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.

The Complete Persepolis

The Complete Persepolis

Cover image for Persepolis
Cover image for Persepolis

This post is not really a review. This book is so critically acclaimed that it does not really need my take on its pros and cons. The “pros” have already decided that this book is worthy of an award-winning film and being on the required reading list for schools all over the world. My purpose here is to encourage those of you who have not read it to please do so at your earliest convenience.

Persepolis is the story of Satrapi’s unforgettable childhood and coming of age within a large and loving family in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution; of the contradictions between private life and public life in a country plagued by political upheaval; of her high school years in Vienna facing the trials of adolescence far from her family; of her homecoming–both sweet and terrible; and, finally, of her self-imposed exile from her beloved homeland. It is the chronicle of a girlhood and adolescence at once outrageous and familiar, a young life entwined with the history of her country yet filled with the universal trials and joys of growing up.” —Indiebound.org

Persepolis challenged me in a way that very little of what I read does. It puts fear, heartache, and suffering in perspective, and hopefully awakens a powerful empathy in its readers. It is impossible to read this without feeling something for the people of Iran, for Marjane, and for her family.

This is not an easy book to read. Normally I can read graphic novels fairly quickly, even while spending extra time to appreciate their artistry and notice small details in the illustrations. Reading this, I had to stop every other chapter for a mental break–a chance to think over and process what I’d read. It’s difficult to read about such things–the horrors of war and the growing pains of a young woman coming of age in such a time.

This book should be required reading for everyone, not just students. It’s important, in our time, to understand that our thousands of years of warlike history are not going to serve us in the future. These comic strips, in simple black and white, tell the true tale of war as an instrument of suffering, and of greed, politics, and fundamentalism  It also tells a more recognizable story: one of family, love, and belonging. Sprinkled in among the things that I can never imagine experiencing, and count myself lucky to have never known, there are also things that touched my heart because they were so achingly familiar. There are also plenty of laugh out loud funny moments.

Persepolis is one of those books that can grant healing and change minds. The millions of people who died cannot be returned to those who lost them, but perhaps, with more hearts and minds opened through books like these, the world we create for future generations can ensure that others need never experience the grief, terror, and loss suffered by those in this conflict and countless others. Please, read this book and allow it to open your heart to those who are different from you.

Code Name Verity

Code Name Verity

Cover image for Code Name Verity
Cover image for Code Name Verity

Hello! All two of my readers. Hi! How are you? I have exciting news. Are you ready? Good.

I was wrong.

Yes, you read that right. I was wrong. I was mistaken about this novel. I said, prematurely, that I didn’t like it. But I did like it, in the end. I liked it a lot.

“Oct. 11th, 1943-A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a chance at survival. The other has lost the game before it’s barely begun.

When ‘Verity’ is arrested by the Gestapo, she’s sure she doesn’t stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she’s living a spy’s worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.

As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage, failure, and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from the enemy?” —Indieboung.org

I’m not sure if anyone here has read enough of my blog posts to notice, but I am a sucker for a World War II story. It honestly doesn’t even have to be a novel. I was raised by a history buff, and his favorite time period was also WWII. I remember seeing bunkers and bomb shelters when we visited London when I was 10. I enjoy hearing first-hand accounts from folks who lived through the war (though those voices are slowly being lost to us as the years pass). I enjoy movies set in the time period, even though my heart is inevitably in my throat for nearly the entire thing. So when I started this novel and I had a difficult time getting into it, I was doubly disappointed. I thought that you had to be a really big goof to ruin a story about WWII.

This novel is by no means my favorite book about this time period. It is deeply flawed. There is a lot of technical language, and I feel that, because she is a pilot herself, the author gets bogged down in the details that the rest of us do not understand. The voice of the narrator is jarring for a good bit at the beginning–full of British-isms and bravado that honestly got on my nerves a bit.

But, disheartened reader, please look past these flaws and read to the end. I cannot give you details. I cannot tell you why. I just must encourage you to please continue past your frustration and read to the end. It took me three tries to read this book, and feedback on Instagram shows that many commenters also had similar trouble finishing. But there are very few books with such a drastic turn-around. By the end, I couldn’t put this book down and had to finish it right then and there.

The characters are great. I am reluctant to give too many details, for fear of ruining the book for people, but Maddie and Queenie are both incredible and daring women for various reasons. Especially for such young women, their courage is of a sort that few who have never been to war likely ever personally witness. Even the villains, despite being despicable, are also sympathetic to a certain degree. The best characters are those that reflect the reality of humanity–namely that good and evil are rarely black and white. Wein achieves this in her characters.

This is a beautiful novel. I could live without some of the details about planes and airfields, but even the purpose of most of that is revealed by the end. The friendship between the narrator and Maddie doesn’t seem like much in the beginning, but by the end, you realize just how deep it runs, and it sort of blows you away. I won’t say I cried like a baby (like I did at the end of The Book Thief), but boy I got close. I highly recommend sticking with this one to the end. You won’t soon forget it.

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 Nightingale (And Why It Matters)

The Nightingale (And Why It Matters)

The Nightingale
The Nightingale

I have never been a tremendous fan of Kristin Hannah. Before this, I never felt that her novels had much substance. They are frilly chick-lit with very little real value. The Nightingale, however, took my breath away. It is an incredible novel with a lot to say, and it highlights several parts of history that I feel deserve more attention than they have received in the past.

“In love we find out who we want to be.
In war we find out who we are.

FRANCE, 1939

In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France…but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When a German captain requisitions Vianne’s home, she and her daughter must live with the enemy or lose everything. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates all around them, she is forced to make one impossible choice after another to keep her family alive.

Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets Gaetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can…completely. But when he betrays her, Isabelle joins the Resistance and never looks back, risking her life time and again to save others.

With courage, grace and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah captures the epic panorama of WWII and illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women’s war. The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France–a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women. It is a novel for everyone, a novel for a lifetime.” –Indiebound

On the surface, this is just a historical fiction novel about two sisters.  It’s not really even about the two sisters together or their relationship. Much of the novel follows both of them separately, except in the few places where their paths overlap. Set in France, it has a natural appeal for me because France is one of my favorite places in the world. I’m sure I’m not the only person who feels that way. There are so many depths and layers to the story once you delve deeper into the book. I am really pleased with Hannah for making this novel more than just another empty piece of chick-lit.

Several things set this novel apart for me. The first is that the goal of the novel is a lofty and noble one. Both of the women in the novel recognize the horror of what is happening around them. Rather than choosing the safer path of compliance, as many women understandably chose when their men were gone and their homes were invaded, both of these women live dangerous double lives in order to defend their homeland. They rely on their wits and act in the face of overwhelming danger. They stare their fear in the face and they continue onward in spite of it. Their level of courage is hard to match and it made for a really great story.

What I think is most important and enjoyable about this novel, though, is that this story is not entirely fiction. I do not know if Hannah based her story on any one person in history, but I do know that there were people in France doing exactly what these sisters were doing. One historical figure I read about reminded me so much of Vianne that I thought surely Hannah was inspired by the real woman’s story. The uncommon courage that people found within themselves during this very difficult time is inspiring.

What’s more, it changed my perception of the area and its people during the war. Growing up in the United States, we are taught, in both school and at home, that the United States were the big heroes and we saved Europe from Hitler. That might be one way of looking at it, but reading this kind of novel is important because it makes one realize just how difficult it was for the people under Hitler’s thumb to survive, let alone resist. Though my worldview has expanded drastically since I was a child in history class, I still sometimes sense those lingering prejudices and biases. Reading this novel and others (The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak is another that will alter your perceptions of people in Nazi-occupied Europe) helps to combat some of that conditioning.

Here are a few things that I already suspected, but which this novel really helped to drive home for me:

-The people of France, or anywhere else in the Axis-occupied territories, were not cowards, and they didn’t just sit around waiting to be rescued. Hitler was not recognized for the threat that he was until it was too late, and he seized his power by degrees. In hindsight, it is easy to recognize his evil, but no one truly knew or believed how bad it would eventually get. And still, people were resisting his influence from the beginning of his power.

-Not all Nazis were evil. Just because they wore the armband and followed orders doesn’t mean all of them truly subscribed to the message. Many of them resisted in any way they could while still doing the minimum necessary to protect themselves and their families.

-Women played a vital role in the war. Many didn’t wear uniforms; they didn’t fire guns; they didn’t die in trenches. But they did more than “keep the home fires burning.” They protected children. They hid those people wanted by the Nazis. They smuggled fallen pilots out of Nazi territory and kept them from being murdered or made prisoners. They risked their lives to subvert the Nazis in countless ways, and it is a relief to see some of those stories being told at last.

This is a powerful, emotional novel that packs a lot of message in just a few hundred pages. It is beautiful, it is deep, and I believe it is an important work of historical fiction–one of those that reminds us that there are many tales to be told, even when we think we’ve heard them all.

Queen of Shadows — THRONE OF GLASS SPOILERS

Queen of Shadows — THRONE OF GLASS SPOILERS

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Queen of Shadows was yet another brilliant installment in the Throne of Glass series. I can tell that Sarah J. Maas is building to a truly explosive finale in the final volume. I only hope it means that we don’t have to say goodbye to any major players we love. Knowing books, I fear this may be a vain hope, but I’ll keep hoping until I close the last page on the last book.

At this point, there really isn’t any way to write about this book and not spoil the previous books in the series, so if you haven’t read up until this book, STOP READING NOW.

“Everyone Celaena Sardothien loves has been taken from her. But she’s at last returned to the empire-for vengeance, to rescue her once-glorious kingdom, and to confront the shadows of her past…She has embraced her identity as Aelin Galathynius, Queen of Terrasen. But before she can reclaim her throne, she must fight. She will fight for her cousin, a warrior prepared to die just to see her again. She will fight for her friend, a young man trapped in an unspeakable prison. And she will fight for her people, enslaved to a brutal king and awaiting their lost queen’s triumphant return.

Celaena’s epic journey has captured the hearts and imaginations of millions across the globe. This fourth volume will hold readers rapt as Celaena’s story builds to a passionate, agonizing crescendo that might just shatter her world.”Indiebound

In Queen of Shadows, Celaena returns to Adarlan as her true self, and she is out for blood. It seems there is only so much abuse one young woman trained as a ruthless, deadly assassin can take before she snaps. This novel is just as emotionally charged as the rest of them, with perhaps a little more satisfying revenge than we have seen before. The story moves at a brutal pace, and I think my favorite part of this novel was the interesting alliances she forms to achieve her ends (and to replenish her depleted ranks of friends–it’s dangerous to get close to this girl.) The novel also takes some really interesting, surprising twists and turns, as we have come to expect from Maas. I was absolutely thrilled by the ending, and I cannot wait for the fifth book.

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However, there are some things I have my doubts about, too. Celaena’s thirst for violence seems unnecessarily high in this book. In this world so filled with brutality, violence, and killing already, it’s nice to read about an assassin who doesn’t necessarily enjoy her work. She shows compassion and spares those who do not deserve to die. The reader sees very little of that compassion here. In much the same way action movie “heroes” leave a trail of bodies in their wake, Celaena kills ruthlessly and indiscriminately. I realize that her victims are working for a tyrant and standing between her and what she wants, but this gives the impression that there are important humans, and unimportant “stock” humans who can be killed without remorse or second thoughts. Sadly, this is not true in reality, and it disturbed me how our noble heroine becomes so hell-bent on destruction and revenge that she forgets she values life and once despised killing.

Along the same lines, while I truly enjoyed reading Queen of Shadows, and I couldn’t put it down, I feel like I read an entirely different series. Celaena has become a completely different character from herself in Throne of Glass. The people she surrounds herself with are different. Even the lines between friends and enemies are blurred, and people we thought were firmly in the evil camp turn out to surprise Celaena and her biases. While I enjoyed the truly epic nature of the narrative, I almost miss the comparatively quaint simplicity of the first novel.

I know it seems as if I have more negative things to say than positive, but it’s not true! I don’t really want to give away the good stuff, though. For those who haven’t read it, but have read the rest of the series, I say: what’s wrong with you?! Get moving! This novel was mostly stuffed to the brim with really good things, and I really recommend finishing the series.

The World of Leigh Bardugo

The World of Leigh Bardugo

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I read Shadow & Bone several weeks ago because I had a special $1.99 e-book deal on it come to my email. I had heard good things about it and wanted to read it anyway, but hadn’t given it a very high priority.

Holy. Shit.

Shadow & Bone is one of those books that reminded me why I continue to read YA books well into my adulthood. Leigh Bardugo is brilliant. In a genre heavily inundated with fantasy stories based on Celtic mythology and vampires, this author has constructed a world that is entirely new. With its strong themes of eastern-European nomenclature and mythology, yet possessing its own unique twists, I’ve never read a story like Shadow & Bone.

“Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life–a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha . . . and the secrets of her heart.” –Indiebound

This book has everything you love about a YA novel. Danger, romance, a powerful female trying to find her own way separate from the men who would influence her. Darkness. Creepy creatures. Tragedy. Heartbreak. Betrayal. Nothing about this novel is predictable or boring. It kept me engaged from start to finish. When I finished this one, I had to read the rest of the series, too.

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The rest of the series was very strong, too. At the risk of giving away what happened in novel one, I won’t give synopses for two and three. Be satisfied knowing that I simply devoured this series and was completely obsessed. In fact, I wasn’t happy when it ended, and bought all of the short stories and novellas associated with the world in these novels.

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I love this series. I love everything about it. The plot. The characters. The setting. The darkness. The suspense. The intensity. The fearlessness of Bardugo’s writing. I highly recommend all of these novels. It never slows down. From start to finish, it is beautiful and intense, and I believe you will love it as much as I did.