Lost Review & New Review: Illuminae and Gemina by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

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synThis 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.

review4/5 Stars

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & Knopf Books for Young Readers.

Illuminae is a reading experience. The documents, interviews, emails, and recordings get the reader involved in every clue, panic attack, and bit of romance in this epic space thriller.

The pacing is inconsistent. At first, it’s an action-packed thrill ride that will keep you guessing and on the edge of your seat. The setting is insane. The danger, the terror of the invasion-it’s beyond intense. The middle part, despite the varied documents lags behind that initial hysteria only to pick up at the end with an unexpected and terrifying twist. 

Some scenes are gory and full of sickening detail. It’s awesome. The attacks are straight out of your favorite horror film and darkest nightmares. 

The world building is fierce and complex and full of politics that put profit over humanity. It’s cruel, despicable, and packed with drama. 

Kady is stellar as a protagonist. She’s conflicted in love, nostalgic, occasionally scared and so relatable, despite being a mad hacker on a space ship. Kady has skills. She uses her brain to dip into the computer systems and uncover secrets, take control, and steer everyone aboard away from utter destruction. The adrenaline is high. Her task has slim odds for survival and yet, Kady NEVER gives up. No matter how much is thrown at her, she fights and fights and keeps fighting for her people. 

The AI, wow. Unexpected and so cool. He’s got personality and such a presence. He’s dangerous, deadly, and struggles to understand emotion, but he’s sort of lovable in a weird way and the only thing saving our heroes from total devastation.

gemina

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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. But alien predators are picking off the station residents one by one, and a malfunction in the station’s wormhole means the space-time continuum might be ripped in two before dinner. Soon Hanna and Nik aren’t just fighting for their own survival; the fate of everyone on the Hypatia—and possibly the known universe—is in their hands.

But relax. They’ve totally got this. They hope.

Once again told through a compelling dossier of emails, IMs, classified files, transcripts, and schematics, Gemina raises the stakes of the Illuminae Files, hurling readers into an enthralling new story that will leave them breathless.

review

4/5 Stars 

My core issue with Gemina was the lack of rehash early on. There’s no explanation of previous events in Illuminae so I spent most of the book wondering what was going on and when it would link up with the previous story. I was super confused for much of the book. 

Hanna has a big personality, maybe even more epic than Kady’s in book 1. She’s a total, unabashed B.A. character. She’s fierce, intelligent, sexy, and full of sass. She flirts and plays and is one heck of a vixen, but underneath her perky, blonde exterior is a deadly force. Her fighting skills, her Sun Tzu references, her tactical skills, she’s wicked awesome and completely refreshing. She owns her body, her life, and will mess up anyone that threatens her. I’m impressed with how she transforms from a party girl to a warrior. The transition is smooth, floating to the surface because it was always a part of her. 

The added dynamic of Russian gang life was a marvelous addition to this story. The danger, the intrigue, the stories that went along with the Knives, the drama, it totally swept me away. 

Cat and mouse game to the extreme. Man the hunt is deadly, bloody, full of gross description, and the code names alone-each and every character is different, has a strong personality, and has their own reason for trying to capture Hanna. 

There’s a twist. It’s made of science and theory, and is a little confusing but the illustration helps. Oh the illustrations. They’re beautiful and hilarious, part comic book style and part precise diagrams. 

Elena. Oh my gosh, I love her. She’s a sarcasm queen, witty, and full of life. She doesn’t take put downs from anyone and is a genius on the computer. She’s a heroine that may even trump Hanna. Her interactions with Nik are adorable and lively. They fight like siblings, but the love floats off the pages.

Nik is complex. He’s a pervert, a flirt, and his comebacks are hilarious. He’s got the House of Knives gang cred and the tattoos to prove it. He’s so much more than meets the eye. He’s a big softy underneath that tough exterior and loves so hard it will make you swoon. His story is made of drama and lies and twists that will keep you guessing about who he truly is. 

I loved the set up at the end. The parallel between Hanna and Nik, the use of color, the poetic way it works together as one narrative despite the circumstances *no spoilers*. You have to see it. Trust me, it’s genius. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Intense reading,

Jordan

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Review: Tell Me Something Real by Calla Devlin

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Three sisters struggle with the bonds that hold their family together as they face a darkness settling over their lives in this masterfully written debut novel.

There are three beautiful blond Babcock sisters: gorgeous and foul-mouthed Adrienne, observant and shy Vanessa, and the youngest and best-loved, Marie. Their mother is ill with leukemia and the girls spend a lot of time with her at a Mexican clinic across the border from their San Diego home so she can receive alternative treatments.

Vanessa is the middle child, a talented pianist who is trying to hold her family together despite the painful loss that they all know is inevitable. As she and her sisters navigate first loves and college dreams, they are completely unaware that an illness far more insidious than cancer poisons their home. Their world is about to shatter under the weight of an incomprehensible betrayal…

review

3/5 Stars

READ THIS BOOK IF:

  • You’re looking for a coming of age drama with a twist you won’t see coming
  • You like books that are NOT romance driven
  • Sisterhood is everything

Tell Me Something Real is unexpected and eye-opening. At first, it reads like your typical coming of age drama and then, the truth. It took a good 10 minutes for me to process and as the story continued to unravel, the severity of the “real” had a subtle punch that built into a nightmare. The damage that can come from a single choice made by someone you love can be life long and brutal. The aftershock is hard to escape. 

Tell Me Something Real is set in the 1970s. Sometimes it feels that way and others it feels more like contemporary day-to-day life. The setting was inconsistent. While there were a handful of historical references and music preferences, it didn’t feel like a big deal. I wasn’t transported or invested in the time period. Perhaps the time choice was for the particular type of experimental cancer drug, but it wasn’t explained. 

Sisterhood is everything in this story. Each Babcock girl is so different, but their bond is undeniable and transcendent. They love each other. It’s in everything they do. The way they tease each other, they way they comfort and ease each other’s fears. They’re going through something horrific, extremely traumatic and life-altering. It’s a slow and hallow experience, that helplessness that overwhelms when you watch a loved one succumb to their sickness. There’s nothing you can do but wait. That feeling, the raw and painful truth of it is well written and on point. It’s not in your face emotional. It captures the little, everyday things that change when something like this happens. The way people start to push you away, look at you differently, the excessive sympathy, the way people step aside because they don’t know how to react and how much that hurts. Your life becomes about the sickness and the care. Everything else loses its sway and you’d give anything to feel normal again. As someone who recently lost a family member to cancer, this was cathartic and therapeutic for me-I felt like someone understood and that mutual understanding is everything.

The story is broken into 3 sections, that are like 3 phases of processing and coming to terms with what happened. The first section of the book is slow. It drags quite a bit and I had to push through. Yes, I sympathized with the characters, it’s hard not to, but there wasn’t anything really exciting going on.

 Adrienne was a loud presence in the background but didn’t have a huge function in the story. Later in the book she becomes more present, but for the most part, she shouts some obscenities, insults people, lashes out, and does her own thing. I didn’t really like her much. Some of the things she off-handedly says rubbed me the wrong way. 

The romance is there. It doesn’t feel like instalove or a build up, it suddenly exists and somehow feels like it has always been there. There’s not fire or lust really, just shared understanding and seeing into each other’s deepest fears and desires and accepting them without question. 

The twist is sickening and shocking. The lengths, the lies, the pain that comes from something like this that can go one for ages before anyone notices…wow. 

What killed me, broke my heart into pieces and set them on fire, was little Marie. Her way of dealing with her mother’s sickness is to become obsessed with religious martyrs. It becomes her truth, her way of life, their prayers and actions are in everything she does and it makes her life hard. None of her peers understand her and despite having her sisters, she’s so alone. To think that she believes she could have changed things, it breaks me up inside. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Emotional reading, 

Jordan

ARC Review: Forget Me Always by Sara Wolf

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All warfare is deception. Even in high school.

It’s been nineteen days since Isis Blake forgot about him. The boy she can’t quite remember. She’s stuck in the hospital with a turban-size bandage on her head, more Jell-o than a human being should ever face, and a tiny bit of localized amnesia. Her only goal? To get out of this place before she becomes a complete nutjob herself.

But as Isis’s memories start to return, she realizes there’s something important there at the edges of her mind. Something that may mean the difference between life and death. Something about Sophia, Jack’s girlfriend.

Jack Hunter—the “Ice Prince”—remembers everything. Remembers Isis’s purple hair and her smart-ass mouth. Remembers that for a little while, Isis made him feel human. She made him feel. She burned a hole in the ice…and it’s time to freeze back up. Boys like him don’t deserve girls like her. Because Jack is dangerous. And that danger might be the only thing protecting her from something far more threatening.

Her past.

Previously published as Savage Delight, this fully revised and updated edition is full of hilarity, drama, and heartbreak.

review

3/5 Stars

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via Entangled and NetGalley

Forget Me Always is a weird little book. Let me preface this review by saying that I did not read book 1 in this series. I went in blind. I had no knowledge whatsoever of the craziness that happened in book 1, so to me this probably read like more of a mystery than it actually was.

I don’t think I’ve ever read more unlikable characters. This isn’t entirely a bad thing. You probably should dislike them. Not everyone is perfect. Sometimes people are broken and in pain and don’t know how to cope. That’s a truth that is evident in this book.They’re a messy bunch of angst-riddled, spastic people harboring wounds so deep and tragic that it’s jarring even reading them. Jack is a masochistic jerk. He’s hurtful, lashes out, lives on sarcasm and self-loathing. His darkness is internalized until it becomes a physically painful truth to whoever he’s projecting his pain on. He’s twisted, complex, and has so much on his shoulders but his personality is just so negative that you kind of hate him. And yet…he’s like a brooding, tragic hero that you want to see through to the end-to see if he self destructs or comes to terms with his demons.

Isis seems way, way younger than her age. She evades and forces happiness to shield herself from past trauma-but because of that doesn’t really experience strong character growth. Some readers might appreciate her unique brand of quirky, she definitely has a strong voice, but for me it was too potent. At the same time, she certainly makes things interesting and her spirit rubs off on people, making them open up and care again. She’s devoted, a great friend.

Sophia is a nightmare, but I liked her. She vicious and cruel and borderline evil half the time, but the other times she’s bizarre and wounded, and dare I say sweet. She’s that character that you love to hate. 

There’s so much going on this book. Things coming from all directions. There was a lot left unresolved; the ending was bleak and twisted. 

The story has many components that are so relevant to teen life-sex, drugs, depression, abuse, making unsavory choices to provide for those you love, bullying, manipulation. Borderline Pretty Little Liars scale crazy with coercion, lies, and so many secrets.

Intriguing reading, 

Jordan

ARC Review: The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd

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There are winged horses that live in the mirrors of Briar Hill hospital. In the mirrors that line its grand hallways, which once belonged to a princess. In those that reflect the elegant rooms, now filled with sick children. It is her secret.

One morning, when Emmaline climbs over the wall of the hospital’s abandoned gardens, she discovers something incredible: a white horse with broken wings has left the mirror-world and entered her own.

Tucked into the garden’s once-gleaming sundial, Emmaline finds a letter from the Horse Lord. He is hiding the wounded white horse, named Foxfire, from a dark and sinister force—a Black Horse who hunts by colorless moonlight. If Emmaline is to keep the Black Horse from finding her new friend, she must collect colorful objects with which to blind him. But where can Emmaline find color when her world is filled with gray?

review4/5 Stars

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Some reviews take a while to write, not because the book was a struggle, but because there’s too much to say too soon and it wouldn’t do the book justice to spit out a review for the sake of time constraints. This review has been a long time coming and hopefully worth the wait. 

The Secret Horses of Briar Hill is a Middle Grade book. The last time I’d read one of those was probably when I was MG age…apart from Harry Potter, of course. But when I saw Megan Shepard, I had to have it-she’s one of my go-to authors.

Don’t be scared of the MG label, this book is stunning, truly and utterly beautiful, whimsical, and full of this dazzling hope in a world of tragedy. 

The Secret Horses of Briar Hill will enchant and bewitch you. You know that giddy, magical feeling you get when you feel something wonderful is on the verge of happening? The entire book is made of that feeling. If you love The Chronicles of Narnia, Bridge to Terabithia, The Golden Compass, or even Spiderwick add this to your TBR stat.

The horses are like a secret-glorious and majestic, they flit through the mirrors playful and observant, taking sneaky sips of tea or peaking around corners. Curiosity and anticipation reign as Emmaline scrambles to uncover their true purpose and convince the rest of the too serious children that they are hiding in reflections, just out of sight. Who are they, why are they in the mirrors? Questions will plague you and keep you guessing as the mystery and an epic quest pops up. 

Megan Shepard is insanely skilled at blurring the lines between historical and fantasy. The world is seamless and fits so well together it’s crazy because it really shouldn’t. There’s a World War going on, bombs are on the horizon, and the children grow more sick everyday. These are real circumstances that actually happened and if you’re into history you’ll feel that hunger to learn and research. Read the notes at the end, it’s fascinating. 

Emmaline is adorable. She’s suffered so much, lived through horrific events, and yet, that childish wonder is stronger than ever. She can be spiteful, she can be mean, but she has so much heart and this multidimensional personality makes her all the more real. 

Friendship, loss, and hope when all seems lost and the world is fading as the darkness of death closes in-that’s what this story is truly about. Magic is found in the darkest of places and the bleakest of times. I don’t have children, but when I do, I definitely plan on reading this with them.

Some parts were a little predictable, but overall it was certainly an adventure. 

The cover. OMG. Seriously, I’m taking down that name because it’s one of the best I’ve ever seen. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Magical reading, 

Jordan

ARC Review: The Memory Book by Lara Avery

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They tell me that my memory will never be the same, that I’ll start forgetting things. At first just a little, and then a lot. So I’m writing to remember.

Sammie was always a girl with a plan: graduate at the top of her class and get out of her small town as soon as humanly possible. Nothing will stand in her way–not even a rare genetic disorder the doctors say will slowly start to steal her memories and then her health. What she needs is a new plan.

So the Memory Book is born: Sammie’s notes to her future self, a document of moments great and small. It’s where she’ll record every perfect detail of her first date with longtime crush, Stuart–a brilliant young writer who is home for the summer. And where she’ll admit how much she’s missed her childhood best friend, Cooper, and even take some of the blame for the fight that ended their friendship.

Through a mix of heartfelt journal entries, mementos, and guest posts from friends and family, readers will fall in love with Sammie, a brave and remarkable girl who learns to live and love life fully, even though it’s not the life she planned.

review

4/5 Stars

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

The Memory Book is a beautifully heartbreaking and poignant read that celebrates what we neglect most-the value of memory and living each and every moment to its fullest.  

I always love books that teach me something. The idea that children can get a version of dementia (Niemann-Pick) completely blew my mind and absolutely terrified me. Some scenes are incredibly written and packed with powerful emotion. The moments when Sammie realizes her disease is kicking in right before the memory loss are brutally real and hard to read. The pain and sympathy for Sammie is unreal. 

Sammie’s voice is gripping and courageous. You know exactly who she is, what she wants, and how insanely brave she is. She’s determined to overcome when her body is failing her, she refuses to give up despite every setback, and that not only makes her admirable, but heroic.

The diary entries read with such honesty, they’re oh so real and open. All of Sammie’s fears and hopes are laid bare. 

I’ve never felt more happy for a character. As Sammie falls in love, it’s a sudden realization that is so bright and refreshing. No love triangle. That perfect moment when something building floats to the surface and everything is beautiful. 

Secondary characters are complex, and while I would have liked just a hint more of their back stories, there was enough to keep me intrigued and feel their connection to Sammie. I would have also appreciated more family interactions between siblings. 

Those diary entries at the end of the book. Stomp all over my heart, why don’t you? 

Life can be so unfair and some people give into the sadness, hurt, and depression. Sammie is ever hopeful, rarely negative, and finds beauty in simplicity. That in itself, is enough to love this book. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Keep reading, 

Jordan