The Illuminae Files

The Illuminae Files

The Illuminae Files is not the sort of series I normally go for, by any means. I really don’t like books like this because I think they’re gimmicky. This one, though, is really worth looking past that, if you’re like me and hesitate to pick up a book like this.

Cover image for Illuminae
Cover image for Illuminae

“This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do. This afternoon, her planet was invaded.
The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than a speck at the edge of the universe. Now with enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra–who are barely even talking to each other–are forced to evacuate with a hostile warship in hot pursuit.
But their problems are just getting started. A plague has broken out and is mutating with terrifying results; the fleet’s AI may actually be their enemy, and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a web of data to find the truth, it’s clear the only person who can help her is the ex-boyfriend she swore she’d never speak to again.
Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents–including emails, maps, files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more–Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.”–Indiebound

Cover image for Gemina
Cover image for Gemina

“Moving to a space station at the edge of the galaxy was always going to be the death of Hanna’s social life. Nobody said it might actually get her killed.
The sci-fi saga that began with the breakout bestseller Illuminae continues on board the Jump Station Heimdall, where two new characters will confront the next wave of the BeiTech assault.
Hanna is the station captain’s pampered daughter; Nik the reluctant member of a notorious crime family. But while the pair is struggling with the realities of life aboard the galaxy’s most boring space station, little do they know that Kady Grant and the Hypatia are headed right toward Heimdall, carrying news of the Kerenza invasion.
When an elite BeiTech strike team invades the station, Hanna and Nik are thrown together to defend their home. But alien predators are picking off the station residents one by one, and a malfunction in the station’s wormhole means the space-time continuum might be ripped in two before dinner. Soon Hanna and Nik aren’t just fighting for their own survival; the fate of everyone on the Hypatia–and possibly the known universe–is in their hands.
But relax. They’ve totally got this. They hope.
Once again told through a compelling dossier of emails, IMs, classified files, transcripts, and schematics, Gemina raises the stakes of the Illuminae Files, hurling readers into an enthralling new story that will leave them breathless.” —Indiebound

These books are fast-paced and exciting. They’re huge, but reading them doesn’t take long at all because the books are difficult to put down, and the illustrations, documents, and other unique formatting make for easy reading. It’s difficult for me to draw a line between unique and gimmicky, but the format of this novel didn’t bother me as much as I expected. Sometimes it didn’t feel like “real reading,” but once I got past my mental block and accepted it for what it was, I just had fun with it.

These books are very plot-driven, obviously. There’s a little characterization that can happen when most of what’s happening is narrated in chat windows and video transcripts. Mostly, the guys are love-sick and the girls are tough and rebellious. I didn’t really mind this, though. Sometimes you just know what you’re getting into. I like that the girls really get a chance to shine in these novels though. I especially really liked Hanna, who should have a spoiled princess mindset, but who is actually gritty, physically strong, and has the ability to make really hard choices, often at the expense of what she personally wants.

My favorite part of this series, though, is Aidan, the AI who goes crazy and causes lots of problems (definitely not the only problems though–evil, corrupt corporations and zombie viruses and broken wormholes cause problems, too). In addition to being the most interesting plot device (character?) of the entire series, he’s also just kind of….funny. The concept of a homicidal computer is amusing to me, in a really dark way, but that’s old news–lots of films and books have used it though. His personality, though, often made me laugh out loud, as did the interactions of the human characters with him. His confusion and inability to understand the ways humans behave provide much-needed comic relief.

I know that not everyone enjoyed these books, but I recommend the series. They’re fun, fast, and funny. Lovers of YA, even if you think that this sort of book is silly, or perhaps “not real” reading, try to put aside your biases and just enjoy the books for what they are.

Shadow Run

Shadow Run

Cover image for Shadow Run
Cover image for Shadow Run

Please excuse me if this blog post is formatted strangely. I’m writing it on my phone because the wifi at my house isn’t working and the landlady hasn’t gotten around to fixing it yet, so no computer for me.

I finished Shadow Run last night and was reasonably impressed. Typically, when it comes to books I’ve never heard of, I’m a little skeptical (I know, I know, but so much of YA is hit or miss). I got this one in LitJoyCrate, and sadly, the last book I read from a LJC was a dreadful disappointment (The Edge of Everything–just no).

Shadow Run is seemingly set, to quote a really obscure film that I’m sure no one has ever heard of, “in a galaxy far, far away.”  The names of planets do not resemble those found in our galaxy, but it could be that it’s set so far in the future that it IS our galaxy, but our arcane names for things have been long forgotten. In any case, I always assumed that would be the most fun part of being a sci-fi/fantasy writer–to imagine a universe where physics work the same way but everything else is different. Perhaps it IS a different universe and a different galaxy because what the heck is Shadow?? Besides beautiful and dangerous, that is.

“Nev has just joined the crew of the starship Kaitan Heritage as the cargo loader. His captain, Qole, is the youngest-ever person to command her own ship, but she brooks no argument from her crew of orphans, fugitives, and con men. Nev can’t resist her, even if her ship is an antique.
As for Nev, he’s a prince, in hiding on the ship. He believes Qole holds the key to changing galactic civilization, and when her cooperation proves difficult to obtain, Nev resolves to get her to his home planet by any means necessary.
But before they know it, a rival royal family is after Qole too, and they’re more interested in stealing her abilities than in keeping her alive.
Nev’s mission to manipulate Qole becomes one to save her, and to survive, she’ll have to trust her would-be kidnapper. He may be royalty, but Qole is discovering a deep reservoir of power–and stars have mercy on whoever tries to hurt her ship or her crew.” —Indiebound.org

Despite being in a rather gloomy mood lately and not feeling like reading much at all, this novel held my interest well. The characters were enjoyable, though I thought the crew members could have been a little more in-depth. It was going for that feeling you get from gangs like The Dregs or Manon Blackbeak’s Thirteen, but it fell a little short of the mark. Nev and Qole were excellent protagonists, though I hate that it seems like female characters have to be temperamental to be strong in a lot of books, including this one. I enjoyed that it didn’t feel like either one was more important than the other. They were equals, and they saved each other (thank you for not making Qole a damsel in distress despite her Captain’s status!).

Plot felt a little ponderous at first, though it quickly picked up. By the end it was one of those you can’t put down so you can sleep. It is definitely a stay-up-late-and-finish book. I thought the denouement was great, even if I did sort of predict how the crew would solve its main problem at the end.

I was also really impressed with how casually inclusive this novel is in regards to race and also gender.  One of the characters in Qole’s crew is gender fluid (though identifies for much of this novel as male), and each of his crew members accepts how he chooses to identify at any given time and change their use of pronouns accordingly. They also accept and nurture his burgeoning relationship with another male member of the crew. It’s not a major plot point–it’s just the way that character is written. It’s nice to see themes of acceptance in a book for kids.

Of course, at its ending, it is obvious that the immediate problem of the novel is solved, but the galaxy is still massively messed up, thereby leaving room for a second novel, at least. Thankfully, there’s no love triangle–a trend it seems that smart YA authors are trying to phase out.

This is a great space sci-fi for readers of this genre. Lots of action and adventure, and they don’t shy away from the violence necessary to a war in space. Characters are likable and some are complex, making them sympathetic and readable. I’d definitely read a follow up, if one came out.

The Blind Assassin

The Blind Assassin

The Blind Assassin
The Blind Assassin

I remember promising myself that after reading The Historian, The Accursed, and The Once and Future King (all very long, dense books), I would give myself a break and read something easier on the brain and emotions. Instead, I decided to read The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood. This book is decidedly not easy on the brain or emotions. It isn’t a tremendously long book, but it is the sort of book that you do not want to skim and, therefore, cannot read very quickly.

“The Blind Assassin opens with these simple, resonant words: ‘Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge.’ They are spoken by Iris, whose terse account of her sister’s death in 1945 is followed by an inquest report proclaiming the death accidental. But just as the reader expects to settle into Laura’s story, Atwood introduces a novel-within-a-novel. Entitled The Blind Assassin, it is a science fiction story told by two unnamed lovers who meet in dingy backstreet rooms. When we return to Iris, it is through a 1947 newspaper article announcing the discovery of a sailboat carrying the dead body of her husband, a distinguished industrialist. Brilliantly weaving together such seemingly disparate elements, Atwood creates a world of astonishing vision and unforgettable impact.” Indiebound

The book is always shifting between newspaper articles, Laura’s book, and Iris’s narration of the events of her youth. What emerges, as the story of Laura and Iris progresses through Iris’s memories, is a picture of young women struggling to find their own way in a world dominated and controlled by men. As daughters of a man with a fortune, their course is essentially plotted before they are even born. It is clear from Iris’s tone and Laura’s behavior exactly what they think of this, but each woman deals with the expectations in ways that are as unique as the girls themselves are.

Several things about this book made me really enjoy it. Atwood’s style of prose is, as usual, masterful. Her language is quite unlike any other author’s, and I never regret spending time reading whatever story she creates for her readers. Iris, in the parts where she narrates, speaks from a place of great age and experience. She has lived her whole life and is nearing the end of it. Her voice is at once defiant and pleading, reminding young readers that the elderly are still living human beings with needs and feelings. She is a reminder to not write off those who have aged to the point of creaking senility–they still have stories to tell, wisdom to impart, and great value to add to the experience of someone with years left to live.

Perhaps the most interesting element of The Blind Assassin was the sprinkling of dystopian chapters of the novel that Laura wrote shortly before she died. It was published posthumously and Iris spent the remaining years of her life dealing with the reactions of both fans and foes of the work. The work itself is almost a laundry list of all the things a young woman of that time was never supposed to know about or enjoy, which was why it made such an impact. More than that, it was a poignant jab at both the world that Laura and Iris were prisoners of and, in a way, the world that we inhabit today. Both a work of subtle science-fiction and a social commentary, it said more about society than Laura ever could have said directly.

I highly recommend The Blind Assassin. Atwood always has something to say, and she always does so by telling a brilliant, engrossing story. This novel is no exception.

13.23–Fuse

13.23–Fuse

Fuse is the sequel to Pure, and is perhaps even more thrilling than the first book. In it, Partridge, Pressia, Bradwell, El Capitan, and Lyda are rocketed on separate quests to save their incredibly flawed world.  More secrets about the evils of the Dome are revealed, and the reader’s hunger for justice grows as it grows within the characters.

There was so much about this book that I loved.  One of the things that stuck out the most to me was the development of the relationships between the characters.  Pressia and Bradwell learn how to navigate their complicated feelings for one another–their love mixed with the fierce desire to protect one another by denying their mutual feelings.  Lyda and Partridge explore the feelings they never got to admit to each other when they were inside the Dome.  Even El Capitan and his brother Helmud start to build a relationship–one that consists of more than mutual hatred for their nearly unbearable situation.  Helmud begins to show a personality of his own, and as twisted as it is, their relationship is a little bit heartwarming.

The plot was strong in this one.  I was constantly kept in the grip of suspense.  Because she did such a good job of establishing relationships between the characters, and of establishing the reader’s affections for those relationships, the strain and danger she puts them through is really emotionally taxing on the reader.  Partridge and Lyda, especially, separated by forces much more powerful than they are, keep the reader guessing about what will happen to their budding love.

Julianna Baggott has created a very strong second novel for her trilogy.  It did not feel like a filler, as second novels often do.  I was very impressed with her ability to make it feel like it’s own story.  That said, I really cannot wait for the third one to come out, though I know it won’t be for a long time.  Her world-building and storytelling are skillful enough that I’m dying to know what happens in the end! Too bad there isn’t even a publication date yet.  The good news is that gives you (the people who haven’t picked up and read both of them yet) the time to get caught up and breathlessly await the conclusion to the series!


13.16–Linked

13.16–Linked

This is the best work of YA science-fiction I’ve read in a very long time.  I was completely captivated from start to finish. By the end I was completely bug-eyed (and in tears) and skipped eating on my lunch break so I could finish it.

Linked tells the story of Elissa, who used to be a normal and somewhat popular girl.  Three years ago, however, she began to have headaches and visions, then dreams that came with enormous pain and left her with bruises all over her body.  The night she discovers that she is, in fact, mentally linked with another girl whose whole life has consisted of torture at the hands of scientists, her world is flipped on its head and she is swept away in a whirlwind of danger.

I have to give a huge nod to Imogen Howson for creating a sci-fi, futuristic world that is NOT dystopian.  I have to say, I’m getting a little tired of the dystopian concept.  While there are certainly different rules and regulations in this future, they are nowhere near the level needed to qualify it as a dystopian society.  Instead, this book takes place thousands of years in the future, on a planet that resembles Earth, but is in fact a terraformed planet–one of many in this futuristic world.  She does such an amazing job in the first chapter (or two?) of convincing her readers that the story takes place on Earth.

Howson’s world-building is extremely impressive.  I was totally convince that her society and her technologies could be real, and was pleased with all the futuristic gadgets and ships.  There is a fantastic back story on why people left Earth, and a whole interplanetary system whose planets are rated by inhabitability and quality of life, kind of like 1st-3rd world countries here on Earth.

Elissa is a great character.  She’s flawed, and the reader gets to experience her inner turmoil all throughout, first from feeling like an outcast because of her mysterious illness and then because of her uncertain feelings about the girl with whom she is linked.  Throw in an unexpected romance, and you have a great story that really grips you.  Lin, the other girl, is quite disagreeable at times because she was tortured for her whole life.  Often, Elissa is torn on whether or not she should help Lin, because Lin sometimes displays the traits of a sociopath.  But Lin is fiercely loyal to Elissa, and Elissa grows to be quite loyal to Lin.  The development of their relationship is at times painful but more often than not is heartwarming.

I definitely recommend this book to everyone, but especially females.  I feel like a lot of times science-fiction is geared toward male readers, with either a male protagonist or a sexy, badass female one.  This one is definitely a great sci-fi read, but it’s also filled with the emotion and struggle of a girl’s coming to grips with her womanhood and the person she wants to be as a grown-up.  Pick it up in June.  Seriously.


12.29–Doctor Who: Shada

12.29–Doctor Who: Shada

Alright. I’m finally getting around to the Doctor Who book, which was very disappointing, I am sad to say.  Based on the screenplay written by Douglas Adams decades ago, the story was fleshed out by one Gareth Roberts.  A more detailed history of the unaired TV version can be found here.  For my fellow Whovians, I would say you may read it if you wish, but it certainly isn’t the same experience as watching the Doctor on TV.

The Doctor and his traveling companion, Romana (a Time Lady, actually), respond to a distress signal from Earth. They arrive at the office of Professor Chronitis, who is, in fact, another Time Lord living out his retirement on Earth.  Chaos ensues as an evil alien named Skagra (there are a lot of S names in this book) is trying to basically become a god and put everyone under the control of his mind.

Now, I can see how this would make a good two-part episode for Doctor Who. Maybe three parts.  But a 350-page novel was pushing it. Quite a bit.  The witty quips are not the same written out. Where the characters are quirky and adorable when acted on-screen, they just seem like buffoons on the page.  Even the Doctor was not nearly as enjoyable as I’d expected him to be.  There were definitely instances in which I saw his character very clearly as the one we all know and love, but most of the time I was just shaking my head.  No matter what he’s doing in the show, he never seems like an idiot. He’s always got it together and seems majestic, even in the midst of his confusion or silliness.  In the book he just seems like a dummy, and it’s completely unbelievable that he can find his way out of any mess or help someone else out of theirs.

The plot dragged.  That’s why it took me so long to read it. I just could not muster enough interest in what was happening to really devour the book. A lot of the time I felt like I was forcing myself to read it, and it drove me crazy.  As a screenplay I’m sure it’s great, but fleshed-out into a full-length novel–it was boring. I’m sorry! It was boring boring boring. Even the bits that were supposed to be exciting just weren’t exciting.  The twists didn’t take me by surprise, the danger didn’t seem believable, and the characters weren’t enjoyable enough to really care about anyway, so the plot was a little irrelevant.

Ultimately, I felt the book was a complete flop.  I was so incredibly disappointed, especially because the book was not cheap.  I wanted so badly to like it, because I LOVE Doctor Who.  I feel guilty even saying I don’t like it. But I felt that it didn’t do honor to the Doctor at all.  I could have lived happily without reading this book.

Has anyone else read it? What did you think? Am I way off?


12.7–Monster Blood Tattoo, Book 1: Foundling

12.7–Monster Blood Tattoo, Book 1: Foundling

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D. M. Cornish is truly an unsung hero of children’s literature. I’ve been wanting to read this series since I worked at Barnes & Noble and my eye was caught by the beautiful cover art.  What I didn’t know at the time was that Cornish did all of the artwork himself.  The novel includes, in addition to the cover art, illustrations of character, diagrams of various uniforms, ships, and extremely well-done, detailed maps of the Half-Continent–the world that Cornish spent years dreaming up.

Book 1: Foundling, tell the story of Rossämund, an orphan boy whose girl’s name gets him in a lot of trouble with his peers. He dreams of a life on the vinegar seas around the Half Continent, but when it comes time for him to leave the “marine society” where he has grown up since his abandonment as an infant, he is drafted as a Lamplighter in the service of the Emperor.  It is a disappointment to him, as it’s a life spent on land.  The only redemption is that, out in the wilds between fortified cities and along the road where he’ll be maintaining lamps, monsters hunt their human enemies.

From the moment he leaves the shelter of the marine society, he is duped and misguided by the world and its inhabitants.  He is kidnapped by a man claiming to be his guide to his new life, when in fact he is a smuggler of contraband creatures.  After his escape he meets Europe, a renowned monster hunter who has altered her body to be able to fight them more effectively. Their ensuing adventures together transform Rossämund from a green boy who only dreams of adventures to a young man who’s had them, and he bravely faces monsters both large and small with a quick mind and a straight sense of right and wrong. The book ends when he finally reaches his destination and is about to begin his duties as a Lamplighter. I have no problem revealing this, as there’s really no surprise ending. The novel does not end. It merely pauses before the next book.  As as there were about 150 pages of Appendixes (glossary, maps, diagrams, etc.), the end quite took me by surprise.

There are several things I love about this book, but they mostly all come back to the creativity and care that Cornish took with his dream world.  One gets the impression from many novels that the author creates a plot and then forms the world around that plot, making it seem patchy and incomplete.  Cornish spent incredible amounts of time composing drawings, dreaming up a dialect, creating maps, and building character profiles so that, by the time he began creating the plot the world felt entirely real. There is a wholly unique feel to the book, part fantasy and part science fiction.  Really, I would say it’s closest to steampunk.  Rossämund is a character that the reader can really get behind. He is a kind boy. He has courage and does what needs to be done, even when he is desperately afraid.  His moral compass is extraordinarily true, and he feels guilt at the imprisonment and slaughter of harmless monsters, and elation at the victory of right over wrong.  His loyalty is unwavering to those who protect him, even when he is unsure of their moral compass’ orientation.

The world in which he lives is full of surprises and possibilities. Rather like our world in the Victorian age, except crawling with monsters and surrounded by seas so poisoned by minerals and salts as to have turned strange colors and become hazardous to men’s skin.  Rossämund is a fairly normal human being, but there are others who has strange boxes affixed to their faces so as to enhance their senses of smell and sight or have their internal organs altered or replaced in order to fight monsters. As in our world, there are pirates and smugglers, although these deal in contraband monster flesh and the perverse human creations that are fabricated from them.  At some point the reader sees a ship whose engines are driven by living muscle tissue, reminding me of Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan series. I thoroughly enjoyed my break from the norm of paranormal romance or dragons and fairies (though  I do love my fairies…).  I highly recommend this novel to anyone who is a fan of YA or steampunk.  I’d love to see this author gain in popularity.