultaneously – must relinquish most of her power back to the Cauldron because she “doesn’t know how to save” Feyre from bleeding out. She unwittingly Made a new Dread Trove, but she has to “know” exactly what to do to save Feyre? Even with that weakness in her power, Nesta is somehow conveniently able to transmogrify both hers and Feyre’s pelvises to accommodate half-Illyrian babies with her power – never mind that Feyre can transform her own damn pelvis after she recovers from nearly dying in childbirth. This all becomes even dumber and more unnecessary when you consider the Blood Rite and the confrontation with Briallyn could have served as an adequate climax (although the Briallyn arc struck me as underdeveloped to begin with).

One of the worst parts about this whole thing is that Feyre is ignorant of the danger the fetus poses to her, and Rhys chooses not to share this information with her and orders his friends to shut the hell up about it. He loves Feyre and encases her in a fucking shield for much of her pregnancy because he wants to protect her so badly (um, ew), but he actively keeps this knowledge from her at her peril. Nesta tells Feyre, and his reaction is to tell Cassian to get Nesta out of Velaris “before I fucking kill her.” In addition to all of that shit with Feyre, he pulls rank on his brothers for asinine reasons, he’s unsympathetic to Azriel’s romantic situation, and he interferes in Elain’s love life out of concern for politics. In previous books, Rhysand is arrogant, sarcastic, and sometimes a bit too big for his britches, but ultimately he’s compassionate, loyal, and just. In this book, I hardly even recognize Rhys because he’s such a fucking prick.

This book is one of the biggest letdowns I’ve ever read. I consider myself a fan of Sarah J. Maas. Throne of Glass is one of my absolute favorite series, and I thoroughly enjoyed the first three books of A Court of Thorns and Roses. Sadly, A Court of Silver Flames fails to live up to – let alone exceed – my expectations of a Sarah J. Maas book. The pacing is inconsistent, the sex scenes are absolutely absurd, and two-thirds of the plot is stupid and/or underbaked. I’d like my twenty-eight dollars back, please.

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.

April Update

Hi, guys!

Soooo things were kind of wild this past month. My grandmother passed away from ovarian cancer earlier in March. She was good health before and was on the younger side (she was seventy-one), but unfortunately, the doctors did not discover the cancer until it had metastasized extensively. The whole ordeal – from diagnosis to her passing – occurred over the course of about two months. My family and I had been hoping that chemotherapy would buy her some time, but that effort was ultimately unsuccessful. I will miss her every day until I see her again.

Ovarian cancer is no joke. Ladies, trans men, anybody with ovaries: Please keep tabs on this aspect of your health! Mayo Clinic has some basic information on ovarian cancer here. If you are transgender or gender-nonconforming, you might find this page from the National LGBT Cancer Network to be helpful. Planned Parenthood also has a series of pages about ovarian cancer causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment. Go ahead and check them out, even if you think you aren’t at risk for developing ovarian cancer. (Obligatory disclaimer: I am not a medical professional, nor am I an affiliate of any of the above organizations. Always consult a medical professional for medical advice. They kind of specialize in that.)

Needless to say, my family took precedence over my blog, and my schoolwork became a bit backlogged. I had a whole slew of reviews lined up, but I only managed to get around to one. With finals coming up at the end of April, my schedule will be a bit packed. What I’m planning to do is move most of my planned March reviews to April and release at least three reviews this coming month. I’m hoping to squeeze an extra one in today, and if time permits in this next month, I’ll publish additional reviews. Here are my lists:

Priorities

  • Aurora Burning. I’ve already started on this review, so keep an eye out for it in the next few days.
  • A Court of Silver Flames. It’s a pretty good read so far (I’ve been a Nessian shipper forever), but I do have a couple of complaints. I’ll apprise you of my likes and dislikes soon.
  • Firekeeper’s Daughter. I’m about one-third of the way through, and can I just say that this book has absolutely exceeded the hype it’s received?

Tentative Additional Content

  • Rhythm of War. At last, I’ve conquered this beast!
  • Sightwitch. This one is next on my To Read List.
  • Dead in the Water. I just finished listening to this one. Chances are that this review will be posted within the week, simply because it’s a relatively simple work to review.

Thank you again for visiting my blog. Happy reading, and please look after yourselves!

-Jamie

Book Review: Aurora Rising

Image from Barnes and Noble website

Synopsis

The year is 2380, and the graduating cadets of Aurora Academy are being assigned their first missions. Star pupil Tyler Jones is ready to recruit the squad of his dreams, but his own boneheaded heroism sees him stuck with the dregs nobody else in the academy would touch . . .

A cocky diplomat with a black belt in sarcasm
A sociopath scientist with a fondness for shooting her bunkmates
A smart-ass tech whiz with the galaxy’s biggest chip on his shoulder
An alien warrior with anger-management issues
A tomboy pilot who’s totally not into him, in case you were wondering

And Ty’s squad isn’t even his biggest problem—that’d be Aurora Jie-Lin O’Malley, the girl he’s just rescued from interdimensional space. Trapped in cryo-sleep for two centuries, Auri is a girl out of time and out of her depth. But she could be the catalyst that starts a war millions of years in the making, and Tyler’s squad of losers, discipline cases, and misfits might just be the last hope for the entire galaxy.

NOBODY PANIC.

Barnes and Noble website

Review

Read: February 2021

Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Spoiler warning!

Over the summer I read Jay Kristoff’s The Lotus Wars series, and after finishing the excellent space opera Seven Devils just last month, I was finally in the mood to try out Aurora Rising.

This book almost made its way into my inglorious Did-Not-Finish pile. Almost.

Let me tell you, folks: The start of this book is rough. No, Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufmann, it is not necessary to have three or four flashbacks in the span of a thirty-minute chapter, particularly when said flashbacks take place mere hours prior to the present. It is irksome. It gives readers whiplash. Please don’t do it! (My guess is that Kristoff is responsible for this writing choice, given that his book Nevernight begins with a similar temporal pattern. That was one reason I decided against reading that series.) If rescuing Aurora weren’t the reason Tyler misses the draft, the spastic time flip-flopping certainly would be. How could the poor guy be expected to show up on time when the authors can’t even decide what time it is? Also, I can appreciate the occasional breaking of the fourth wall in a work of fiction, but overuse of that device tends to induce a sense of awkwardness in me. It gives the impression that the authors are trying too hard, and it can make the writing a little bit corny.

But that being said, Aurora Rising turned out to be a very enjoyable book. The authors plunge right in with the action, and it’s not all just firefights: There are visions, chases, sleuthing, and even a mini-heist. The enemies our heroes face are myriad and many, and danger arrives in a variety of forms. And if you love conspiracies (no, not the batshit ones people actually try to pass off as real – the fun, fictional conspiracies), you’ll find something to love about this book. The world-building is just the right level of intricacy for the series too. It’s interesting without being overly detailed. That might not make for my favorite kind of universe, but it fits well with the planned trilogy length and the general arc of the story. Plus, any necessary exposition that doesn’t flow well in the context of the story is occasionally given in concise snippets by Auri’s uber-futuristic iPhone, Magellan, circumventing potential information holes.

I’m surprised how much I’ve come to love the characters. At the beginning of the book, all I wanted was for Tyler – and everyone else – to shut the hell up about his magical dimples, Aurora to stop uttering the phrase “holy cake”, and Scarlett to calm down with her boy-craziness. But the characters turn out to be so likable that those flaws can be overlooked – and in some cases, those flaws become a tad endearing. The flaws make the characters more real. Each character is lovable in their own way. By the end of the book, if I’d been asked to choose a favorite character, I’m not sure that I could have. Kal and Cat would likely be at the top of the list, but Tyler and Finian have both found special places in my heart as well. I do feel compelled to lodge a complaint about Zila, though – not because she’s done anything (particularly) wrong – but because she seems very… sidelined throughout the story. She has so much potential, but her point-of-view chapters never exceed two minutes in length. The more I ponder how everyone else has point-of-view chapters that actually last longer than it takes me to make microwave popcorn, the more jilted I feel on Zila’s behalf. Hopefully, Kristoff and Kaufmann will flesh out Zila’s character in Aurora Burning.

Now here come the spoiler parts of this review, so move on to the last paragraph if you want to skip the spoilers.

Aurora Rising is not mainly a romance book, but there is still romance to be found. To tell the truth, I’m a diehard Cat/Tyler shipper. Needless to say, Cat’s “death” (consumption by the Ra’haam) absolutely breaks my heart. While my brain tells me that Cat likely won’t be resurrected the way I want her to be, my romantic optimist’s heart believes she might yet be saved and subsequently revived. The one thing that keeps me clinging to hope is the symbolism of Cat’s phoenix tattoo. I know, I’m pathetic. It looks like Fin and Scarlett are set up for a slow-burn romance too, which absolutely warms my soul. And Kal and Auri’s gradual bonding is the perfect thing to balance out the Pull that Kal feels toward Auri. I’m looking forward to their relationship developing further in the next book.

Aurora Rising isn’t the most unique book I’ve ever read. Nevertheless, it’s certainly interesting, and it’s undeniably fun. If you’re looking for an entertaining read that isn’t too heavy, give this one a try.

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: Scarlet (A.C. Gaughen)

Credit: Barnes and Noble

Synopsis

Scarlet is good at keeping secrets. To the people of Nottingham, she’s Will Scarlet, the young lad who protects those who cannot protect themselves. To Robin Hood and his band of thieves, she’s the girl with a tongue as sharp as her knives. But nobody knows the truth about Scarlet’s life before Nottingham–not even Rob, whose quick smiles have the rare power to unsettle her. And when someone from her past comes hurtling back into her life, everything she’s fought for is suddenly at risk, including her own life . . .

BarnesandNoble.com

Review

Read: April 2020

Rating:

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Spoiler warning!

This book might share the title with Marissa Meyer’s fantastic Scarlet, but readers will find no such entertainment here. Those of you who’ve read my previous blog posts know that I frequently buy books when the Nook Store has them on sale in their “$2.99 and Under” section. Scarlet is one such read. It took me almost three days to finish reading this book – and not because the story was so intricate and riveting that I wanted to savor it. I was only able to stomach so much each day.

It’s difficult to choose a starting point from my litany of complaints, but I’ll begin with the narration. The narration is first-person, which wouldn’t be a problem if Scarlet could adhere at least somewhat decently to grammar. Yes, I am a self-described grammar snob, so it really rankles me that Scarlet talks like this through the entire book:

“The words fell soft between us, and they settled and grew till all I could think of were the quiet.”

“It were Rob, sitting with his back against the door.”

I understand that Scarlet speaks this way in an effort to dissociate from her former life as a noble, but it drives me absolutely crazy to read two hundred pages in which the narrator pretends that she’s never so much as heard of an adverb. It’s not impossible to capture Scarlet’s manner of speaking in a way that’s much more palatable to readers. Brandon Sanderson’s character Lift from The Stormlight Archive cannot read or write but is one of the cleverest characters in the series. Sanderson manages to convey all of that through Lift’s third-person narration. Narrating Scarlet from a third-person perspective and highlighting Scarlet’s speech patterns through dialogue with other characters might have made the book more bearable while still capturing her voice and character.

The descriptions and diction could use some work too. Gaughen seems overly fond of maritime metaphors and similes when it comes to Rob’s eyes.

“Loving him felt like drowning in his ocean eyes, like a tide I couldn’t hold back…”

“My cheeks felt hot and red under his fingers, and he smiled, his eyes heavy like the weight of the ocean.”

“All soft wet-wheat hair, eyes that were gray blue like the English Channel…”

“His ocean eyes…”

If she had described Rob’s eyes using the English Channel simile once and then maybe referred to his eyes as “blue” now and again, that would’ve been fine. But for the love of God, this book is only two hundred pages. Readers do not need to be constantly reminded how fucking “oceanic” Rob’s eyes are. At least utilize the numerous free thesauruses available on the web. They’re there for a reason. For all the effort Gaughen exerts reiterating the exact hue of Rob’s eyes, the imagery for the rest of the story is mediocre at best. The story and setting aren’t immersive – they feel distant and second-hand.

Perhaps most importantly, my feelings about the characters – with the exception of Much, who is an absolute gem – run the gamut from “you’re moderately annoying” to “I despise you.” Scarlet falls into the former category. I hate the way she talks, and her character is just drab. But Rob and John, who are both attracted to Scarlet, have the dubious honor of falling into the “holy hell, you’re horrible” category.

Honestly, I’m not sure who is worse. Rob is a brooding, mercurial jackass who thinks he’s hot stuff for being the town hero. He has a very obnoxious tendency to unnecessarily pull rank on others in his group. For instance, he doesn’t seem to think twice about butting into Scar’s business with John beyond what she’s asked him to be involved in. He offers to head off John if his advances become obtrusive and proposes not pairing off John and Scar for scouting because she appears uneasy around John; then he almost immediately turns around and tells Scar to quit playing John and choose because she’s disturbing the band’s dynamic. Scar has actually been pretty straightforward with John, so this comment is ridiculous – and it reduces her to tears. When Gisbourne shows up and it’s revealed that Scarlet was engaged to him by her parents against her will, Rob tries to comfort her by reassuring her that she’s not property to be returned to its rightful owner but then promptly blames her for concealing her unwanted engagement from him. Never mind that Scarlet’s creepy fiance, whom she’s been avoiding for two years, is plotting to kidnap her and marry her. Naturally, this is all about Robin. Then comes this beautiful exchange:

“Because you’re engaged, and because even if you weren’t, you’re with John.”

“I’m not,” I said.

His hand pushed me away, and he sounded angry but his eyes just looked like I’d stabbed him. “Well, then that makes you a whore.”

Wow, Rob. Way to win a girl’s heart.

At the end of the book, as Rob and Scar are discussing their relationship, Scarlet reminds him of this insult. His justification? He’s punishing himself by being an asshole to her and he was just jealous of John. I don’t recall him ever truly apologizing for that jab, by the way. If my memory serves, the phrase “I’m sorry” never crosses his lips – at least not regarding that incident. Plus, he faults Scar for Gisbourne’s capturing of two dozen people, even though she’s clearly not responsible for the situation.

Don’t start thinking John is a better option either. He’s interested in Scar. That’s fine. He kisses her. Okay. She’s trying to work out her feelings about this; he wants to define their relationship. Alright. But his behavior leaps over the line between reasonable and creepy to land firmly on the creepy side. After Scarlet explicitly tells him that she cares for him but does not want him to kiss her, he sees fit to respond like this:

“And you do want to be kissed by me. Don’t lie.”

At another point, John, being the smooth operator that he is, thinks it’s appropriate to ogle at Scar and make sexual comments about her while she’s being treated for a serious wound. Are you shitting me? Scarlet doesn’t deserve either of these louts.

Fairy tale retellings hold a lot of potential, but Gaughen fails to tell a good story altogether. Between the irritating narration, the lackluster imagery, the slut-shaming, and the boorish love interests, there’s not much to love about this book. The only thing it really had going for it when I read it was quarantine – and if the only reason I’m reading a book is just to kill time and nothing else, it’s just not good.

Book Review: Seven Devils

Credit: BarnesandNoble.com

Synopsis

This first book in a feminist space opera duology follows seven resistance fighters who will free the galaxy from the ruthless Tholosian Empire–or die trying.

When Eris faked her death, she thought she had left her old life as the heir to the galaxy’s most ruthless empire behind. But her recruitment by the Novantaen Resistance, an organization opposed to the empire’s voracious expansion, throws her right back into the fray.

Eris has been assigned a new mission: to infiltrate a spaceship ferrying deadly cargo and return the intelligence gathered to the Resistance. But her partner for the mission, mechanic and hotshot pilot Cloelia, bears an old grudge against Eris, making an already difficult infiltration even more complicated.

When they find the ship, they discover more than they bargained for: three fugitives with firsthand knowledge of the corrupt empire’s inner workings.

Together, these women possess the knowledge and capabilities to bring the empire to its knees. But the clock is ticking: the new heir to the empire plans to disrupt a peace summit with the only remaining alien empire, ensuring the empire’s continued expansion. If they can find a way to stop him, they will save the galaxy. If they can’t, millions may die.

Barnes and Noble website

Review

Read: February 2021

Format: Audible audiobook

Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Warning: Spoilers ahead! Proceed with caution.

Alright, folks, I’m back! I’ve been pretty busy with school (I expect to complete my bachelor’s degree by the end of this semester), so I haven’t had as much time to write reviews. Now that I’ve only got two classes and have sorted out my volunteer hours at the animal shelter, I should be posting more frequently. I promise my next review won’t take six more months to appear.

Anyway, let’s get down to business.

Between stumbling across this book at my local Barnes and Noble and a Redditor’s recommendation, I finally decided to give Seven Devils a try. That was a decision I do not regret – unless, of course, you ask me how it feels to await the next installment of this duology.

This book is action-packed and fast-paced. The very first chapter opens the story with the first of many skirmishes aboard a spaceship. It’s not all melee combat though: Lam and May do an excellent job of balancing the action between physical fights and intrigue. Be prepared for battles, espionage, and subterfuge! Even the heroes’ downtime propels the plot forward, and exposition is woven into the story in a palatable manner that keeps the reader in the loop without overwhelming them. Part of that exposition is delivered in flashback format – a judicious choice, given the frequency and quantity of content set in the past. It’s also convenient that the flashbacks are isolated to their own chapters, each with the name of the viewpoint character and the time of occurrence clearly stated at the beginning of the chapter. (I have a special appreciation for this right now because I’m currently reading a book that fucks up flashbacks to the point of abuse. Suffice it to say that it’s difficult to follow that story where flashbacks are involved.)

From my heterosexual white woman’s perspective, Seven Devils does a solid job with representation. For all the diabolical crap the Tholosian Empire fosters, skin color of Tholosian humans is not one of their primary concerns. (That story is very different for non-Tholosians.) Even so, I really appreciate that this book features some racial diversity amongst its viewpoint characters. With Black and Hispanic people still patently underrepresented in STEM fields, I find it particularly awesome that Ariadne plays the role of the gifted, brilliant science whiz. The cast also includes three queer characters. Kyla, the co-commander of the Novantae resistance, is a transgender woman of color; Clo and Rhea, both viewpoint characters, are attracted to women. Although Kyla doesn’t have a viewpoint in this installment of the duology, my fingers are crossed for her to have one in the next book!

The characters are vibrant and intricate. Lam and May do an excellent job of connecting the characters’ past experiences and their present-day habits and mannerisms. Ariadne’s behavior reflects what you’d expect from a socially deprived but mentally acute teenager. (She’s not unlike Cress from the Lunar Chronicles.) She’s depicted as eager to explore and friendly, but the authors also highlight the social anxiety you might expect from a kid who grew up with minimal human contact. The inclusion of Eris’s point of view as Princess Discordia, her former identity, chronicles the transformation of Eris’s worldview while also underscoring the similarities between these two personas. The gradual change of Discordia into Eris emphasizes both Discordia’s and Eris’s inner turmoil – emotional turbulence that, although Eris conceals it well, plagues her to this day. Nyx is very firmly portrayed as a former soldier. That mentality shines through not just in how she describes herself, but also in how she acts and thinks. She wrestles constantly with the effects of chronic exposure to Tholosian propaganda while burying the guilt over the murders she’s committed in the name of the empire; her thought processes are tactical. Clo’s childhood of poverty, the loss of her mother, and her own amputation well explain the angry, stubborn, and determined woman whom readers encounter. And Rhea, although she still carries the scars of her old life as a sex slave, strives for freedom in her own way – even if it’s somewhat subtler than the methods of her comrades. On the other hand, the authors leave many questions unanswered about Sher, and Cato’s and Kyla’s backgrounds aren’t nearly as fleshed out as I’d like them to be. But then again, this is the first of two books, which leaves plenty of opportunity for character development in the next installment.

Rebellion can obviously serve as a riveting plot if it’s done right, but Seven Devils addresses several other themes. Relationships of all kinds are a recurring motif throughout the story. After all, it was a friendship that led Eris to defect from her totalitarian government. The romantic scene between Clo and Rhea near the end of the book is both intimate and wholesome, even without sex. And yes, we get to see the whole squad forming friendships and protecting each other. Colonialism and extractivism fuel the Tholosian Empire’s expansion and induce its citizens do commit horrific acts – crimes that most of our cast has partaken in one way or another. Finally, Seven Devils offers tales of the monumental endeavor to achieve redemption.

Even though it missed a few things, Seven Devils is a thrilling and worthy read. If you’re in the mood for science fiction, rebellion, and women supporting women, pick this book up now.

Reminder: US Census

While I discuss politics within the context of book reviews on this blog, I don’t usually dedicate posts solely to political matters. Here, though, I’m going to make an exception.

The pandemic has not made the monumental effort of counting everyone in the US easier, to say the least. In April, the Washington Post reported that the Census Bureau under the Trump administration requested a four-month extension regarding delivery of count data to the president’s desk, as well as a lengthening of the data collection period from mid-August to the end of October. A little more than a week ago, however, reports emerged that the Census Bureau was backpedaling; now they plan to end the count on September 30th.

If you live in the United States and haven’t filled out the census yet, please do so! You can complete the census by phone, by mail, or online. It’s vital that everyone gets counted so that our congressional districts can be appropriately drawn and funds and resources can be sufficiently allocated.

If you or someone in your household has already completed the census form, you can still help. Use social media to share reminders to complete the census, and remind your friends personally. Also, the HEROES Act contains provisions for extending deadlines of census tabulation and reporting. It passed the US House almost three months ago, and yet the Senate is still dithering over it. Contact your senators and urge them to pass the HEROES Act to help ensure that every person is counted.