Illuminae by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Can we talk about how no one hit me over the head with this brilliant book when it first came out to get me to read it? With the upcoming release in March of Obsidio, the third book in the Illuminae Files series, I had to get into this series.

Wow, Illuminae by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman lives up to all the hype and more.

23395680.jpgThis 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.

BRIEFING NOTE: 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.

Illuminae is unlike any other reading experience I’ve ever had. The story is told in recovered documents and correspondence from an incident deep in the galaxy involving a fleet of ships ferrying refugees after an attack on a faraway planet, a pursuing battleship and an out-of-its-mind Artificial Intelligence. I thought the removed perspective from the main characters would make it difficult to get into the story and feel what the characters feel, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I can’t get over the way these authors used text, graphics and white space to tell one of the most compelling in-space battle scenes I’ve ever read. The text was arranged in a way that it looked like fighter ships flying around shooting each other. You guys, I CRIED. I had big ol’ tears pouring down my face from the death throes and last words of fighter pilots, which was only made worse – or more impactful – by the way the text was arranged. It was heart-wrenching. My heart wouldn’t stop pounding and it was just so. Frickin. Good.

In addition to all the feels, including the gut-punching terror, soul-crushing why-god-why events and edge-of-your-seat anticipation, this book was also hilarious. The main characters, Kady and Ezra, were so funny – the kind of sarcastic people that love gallows humor and can lighten any life-or-death situation with a well-timed joke.

If you like YA Sci-fi at all, this is the book for you. My mind is completely blown. There is brain matter dripping down my walls as we speak. YOU HAVE TO READ THIS!

STARS: 5 out of 5

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Warcross by Marie Lu

Warcross by Marie Lu was everything I hoped it would be but it got a little confusing at the end. Luckily, this is just book one, so I have time to figure it out.

29385546For the millions who log in every day, Warcross isn’t just a game—it’s a way of life. The obsession started ten years ago and its fan base now spans the globe, some eager to escape from reality and others hoping to make a profit. Struggling to make ends meet, teenage hacker Emika Chen works as a bounty hunter, tracking down players who bet on the game illegally. But the bounty hunting world is a competitive one, and survival has not been easy. Needing to make some quick cash, Emika takes a risk and hacks into the opening game of the international Warcross Championships—only to accidentally glitch herself into the action and become an overnight sensation.

Convinced she’s going to be arrested, Emika is shocked when instead she gets a call from the game’s creator, the elusive young billionaire Hideo Tanaka, with an irresistible offer. He needs a spy on the inside of this year’s tournament in order to uncover a security problem . . . and he wants Emika for the job. With no time to lose, Emika’s whisked off to Tokyo and thrust into a world of fame and fortune that she’s only dreamed of. But soon her investigation uncovers a sinister plot, with major consequences for the entire Warcross empire.

I’m not much of a gamer, but I know enough gamers and am aware of pop culture to truly enjoy Lu’s latest masterpiece. She created a colorful, dynamic world, where it felt like I was in a game. I’ve played some MarioKart in my day, and I even caught the “Leeeerooooy Jeeeenkiins!” shoutout.

Emika was the best kind of heroine. She was street smart and badass. I mean, she’s a bounty hunter for pete’s sake! I also loved that she was great with technology, hacking and all that awesome STEM stuff. Emika is the kind of heroine that will inspire young girls everywhere to pursue careers in technology.

This story faltered with Hideo. I loved him at first. He was the socially awkward billionaire creator of Warcross. I loved the push and pull of the relationship between him and Emika as they try to unravel the mystery of who’s messing with the Warcross games. Toward the end, Hideo as a character took a wrong turn and plunged into the abyss. I don’t understand how he went from point A to point B as a character. It was like whiplash for the reader. My difficulty understanding his motives made me dislike him and I don’t know if that was the author’s intent. I do know that it left a sour taste in my mouth and my overall enjoyment of the novel took a plunge by the end.

I did see the twist at the end coming, but I was still shocked and it left me with so many questions. Because of this, I’ll most likely read the next book to see what happens.

STARS: 3.5 out of 5 

Inherit the Stars by Tessa Elwood

Inherit the Stars by Tessa Elwood had so much potential, but it didn’t quite deliver.

25463009Three royal houses ruling three interplanetary systems are on the brink of collapse, and they must either ally together or tear each other apart in order for their people to survive.

Asa is the youngest daughter of the house of Fane, which has been fighting a devastating food and energy crisis for far too long. She thinks she can save her family’s livelihood by posing as her oldest sister in an arranged marriage with Eagle, the heir to the throne of the house of Westlet. The appearance of her mother, a traitor who defected to the house of Galton, adds fuel to the fire, while Asa also tries to save her sister Wren’s life . . . possibly from the hands of their own father.

But as Asa and Eagle forge a genuine bond, will secrets from the past and the urgent needs of their people in the present keep them divided?

From the moment I read the synopsis, I was sold. It was Sci-fi. It had an arranged intergalactic marriage and a heroine that risked it all to save her kin! As I began reading, the plot was all there, the writing was decent but the storytelling wasn’t. It felt like being dropped into the middle of the story and missing the very important prologue that explained crucial background. I think there needed to be more world-building. Taking on intergalactic politics is a huge feat, and I wish the author took more time to describe the setting and customs of each planet to fully appreciate the drastic changes for the heroine.  I felt just as lost as the heroine.

I also wish the author would have spent more time developing the relationship between Eagle and Asa. They speak to each other what seems like five times the entire book but are madly in love by the end. I didn’t totally buy their romance. I wish they would have explored their differences and similarities more. The elements were all there. Eagle had a complex with his body image issues and Asa had to deal with her decontamination side effects. I wish they had recognized the common ground and the author had used it as a platform on loving who you are despite what you look like.

I really wanted to like this one, but it missed the mark. It had everything it needed to be an epic sci-fi romance but it wasn’t well executed.

STARS: 2 out of 5

The Modified by C.A. Kunz

The Modified by C.A. Kunz is another book on my #UtopYA2014 reading list.

15986049What would you sacrifice to save the one’s you love? To save the one who holds your heart? To save the world?

Kenley Grayson is all too familiar with these questions.

After Earth is thrust into its first intergalactic war with an unknown race called the Bringers, our military forces begin to suffer heavy losses. Desperate for a solution, the Allied Federation issues a worldwide draft for every able seventeen year old to enlist. As Kenley turns seventeen, she finds herself thrown into the very war that took her older brother’s life.

This year’s draft is a little different than in the past though. A new program, known as the Magnus Project, has been introduced, and only the best and brightest qualify. Kenley is amongst a select few whom are chosen to join this elite group of soldiers, and as a part of this project, undergoes a modification procedure that leaves her and her peers endowed with powers beyond their wildest dreams.

As Earth continues in its struggle against the Bringers, Kenley is transported to a high-tech training facility, the Magnus Academy, to prepare for the major battle that lies ahead. It’s here that she meets the California heartthrob, and son of a legendary war hero, Landon Shaw. As unexpected feelings toward Landon begin to develop, Kenley wonders if this is the right time or place for romance to bloom, especially when those feelings start to interfere with her training.

With the weight of the world on her shoulders, Kenley is constantly reminded of how important she and the rest of the Magnus cadets are to the fate of humanity. She is one of the Modified, Earth’s last line of defense against utter destruction.

The Modified had everything to be a great dystopian novel, but it just didn’t hit the mark for me. I felt like there were a few key things missing that would have really put this book on the map.

First, this book was written by a Mother-Son team, which is so unique and I have to give mad props for that kind of passion and coordination. However, that may be the reason this story felt a little disjointed.

I loved the premise for this novel. The idea of a war with an alien race and recruiting the best of the best to train for battle was compelling.  I really enjoyed the different kind of powers they were given, which made for an action-packed story. The world building around the characters was spot on. It’s when you get to the relationships between the characters that it fell short.

Kenley is a strong, female heroine. The way she missed her brother who was killed in battle was a believable and heartbreaking characteristic. However, her relationship with Joey, the guy best friend, and her love interest, Landon, who were both alive, seemed too forced. For example, Joey only seemed to be in the picture if he was needed for the scene. Nothing is really done to grow his character, the reader is just informed as the story goes on. With Landon, there was no chemistry between Kenley and Landon. Their stolen kisses seemed awkwardly placed and lacked description to capture the emotion of the moment. I feel like if these relationships were better cultivated it would add a whole other dimension to the story.

I did enjoy the story itself, but I felt like an outsider looking in, not as part of the story or characters. The story had chronological momentum that had edges that needed to be smoothed to prevent the “and then..and then” type of story telling, where it always jumps to the next set of actions without stopping to check in with the feelings or status of the characters.

The Modified is the first book in a series. I’m not sure if I’ll read the next book, but we’ll see.

STARS: 3 out of 5

These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

These Broken Stars is an intergalactic survival adventure that I won’t soon forget.

13138635It’s a night like any other on board the Icarus. Then, catastrophe strikes: the massive luxury spaceliner is yanked out of hyperspace and plummets into the nearest planet. Lilac LaRoux and Tarver Merendsen survive. And they seem to be alone.

Lilac is the daughter of the richest man in the universe. Tarver comes from nothing, a young war hero who learned long ago that girls like Lilac are more trouble than they’re worth. But with only each other to rely on, Lilac and Tarver must work together, making a tortuous journey across the eerie, deserted terrain to seek help.

Then, against all odds, Lilac and Tarver find a strange blessing in the tragedy that has thrown them into each other’s arms. Without the hope of a future together in their own world, they begin to wonder—would they be better off staying here forever?

Everything changes when they uncover the truth behind the chilling whispers that haunt their every step. Lilac and Tarver may find a way off this planet. But they won’t be the same people who landed on it.

As I write this review, I am conflicted. This book was so good. The characters were wonderfully real and the world was fully developed. The story captured me and transported me into another world, literally. The flawlessness of this plot is astounding, and the care and authenticity of both Lilac’s and Tarver’s voice is amazing. After turning the last page, I’m speechless. I feel like I’m in shock.

The romance between Lilac and Tarver was such a slow burn that I hung on every word, every conversation and every glance or touch. The backstory for each character was perfectly weaved into their present, which made their motives and desires understandable and authentic. Their adventure through an alien planet was strangely hypnotic. I was never bored with the descriptions of their surroundings or the details of everyday survival. I am in awe of how perfectly this novel was written.

This sci-fi fantasy story really contains sci-fi and fantasy. There were unbelievable parts; there were unconceivable parts. At one point, my heart was crushed with such grief I needed the adrenaline of the ending to get me through the story. I loved the fact that this story was sci-fi, but that is also what I hated about it too. The fantastical element in the end kept me from fully committing and believing the ending, which created my conflicting emotions about this book. I feel like I’m not making any sense but one thing is clear, read this book. It is perfectly written with an amazing love story that breaks the boundaries of time and space.

STARS: 5 out of 5

A Game Of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

Wow. Just wow. I am blown away by George R.R. Martin’s A Game Of Thrones. I know I’m a little behind on jumping on the Game Of Thrones bandwagon, but my interest was piqued when the HBO series came out, and I vowed to read the book before I watched the TV series. It took me until now to find the time.

985873Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister forces are massing beyond the kingdom’s protective Wall. To the south, the king’s powers are failing—his most trusted adviser dead under mysterious circumstances and his enemies emerging from the shadows of the throne. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the frozen land they were born to. Now Lord Eddard Stark is reluctantly summoned to serve as the king’s new Hand, an appointment that threatens to sunder not only his family but the kingdom itself.

Sweeping from a harsh land of cold to a summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, A Game of Thrones tells a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens. Here an enigmatic band of warriors bear swords of no human metal; a tribe of fierce wildlings carry men off into madness; a cruel young dragon prince barters his sister to win back his throne; a child is lost in the twilight between life and death; and a determined woman undertakes a treacherous journey to protect all she holds dear. Amid plots and counter-plots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, allies and enemies, the fate of the Starks hangs perilously in the balance, as each side endeavors to win that deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.

I had a few misconceptions about this book. I thought it would be dense and hard to read. It is long— a little over 800 pages — but it was so easy to read. I thought there would be so many characters it would be hard to keep track of them all like in epic Stephen King novels.  However, I never once was confused about who was who. Also, I never realized the characters in this series were so young! As a lover of Young Adult fiction, I was surprised there were so many young adult elements in this fiction book meant for older readers.  I was ever so pleasantly surprised!

A Game Of Thrones is the first book in the A Song Of Ice and Fire saga. I found myself wondering, why had I never heard of this book until it was turned into an HBO series? All I ever read growing up was fantasy novels. A quick glance at the copyright page answered my question; the book was released in 1996 (I was only seven years old!). So I’ve forgiven myself the folly of not recognizing the genius of Martin earlier.

This novel is truly, truly epic. Martin crafted each character so carefully that I fell in love with each of them — even though each possessed both good and evil. The game of thrones is a tricky one, simply because at any given time the tide will turn. People change. People cave. People fight to live.

I thoroughly enjoyed the characters: my personal favorites being the rebellious daughter of Lord Stark, Arya; the bastard son, Jon Snow; and the younger Stark, Bran. Each character has their strengths and weaknesses that draw you in and make you become attached, even the “malformed” son of Lord Lannister, Tyrion. I also loved the direwolves, characters in their own right.

My biggest grievance with this book is the series-of-unfortunate-events tone. I found my heart both soaring and despairing as each character rises to the top only to be cut down. I fear nothing good will ever happen. That said, Martin does accurately reflect the hard truth of life in this mystic tale, especially a world as dark and dangerous as this one.

If you have any interest in epic adventures filled with knights set in a world filled with dark forests and colorful countrysides, or enjoy books filled with political intrigue that follow characters through their lifetime, this is the book for you. I highly recommend this intoxicating read that will get under your skin and invade your mind— it’s all you will think about! I’ll be indulging in the first season of the HBO series very soon. The next book, A Clash Of Kings, is on my to-be-read list. I may even have to move it up the line because A Game Of Thrones leaves the reader panting for more. After all, winter is coming.

Starters by Lissa Price

I was pleasantly surprised by Starters by Lissa Price, but I thought it could be better. The cover is really striking, though, and I did enjoy reading it.
 
A disease has wiped out a majority of the population, only the vaccinated survive leaving the really young and really old. Callie Woodland is left with only her little brother, Tyler, when her parents die; without grandparents to claim them, Callie and Tyler must live off the dangerous streets. Callie wants to make a better life for them so she resorts to renting her body at Prime Destinations. Senior Citizens “rent” out the bodies of young teens to enjoy youth again — partying, dancing, drinking, etc. After Callie decides to rent out her body for a large sum of money (enough to get them off the streets forever), Callie is shocked to find that her renter doesn’t want to party, she wants to kill.
 
This novel was really exciting to read. The concept was neat and plausible. Children and senior citizens are the first to be vaccinated, so it makes sense that they would be the most likely to survive. The disease is described as a spore (I literally had to look it up.), which again is plausible and shows that Lissa Price did a lot of research for her novel. I was impressed by Price but she didn’t completely blow me away.
 
I was initially pulled into the book, engrossed in the world Callie lives in but every once in a while the writing would be inconsistent and I felt like I was “dropped” out of the world Price created. It was like I became aware that I was reading, and where usually it reads like a visual movie in my head,  the words stuck out too much it took me out of my trance, so to speak. I didn’t like the inconsistency; it was distracting.  Hopefully, Price will perfect her writing style in the next book.
 
I loved that Callie was so devoted to her little brother, Tyler. She loved him so much she rented her body to a stranger. Can you imagine? Letting someone else use your body? It gives me the creeps, yet I can understand why she did it. The streets in Callie’s world are not forgiving and I, too, would have done whatever it took to get out.
 
Once Callie’s neurochip malfunctions and she finds herself in the rich, lavish world of her renter, the story really takes off. I enjoyed her investigation once she figures out her renter’s plot for murder. I especially enjoyed her relationship with the Senator’s son, Blake. It was the perfect amount of romance to be realistic. There was even a hint of a potential love triangle between Blake and Michael, the boy she lives on the streets with that’s taking care of her little brother while she’s being rented. I thought Price squashed potential story lines too quickly, or maybe she didn’t want a love triangle? Either way, both guys had feelings for Callie.
 
There are a lot of strange twists in this novel. It’s not the kind you “don’t expect,” but it’s so strange no one could see it coming. For example, Blake doesn’t end up being who he says he is; I kind of hated Price for awhile once that was revealed. Also, I thought there were strange references to fairytales like Cinderella or Wizard of Oz out of the blue. It left me puzzled. Was it a coincidence? Or was it supposed to mean something?
 
There was a lot of build up for the next book towards the end, however, it took away from the closure of this book. The ending seemed rushed but left a lot open for the next installment. The one thing that really made me mad was Callie’s disinterest in helping unclaimed minors like her in the end. She’s given some good luck, it disappointed me she didn’t share it. The second book, Enders, comes out December 12, 2012. It’ll be interesting to see where she goes with everything, especially the relationship between her and Blake.