Review: ‘Illuminae’ by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Illuminae

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.

This book, you guys. I pre-ordered it because I love both Amie’s and Jay’s other books, and then took a month to pick it up due to life and other things. Also, I confess, I found the 600-odd pages quite daunting.

I shouldn’t have.

Despite the length, Illuminae is a very easy read (and I suspect, due to the design, has tens of thousands less words than your average 600 pager). Once I started it, I devoured it in about two days; it would’ve been faster but pesky life things got in the way.

If you haven’t heard of Illuminae by now, the first thing you should know about it is that it is ground-breaking in its design. The “found footage” vibe is conveyed not just through the (excellent) writing but through the book’s internal layout. You really get the feeling that you’re holding a dossier of documents that has been cultivated from various sources about the events at Karenza (Kady and Ezra’s home planet) and what follows.

The end result is that the atmosphere this “weird little bookthing” (as Jay Kristoff calls it) conveys is of epic proportions. The creeping dread associated with the plague gave me the shivers, as did pretty much any transcript associated with the crazy AI, AIDAN. (And yet, AIDAN was also my favourite character. Don’t judge me!)

I loved both Kady and Ezra too; although I will never have a book crush on the latter, I did love his sense of humour. And Kady was all the things you want from a young adult leading lady: clever, empathetic, and a little bit sly. Her resilience in particular is off the charts, which, given the circumstances, is probably for the best. 😉

There are also some great little sci-fi easter eggs in Illuminae, such as a sneaky reference to Red Dwarf and a nod to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Another, more personal source of joy for me was spotting all the names of victims that I recognised in the various lists (Jay and I used to move in the same circles and have a lot of friends in common — friends who seem to have all died horribly at one point or another)!

It’s a big call, but I think Illuminae is my favourite read of 2015. It’s definitely in my top two. Read it. Give it to your friends for Christmas.

PS I am counting this review against my Australian Women Writers challenge, because it is at 50% written by an Australian woman. So nyah!

Five stars

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Review: ‘Unearthed’ by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

When Earth intercepts a message from a long-extinct alien race, it seems like the solution the planet has been waiting for. The Undying’s advanced technology has the potential to undo environmental damage and turn lives around, and Gaia, their former home planet, is a treasure trove waiting to be uncovered.

For Jules Addison and his fellow scholars, the discovery of an alien culture offers unprecedented opportunity for study… as long as scavengers like Amelia Radcliffe don’t loot everything first. Mia and Jules’ different reasons for smuggling themselves onto Gaia put them immediately at odds, but after escaping a dangerous confrontation with other scavvers, they form a fragile alliance.

In order to penetrate the Undying temple and reach the tech and information hidden within, the two must decode the ancient race’s secrets and survive their traps. But the more they learn about the Undying, the more their presence in the temple seems to be part of a grand design that could spell the end of the human race…

A lot of people are describing this book as Indiana Jones in space, which I get, but I think it has more of a Lara Croft vibe. That might be because Jules is English and relatively rich, or because Mia is an athletic young woman who’s used to scaling things in order to steal other things. (Yes, I’m splitting hairs here!) However, the main difference between the characters in Unearthed and either Indy or Lara is that Mia and Jules are teens, and neither of them knows how to use a gun. I liked that about them. If they’d been dual-pistol-weilding superheroes, the book would’ve felt far less authentic.

Unearthed is a dual-point-of-view story with alternating chapters told from Mia’s and Jules’s perspectives, but both characters carry the story equally well and I didn’t find myself hating one perspective and always wanting to get back to the other. They are quite different personalities, in that Mia acts on instinct and is all about survival, whereas Jules is a thinker, a linguist who wants to preserve the ancient temple sites and understand those that built them. (And hooray for the non-stereotypical gender roles there — I loved that!) But both of them are also there because of love for a family member back at home, which gives them common ground on which to build.

(On that point, it’s possibly unavoidable from a story point of view that both characters spend a bit of time naval-gazing, thinking about why they are on Gaia in the first place. Given the story starts after they are on Gaia, how else would we come to understand their motivations? I could have wished for a little bit less introspection, but I could see why it was there)

There is, of course, a budding romance between Mia and Jules. I say “of course” because anyone who has read any of the other books by Kaufman and Sponer will know that this is a hallmark of their writing together. (Likewise, Kaufman’s Illuminae books with Jay Kristoff each have a different romantic pairing take the lead in each book.) Unearthed is set over only a few days, and the characters spend so much time just trying to survive that they don’t really make it much past the mutual attraction stage. For me, that’s a good thing as it makes their relationship feel more realistic.

Some parts of the story are fairly straightforward and what you’d expect. The puzzles aren’t generally described in enough detail that you could solve them yourself, and — unlike Mia — I’m not a maths brain, so I’d definitely have been squished by falling rock or dropped into a ravine fairly quickly. Other parts of the story, though … I can’t go into details without spoilers, but there are a couple of massive plot twists in here, and I only saw part of one coming. I always love it when a book pulls the rug out from under me like this one did, so huzzah!

What I don’t love, though, are cliffhanger endings. The first sentence of the author acknowledgement is “Sorry about that.” All I have to say is YOU SHOULD BE. So I’ll just be sitting over here, crying quietly until the next book comes out in seven months.

 


Review: ‘Obsidio’ by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Kady, Ezra, Hanna, and Nik narrowly escaped with their lives from the attacks on Heimdall station and now find themselves crammed with 2,000 refugees on the container ship, Mao. With the jump station destroyed and their resources scarce, the only option is to return to Kerenza — but who knows what they’ll find seven months after the invasion?

Meanwhile, Kady’s cousin, Asha, survived the initial BeiTech assault and has joined Kerenza’s ragtag underground resistance. When Rhys — an old flame from Asha’s past — reappears on Kerenza, the two find themselves on opposite sides of the conflict.

With time running out, a final battle will be waged on land and in space, heroes will fall, and hearts will be broken.

This series, you guys.

Obsidio is the third book in The Illuminae Files trilogy. (You can read my reviews of the first two books, Illuminae and Gemina, here and here.) It continues in the same vein as the first two books, told through “found footage” and transcriptions of camera footage. There is some art included, as was the case in Gemina — though not as much this time.

I love love love this series, you guys. I love the way it’s presented. I love that we get a sense of these characters through chat logs and camera footage and diary entries. I love that the lines of dialogue describing the actions of spaeships themselves swoop and twirl across the page, and that the lines belonging to everyone’s favourite crazy computer, AIDAN, are filled with glitches and code. As well as being a great story, this trilogy is a work of art, in the visual sense. Everyone should own it.

As far as Obsidio goes, specifically, I gave it five stars — the same as for the rest of the series — though, if I had to pick a favourite of the three, I think Gemina would win. It’s a near thing, though.

Asha and Rhys are older than the other leads in this series. They had a history as teens, and are now meeting up again in their twenties. But they aren’t the stars of Obsidio the same way that the other two couples are of their books, because Kady, Ezra, Hanna and Nik are all part of this story as well. The book switches between events on the Mao and events on Kerenza, the planet where everything kicked off in the first place.

It’s sometimes easy to forget how old the protagonists are in these stories; one of the things I liked about Obsidio was how some of the minor characters expressed horror at being expected to take directions from teenagers. (I’m not saying I like people ignoring teens — I wouldn’t read so much YA if that were the case — but it was very realistic to have a seasoned, grizzled adult express incredulity at some of the things that our four teen heroes have done. These kids have had a very bad few months.)

The Illuminae Files have broken the mould. I can’t wait to see what other books follow in their footsteps — and I can’t wait to see what Amie and Jay get up to next.


Bookstagramming Aussie books

Today on Instagram I decided (on a bit of a whim) to post pics of Aussie books. Because Aussie books are the prettiest — and they look even better when placed beside Funko PopVinyl figures (of which I have, err, rather a lot).

So, on a similar whim, I decided to share some of them here too. Taking bookstagram pics is one of my new favourite hobbies! I could post a ton more, but these are some of my most-recent photos. I decided to stick to those, primarily because I’m really digging this style of pic. Angles! Origami stars! Pops! Yay!

… and yes, I snuck a pic of some of my own books in there. I couldn’t resist. And it is a pretty picture! (In case you weren’t already aware, the first ebook in my Isla’s Inheritance trilogy is available for freeeee! The links are up there, at the top of the screen. *points*)

For my Australian friends, have an awesome public holiday … especially if you’re working. For everyone else, HAPPY THURSDAY!

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AussieOwned_ContributorToday over at Aussie Owned and Read, we’re talking why we love being an Aussie writer, and why we set our books where we do. Check it out!


Review: ‘Gemina’ by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

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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.

Gemina is over 600 pages. I devoured it in two sessions, despite being a single mother who works full time. That should demonstrate that you should read it.

*waits*

Okay, you want more? Well, first off, know that this is the sequel to the magnificent Illuminae, which was one of my favourite 2015 reads — if not my favourite. I gave it five stars on a one to five scale.

Gemina is better.

The genre is, broadly, a young adult, fast-paced, alternate-format sci-fi series. The key adjective there is “alternate format” — both books are presented in a “found footage” way: instant message and radio transcripts, emails and security camera footage (transcribed by a character known only by his analyst code, and also — in this book — by my favourite crazy-ass computer). There’s another difference in Gemina, in that Hanna, our leading lady, has a journal and is an artist. This means we get character sketches, a rough map of the space station, and a creeping sense of dread at the bloodstain slowly spreading in each new page we see.

If Illuminae is space zombies meets 2001: A Space Odyssey, Gemina is a mash-up of space terrorists and space, um, aliens. Like, aliens from the movie Aliens. (This isn’t a spoiler if you’ve read the blurb, btw.) While the latter combination is definitely creepy, Illuminae gave me more chills — although that has a lot to do with my near-phobia of invisible killers such as plagues, I suspect.

I’d find it hard to choose between the leading ladies of Illuminae and Gemina — both are kick-butt in their own ways, though Hanna is in the literal sense that she’s a black-belt with military training, courtesy of ol’ Dad. Definitely a handy lady to have on your side in a terrorist-alien situation.

As for the blokes, I was fond of Ezra but would pick Nik any day of of the week. (Sorry, Ezra.)

We do get to see a handful of characters from the previous book — those that survived, at any rate. There’s a third book to come in the series, where hopefully Kady and Hanna (and the others, I guess, but mainly Kady and Hanna!) will team up and kick BeiTech face first through a black hole. I’ll be cheering for them from over here!

I hear the audiobook is amazing, but I read the paperback. Whichever way you do it, get this series. Love it. Name your children after it.

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Five stars


Wrap-up for 2015

As I said in my Christmas post, 2015 has been a crazy year for me. It started off with a bang, with Isla’s Oath being released in January. In April, Melpomene’s Daughter came out.

However, for both books, only the ebook version was released — and, in October, just as I was gearing up to self-publish Lucid Dreaming, I got the word that Turquoise Morning Press was closing. The bright side is that I got the rights to the trilogy back straight away, as well as permission to use the original covers if I wished. I ended up deciding to commission new covers, and so the scramble to re-release them commenced.

I couldn’t have done it without Kim from KILA Designs; as well as being my designer and friend, she also patiently explained the parts of self-publishing a book that I hadn’t even considered to that point.

The upshot is that, in 2015, I had five release days for three books. Is it any wonder I’m spending my new year’s eve in my pyjamas and a T-shirt (a black one that says “The book was better”)? I’m too knackered to contemplate anything else!

I achieved most of my
reading and writing resolutions…

but not all.

As I mentioned yesterday, I only read 9 out of 12 of the books in my Aussie Readers challenge. And, although I did indeed release Isla’s Oath, Melpomene’s Daughter and Lucid Dreaming, and I did finish writing my fantasy novel, I didn’t manage to write another Tammy Calder novella. I’ll have to save that one for next year.

I also set myself a goal of blogging at least twice a week, but I don’t know that I always achieved that. (Trivia: according to the WordPress stats monkeys, my most popular post in 2015 was my review of Eleven Weeks by Lauren K. McKellar.)

I haven’t done up a list of 2016 resolutions yet. I know I’m supposed to do it before the year kicks over, but at the moment I can’t think past “don’t release three books five times”!

I read one book a week…

That wasn’t deliberate; it just worked out that way. For the last two years, my Goodreads challenge number has been 40 books + however many kids books I read/listen to with my son (excluding picture books, which I don’t bother recording). This year, that worked out to 50 books. I overachieved a little.

Of these:

  • 87% were by women writers (or, in the case of Three Slices and Illuminae, had at least one female writer)
  • 75% were speculative fiction of one stripe or another (including the children’s books)
  • 31% were by Australian authors (or, in the case of Losing It, had at least one Aussie author)
  • 25% were by Kim Harrison (I gobbled the entire Hollows series this year)
  • 12% were by Cressida Cowell (the boy and I went on a How to Train Your Dragon kick earlier in the year — did you know the audiobooks are narrated by David Tennant?)
  • 4% were non-fiction

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So there you have it!

This year has been busy, but I got by with a little (or a lot of) help from my friends. And also my family, and you guys — my lovely readers. I hope your 2016 is filled with love, hugs, laughter and, above all, books.

See you next year!


Australian Women Writers Challenge – 2015 wrap up

aww-badge-2015The Australian Women Writers’ Challenge is part of a world-wide movement to raise awareness of excellent writing by women. It helps readers to challenge the subconscious stereotypes that govern our choice of books to read. The challenge encourages avid readers and book bloggers, male and female, Australian and non-Australian, to read and review books by Australian women throughout the year. You don’t have to be a writer to sign up. You can choose to read and review, or read only.

This is my second year doing the Australian Women Writers Challenge — last year I read and reviewed eleven books by Aussie women, so this year I decided to up my goal to fifteen. Yesterday in the wee small hours of the night, and just in the nick of time, I finished my final book!

This was one of three reading challenges I signed up to this year. The other two were a diverse genres one (again for Australian writers), which I didn’t quite achieve, and the general Goodreads challenge, which I did. As Meatloaf said, two out of three ain’t bad…

Here is a link to each review, as well as my star rating for each book:

I’ve discovered some awesome new-to-me authors this year (such as Ellie Marney, Melissa Keil and Allyse Near), as well as revelling in new releases by some old favourites (such as Kate Forsyth, Paula Weston and the Aussie Owned and Read girls).

It’s been a good year. 🙂


Six 2015 releases I need to own right now (because my TBR pile isn’t tall enough already)

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I missed last week’s Top Ten Tuesday on 2015 releases because I was in my writing cave, but I really kinda wanted to write a post about it. So I’m doing it this week BECAUSE THIS IS MY BLOG SO NYAH!

There are a few books in the works that I want to add but I’m not 100% sure about release dates for some of them, or they don’t have covers yet (or both!), so I haven’t included them here.

The Aussie Authors

(Also, these covers are all earth tones — what’s up with that?)

Burn (The Rephaim #4) by Paula Weston (June)

How to Save a Life by Lauren McKellar (July)

Illuminae by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman (October)

The Rest of the World

(Brought to you by shades of blue…)

You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day (August)

Winter (The Lunar Chronicles #4) by Marissa Meyer (November)

Untamed (Splintered 3.5) by A. G. Howard (December)

I only discovered about the Felicia Day memoir and Untamed by reading Paper Fury’s Top Ten Tuesday post last week, which I’m pretty sure is why I either should or should not read posts like these. I guess it depends on your thoughts on me owning more books than I could read in a year… (I could totally read them all in a year if someone would keep me in the manner to which I would like to become accustomed, of course!)

Now’s your chance to make it worse! What books am I missing?

 


I Found My Green-Eyed Monster

I had a moment of personal clarity the other day.

I’ve often thought that I was pretty Zen about my position in the writing world. I don’t have an agent or a publishing contract with a big press, but I don’t lie awake at night comparing myself to others who do have those things. If I did, then I’d have to look no further for angst than Jay Kristoff, who I’ve known for more than a decade. He’s been very successful with his Lotus War trilogy, and was able to quit work to write fulltime (basically every writer’s dream ever) after he signed the contract for Illuminae. Another good friend of mine, Stacey Nash, has a three-book deal (yay!) with a Harper Collins digital imprint. (And one of her books came out a few days ago.)

The thing is, I’m genuinely happy for these people, both of whom are entirely deserving. I don’t even feel a twinge of jealousy — I actually find it inspirational. Back when I was at uni, I had a very dour lecturer who told all the wannabe writers in the room that, as Australians, we’d never ever be able to quit work to write fulltime (unless we wrote romance).

I’d like to be able to rub Jay’s success in her face. Maybe with a copy of Endsinger, which is 600 pages and rather heavy. 😉

But then I realised when I was chatting to someone a few days ago that there is one thing that I am really jealous about. If I dwell on it, it actually makes me a little depressed. It’s not the end result of the book deal and the agent that triggers this reaction me.

It’s the speed at which some people write.

Adventure Time Jealous

In this image, I am Jake (the dog), clinging to the wobbly back of the speeding Lady Rainicorn!

I’m a slow drafter, although I’m getting better. Isla’s Inheritance took over a year to draft; I was averaging maybe 2000 words a month and, because it was the first book I wrote, I was still feeling my way through the process. That means I wrote a couple of chapters that were ultimated scrapped (sob). With Isla’s Oath, I doubled my word goal, but it still took the better part of a year. With my most recent manuscripts, Melpomene’s Daughter and Lucid Dreaming, I set myself a goal of 2000 words a week and finished the first drafts in around seven months. These were also much cleaner drafts than my debut was, meaning there was less work to do in the editing stages.

Still, that’s just a first draft. Looking at all the reading and re-reading, and re-re-reading that happens during the editing process, it’s more like a year for me to produce something polished. And by comparison, Chuck Wendig – who is a fulltime writer – writes 2000 words a day.

When I see people who are releasing two or three books a year, the envy is strong in this one. I’ve got three books coming out in 2015, but that’s because Isla’s Inheritance and Isla’s Oath were done before I signed with TMP. I definitely won’t be maintaining the “several books a year” schedule after 2015.

It’s even more sobering when I see articles and posts by indie authors who talk about how you need to release at least two books a year to maintain momentum, keep your fans keen. I try to do the things “they” say, but this one’s beyond me. There’s not a lot I can do to write faster than I am now. I work thirty-five hours a week and I’m a single mother, which means the only times I get to write are after my son goes to bed, or occasionally on the weekend if I decide to let him have a “lazy day” in front of the TV or on the Wii. (I feel guilty when I do that, but a wise friend once told me that it’s important to let your kids see you pursue your goals.)

The other factor in my jealousy is that I have other book ideas I’d love to be working on. I went through my plot bunny notebook the other day, and there were ideas in there for four novels, two novellas (both for my Tammy Calder pen name) and a short story. One of the novel ideas is actually plotted out, down to character details; the rest are in the embryonic stage but could get there with a little bit of time and energy.

It should be said that I’m happy for others who are able to publish more than one book a year. Delighted. Being crazy jealous that they can do it doesn’t make me less pleased for them! And I know that the mere fact of having written a book — more than one — and then seeing it published it is a massive deal. I’m proud of what I’ve achieved to date and look forward to doing more of the same.

Thinking about it, I suppose jealousy can actually be a good thing. It’s a kick up the backside, a goad to action. And even though I’m not sure what else I can do to increase my productivity, it does at least keep me thinking about ideas to do so. It’s also an awesome spur to get my butt in the chair to write when I do have the opportunity.

So that’s my confession. I found my green-eyed monster: it was down the back of the couch this whole time!

Also, I realise this post is a bit of a ramble. It’s more me thinking aloud (well, on screen) than anything else. But I thought putting this out there might help other writers who feel the same way I do.

Some of you do feel this way, right?

Right, guys?

Adventure Time friends


Five Books People Have Been Telling Me I MUST Read

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I can’t get to ten on this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, primarily because if enough people recommend a book (such as The Fault in our Stars by John Green), I will usually read it fairly promptly…which makes it ineligible for this particular list! I’ve also excluded books that have been brought to my attention by the authors themselves—I don’t mean via spammy advertising here (that NEVER works), but books where I’ve gotten to know the author on Twitter or similar and then decided to buy it.

So, here is my list, such as it is!

We Were LiarsWe Were Liars by E. Lockhart. I’ve lost track of the number of people that have recommended this book to me, and after including it in my list of books I’m not sure about reading, I got even more endorsements. I’ve bought the paperback and it’s on my to-be-read pile.

Everything by Mary Renault. That’s not the name of the book, mind you! But I recently read her book The King Must Die, and a friend, on seeing this via Facebook, insisted I have to read all her other books set in Ancient Greece — which I think is all of them. I’ve been reading a lot about the era recently, both fiction and non-fiction, so I may well do. (Currently I’m a little bit in love with Achilles from The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller.)

The Scorpio RacesThe Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. After I reviewed The Raven Boys, it was suggested that I pick up this book. I will eventually, if Stiefvater’s books keep being as awesome as The Raven Boys was, but I really want to read the rest of The Raven Cycle firstat least, that part of it that is already available in paperback!

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest. A zombie-mad friend recommended this one, and the blurb sounds really interesting: zombies, steampunk technology and an alternate history America? Ok, why not!

These Broken StarsThese Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner. A couple of friends gave rave reviews to this book on Goodreads and their blogs. On top of that, Jay Kristoff (who wrote The Lotus War trilogy) is co-writing a book called Illuminae with Amie, and he also recommended this. These Broken Stars is firmly on my wish list but I haven’t bought it yet.