19 October 2016

Book Review: Illuminae

Title: Illuminae
Authors: Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Genre: YA Sci-Fi
Rating: 5 Stars
Dates Read: 12 October - 19 October 2016

Illuminae is unlike any book that I have read before. I am glad that I chose a physical copy of the book rather than a digital copy to appreciate the different "documents" that lay out the story.

The book starts with a planet with an illegal mining operation being attacked by a corporation. Kady Grant and her (ex) boyfriend Evan Mason manage to escape on two different ships and head for safety while one of the corporation's ships follows. The story is told through different documents - e-mails, IM conversations, confidential reports, etc that have been compiled by a hacker - Illuminae. There is even an appearance by a little paper clip guy to explain how these documents were discovered.

The action of the story was fast-paced and exciting. There was a little bit of romance through Kady and Evan's IMs, and even though their relationship is what seems to drive Kady's survival, it actually wasn't a distracting part of the story (as romances usually are for me). There was just enough science and technology to make the story believable. And I absolutely love Kady! She is a serious butt-kicking hacker!

At 599 pages, the book is hefty, but by using the document format it doesn't feel like a long book. The only downside to the format is that some of the pages are black, which means smudgy fingerprints when turning the pages.

Overall I was engrossed in the book and could not wait to see how it ended. I was somewhat surprised at one of the reveals at the end, and as someone who usually figures everything out, I liked that it caught me slightly off guard.

27 January 2016

Book Riot: Young Adult Box 1

 Book Riot: Young Adult #1 (April 2015)

I love subscription boxes; I have a bit of an obsession with them. How awesome is it to get a box of surprises in the mail every month / every other month / quarterly? Pretty darn awesome. 

This is the first Book Riot: Young Adult box from Quartlery Co. Boxes are $50 each and ship out quarterly. Each box will contain two books, some book-related goodies, and a personal letter. The next box ships January 2016. You can find out more and subscribe here.

Chalkboard Mug - This chalkboard mug says "Today I'm reading ..." and you can use the 4-pack of colored chalk included to write the title or doodle or whatever you want. The mug is a good quality mug, perfect for whatever hot beverage you choose to drink when reading. The chalk washes off so you can always keep it up to date with your reading status.

Novel Tea tea pouch - This pouch includes 5 bags of English Breakfast tea. Not only is the packaging pretty, each tea tag contains a literary quote.  

Story Cubes - I have bought sets of Story Cubes for my nieces, nephews, and cousins, so I was happy to have a set for myself. Each cube has different pictures, and when you roll them, you are supposed to create a story with whatever picture is on top. These are great for encouraging kids to use their imagination and build their story-telling skills, but it is also great if you have writer's block and need some inspiration for what to write about. There are nine cubes included, as well as a pouch to keep them in, so it travels well. 

Book:  How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon - The first book included is a 2015 Coretta Scott Kind Author Honr Book. Honestly this is a book I probably would never pick up on my own and may or may not even read. The story is told from several different perspectives (18 actually!), which I do not usually enjoy in a book.

Here is the description from GoodReads: When sixteen-year-old Tariq Johnson dies from two gunshot wounds, his community is thrown into an uproar. Tariq was black, the shooter, Jack Franklin, is white. In the aftermath of Tariq's death, everyone has something to say, but no two accounts of the events line up. Day by day, new twists further obscure the truth. Tariq's friends, family, and community struggle to make sense of the tragedy and to cope with the hole left behind when a life is cut short. In their own words, they grapple for a way to say with certainty: This is how it went down."

Book : Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier - Again, a book I probably would never have given a second glance. The book is historical fiction set in 1930's Australia and involves ghosts. I probably will not read it.

Descrption from GoodReads: "The setting: Razorhurst, 1932. The fragile peace between two competing mob bosses - Gloriana Leson and Mr Davidosn - is crumbling. Loyalties are shifting. Betrayals threaten. Kelpie knows the danger of the Sydney streets. Ghosts have kept her alive, steering her to food and safety, but they are also her torment. Dymphna is Gloriana Lesons's 'best girl', experienced in surviving the criminal world, but she doesn't know what this day has in store for her. When Dymphna meets Kelpie over the corpse of Jimmy Palmer, Dymphna's latest boyfriend, she pronounces herself Kelpie's new protector. But Dymphna's life is in danger too, and she needs an ally. And while Jimmy's ghost wants to help, the dead cannot protect the living."

Personal Letter - Each box, instead of having the typical "info card," contains a personal letter. The letter contains information about the books. The letter also gives descriptions of the rest of the box contents, including a list of the potential bonus items you may receive (I did not receive any in this box). Also included is a deleted scene from the book How It Went Down with a letter from the author about why the scene was ultimately cut from the final draft.

Overall I think this was a good first box. I like that there were two books included (even if they are not books I would pick up myself or that I am even going to ever get around to reading) and that there was bonus material for the books. My favorite item was the Story Cubes, but I love the mug as well(and the fact that they included chalk). 

Rating - 4 Stars

05 January 2016

2015 Book Year in Review and 2016 Goals

Books Read in 2015: 29
Goal: 30 Books
First Book Read in 2015: Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
Last Book Read in 2015: Winter by Melissa Meyer
# of Books with 5-Star Reviews: 3
# of Books with 4-Star Reviews: 16
# of Books with 3-Star Reviews: 7
# of Books with 2- Star Reviews: 3
Total Pages Read: 10,995

5-Star Books:
Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Winter by Melissa Meyer

Reflecting on 2015
One book short of my goal of reading 30 books! I probably could have tried to eek in a graphic novel or some short stories, but I did not have the energy. I did read a bigger variety of books this year than last year. I finally started to read the Throne of Glass series; the fourth book will be the first book I read in 2016. I wanted Winter to be the last book that I read in 2015 because I enjoyed the series so much and could not wait to see how it ended (surprisingly well considering how many story lines were weaved throughout the series).

I did write more reviews in 2015, but I am still not committed to writing a review for every book that I read, especially since I do most of my reading on my lunch break at work and while I am on vacation. I did not do much writing at all in 2015, but that is always a goal for every year.

Goals for 2016
Having come so close this year, again, I am going to aim for 30 books for 2016. I also am going to read at least one new author, read one new series, read one book outside of my usual genres, and read one classic book. I also want to re-read the Harry Potter series, since I am long overdue for one of those. I have a few non-fiction books that are on my to-read list, especially after my travels (and to inform future travels).

I have recently subscribed to several different book related subscription boxes, so I will start posting reviews of those. I plan on starting a new cycle of 101 things in 1001 days (which I never did in 2015). I also look forward to trying many new things in 2016.

28 December 2015

Outlander - Book Review

Title: Outlander (Outlander #1)
Author: Diana Gabaldon
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4 Stars
Dates Read: 09 October to 15 October

I started reading this book the day after I left Scotland. For someone that had only done library research and had not been to Scotland yet, Diana Gabaldon was pretty accurate in her world building. Of course the landscapes and spirit of Scotland were fresh in my mind as I was reading - Invergordon (just outside of Inverness) and Edinburgh were the two Scottish ports on my British Isles cruise.

Outlander is the first book in the Outlander series. Claire Beauchamp Randall, a WWII nurse and plant-lover, travels with her historian husband Frank Randall to the Scottish highlands so he can do research on one of his family members. While Claire is exploring some of the local flora at a henge, she ends up in 1743, where she is face-to-face with Jack Randall, the very person Frank was researching. Claire escapes Jack, who shares her husband's face but not his temperament, and is captured by a clan of Scots that is also fleeing from Jack. After mending the wounded in her captor's party, she is taken back to Castle Leoch, where she becomes that castle's healer. It is also where she develops a relationship with one of the men that captured her, Jamie Fraser.

Although there is a lot of romance in the story (and let's be honest, a lot of sex), the story is so much more than that. I was instantly hooked (of course as I was reading I was imagining myself back in Scotland, traveling the highlands) and wanted to read more. Honestly I did not like Claire very much. She whined too much and was kind of a brat. I am also skeptical of her relationship to both Frank and Jamie. But I did not come for the romance, I came for the adventure, and the story does have that.

Although the book was long (almost 700 pages), the story was so well written and compelling that it was easy to continue reading. After the way the book ended, I cannot wait to read more of the story.

And hopefully another trip to Scotland is in my future as well.

16 December 2015

The Beginning of Everything - Book Review

Title: The Beginning of Everything
Author: Robyn Schneider
Rating: 2.5 Stars
Dates Read: 17 November to 20 November

As I was reading The Beginning of Everything, I felt like I was reading Looking for Alaska, and as the book progressed, a dash of Paper Towns. I hate comparing this to John Green, but the story does follow a similar arc, albeit more generic and completely predictable. I did not relate to any of the characters and did not really care about them at all (except maybe Toby, but barely). I guessed what Cassidy's "tragedy" was long before the big reveal, and with how many times coyotes were mentioned in the book, I was just waiting for that particular scene to happen. (On a side note, that scene was tragic because I am an animal lover and because a few days ago a coyote that was missing one paw was walking down my street in broad daylight and I was thankful my 12-lb terrier Puffy was safely in the house). The only reason why I finished the book is because I just kept hoping that it would get better, that I would be wrong and the ending would completely blow my mind. I wanted it to be better. Oh well, it was a quick read and now I can move on to other books.

What I do find interesting is that the book has an alternate title: Severed Heads, Broken Hearts. I think I prefer that title, because The Beginning of Everything set my expectations very high. And so much of the story goes back to the severed head, I was more interested in that and in Toby's story than Ezra's story. But neither title really does the story justice, because even though the severed head is mentioned so many times, it was not enough to carry the plot, to mark the "beginning" of how Ezra's story developed.

20 November 2015

The Martian - a Book Review AND a Movie Review

Today I am doing something different - a book review AND a movie review! I read the Martian in August, and I was immediately caught up in the story. I had heard of the book and purchased it months ago, but did not start reading it until after I visited the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City and saw the Space Shuttle Enterprise, which put me into a space mood. The movie released when I was on vacation, so I did not see it until mid-October. In September, I visited the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, which is the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum's Annex at Washington Dulles International Airport in Virginia and is home to the Space Shuttle Discovery. Between the two museums, and the National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC, I was able to see rockets and spacesuits and more, which made me appreciate the research and care that went into the book and the movie. On a side note, I hope to make it to Kennedy Space Center before the end of the year to see Space Shuttle Atlantis, seeing three out of the four surviving shuttles in one year.

Book Review
Title: The Martian
Author: Andy Weir
Genre: Science Fiction
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Dates Read: 03 August to 10 August

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I am not a scientist, but the science was definitely believable. I loved all of the "Macguyvering" that Mark Watney had to do to stay alive. I do not know if I will ever see humans on Mars in my lifetime, but the book made me feel like it was possible. I loved Watney's sense of humour and I was rooting for him to make it home. I liked how the book started out as his personal log but became more complex as the novel went on, waving other voices into his narrative. It was easy to read and surprisingly easy to follow the science as well.

Movie Review
Rating: 4 Stars
Date: 17 October
After falling in love with the book, I tried to keep my expectations low for the movie, as I always seem to be disappointed at book-to-movie adaptations. I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the movie. First, the book was so well researched that it was not hard to picture the space suit and the HAB and all of the other equipment and technology that Mark Watney possessed, so seeing it on the screen was almost exactly what I imagined. The special effects were not completely over the top, they were used very well to tell Watney's story. I liked being able to see a little more perspective from all of the other characters; however, I did feel like Watney's voice and his solitary experience did get overshadowed a bit. The movie followed the book fairly well, showcasing Watney's humour and his will to survive (and his love of ketchup, which I do not recall from the book). I think NASA's part was overstated and I would have liked to see more of Watney's problem solving - he did manager to survive a very long time without NASA's help. The only part of the movie I did not like was the very end. After I read the book, my mind went into overdrive imagining what happened after. I have never written fan faction before, but part of me wanted to write a hundred different stories for what happened next. I did not dislike the ending; it just was not one of my stories. In general, I am not a fan of epilogues in books (looking at you Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay), but at least the movie ending did not leave me questioning how an entire book (or series) could be amazing and then have such a lousy epilogue (one that makes you scream and throw the book across the room).

Final Thoughts
As a firm believer that you should always read the book first, I recommend that you read the book, even if just to get a better grasp of Watney's mental state and of his genius at surviving as long as he did on Mars. Then go see the movie to be impressed by the possibilities of space travel. And go eat a hearty plate of potatoes. With ketchup if you are so inclined.

10 March 2015

Book Review: Bones & All

Title: Bones & All
Author: Camille DeAngelis
Genre: YA
Rating: 4 Stars

I recieved an Advanced Reader's Copy of the book from St. Martin's Press as part of the Bones & All Street Team.

Bones & All surprised me in so many ways. First of all, it is a book about cannibals written by a vegan! The book is not gory, although there are some descriptive passages. I was not as disgusted as I thought I would be. Of course the idea of eating people is horrifying, but the idea of it being a compulsion was interesting.

I was hooked on the story from the first few pages. Maren is a cannibal. She ate her first person, her babysitter, when she was only a baby. She does not remember it, but she imagines that she does. She does not want to eat people, it just sort of happens. The day after her sixteenth birthday, Maren finds herself alone with some cash and her birth certificate. She decides to go searching for her father, whom she never knew. Along the way she meets others like herself. And, in true coming-of-age fashion, she finds herself as well.

It was easy for me to like Maren. She was just trying to make sense of her life and find a purpose. I know she may not have found exactly what she was looking for, or at least thought she was looking for, but I am glad that she was able to find a peace within herself. I appreciate her love of books, and like her, I would probably stuff my rucksack with more books than clothes or other practical supplies if I were to hit the road.