Goodreads Review – Shadow and Bone (Shadow and Bone #1)

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: young woman is talented (or super-powered) but annoyingly neurotic and passive, spending a lot of time pining over two different men in her life (at least one of whom is a childhood friend) within an oppressive sci-fi or fantasy setting.

Shadow and Bone proudly wears the clothing of a typical youthful heroine YA novel, but ultimately won me over with its intriguing fantasy world. Ravka is more war-torn than authoritatively dystopian, featuring a realm of pure magical blackness filled with nightmare creatures that divides the kingdom.

This is a world of 18th century technology (rifles!) mixed with X-Men mutants who can essentially cast unlimited spells within certain masteries, like fire, wind, or darkness. These Grisha are powerful, but carefully trained and managed by the kingdom – not hunted and down and captured like most YA novels would devolve into.

Alina is still a bit of a whip with little agency of her own most of the time, but she has a solid character arc in the first novel as she awakens to her powers, discovers the truth about the Unsea, and rediscovers her true love. It’s a quick, easy read, and ends on a high note that makes me interested in reading the rest of the series and learning more about this world.

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Goodreads Review – Uprooted

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Uprooted is a twisted fairy tale. It’s a romance-fantasy novel. It’s a horror story. It’s a swords-and-sorcery fantasy epic. Uprooted is somehow all of these things, telling a wonderfully intriguing fantasy story that builds and builds, and more importantly, satisfyingly concludes, within 350 pages.

The story starts off a bit slow, and first-person narration always takes a bit for me to get used to. Agnieskha isn’t a typical fantasy hero; reluctant may even be too strong a word, but once we get over her awkward pragmatism and she begins learning how to cast spells her own way, we can’t help but root for her (pun intended). The way Novik describes spellcasting in this world is sublime, evoking a beautiful symphony of poetry, music, and emotion.

The book effortlessly bounds between genres in relatively short time, giving us breathtaking romance, character-driven political intrigue, exciting chase sequences, dramatic battles, and exhilarating moments of action-horror that reminded me of Aliens in all the right ways.

And then there’s The Wood. Never have I felt such fear and terror of this world’s uniquely antagonistic location. The Wood is a malevolent force with its own agenda, minions, and abilities, and discovering all its reasoning and intentions as the plot unfurls is incredibly rewarding. If you can get past the admittedly slow, fairytale-like start, you’ll find a worthy fantasy story that refreshingly doesn’t take thousands of pages to unfurl.

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Goodreads Review – Nemesis Games (The Expanse #5)

Nemesis Games (The Expanse, #5)Nemesis Games by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Expanse made it to Book 5 before they finally had their Empire Strikes Back, both in tone and excellence.

Unlike the previous novels, Nemesis Games takes our heroic space-faring foursome and splits them up, with everyone getting their own PoV chapters. It’s like in a tabletop RPG campaign where we focus on individual characters and their own personal stories – except here the book deftly weaves these stories into the main plot as everyone becomes entwined in an apocalyptic event that sets up all new stakes, alliances, and warfare within the inner systems. And we witness it unfold from four different angles! It also finally brings fan-favorite past supporting characters like Bobbie Draper and Clarissa Mao in really cool ways.

My only complaint is that it doesn’t really conclude, instead serving up an intriguing springboard into a new main plot.

Nemesis Games is easily the best book of the entire series up to this point. I only hope the rest of the novels can keep up the momentum.

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Goodreads Review – Moon Rising (Wings of Fire #6)

Moon Rising (Wings of Fire #6)Moon Rising by Tui T. Sutherland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I respect the hell out of a fantasy series that’s as much about the world as the individual characters. The first five books in Wings of Fire told its own complete story of the Sandwing Succession. Moon Rising represents the first in the next series of books starring new characters, though most of our old favorites make frequent appearances.

Instead of fleeing the tyranny of dragon queens and fighting for their lives, this new group of dragonets must survive the drama of the new Jade Mountain Academy, a school opened by our original heroes to help bring the formerly warring dragon tribes together.

Moon is a unique Nightwing who actually does possess the legendary mind-reading powers of her tribe. The story is less action-packed and much more introspective, with Moon as a young-adult mutant or inhuman (from Marvel comics) viewing her powers as an ostracizing curse, and her mentor may or may not be a legendary dragon supervillain from ages past.

As much as I enjoyed her character and her supporting cast, including exuberant Kinkajou (first introduced in the third book) and likable friend Qibli (from the fifth book), the plot moves agonizing slow due to all the internal dialogue. A murder mystery helps shake things up, though the final revelation isn’t terribly shocking, and the end serves as more of a springboard to the next series than a satisfying conclusion to the story.

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Goodreads Review – Blood, Sweat, and Pixels

Blood, Sweat, and Pixels: The Triumphant, Turbulent Stories Behind How Video Games Are MadeBlood, Sweat, and Pixels: The Triumphant, Turbulent Stories Behind How Video Games Are Made by Jason Schreier
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don’t usually read nonfiction, preferring to escape into genre stories amidst all the news and feature articles I read on a daily basis, but Blood, Sweat, and Pixels is an absolute gem. Jason Schreier is one of the best gaming journalists in the business and provides an excellent compilation of ten feature-length, source-based articles, each focusing on a different game around the 2012-2015 era.

Video game development is incredibly complicated and challenging, with big-budget titles zooming into the tens of millions with hundreds of employees and years of labor, some of which is grueling overtime. Challenges include company mismanagement, corporate takeovers, and technology woes, all in the vein of triumphing over adversity.

Even as a freelance writer who covers much of the gaming industry and has interviewed many developers, the stories and quotes in here are sobering. Yet Schreier always maintains an aura of positivity and hopefulness about game development, including how initially mediocre games (like Diablo 3 and Destiny) can be vastly improved years later.

Blood, Sweat, and Pixels is easily accessible even for complete gaming neophytes, and highly recommend for anyone interested in the enriching stories of modern game development.

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Goodreads Review – The Republic of Thieves (Gentleman Bastard #3)

The Republic of Thieves (Gentleman Bastard, #3)The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first book centered on a team of rogues called the Gentleman Bastards, while the sequel focused entirely on the deep friendship between Jean and Locke. With The Republic of Thieves, we’re finally introduced to Sabetha, Locke’s lover of whom we’d only heard about.

I was more than satisfied with how Sabetha was written, and especially the deliciously tense, passionate, witty scenes between the two veteran rogues. Their fraught relationship is by far the best parts of the book, though it’s a shame that Jean, a huge part of the last book, is a bit player here.

I was less enthused with the pacing and the overall plot, as Locke and Jean are hired to swing an election in the Magi-ruled town of Karthain. When it’s just a bunch of rogue-ish shenanigans it’s fantastic, but I dislike the god-like magic in this universe, and hated an 11th hour twist regarding Locke’s origins. It also takes an annoying amount of time fixing the poison predicament that we ended the last book on before this story can really get started.
Given the weird twist reveal and the tease of a former villain returning, I can’t say I’m excited that the series is leaning more heavily on its magic stuff rather than the vastly superior rogue elements.

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Goodreads Review – The Shepherd’s Crown

The Shepherd's Crown (Discworld, #41; Tiffany Aching, #5)The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The fifth and final Tiffany Aching book and final Discworld novel is all too short due to the passing of Sir Terry Pratchett, my favorite author, in 2015. While it does tell a complete story, many elements are severely shortened and underdeveloped, leaving to an unfortunately underwhelming final tale.

Although I adored the first novel in the Tiffany Aching series, the rest of the series has been very up and down. I love Pratchett’s humorous and insightful writing style, but the series is less about Tiffany dealing with fun fantastical threats (as in the first novel), and more a series of coming-of-age teenage dramas.

The Shepherd’s Crown seems to even lack that, as by the fifth book Tiffany has come into her own as a witch of The Chalk. The passing of a major series character is a pivotal moment that’s done very well, but everything else falls a bit flat, including an all new side character who’s kind of pointless (yet given a lot of pages on his own), and the return of the elves which is resolved way too neatly. At under 300 pages it’s clear the book was left unfinished in many areas, and I suspect much of the novel’s praise was given due to the finality of the series and Prachett’s lifetime of amazing work.

Even so, I enjoyed The Shepherd’s Crown more than the second and third novels. Pratchett still makes me grin like nobody else, and finishing this book made me sad all over again that the world lost such a treasured soul.

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Goodreads Review – The Stone Sky (The Broken Earth #3)

The Stone Sky (The Broken Earth, #3)The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Phenomenal. The conclusion of The Broken Earth trilogy was everything I wanted and more. The emotional, epic climax between mother and daughter. The fate of the world. The history of the stone eaters. The slow-burn of the second book developing the relationship of Nassun and Schaffa paved the way for an emotionally-gripping finale.

I adored the intimate glimpse into the far-flung past (which is still our future) that sets up the cataclysmic world, how it broke, and how to fix it. Jemisin is an expert world-builder, yet always remains focused on the few but fantastic characters.

Every SF/F fan needs to read The Broken Earth trilogy, and I look forward to reading more of her work.

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Goodreads Review – The Obelisk Gate (The Broken Earth #2)

The Obelisk Gate (The Broken Earth, #2)The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I wish Goodreads allowed half-stars. As much as I still adore Jemisin’s writing and world-building, I didn’t quite love the second novel in The Broken Earth trilogy as much as the first.


I was fascinated with the character evolution of Schaffa, but his (and Nassun’s) storyline plods along slower than I would have liked. Likewise I didn’t expect Essun to remain in Castrima for the entirety of the novel, though I enjoyed the socio-political developments, interesting minor characters, and the climactic battle. The best parts were learning about the fascinating world and history, and a much deeper dive into the stone eaters, as well as the awesome and satisfying reveal of the first-person narrator.

Make no mistake, this is still a 5-star series, and an incredible blend of apocalyptic sci-fi, fantasy, great characters, and excellent world-building.

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Goodreads Review – The Brightest Night (Wings of Fire #5)

The Brightest Night (Wings of Fire, #5)The Brightest Night by Tui T. Sutherland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

More than the other books in the Wings of Fire series, The Brightest Night has a distinct three act structure. The first act is lame, as Sunny is separated from the others in an incredibly stupid way. The entire plot is ramping up from the last two novels with the RainWings and NightWings but Sunny’s tale begins to feel like an annoying side jaunt that we shouldn’t have time for.
Act 2 picks up as we get a deeper look at the Sandwings, and Sunny’s unique family, including the return of old characters and a nifty Game of Thrones style battle.
Act 3 suddenly thrusts the overarching plot back into the lime light as our heroes decide how to stop the war. Everything wraps up a bit too neatly, yet I also appreciate that the entire SandWing Civil War
and Dragonets of Prophecy plot is solved, not dragged on through book after book.
Ultimately it’s a satisfying conclusion to these characters and the first series arc, and landing somewhere in the middle of my ranking of the first five novels.

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