Book Review: Illuminae (Illuminae Files #1) by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

THIS BOOK IS AMAZING. This book redefines what it means to be a book. I need a new thesaurus just to describe my love of this books. AHHH!

5/5 stars!!!

Release date: October 20, 2015

cover illuminae

Amazon Description

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 an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto one of the evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.

But their problems are just getting started. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet’s AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it’s clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she’d never speak to again.

Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping, high-octane trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.

My Review Fangirling Mess

I’m having trouble forming complete sentences about this book. I can’t put into coherent words the emotional roller coaster ride that was this books. *draws deep breath* Here goes.

My favorite thing about this book’s premise was the idea of the protagonists being exes. From the first page, the romance is unique and fresh and hilarious, and I wanted to read about that.

Little did I know that this book was going to be so much more than a romance in space. It is science fiction. It is horror. It is a work of graphic design art. It is terrifying and scientific and one-of-a-kind.

I was afraid that the plot was going to be “too much.” I mean, a virus, and artificial intelligence going haywire, and secrets being kept? It could have been a mess of subplots, but it wasn’t. Everything worked together, and what seemed like separate ideas in the synopsis were actually pieces of the same (scary AF) whole.

It’s hard to talk about the plot, because it is so complex. What started as a simple attack on a planet mushroom-clouded (is that a word?) into a web of lies and death and terror. To describe it would be to spoil the surprise, so all that I will say is that the plot is heart-racing, emotionally destructive, and hair-raising.

I read this book over the course of a week and a half, which surprises me looking back on it, because it was really hard to put down. Every time I read it, my heart started pounding and I got legitimately stressed-out. I’m glad that I never read this book at night, because I don’t think I would have been able to sleep.

Ezra and Kady are two of my new favorite characters…ever. Ezra is a classic “good guy” character, the kind of guy you can’t help rooting for. He clearly did not intend to get roped into an intergalactic war–he’d rather stay on his small planet and make cheesy romatic gestures to his girl friend–but he will rise to the occasion when duty calls. He’s got a heart of gold, and I would have myself a new book crush, except that him and Kady are my new OTP and I couldn’t bear to break them up (again…awkward).

Kady is badass to the extreme. She’s a hacker, she’s sassy, she rolls her eyes at romance, she’s reckless and brave, she’s got a problem with authority–I instantly loved her. With every scene that pushed her harder and harder but didn’t break her, I was increasingly impressed by the raw power of her character. (Wow that sounds cheesy…)

What puts this book in a class of its own is the graphic design. The idea of Illuminae is that it is a dossier of compiled files from the aftermath of the attack. But the graphic designer (seriously, who was that person? They deserve a medal) took this original concept and ran with it, taking it as an opportunity to tell a story in a way I’ve never read before. The way that the words were arranged on the pages quadrupled the emotional impact of each scene. Rarely was there a time when I got to a new section of the dossier and didn’t say “wow.” I would put in examples (I’m dying to put in examples) but most of them would be spoilers. Suffice to say that this book doesn’t just create an incredibly graphic and heart-wrenching story, but it also uses graphic design to slam the story straight into your heart.

The ending of this book had me in tears. I was laughing with joy and crying with sadness simultaneously. The series of reveals in the last third of the book were all shocking and tear-inducing. I NEED the next book (and book one isn’t even out yet…fangirl pain).

I recommend this book for basically everyone. This is the kind of book that sticks with you. The kind of book that redefines what “incredible” means. The kind of book you shove into other people’s hands with abandon.

Special thanks to Penguin Random House for giving me a copy of this book at SDCC 2015! This in no way affected my review.

Book Review: Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

I really enjoyed this book, more than I thought I would. It is fantasy, but a very YA take on the genre, definitely not high fantasy. It reminded me of Kristen Cashore’s Graceling and Bitterblue, with similar characters and plot dynamics.

The amazon description of this book does a woefully inadequate job of expressing what this novel is about. It acts as if the plot of the book is Ismae having to decide if she will kill a man she falls in love with (Duval, by the way). She isn’t asked to kill him until page 400, and it is overshadowed by much more important plot lines running at the time. The book is fantastic without the drama the description depicts.

Here’s how I would describe it:

Ismae is only too happy when she is offered a place in the convent of Mortain, the god of death. After a life with an abusive father and a narrow escape from a brutal arranged marriage, the job of killing men on the god’s instructions is welcome. After training to be an assassin for three years, Ismae is given a series of tasks, which will earn her full membership of the convent. On these tasks, her path crosses that of Duval, a member of the royal court sworn to protect the young duchess while her country is plagued by the threat of French attack. Through a convoluted series of events, they set off for court together, with Ismae masquerading as his cousin (which everyone interprets as mistress). Ismae is on orders to see is Duval is a traitor; Duval is attempting to keep the duchess safe from the many arranged marriages set up before her father’s death.

Inside the court, it’s basically a giant game of FMK, with rampant affairs, powerful barons trying to gain power by marrying the duchess, and people trying to kill each other for their own political gain. Ismae is drawn into the royal family, desperate to distrust Duval, even as she is forced to question the convent that has been her first home.

The book is really well done. Good writing, very distinct and alive characters. The evolution of the dynamic between Ismea and Duval is done beautifully, never betraying the characters LaFevers created. One of the reveals was a bit obvious, but it worked with the story.

I would really recommend Grave Mercy. There’s a little bit of romance, hints of fantasy, lots of political intrigue. It’s captivating and hard to put down.

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

I really loved Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix.

(Warning: there will be plot spoilers in this review, so if you haven’t read this book and want to, please refrain from finishing this)

The premise of this book was perfect. As the series shifts from MG to YA, Harry learns of the Order, a group of adults who will fight against Voldemort, but isn’t allowed to join. The juxtaposition of being powerful and smart but still considered a “child” is powerful, bringing out emotions not just in the protagonists, but in the reader. Harry’s frustration is palpable, relatable to anyone who has tried to walk through an open door only to have it slammed in their face. Especially as a teenager, facing situations in which some adults treat me with respect and others still see me as a child, Harry’s struggle with the Order is familiar, captured beautifully by J.K. Rowling.

What struck me most about this book in the series was how realistic it is. While the other books did have realistic social elements sewn into the mystical plot, this book portrays a vividly realistic account of the pressure and awkwardness of high school. The pressure of OWL years and the ensuing amount of homework is true in any school (even without complex wizarding exams). The way Harry and Ron procrastinate their massive amounts of homework is even more realistic, a trap even the best students can fall into.

The romance between Harry and Cho is awkward and tentative, and comes off extremely high-school-y. This isn’t a story written for the romance, but as with any group of teenagers crammed together for a year, flings and couples do appear. J.K. Rowling managed to add romance to her series without losing the focus of the novel, something other authors have dramatically failed to do. I respect her also for making the coupling–because there are others–tense and awkward, instead of the born-for-each-other, instant romance of most books that involve this sort of thing. This is real romance, playing out in the background of stressful schoolwork and larger issues, the kind that actually happens, instead of some perfect, soul mate romance seen in other series. (Don’t get me wrong, I love reading that kind of romance. But in this series, it was refreshing to see that the realism of the series wasn’t sacrificed for a few bonus points with an older audience.) Harry Potter is still about magic and triumph and sacrifice–but the addition of romance added to the realistic-ness of the series.

And then there is Dolores Umbridge. She is a fantastic evil character, something I appreciate. She is every horrible teacher you have ever had–but moreover, she feels like a bad substitute teacher. All of the jaw-clenchingly horrible things she does come off as the actions of a power-hungry sub, while the rest of the students suffer because they know what the class is supposed to feel like. This highlights the loyalty Harry’s peers feel to past teachers, and actually learning the subject.

Umbridge is the ultimate red-tape character. She is an evil none of the students know how to fight–a corrupt government. Every move Harry would make to undermine her is countered with a bureaucratic sweep of her pen. In this way, Umbridge is not only keeping Harry from enjoying his time at Hogwarts, she is also (unintentionally) aiding Voldemort in his rise to power by containing the people trying to stop him. She is frustrating. She is the perfect antagonist–and I LOVE her.

The creation of the D.A.–Dumbledore’s Army–adds a level of solidarity to the Hogwarts peers. Whereas before it was just Harry, Ron, and Hermoine who united against the approaching evil, now there is a group. This is the first step toward the unity Dumbledore–and the Sorting Hat–begged for. And for Harry, who has experienced very little loyalty or faith in his years at the school, this is a turning point, proving to him that he is strong enough to be a leader. Ironically, this show of strength was spurred into existence by Umbridge, so that her lasting legacy in the school is one of unity, not brokenness.

I loved Fred and George’s exit from the school. It was hilarious and perfect and I don’f feel like I need to talk about it much, because it was basically awesome.

The climax of the fifth book was really intense. I haven’t read this book since I was really young so I had no idea what was going to happen–and I was terrified. Serius’s death was almost too sudden for me; it wasn’t until the whole ordeal was over and Harry was trying to cope with it that the loss really struck me. However, the rest of the Order survived, and the book ended on a hopeful note for the group.

The fifth Harry Potter was emotionally moving in its realism and uplifting in its triumph over evil.

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

First, a quick recap: Unlike most series I read, where I review every book together, I’m writing a review for each individual Harry Potter. I think they are widely-read enough for this to work. Warning: there might be plot spoilers. So if you haven’t read Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, maybe don’t read on.

I liked this book more than the first one. The voice was more mature and the plot was more dynamic. Harry, Ron, and Hermione are still young, but they’ve aged since the last book, and the events of this book help them mature further. J.K. Rowling did an amazing job of aging her characters, making their transformations subtle but believable, gracefully lifting her series out of the middle grade niche and foreshadowing that the series will be YA before its end.

The plot of the second book was by far more interesting than the first one. Much of the first book’s plot was sacrificed to exposition, (thought Rowling did do a great job setting up her world and her characters), but the second book had the time for a more drawn out, twisted plot arc. The secrets behind Tom Riddle and the Heir of Slytherin were skilfully hinted at and J.K. Rowling revealed them at the right moments, driving the plot forward without losing the mystery too early on. I loved how Ginny’s character developed, and how the dynamic between Harry, Ron, and Hermione shifted when the boys flew to Hogwarts instead of taking the train. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is a well-developed novel with a complex plot and dynamic characters.

Time to go read the third…

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Yep, I’m reading the Harry Potters.

Not for the first time. But in a way, it’s my first time, reading them as a teenager.

The last time I read the whole series was second grade. I read the first four in fourth grade for their massive number of AR (advanced reader…it’s a school/vocab/tedious thing) points.

But now…I’m revisiting them.

I’m curious. They’d always been a part of my childhood. I was afraid I wouldn’t like them as a teenager.

But guess what? I do.

Usually for series, I read the every book and then review it together. But since Harry Potter is more widely read than most books I read, I’ll review each book separately. Which opens the door for spoilers. (This will become a bigger deal in the later books. You have been warned.)

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is really good. Even with the more middle grade tone of the narrator, I was sucked into the story. J. K. Rowling did a fantastic job introducing the world and the characters. She effortlessly painted the unique characters of the Hogwarts students and built their relationships. The friendship between Harry, Ron, and Hermione is slow to form but quickly solidifies, setting the stage for the rest of their adventures together. The entire book lures you into the series, making it impossible to not read the rest of the stories.

I read the book in a day, which kinda weirded me out because in my mind they were infamously long (again with the I read them in second grade). Actually, it is a fairly light, enjoyable read. There are middle grade elements, stemming from the young age of the protagonists, such as youthful actions and suspicions, innocent complaining about teachers and the childish ease of friendships. Basically, J.K. Rowling manage to pull of writing a young voice that appeals to older audiences–which is incredible. The MG elements are charming, instead of tedious. They actually helped to draw me into the story. And the young voice promises to mature with the characters, reassuring the reader that the story isn’t actually middle grade, but young adult (YA) waiting to reveal itself.

And now for a comment some die hard Harry Potter fans will probably skin me alive for (and I know, one of my friends already did):

Diagon Alley has a distinct steampunk-esque feeling to it. Not traditional steampunk, but hints of the feeling driving it. And more of the version of steampunk seen in costuming that in novels (because authors today–from what I’ve read–have not figured out this genre yet).

I know J.K. Rowling probably didn’t know about the steampunk  genre when she was writing Harry Potter. I don’t think it was really a anything until recently. But I noticed that they were similar and it added to my enjoyment of the story (cuz I really like steampunk).

Before you yell at me for not understanding Harry Potter…let me explain myself:

Daigon Ally

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001) (Screengrab)

A storefront is seen in "Diagon Alley" during a media viewing tour of the set of the Harry Potter films at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour in Leavesden

reminded me of steampunk in general–old, rusty objects transformed into modern, mystical contraptions

hp steampunk room

hp steampunk arch

And the Gringots scales and carts

hp gringots scales

ph gringots cary

reminded me of the gears/mechanisms involved in steampunk

hp steampunk

 

Okay…so yeah. Diagon Alley=steampunk. Vaguely. And I thought that was cool. Did anyone else get this feeling from reading the books?

 

Off to the next book. I can’t wait.

 

 

Book Review: The Gallagher Girl series by Ally Carter

OMG. These books are my life.

I’ve read the first four books probably six or seven times. I’ve read the fifth one three times. I’ve read the sixth one twice. (The number of times I’ve read them has to do with the time span between each book being published.)

Seriously words cannot describe how much I love these books. But I’ll try.

I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You, Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy, Don’t Judge a Girl by Her Cover, Only the Good Spy Young, Out of Sight, Out of Time, United We Spy

I know what you’re thinking: They look cheesy. Like, Domino’s pizza cheesy.

That’s what I thought. They kept coming up the Scholastic book orders that they send home in elementary school. Based on their middle grade covers (which I am now IN LOVE WITH) and the infamously cliche blurb in the book order, I scorned them, lumping them in with the rest of the cheap, badly written, underdeveloped stories promoted in the pamphlets.

My mom bought me the first one as a gag gift, part of a massive pile of books she got for me the Christmas of fourth grade (I think…might have been 5th). I laughed at her. But I decided to try it.

Probably one of the best decisions  of my life. Not a hyperbole.

These books…are made great by a lot of things:

1) GORGEOUS CHARACTERIZATION

I fell for the characters in this book. The group of girls (and the occasional boy) are lovable, imperfect, strong, dynamic, loyal–perfect, basically. You know when a book has a tight group of characters, and you love them together, and you don’t just want them to survive, you need them to stay together? That’s Cammie, Bex, Lix, and Macey.

2) ROMANCE AS A PLOT BUILDER, NOT DRIVER

Sure, the first book’s plot revolves around a guy (Josh). It’s hard to make a case that romance doesn’t drive the first book. But the lessons Cammie learns from Josh push her way past him in the rest of the series. As the story progresses, romance drops to the back of the plot. It’s still there (and sooooooooooo cute and perfect and–can you tell I like these books a bit?). But Ally Carter let her series revolve around her girl characters and their growth as individuals. Romance is a mechanism working in the background, love interests showing up to add reveals and tension and trust issues (mostly trust issues). They look like ChickLit. But they aren’t. They are so much more. I didn’t want to read cheesy spy books about girls being idiots over guys.

Guess what? These books weren’t that.

3) ONLY A LITTLE CHEESE

I thought the books would be cheesy. And I was mostly wrong, but a little bit right.

There are some ridiculous moments. There are some hyperbolic elements, that some people would associate with the middle grade age range. Frankly, these are a lot of what I love about the books. They’re funny and light-hearted. They’re popcorn books, which is why I read them basically every finals season. They de-stress me.

But for every random outburst that could make the books slip back into the cursed middle grade ChickLIt (yeah I really don’t like most of what this genre has to offer), there is a moment that pulls it back. The plots of the later books actually get pretty dark, so even though certain scenes always make me laugh, the series can’t be thrown in with the rest of the fluffy, empty books of the Scholastic book orders.

4) AUTHOR GROWTH

Ally Carter’s first published books were adult romance. I haven’t read them, but I’m sure they’re good.

So when she went to write for a younger audience, she sort of…over-corrected. The first book is pretty chessy. It’s romance based. It’s middle grade. I understand why it was in the book order. But the characterization is there. Looking at it with the rest of the series, it’s a giant exposition, a foundation for the later plot points.

The second book is more mature. The plot is darker. Less cheese, more subtle romance, stronger characters.

As the series progresses, you can feel Carter growing. She gets more comfortable with her cast of characters and the world she’s built. The plots get more intense, while still retaining the humor and some of the ridiculousness from the earlier books. The connections between the characters grow and are tested. By the time the series ends, it is solidly YA–and it makes you weep. But…spoilers.

It’s gorgeous. Seriously. Usually, when authors do something like this, (make their series shift tonally in the middle), they do it badly. See James Patterson’s Maximum Ride series. But Ally Carter managed to balance discovering herself as a YA author and staying true to the heart of her works. The Gallagher Girl books all fit together. They are a series. But they are also a testament to the power of an author that learns as they write.

 

Try them out. Don’t let a cover and a corny title scare you off. Learn to love the things you scorned.

I don’t care if you’re ten or sixty. These books are worth reading. They’ll make you smile. They’ll make you cry. They’ll stick with you.

 

(Also check out Ally Carter’s Heist Society series. They are equally awesome.)

Book Review: Vampire Academy series by Richelle Mead

I read this series about a year ago and LOVED THEM. They are some of the best paranormal romance I have ever read.

It is a six book series: Vampire Academy (book 1), Frostbite (book 2), Shadow Kiss (book 3), Blood Promise (book 4), Spirit Bound (book 5), and Last Sacrifice (book 6).

The characters are alive and real; you will fall in love with them. The romance is passionate, heart-wrenching, tragic and powerful. The good/evil conflicts (especially in the later books) will make you question your own morals. Richelle Mead’s plots are intense and captivating and the entire series links together well.

However, Richelle Mead’s real strength lies in world building. This isn’t just some vampire novel. She created an entire culture around vampires with different types of vampires, royal families and their feuds, and tiny details that makes their society feel real, such as the concept of blood whores. She expanded on the drive-a-stake-through-their-hearts method of killing to involve complex magic and years of training. The hierarchy between the different types of vampires and the royals is easy to understand but rich in plot points and depth.

These novels took thought. They are well planned out and powerful. Richelle Mead did an amazing job.

 

A side note on the movie:

The trailer they released makes it look like it’s Mean Girls with vampires (mainly because it has the same director as Mean Girls). These books ARE NOT. They are dark and violent and intense and in no way the flippant, romantic Twilight-esque stories the trailer paints it as. The school uniforms that the actresses wear on the official movie poster make them look like slutty preppy girls, when in fact the main characters is a BAMF fighter and her best friend is a magician and royal heir. Also, in a different movie poster my twin found online, the main character, who is supposed to be a badass fighter, is holding the wimpiest (and blatantly wrong) fighting stance possible (and my sister is taking Tae Kwon Do and Hapkido, so she knows what it is supposed to look like). The actress they hired to play the protagonist, Zoey Deutch, is a dancer, not a martial artist. Why they couldn’t follow Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s example and hire an actress who is actually a black belt, I don’t know.

(It seems like the first Percy Jackson movie, which was related to the books by barely anything more than character names and setting.)

I’m not seeing the movie. I love these books. I’m not letting any movie change my perceptions of the series.

Book Review: Die for Me (series) by Amy Plum

I’m STILL reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and it looks like I will be sometime in June so I decided to go back to some of my favorite books and review them for you guys. (By the way, Kavalier and Clay is awesome. It’s just crazy long and I’m a little short on spare reading time right now.)

So, I present Amy Plum’s Revenant series: Die for Me, Until I Die, If I Should Die, and the novella Die for Her. Pure, amazing paranormal romance, done with originality and emotion. In a good way.

I read the first book about a year and a half ago, I think. The trilogy wasn’t all out yet, so I finished the books later, maybe a year ago, maybe less. I’m not quite sure. I don’t remember every little detail but I do remember how much I loved reading them. The story starts right after the main character loses her parents and goes to live with her grandparents in Paris. Her depression and isolation is powerful without being overwhelming to the plot of the story–it feels real without monopolizing what the series is about (AKA it’s not a John Green novel). Her romance with Vincent is emotional and touching, pulling the reader in in a way few romances can. And the paranormal side of the story–I’m not giving you any spoilers, but look at the titles. There’s death involved. It’s original and a little wacky but somehow Amy Plum makes it work.

(PS I just realized the Amazon synopsis kind of sucks. A lot. I’ll supplement it with this:

Girl spends her days losing herself in books in a Parisian cafe to avoid dealing with the loss of her parents. Suddenly starts to notice Incredibly  Attractive Male and his Incredibly Attractive Friends. Very very very very weird things ensue. Love, death, friendship, betrayal, reader’s-heart-ripped-out-and-sacrificed-to-an-obscure-Mayan-god follow.

Bleh that’s not good either is it? I guess the book is indescribable…just read it already.)

The characters were alive and addictive in that no-you-can’t-die-again-don’t-leave-me way I love. The plot was tumultuous and captivating. The romance is heart-wrenching and incredibly sweet at the same time. The whole series has the same feel to it (I don’t know how to describe that…it’s mood mixed with tone mixed with lots of other stuff) which is something I respect after reading James Patterson’s Maximum Ride series. (A cautionary tale titled: If you want to change your writing focus, start a new series, not a new book in this used-to-be-awesome series.)

Hope you guys check these books out.

And a little bit of shameless advertising: I’m an Amazon Associate now, which means that if you guys use the links in my blog to buy any of the books I talk about, I get a (very small) portion of the costs. Think of it as a thank you gift for my recommending a book to you.

Book Review: We Are In A Book! by Mo Willems

Okay, I know We Are in a Book! is a children’s book, but bear with me. IT’S ADORABLE.

My little sisters got this book about a year ago, and it is one of the only ones with which I actually support the read-over-and-over policy all little kids love (see also: hit-replay-the-second-the-TV-episode-ends). This book captures the novelty, joy, and childishness of reading. And it’s unique. And cute.

The whole Elephant and Piggy series has the same cutesy aesthetic. (I know. They came in a set.) To adults, if you have kids, buy them. To teens like me, I don’t know, find a little kid who has them. Check it out of the library. Or something. Who knows. It’s cute. It will put a smile on your face. And I think that any book that does it (especially one that is as unique and interesting as this one) is worth reading, no matter the target audience.

See? Cute.