Book Review: Gemina

GeminaGemina
by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Published by: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Form: Hardback
Big Themes: Space Travel, Invasion, Defense, Wormholes, Parallel Universes

Summary from Goodreads:
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 are 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.

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.

What I loved:
Worthy sequel. Gemina picks up where Illuminae left off and offers fresh conflicts at the same page-turning pace as it’s predecessor. The new characters are just as interesting as Ezra and Kady with clear talents, goals, and personalities.
Hanna’s drawings. I wanted more of these! They were a nice touch to the otherwise tech-focused format.
Nik’s backstory. Very well-done and worth a mention.

Criticism:
Certain plot points felt a tad repetitive to the previous book, but there was enough fresh material that it didn’t bother me.

Overall:
Five stars. Can Obsidio come out like NOW? This series is so well-done. I love it!

Book Review: Illuminae

IlluminaeIlluminae
by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Published by: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Form: Hardback
Big Themes: Space Travel, Artificial Intelligence, Computer Hacking, Disease, Truth/Lies, Survival, Bravery

Summary from Goodreads:
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 an 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.

What I Loved:
Format. The format of the story is NOT a gimmick. This story could ONLY be told through this collection of documents. A traditional format just wouldn’t work. That’s all I can say without giving away key plot points!
Fast-Pace. Despite the book’s chunky size, this story moves at a breakneck pace. The book is nearly impossible to put down.
High stakes and shocking twists. These authors raise the stakes to an almost impossible level. Just when you think things have gotten as bad as they can get–things get worse.

Overall:
Highly recommend this book! You should go in knowing as little about the story as possible. But what an emotional roller coaster! A masterful work of sci-fi storytelling! The format wasn’t a gimmick, but purposeful and perfectly suited to the the story it was telling. LOVE. THIS. BOOK.

Book Review: The Hate U Give

The Hate U GiveThe Hate U Give
by Angie Thomas

Published by: Balzer + Bray
Form: Hardback
Big Themes: Racism, Family, Friendship, Community, Police Brutality, Code Switching, Interracial Relationships

Summary from Goodreads:
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

What I Loved:
Strong characters. Starr, Big Mav, Khalil, Seven, Devante. These characters all show incredible strength throughout the novel. I also love how they are well-rounded characters with passions and goals. Big Mav is passionate about helping his community, loves gardening, and fiercely protects his family. For people who are not part of the black community, it is so important to see black people in this light–not the stereotypes we see in media or news.
Thoughtfulness of plot. Each scene was purposeful and captured something essential to the story of Starr but also the story of all black people living in America today. From code-switching to interracial relationships, this book tried to offer a glimpse at the various ways race impacts everyday life.
Bravery. Angie Thomas tackled a hot topic despite the tension, emotion, and opinions that came with it. Black Lives Matter needed this book. It’s a much needed glimpse into what black America is facing in our country on a regular basis. This book should be required reading for all white people, but especially those who don’t have an understand of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Overall:
Five big, beautiful stars. Don’t understand the #blacklivesmatter movement? Know someone who doesn’t get it? This book. Should be required reading for all white people. #weneeddiversebooks

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

Three Dark CrownsThree Dark Crowns
by Kendare Blake

Published by: HarperTeen
Form: Hardback (from OwlCrate)
Big Themes: Royalty, Competition, Death, Sisterhood, Magic

Summary from Goodreads:
In every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born—three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions.

But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins.

The last queen standing gets the crown.

Three Dark CrownsWhat I Loved:
Unique and Creative World and Concept. The concept of triplet sisters who have to fight for the crown is unique in and of itself. Then add each sisters distinctive magical abilities on top of it–and you have a fresh story! I especially liked the poisoners. Their world and ability was deliciously creepy.
The Ending. Whew! The ending will blow your mind. I’m quite good at predicting where stories are headed, but I did not forecast this ending! There are two major twists that have left me so excited for the sequel. Bravo to the author for a super satisfying twist! That is hard to pull off!

Criticism:
Secondary Characters. My only criticism is it was hard to keep all the secondary characters straight. I think the author needed to provide more character descriptions or distinguishing characteristics. I couldn’t tell you what half the characters looked like. I can handle big casts of characters (Harry Potter, Game of Thrones), but this cast of characters left me confused at times.

Overall: Four stars! Loved the unique world and premise. Many unexpected twists. Changing POV from queen to queen left you rooting for all of them!

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

RevolutionRevolution
by Jennifer Donnelly

Published by: Random House Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Form: Audiobook
Big Themes: French Revolution, Music, Depression, Guilt, Antiques/Artifacts, Time Travel

Summary from Goodreads:
BROOKLYN: Andi Alpers is on the edge. She’s angry at her father for leaving, angry at her mother for not being able to cope, and heartbroken by the loss of her younger brother, Truman. Rage and grief are destroying her. And she’s about to be expelled from Brooklyn Heights’ most prestigious private school when her father intervenes. Now Andi must accompany him to Paris for winter break.

PARIS: Alexandrine Paradis lived over two centuries ago. She dreamed of making her mark on the Paris stage, but a fateful encounter with a doomed prince of France cast her in a tragic role she didn’t want—and couldn’t escape.

Two girls, two centuries apart. One never knowing the other. But when Andi finds Alexandrine’s diary, she recognizes something in her words and is moved to the point of obsession. There’s comfort and distraction for Andi in the journal’s antique pages—until, on a midnight journey through the catacombs of Paris, Alexandrine’s words transcend paper and time, and the past becomes suddenly, terrifyingly present.

What I Loved:
Music. I actually learned a lot about the history of music composition through this book. It was fascinating to learn about how modern music was influenced by composers of the past. And that certain rhythms of music were seen as “naughty” in the past.
French Revolution. The half of the book that took place in the French Revolution was my favorite part of the book. I loved hearing what life was like and the story of the little prince. Donnelly really describes this period with incredible detail. I felt like I had traveled back in time!
The Research. The amount of research Donnelly must have done to so seamlessly blend the present, the French Revolution, and music composition–WOW. As a writer myself, it truly blew my mind how each component worked so well together and all the research Donnelly must have done to pull this off.

Overall:
The protagonist’s depression and guilt was hard to get through. But I absolutely loved the parts about the French Revolution (so fascinating!), and I loved the use of music in the story. Jennifer Donnelly is fast becoming a favorite author for me!

 

Ember in the Ashes and Torch Against the Night

Ember Series Covers

Series Review (Books 1 and 2)
An Ember in the Ashes and A Torch Against the Night
by Sabaa Tahir

Published by: Razorbill
Form: Hardback
Big Themes: Freedom, Brutality, Power, Rebellion, Duty

Goodreads Summary (Book 1/Ember in the Ashes):
Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

Ember in the AshesWhat I Loved:
Fresh feel. This is fantasy unlike other fantasy. I loved the desert setting. The diverse cast. The magic, creatures, and legends I hadn’t seen before.
Parallel Characters. Both Laia and Elias are fighting against their lack of freedom, despite the fact that their situations are very different. This parallel was fun to think about and unified the story.
The Overall Characterization. There are several characters that grow and develop in unexpected ways as their layers are revealed. Helene in Torch Against the Night is fascinating. The Commander is an intriguing and layered villain.
Plot Twists. Excellent foreshadowing, but I still didn’t see many of the plot twists coming. This is the kind of book that is fun to re-read to see how everything came together.

Overall:
Fresh, unpredictable, well-written, dark but with characters who bring hope. Highly recommend!

Side note: I love the new covers so much! Sabaa Tahir was so excited that they remade the covers to feature a brown girl for Laia. I’ve purchased the new covers for my classroom library because I know some girls who will love seeing someone who looks like them on the cover of a fantasy book!

Series Review: Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Tearling SeriesBook One: The Queen of the Tearling
Book Two: The Invasion of the Tearling
Book Three: The Fate of the Tearling
by Erika Johansen

Published by: Harper
Form: Hardback
Big Themes: Leadership, Knowledge, Choices, Morality, Feminism, Utopia

Summary from Goodreads (Book One):
Magic, adventure, mystery, and romance combine in this epic debut in which a young princess must reclaim her dead mother’s throne, learn to be a ruler—and defeat the Red Queen, a powerful and malevolent sorceress determined to destroy her.

On her nineteenth birthday, Princess Kelsea Raleigh Glynn, raised in exile, sets out on a perilous journey back to the castle of her birth to ascend her rightful throne. Plain and serious, a girl who loves books and learning, Kelsea bears little resemblance to her mother, the vain and frivolous Queen Elyssa. But though she may be inexperienced and sheltered, Kelsea is not defenseless: Around her neck hangs the Tearling sapphire, a jewel of immense magical power; and accompanying her is the Queen’s Guard, a cadre of brave knights led by the enigmatic and dedicated Lazarus. Kelsea will need them all to survive a cabal of enemies who will use every weapon—from crimson-caped assassins to the darkest blood magic—to prevent her from wearing the crown.

Despite her royal blood, Kelsea feels like nothing so much as an insecure girl, a child called upon to lead a people and a kingdom about which she knows almost nothing. But what she discovers in the capital will change everything, confronting her with horrors she never imagined. An act of singular daring will throw Kelsea’s kingdom into tumult, unleashing the vengeance of the tyrannical ruler of neighboring Mortmesne: the Red Queen, a sorceress possessed of the darkest magic. Now Kelsea will begin to discover whom among the servants, aristocracy, and her own guard she can trust.

But the quest to save her kingdom and meet her destiny has only just begun—a wondrous journey of self-discovery and a trial by fire that will make her a legend . . . if she can survive.

What I Loved:
This review is for the series as a whole, but is safe from spoilers!
Kelsea’s Character. Kelsea is a book lover and unafraid of leading her people. For fans of Hermione Granger, this is a book where the smart girl gets to play the hero and make the tough choices. She evolves throughout the series, and though a flawed character, she ultimately sacrifices for her people.
Unique Concept. This setting is so very unique. I have not ever read a setting such as this. The first book reads very much like a fantasy kingdom, but the second book flips that on its head. As a writer, I can admire how difficult this was to pull off in terms of both plot and genre.
The Ending. A lot of people don’t seem to like the ending from reviews I’ve read. But I actually think the ending was perfect in terms of tying together the overall themes. Without giving any spoilers–The Mace asked Kelsea at one point if she made her decisions for the good of the kingdom or out of her own desire for fame. And this ending allowed Kelsea to show that she was selfless and not going after fame. And it fits with the overall message about equality. (If you want to discuss the ending, comment below!)

Criticism:
Pacing. Books two and three had major pacing issues for me because huge chunks of the book followed new characters in unfamiliar settings. And while everything tied together well, I was often wishing we could get back to Kelsea and her kingdom and the characters I was more invested in. These final two books took me forever to read for the reason–I finished, but it was a slow chug.
Side-plot resolution. There were several characters that I wish I’d had more resolution/time with. (Andalie and her children especially.) Given the way things ended, this might be an impossible request. But I was definitely wishing for more resolution with certain sub-plots.

Overall:
I give this series four stars because the story was overall ambitious in what it was trying to take on and had some incredibly fresh ideas. But pacing was an issue. And I also felt like the messages/agenda/morals of the book could be a little heavy-handed at times.

Book Review: This Shattered World

this shattered worldThis Shattered World
by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner
Published by: Disney Hyperion
Form: Purchased Kobo eBook
Big Themes: Space, Rebellion, Violence, Freedom, Love, Irish culture

This book is a sequel/companion book to These Broken Stars.  While it is not necessary to read the books in order because the books follow different characters, it is recommended.

Summary:
This book takes place on a planet on the verge of war. Soldiers are trying to keep the peace, but a mysterious mental illness is causing the soldiers to go crazy with violence. History between the soldiers and citizens/natives is tense to say the least, and tension is rising. Jubilee Chase is one of the soldiers. Flynn Cormac is one of the native rebels. But in this story reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet, Jubilee and Flynn see something in each other beyond their side in this war.

What I Loved:

Initially, I really enjoyed figuring out all the ties to Romeo and Juliet. I enjoyed trying to figure out character equivalents and where the story was going.

I also really liked the bits of Irish culture embedded in a setting that was otherworldly. This element grounded the story as well as gave the reader something to grasp in a setting that was unfamiliar.

I liked the idea of Jubilee Chase, being a hardened soldier after a tragic childhood.

I liked the Shakespearean place names: Avon, Verona, etc.

I liked the home of the rebels and how they managed to stay hidden. The swampy setting was very original and fresh.

The ending helped pull the book together.

Criticism:

This book was much slower for me than These Broken Stars. I really struggled to finish it. Jubilee and Flynn did not come to life for me like Tarver and Lilac.  I think part of the problem for me was buying into their skills and talents as characters. I would have bought into Jubilee being a tough as nails if we had actually gotten to see her in battle. I would have bought into Flynn being a rebel leader more if we had actually seen him navigating his people through a challenge. In the previous book, Tarver and Lilac underwent so much when they crash landed that we saw their character through the hardships they went through.  I didn’t feel like this book had the same level of conflict and challenge. Instead, it felt a lot more like Jubilee and Flynn were observing and hiding and talking for most of the book.

I also didn’t really like the direction the book took being so similar to the previous one. I get that it was the author’s attempt to tie the books together, but it didn’t feel fresh to me. It felt forced. I would have preferred that the authors use this new planet setting to create a new conflict.

I also felt like the whole first half of the book was a tad confusing. I didn’t understand what was meant by the soldier’s going insane (I think we needed to witness that firsthand earlier in the book). I didn’t understand all the dreams at the start of each chapter. Looking back, I still don’t like how many dreams there were, and even now knowing what their purpose was, I don’t want to go back and reread them.

And… SPOILER.  SPOILER.  Don’t read below…

ThisShatteredWorld2

SPOILER:
I didn’t like that Jubilee and Flynn both didn’t die. I felt like it was a bit of a cop out. I was expecting it with the parallel Romeo and Juliet storyline.  I’d prepared myself for it.  And then it didn’t happen.  And I totally felt like the authors wimped out. Wanted their characters to have a happy ending. And so they didn’t kill them. And I think it might have been a better story if they’d died.

Overall:
Three stars. Not as good as These Broken Stars. Slow, didn’t like the characters as much, and weaker in plot. But still creative sci-fi and I enjoyed the ties to Romeo and Juliet.

Book Review: Sculptor

sculptorSculptor
by Scott McCloud

Published by: First Second
Form: Purchased Hardback
Genre: Graphic Novel
Big Themes
: Art, Life, Death, Love, Depression, Individuality, Legacy, Time

Summary:
A young artist makes a bargain with Death: unlimited artistic ability but in exchange, David Smith will only have 200 days left to live. With his new ability to sculpt anything his mind can imagine, David struggles to create a legacy to his name.  He wants his work to be seen and remembered, but the clock is ticking.

“The best graphic novel I’ve read in years. It’s about art and love and why we keep on trying. It will break your heart.” -Neil Gaiman

Review:

Scott McCloudIf you are a fan of graphic novels, Scott McCloud should be a familiar name.  His books Making Comics and Understanding Comics are must-haves and will change how you read and appreciate graphic novels. I bought these books for my brother about ten years ago after being incredibly impressed by them myself. We would both call ourselves Scott McCloud fans. However, while McCloud has written how-to manuals about comics, he had yet to embark on creating a novel-length piece of graphic fiction.  Sculptor is his first.

I had the opportunity to meet and hear Scott McCloud speak at Politics and Prose in DC back in February. He had a great computer presentation that allowed him to show us his creative process and the work that went into Sculptor. The book is a 488 pages and took McCloud five years to craft. This event moved Sculptor to the top of my to-read pile despite how enormous my to-read list is lately.

What I Loved:
The art was gorgeous.  You can tell this book was an act of love. Every panel shows thoughtfulness. The novel is set in New York City, and some of the panels made me ache to jump on the train for a visit.

IMG_3411

The message about life was another element I loved. I’d like to discuss this book in a book group, but here is what I took away from the book (without giving any spoilers). After reading, I felt like McCloud wanted his readers, particularly young people who are driven to make a name for themselves, to realize that life is more than making your mark. Especially when it comes to creativity, life fuels your work, your craft. Experiences and relationships and everyday life are just as important as any goals or aspirations you may have. And to live in a manic, focused, obsessive state where your entire focus is centered on your own aspirations is wasting the one life you have to live.

This resonated with me because creative types, introverted writers especially, can live in the worlds they create. They can obsess over the right word or phrasing. They can worry if anyone will ever want to read their work. And writing is often such a solitary act that shutting out the real world becomes too easy. So for me, this book was about finding balance. A reminder that life outside of art and ambition is equally important.

Also, the concepts of some of the sculptures that David creates were really, really awesome. I’d imagine that would be difficult to come up with as a writer–ideas for art that corresponds with infinite ability. That was a fun, almost superhero element.  Super Sculptor–can mold anything with his bare hands. McCloud made that power seem cool and desirable.

Criticism:
I’d love to have a discussion about Meg. McCloud admits that she fits the trope of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but he said the following:

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is an archetype that shows up in romance almost exclusively, and our reaction is to mark it for death. We shouldn’t kill what we don’t understand. There’s a reason why this character shows up again and again. I don’t know how well a job I’ve done of investigating those reasons, but I hope there’s something in The Sculptor that makes Meg worthwhile.

Quote from Vulture.com

There are so many things to be discussed about Meg–from her first appearance as an angel, to their talk about her being an object, to her final representation in sculpture form. Am I okay with how McCloud portrayed the only leading female character? My initial answer is no. But I’d love to talk about it.

Overall:
Four stars. Overall, I really enjoyed this. Would highly recommend to all creative types or ambitious types. Recommended for adults due to sex and mature topics.

Top Ten Books on My To-Read List (Winter 2015)

5b4a8-toptentuesdayTop Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

For more information about Top Ten Tuesday and a list of upcoming Top Ten Tuesday topics, click here.

This Week’s Topic:
Top Ten Books on My To-Read List (Winter 2015)

I fell short of my reading goals for 2014, so I have a lot of catching up to do!  These are the books at the top of my list.  All book titles link to Goodreads.

Winter1

  1. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart- I read The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks this summer and loved it.  A hardback of We Were Liars is on my bookshelf, calling my name.
  2. The Unwind series by Neal Schusterman- My mom and brother are urging me to finish this series.  They LOVE it.  I really enjoyed the first book, but it’s been well over 5 years since I’ve read it.  I’ll need to do a re-read before tackling Unwholly, UnSouled, and Undivided.
  3. The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier- I discovered this book at a new local indie bookstore called Greenrow Books.  If you’re in Maryland, you should totally check them out!  I’ll be teaching Poe soon, and this Victorian ghost story boasted a Poe-type vibe.winter4
  4. Maggie Stiefvater- There was a point where I had read everything Maggie had published.  I’ve since fallen way behind, despite my desire to devour everything she writes.  I’ve started Scorpio Races three times but have never finished.  SinnerDream Thieves, and Blue Lily, Lily Blue are all on my to-read list as well.winter2
  5. The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen- This book has tons of buzz, and my mom read it already and passed it on to me after she really enjoyed it.
  6. Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins- Sometimes I need humor in my life, and I can trust Rachel Hawkins to make me laugh!  I loved her Hex Hall series, and I want to check out her latest novel, too!
  7. Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas- I have heard nothing but wonderful things about this series, and I feel so late to the party!  Really, really want to read this one! winter3
  8. The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate- I am normally so much better about reading the Newbery winners.  This one keeps escaping me, and I really must make time to read it.  I need to read more middle grade this year because I’m running out of books to recommend to my students!
  9. Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo- Another series that I keep hearing wonderful things about!  I bought this ages ago and really must finally pick it up!
  10. Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers- This series intimidates me because the books are sooooo long.  But it’s another series that people rave about, and I shouldn’t let the book’s weight deter me any longer!

What books are on your to-read list this winter?  Please share!