An Epic and Scientific Space Adventure to Save Humanity: Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Would you look at that, only a few short weeks before the end of the year and here I am with a fantastic sci-fi read. Huh. Colour me shocked and impressed.

Who, What, Where?

Project Hail Mary follows Dr Ryland Grace, who mysteriously wakes up from a coma onboard a spacecraft with no memory of who is he is, how he came to be there or why. All he knows is that the rest of the crew is dead, there’s plenty of scientific equipment on hand and he’s nowhere near Earth. As Ryland slowly begins to piece together his history and mission, he discovers that he’s the only person standing between humanity and extinction.  

Get Your Science On

Let’s get the negatives out of the way. Firstly, most of the side characters are underdeveloped. They’re around for specific purposes but there isn’t much depth or attachment beyond that. Second, and more importantly, this book is really science-y. Like, really. Yes, I do realise it’s science fiction. I’m not a complete dummy. But, you don’t understand. It’s just SO science-heavy. I now know more about physics and the physiology of made-up microscopic species than I ever wanted to. To be fair, Weir does a great job trying to break down scientific theory and concepts for layman readers. Plus, it helps that his main character is a high school science teacher, accustomed to doing exactly this. Some of it is pretty interesting and a lot of it is extremely important to the story. It certainly enhanced the realism of the mission. Yet, I’d be lying if I said there weren’t paragraphs where I found myself skimming.

What in Outer Space is Going on Here?

PHM was an intense ride. That sounds weird considering there are so many stretches where the characters are conducting research or working through a problem, but it’s true. I’m sure there will be others who’ll find it snooze-worthy but, me, I was engaged in the story almost from start to finish. The plot has elements of Sunshine, The Martian, and Arrival woven into it, but it still feels like its own thing. I was hooked right from the first page and immediately intrigued by finding out what the hell was going on, why, and how Ryland of all people had ended up in this position. The first two questions are resolved without too much of a wait but the third takes far longer. I really liked the way the book’s mysteries unfolded gradually through Ryland’s discoveries and flashbacks as he remembered more and more of his past. I was also extremely invested in his efforts to solve humanity’s dilemma. The need for answers kept me flipping pages until the end, experiencing the successes and setbacks alongside the characters.

First Contact

BEWARE SPOILERS. During his mission, Ryland comes across an alien ship and ends up in a first contact situation with a being he names ‘Rocky’. I wasn’t expecting this plotline but I loved it, and the interactions between Ryland and Rocky were my favourite part of the book. It was such a wholesome and great friendship that I was willing to overlook how quickly they bridged the language barrier (I’ve seen Arrival, okay. Alien languages are complicated!). There were moments with buddy comedy vibes, which were fun, and I loved reading about the two working together and learning more about each other’s races.

Mark 2.0

As a main character, Ryland has some big similarities to The Martian’s lead, Mark Watney. Both are scientists, astronauts (technically), lone humans in remote locations, and rely on humour in their narration to lighten the mood. Admittedly, there are some differences – Ryland is a molecular biologist and generally avoids real curse words while Mark was a botanist and his favourite word was four letters long and started with an ‘F’. Ryland also gets ridiculously excited about science in a way I don’t remember Mark doing and has much more to worry about than his own survival. Regardless, if you weren’t a fan of The Martian for character reasons, you’ll likely have similar gripes here. Personally, I found Ryland easy enough to spend 500 pages with and I enjoyed his sense of humour, even though he’s terrible at naming things (or is he fantastic? It’s hard to tell).

Armageddon with a Smile

Something I really appreciated about PHM was its amusing and upbeat tone. Despite the serious nature of plot, the story doesn’t feel extremely heavy and bleak all the time. There’s hope, positivity, persistence, humour, and every time the characters hit a major speed bump, they’re disappointed, but they keep working the problem. The ending is also pretty uplifting and suited to Ryland’s character, although I do feel it could be slightly divisive.


Altogether, this was a great sci-fi read and I feel bad for putting it off for so many months. After hearing lots of not-so-positive things about Artemis and deciding to give it a miss, it’s good to know that Weir’s writing is back to the standard he set with The Martian.

4 stars

2021 TBR: 24 Books I Want to Read in 2021

A new year, a new probably unrealistic list of books I’d like to tackle before the end of the year. In 2020 I set myself a list of 30 books I wanted to read from a bunch of different genres. I ended up only reading…well, 14 of them. Er, yeah. It could have been better. Anyway, here’s hoping that this year is more productive and less subject to intense shifts in my reading mood.

  • Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte: I bought a Penguin faux leather copy of this and it’s too pretty not to be read. Hopefully I like it a lot more than I did Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.
  • Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier: I’ve been putting this off for YEARS. Now that I’ve watched an adaptation, I feel I really, really need to finally read the book.
  • Little Women – Louisa May Alcott: Yes, this book was on my 2020 list. Yes, it’s here again.
  • The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson: Lately I’ve been wanting to try my hand at writing a ghost story. I should probably see how one of the experts does it.
  • Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe – Benhamin Alire Saenz: I’ve heard so many amazing things about this book and it sounds so good.
  • The Heart’s Invisible Furies – John Boyne: Heaps of positive reviews, an interesting sounding blurb and recommended for those who liked A Little Life (which I did). Please don’t make me cry.
  • Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami: I tried reading 1Q84 many years ago and found it super weird. This is supposedly less so. I might hate it, might love it. Trying it for something different.
  • The Comeback – Ella Berman: There’s something intriguing about this book. It just seems like something I’d like. Plus very topically relevant in today’s day & age.
  • If We Were Villains – M. L. Rio: I read The Secret History back in 2020 and really liked it. This has been regularly recommend as being similar in feel. Yay, dark academia & murder!
  • The Boy From the Woods – Harlan Coben: I came across TBFtW while perusing the GR Choice awards noms. I do enjoy a good mystery from time to time and this one certainly sounds exciting.
  • The Last Time I Lied – Riley Sager: It’s bizarre, I am so keen on reading Sager’s books despite having this nagging feeling that I won’t love them. This one is set at a camp which is cool yet creepy.
  • A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder – Holly Jackson: This is my next stop in the search for an amazing YA crime/thriller book. I’ve been burnt before but reviews have been great so fingers crossed!
  • To Sleep in a Sea of Stars – Christopher Paolini: The size is definitely intimidating but as if I’m going to pass up new Paolini, and an interesting sounding one with a gorgeous cover at that.
  • Dark Age (Red Rising 5#) – Pierce Brown: You guys already know how much I love this series. I FINALLY read Iron Gold last year so that means it’s time for Dark Age. I’m preparing my heart.
  • Ready Player Two – Ernest Cline: Reviews on this one haven’t been great but a) I got it for Christmas and b) I really liked the first book. So we’re doing it in 2021.
  • The Midnight Library – Matt Haig: The Goodreads Choice Awards Fiction winner for 2020! This book sounds so good and I’m almost 100% positive that I’m going to love it.
  • The Burning God (The Poppy War 3#) – R F Kuang: I’m legit obsessed with this series. Book two was my favourite read of 2020 and I’m SO keen for the last book. Pain is coming, I can tell.
  • Piranesi – Susanna Clarke: Shiny foiling on covers, I can’t resist it. Piranesi sounds super different from other things I’ve read in recent years and I’ve seen some amazing reviews, too.
  • The Well of Ascension (Mistborn 2#) – Brandon Sanderson: I have a sudden desire to go back to this series (blame Skyward maybe?). I read The Final Empire back in 2015 but for some reason didn’t continue onward. I’ll have to reread it before tackling TWoA but I’m really looking forward to it.
  • Foundryside – Robert Jackson Bennett: I’ve had Foundryside on my radar for a while now and I think it’s finally the time. Magic, politics, a heist, adventure…sign me up!
  • Layla – Colleen Hoover: It’s been hit or miss with Colleen Hoover reads, but I like the sound of this. Hopefully it’s more Verity & It Ends with Us than Confess. I also got it for $2 on kindle, SCORE.
  • The Two Lives of Lydia Bird – Josie Silver: The concept for this sounds kind of weird but I enjoyed Josie Silver’s One Day in December so I’m keen to give this a whirl.
  • From Blood and Ash – Jennifer L. Armentrout: Blame the hype. I have to see what people are talking about. I’m sure it’ll be tropey and cringey to the max but the FOMO is too intense.
  • Today, Tonight, Tomorrow – Rachel Lynn Solomon: This looks like a solid ya rom-com. It also features enemies to lovers (= my crack). I’m worried about rushed development because of the time frame but we shall see.

What’s on your list of backlist books to read in 2021?

Unpopular Opinions on a Sci-Fi Classic: Dune by Frank Herbert

Well, that was one of the more tedious books I’ve read. If ever there was a book I should have just stopped reading, it was this one. Honestly, it took me about two weeks just to finish the last 100 pages. But there ain’t no motivation like an upcoming film adaptation…

Who, What, Where?

Let’s get the summary out of the way first. Dune is set on the inhospitable desert planet of Arrakis which is famed for its rare and extremely valuable resource, Melange or “Spice”. When control of the planet is shifted by the emperor from House Harkonnen to House Atreides, this sets off a conflict between the two families. After Duke Leto Atreides is murdered, his heir Paul and concubine Jessica flee into the desert where they find sanctuary with the planet natives, the Fremen. Here, Paul plans to avenge his father and retake Arrakis.

Rightfully Hyped World Building & Decent Concepts

Much like with The Lord of the Ring and fantasy, I can see why Dune had such an important influence on the science-fiction genre. At the time it was written, this would have been something new and pretty revolutionary, and I definitely understand why people praise the world building as much as they do. It’s interesting, complex, and grounded in research about real cultures and landscapes. Herbert touches on ecology, economics, religion & mythology, politics, and a whole host of other things to create a rich and believable universe. But, unfortunately, world building alone is not enough to make a book good or enjoyable.

Dune’s story has some decent ideas – squabbling between familial houses, a chosen one, an elite group of influential women trying to bring about a prophecy, conflict over control of a precious resource… And yet, the way it all unfolds and is actually told is…bad. It’s just so bad .

Suspense, Plot Twists…What are Those?

There is almost no suspense in this book whatsoever. Why? Because Herbert tells us almost every major plot point well in advance, largely using “excerpts” from historical texts at the beginning of every chapter. Is Paul the prophesied Kwisatz Haderach? Who’s the traitor? What are the Harkonnens planning? We’re told it all in the first few chapters. Worse, the moment we do get to anything slightly more dramatic such as a battle, duel, or assassination attempt, it’s skimmed over in the blink of an eye.

Paul Gary Stu Atreides

I have often said that I can forgive plot failings in a book if it’s got great characters. That was not the case here. I honestly did not care what happened to any of the characters in Dune. If they had simply died in the desert half way through, it wouldn’t have made a difference as far as I’m concerned. Paul, especially, annoys the shit out of me. He just knows everything, spouts prophetic nonsense, goes on about his “terrible purpose” and somehow becomes this perfect, all-powerful and talented leader without really earning it. And the time that we could have potentially seen him earning it is skipped over in a 3 year time jump. Just…why.

Antagonists without Nuance

What is up with the antagonists in this book? No, really. The Harkonnens are so stereotypically, almost cartoonishly, evil (fat, prone to incompetence, plot/boast in overly long monologues, pedofelic) that it’s practically ridiculous. Then there’s the emperor, whose motivations I still have no freakin’ clue about. And to make matters worse, despite the page time these guys get, they end up being essentially useless because, as I mentioned above, Paul is supreme. Ugh.

Dodgy Dialogue

As I said earlier, the writing in Dune leaves a lot to be desired. The dialogue especially is clunky as all hell and there were times where it felt as though two characters were talking at each other rather than with one another. Stylistically, I wasn’t much of a fan of Herbert’s use of third person omniscient with its substantial amounts of boring and fragmented inner monologuing. For example, there’s literally a scene in which Leto thinks the same sentence in italics about 5 times! In general though, I just found the writing confusing, disjointed and uninteresting.

Women + Power = Cannot Compute

Ah, the sexism. *sigh* I know it’s the 60s, but come on. This is supposed to be set in the future and women are still somehow entirely defined by their relationships with men. What frustrates me the most is the fact that Herbert actually created female characters like Jessica and Chani, Paul’s mother and lover, with all the necessary things in place for them to be strong and powerful but simply relegated them to subordinate roles! Then we have the Bene Gesserit – a group of powerful, intelligent women who can control men with a word, integrated into all the major powerhouses of the universe, and yet, their job is essentially breeding while they wait on some prophesied male child?? REALLY? I can’t. I just can’t.


As you can see, this really wasn’t for me. Perhaps if I’d grown up and read it at the time it was first released, I might have a different opinion. But because this is 2020, if anyone asks, I read it, survived it, and can thoroughly explain why I did not like it. To all the sci-fi lovers out there who consider this their bible, please don’t hurt me.

1.5 Stars

A Hero Doesn’t Choose Her Trials: Starsight by Brandon Sanderson

Skyward was my favourite read of 2019, so to say that I had high expectations for Starsight is verging on understatement. In the end, was it as good as the original? No, but I can safely say it was a very enjoyable ride all the same.

Who, What, Where?

Yeah, I can’t do this section for this particular review because the spoilers would be out of this world. Ha. Get it? Out of this…okay, moving on.

A Different Type of Adventure

Story wise, Starsight was a very different experience to Skyward. I’ll admit, I panicked when I first realised the direction the narrative was taking, but in the end I really needn’t have worried. Where book one was focused on a straightforward path of training and survival with clear heroes, enemies and goals, Starsight is more about subtlety, politics, and subterfuge. Because of this, the pacing is a lot slower at points. Still, despite the lack of ‘I-must-keep-reading’ momentum, I was never bored.  And if you’re someone who really enjoyed the battles in book one, don’t worry. Spensa spends plenty of time in the cockpit.

A Whole New World…or Universe

Over the years, something I’ve found that frequently ruins a good concept is an author attempting to take their stage from small to big. When I saw this was about to happen here, a large part of me wanted to scream: ABORT MISSION. As it turned out, I should have trusted a phenomenal world builder like Sanderson not to let me down. Starsight is the big bang of world building. It introduces new races, technology, planets, histories, culture, politics, everything you could possibly think of, and it does so fantastically. These inclusions are not only interesting but exponentially raise the stakes for the characters and expand the story in an exciting (and MAJOR) way. Even better, they make logical sense. Now that the door has been opened, I’m really looking forward to seeing what else is out there.

New Faces & Missing Familiar Ones

Starsight introduces us to a bunch of new characters. I can’t say much because of spoilers, but these new faces are very different to those we found in Skyward. They’re also completely distinct from one another in personality, physical appearance, and backstories. You can tell that Sanderson had a lot of fun crafting these characters and throughout the story they provided some great moments of humour, sadness and excitement. I really enjoyed them, both the “good” and the villainous.

Yet, while I liked the new characters, I have to say that I missed Cobb and the Skyward Flight gang in this book. For plot reasons, they don’t get much page time other than a few scenes here and there. Jorgen makes some bread (really) and gets the beginnings of a character arc, which will be expanded later, but for the others, it’s almost a blink and you’ll miss it situation. Although, I am happy to report that our faves, M-Bot and Doomslug, were very much along for the ride (complete with an existential crisis on M-Bot’s part) and gave me the usual snort laughs. And bonus, they even got some development of their own!

Spensa the Spy

Something I really loved about this book was just how much growth Spensa underwent. I loved Spensa and her crazy dramatics in Skyward, but in Starsight she becomes far more self-aware, realises the value of discipline and pre-planning, and re-evaluates her perspectives on war and what it means to be a hero. It was also great to see her tackle challenges in new, subtler ways and have to utilise skills not previously part of her strengths. By pushing Spensa out of her comfort zone, Sanderson has created an even better lead that I can’t wait to see develop further.

Sanderson, You Suck

That ending. I knew it was coming, but I’m still mad. How could you do this to me? And with at least a year to wait for the next book? Like, really? REALLY?


Although distinctly different from its predecessor in terms of scale, plot and pacing, Starsight is another fantastic read which massively expands the series’ overarching story and universe. While I may have enjoyed Skyward better, Starsight was still a great mix of action, humour, and heart that I’m sure I’ll re-read in years to come.

Now, someone wake me up when book three is out…

4.5 Stars

2020 TBR: 30 Books to Read in 2020

Yes, I am very much aware that ’20 books for 2020′ has a much better ring to it but, as usual, once I got started working through the books I wanted to read this year, it got very difficult to stop. So, here we are instead with 30 books. This year I really wanted to draw myself up a year long TBR for two reasons: (1) to remind me to read more broadly and (2) to read some of the books I’ve been putting off. As the months go by, I’ll use this post as a checklist to keep track of my progress. I expect to read far more books in 2020 than what’s listed here but it’s always good to leave plenty of room for reading mood swings and new discoveries.

General Fiction

  • Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng [ ]
  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman [ ]

Historical Fiction

  • Where the Crawdads Sing – Delia Owens [ ]
  • The Silence of the Girls – Pat Barker [ ]
  • City of Girls – Elizabeth Gilbert [ ]

NON-FICTION

  • Becoming – Michelle Obama [ ✔ ]
  • Educated – Tara Westover [ ]
  • This is Going to Hurt – Adam Kay [ ✔ ]
  • Know My Name – Chanel Miller [ ✔ ]
  • In Cold Blood – Truman Capote [ ]

Crime/Thriller

  • The Whisper Man – Alex North [ ✔ ]
  • Stillhouse Lake – Rachel Caine [ ]
  • Miracle Creek – Angie Kim [ ]

Classics

  • Emma – Jane Austen [ ✔ ]
  • Little Women – Louisa May Alcott [ ]

Fantasy

  • The Dragon Republic – R. F. Kuang [ ✔ ]
  • The Ten Thousand Doors of January – Alix E. Harrow [ ]
  • The Priory of the Orange Tree – Samantha Shannon [ ]
  • Gideon The Ninth – Tamsyn Muir [ ✔ ]
  • The Diviners – Libba Bray [ ✔ ]
  • Throne of Glass – Sarah J. Maas (reread) [ ]

Romance

  • 10 Blind Dates – Ashley Elston [ ✔ ]
  • The Bromance Book Club – Lyssa Kay Adams [ ✔ ]
  • Loveboat, Taipei – Abigail Hing Wen [ ✔ ]
  • Love and Other Words – Christina Lauren [ ]

Horror

  • The Shining – Stephen King [ ]
  • Let the Right One in – John Ajvide Lindqvist [ ]

Science Fiction/Dystopia

  • The Toll – Neal Shusterman [ ✔ ]
  • Iron Gold – Pierce Brown [ ✔ ]
  • Starsight – Brandon Sanderson [ ✔ ]

As you can see, that’s 30 books with a mix of genres, authors, and page lengths. I’ll do my best to cover as many of them throughout the year as I can. Knowing me, I’ll get distracted by other books and won’t end up finishing them all but fingers crossed I get through a majority.

Psychic Twins, Alchemy and the Potential End of the World: Middlegame by Seanan McGuire (ARC)

When I first read the synopsis for Middlegame, my immediate thought was: Give it to me. Because, damn did this book sound good. Super-human intellectual twins and alchemists seeking to use them to become gods – it all sounded right up my alley. Plus, early reactions were flowing with five star ratings. It seemed like there was almost no way I wouldn’t enjoy it. And yet, somehow, this ended up being exactly the case.

Who, What, Where?

Roger and Dodger are twins. While Roger has always had an aptitude for words and languages, his sister views the world in numbers and equations. However, having grown up at opposite ends of the country, the two only meet when they realise that they have a psychic connection with one another. Little do they know that they are the carefully crafted experiments of an alchemist named James Reed, designed to embody the two halves of the Doctrine of Ethos, language and mathematics, which is believed to be the key to commanding all things. Reed seeks to use these abilities to access a place known as The Impossible City, and in doing so to gain unimaginable power.

I’m Sorry, but Huh?

If there is one emotion I associate with this book, it’s confusion, because good lord was I confused. Confused and then frustrated. This is one of those stories that holds back a large amount of information from the reader to allow for big dramatic reveals later. The problem with this approach here is that not only is the plot dealing with very complex ideas, but the answers to the big questions take so long to arrive (or never do), that you spend most of the book wondering what the hell is going on and why. What is the Impossible City? How does Reed intend to use Roger and Dodger’s powers to get there? What kind of power will reaching it grant him and why does he want that power? Somebody throw me a line here!

Slow & Messy

Middlegame is over 500 pages long and, until the climax finally starts to kick into gear, it’s a pretty slow 500+ pages. A large chunk of the plot is devoted to following Roger and Dodger through different periods of their lives. They interact with each other, go about their day to day activities, and steadily develop their abilities. Other than a few sparse dramatic events which separate them for periods, such as *spoiler* a suicide attempt, *end spoiler* that’s about it for a long time. At first, it’s not so bad, but after a while it starts to become boring and repetitive, and left me almost wanting to give up altogether. I’ll admit that things did pick up eventually, but by that point it felt like too little, too late.

*Spoilers* Another thing that bothered me was the plot’s use of time travel. Don’t get me wrong, I love a bit of time travel, but in Middlegame, I found its use messy and frustrating. At some point in the book, you realise that time is repeatedly being rewound to try to alter certain outcomes. Because of this, aside from a few crucial, fixed events, most of the story you’ve read thus far hasn’t happened as you read it. Like, WHAT??? Worse, the timeline continues to chop and change even after this point. Cue pulling my hair out…now. *End spoilers*

Middling Characters

Middlegame gives us a lot of quality time with Dodger and Roger, from their childhoods through to their post university years. For this reason, I do have a degree of appreciation for the two as characters. McGuire manages to make them feel distinct from one another and the relationship between the two is quite a nice element of the story, especially in the early years. Yet, as individuals, perhaps Roger more so than Dodger, I can’t help also finding them somewhat dull and unengaging. By the time they had reached adulthood, I realised that while I thought they were okay people, I just didn’t have all that much of an interest in or emotional connection with them as characters.

As villains, my enjoyment of Reed and his associate, Leigh, was massively dampened by the fact that I had no clue as to what their motivations or plans were beyond: get to The Impossible City. Besides their vaguely described goals and the lengths they go to achieve them, the two don’t really have much to their characters, leaving them feeling very flat.

The one character that I can genuinely say I liked was Erin, the embodiment of Order and part of another failed set of experimental twins. She may come off a bit crazy at times and definitely does a few downright horrible things, but she’s also smart, strong and a somewhat sad character in that she’s been placed in a rather awful situation but does the best she can with it.

Middlegame is an ambitious and complex novel which on first appearances had a lot of potential to be something great. There are likely to be some readers out there who will really enjoy what it has to offer, but unfortunately the slow pacing, confusing world building, and difficulty connecting with the characters meant that this wasn’t the book for me.

2 stars

*** ARC received from Tor via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.**

Claim the Stars: ‘Skyward’ by Brandon Sanderson

And thus, I finally understand the magic that is Brandon Sanderson. Don’t get me wrong, I liked The Final Empire, and I have a massive appreciation for its world building and magic system, but was I in love? No. Skyward, I loved. Basically, in future if anyone ever derides the fact that I read YA novels, I’m going to direct them straight to this and watch them eat their words. It’s just that freakin’ good.

Who, What, Where?

In Skyward, humans live trapped on a planet called Detritus. For decades, they’ve been locked in an airspace war for survival against a race they refer to as the Krell. For this reason, pilots are valuable and prestigious with high mortality rates. The story centres around Spensa whose dream is to fly with the DDF, just as her father did, and prove herself. However, for most of her life she’s had to live with the fact that her father was branded a coward after supposedly turning tail during the legendary Battle of Alta. When Spensa stumbles upon the wreckage of an ancient, but advanced, ship, she realises that she may just have a shot at showing people what she’s truly capable of, that is, if she can survive flight school.

Blood of My Enemies

There are some books you read where you reach a point and think: huh, has anything major actually happened yet? That’s not the case here. The pacing of this book is perfect. There are moments of tense, action-packed excitement – epic battles, shots flying, but also scenes of quieter character bonding and emotion – grieving the loss of a friend, Spensa worrying about whether she might be a coward herself because she’s scared. Honestly, I cannot say that there was one part of this book where I wasn’t genuinely sad to stop reading. And maannnnnn, that climax. That is some movie level excitement. My eyes haven’t been that glued to a page in a while. The ending itself is also wonderfully crafted and I’m so keen to see how things progress in book two.

Call Sign: Spin

As a lead, Spensa is jarring to get used to. She’s grown up on stories of epic heroes and because of that and her father’s legacy, she’s…a little dramatic. As in spontaneously utters things like, “I will hold your tarnished and melted pin up as my trophy as your smoldering ship marks your pyre, and the final resting place of your crushed and broken corpse.” …Yeah. However, once you see past this, you realise how dedicated she is. This is a girl who’s dealt with a lot of crap over the years, and she’ll live in a cave and eat rats if it means she gets the chance to achieve her dream. Spensa’s funny, hardworking, caring, spunky, and won’t leave a teammate behind. Yet, at the same time, she does mess up – says things she shouldn’t, judge people, act rashly, but she works to overcome her failures and I think that’s why I root for her so hard. Then again, I also love a good underdog.

Skyward Flight

Spensa’s team of pilot cadets features a range of loveable and interesting characters with distinct personalities. Even the ones with less screen time still manage to make an impression, and characters that start out as unlikeable (such as the Spensa’s flight leader, Jorgen) manage to undergo development to fix that. Without realising it, you become attached to this cast of brave misfits and watching them die, fail, and hurt hits hard. One of my favourite parts of Skyward was seeing them evolve into a kind of oddball family. Basically, friendship for the win. I should also mention how much I loved Skyward Flight’s instructor, Cobb, who was the perfect mixture of tough, unintentionally funny, compassionate, and damaged. If I could give the guy a hug, I would.

Lay Low & Catalogue Mushrooms

During the story, Spensa discovers a broken-down ship with advanced technology. Seeing its potential, she, with the help of her bestie Rodge, undertake the task of repairing it. As it turns out, the ship can talk (oh, can it talk) and has its own quirky personality involving a mushroom obsession and tendency to compliment shoes. I really enjoyed M-Bot and the story relating to his repair, often involving Spensa having to steal parts. M-Bot is a little like AIDAN from Illuminae but, of course, minus the bat-shit crazy elements. He’s fabulous comic relief but the interactions between the ship and Spensa are also great.

Other Points

  • The world building here once again shows off that Sanderson is the bomb when it comes to crafting engaging worlds. The detail is fantastic.
  • There are some awesome drawings of ships and flying maneuvers to help you visualise.
  • The dialogue is so well done – it differentiates the characters and it’s often very funny.
  • There’s no romance! Perhaps something that could develop into one in book two (yay for slow burns), but for now, friendship wins the day.

If you’re up for an exciting, sci-fi read with great characters, humour and emotional impact, this is an amazing choice and I cannot recommend it highly enough. All aboard the Sanderson fangirl train. Woot, woot!

5 Stars

New Additions to My Goodreads To-Read Shelf 4#

I’ve been a very lazy book blogger this week. I willingly admit it. In my defence, two of my most anticipated reads have just been released and I’ve been reading like a maniac because THEY’RE SO GOOD. However, that doesn’t mean I’m not still thinking about the gazillion other books out there that I want to read. Here are five recent additions to my ever growing virtual TBR.


Normal People – Sally Rooney | GR

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This book started popping up a lot at the end of last year but only recently have I start to pay attention. I read so much YA and fantasy that sometimes I forget I actually enjoy adult general fiction, too. This book has been getting fantastic reviews and it’s making major waves with regards to some of the big literary awards (Rooney is now the youngest author to ever win the Costa Novel Award). I’ve heard a number of people compare the story to One Day except far better which is a pretty decent endorsement because I quite enjoyed One Day. I like the idea of getting to know characters in really intimate ways and following them over a span of time. These kinds of books always seem to hit the emotions hard though. Still, I’m going to give it a go anyway.

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I Was Born for This – Alice Oseman | GR

34325090My interest in this may or may not be because the cover is a pretty orange. I’m clearly getting more superficial as I get older…oh well. Regardless, I’ve heard lots of good things about this one (it has a 4.26 average GR rating), apparently there’s no romance *shocked face*. I recently binged my way through Oseman’s Heartstopper webcomic (it’s so damn adorable and fluffy) so I’m super keen to see what her novels are like. Also, I’m still trying to up my YA contemporary game and this one seems like a solid pick. Oh and musicians. Musicians are cool, too.

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How to Lead a Life of Crime – Kirsten Miller | GR

15715844So, this book is about a school for training criminal prodigies and it’s supposed to violent and dark. Winner. The story sounds kind of implausible but like it’ll be a hell of a ride anyway. Gosh, I love morally ambigious characters and the lead of this one sounds like a perfect example of this. The rest of the cast of characters is supposed to be pretty good too (yay for solid characterisation). Also, as weird as it sounds, I enjoy a good dark, gritty and sinister read occasionally. They’re a good balance to all the fluffy YA contemporaries that make my heart feel like a puffed marshmallow. Oh, and it’s a standalone so no long term commitment necessary!

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Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng | GR

18693763Ng’s book, Little Fires Everywhere was majorly making the rounds in 2018 and while I haven’t read it, it did somehow lead me to this novel which sounds  intriguing. I really enjoy character centric stories and from what I can tell, that’s what this book is in that it follows an American-Chinese family in the 1970s in the lead up to and following the death of one of the daughters. The story supposedly deals with a lot of really big topics- racism, sexism, family, loss, being biracial, but does so with subtlety and grace. I can tell this’ll be an emotional read so I better get my poor little heart ready to be smashed into a million pieces.

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The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet – Becky Chambers | GR

Image result for the long way to a small angry planetLook at me branching out again, this time with a little sci-fi and it’s not even YA. This is another character based story and revolves around the crew of the Wayfarer as they travel through space, tunnelling wormholes. The characters are supposedly diverse (racially and sexually), memorable and unique, as well as form a really great little family to fall in love with. The plot is more about the journey than the destination and seems to focus on the adventures of the crew as they travel. Apparently if you’re a fan of Firefly, which I am, you’ll probably enjoy this one. I have no idea what a space opera is, but I’m excited to find out! Side note: I am so in love with this cover.


What are the newest additions to your to-read pile/shelf (virtual and real)? Tell me all about it!

Prepare Yourself for a Headache and Some Heartache: Wildcard by Marie Lu

3 starswildcard

After reading Warcross back in March, I had high hopes and major excitement going into Wildcard. I mean, after that ending, how could I not? But the big question is, did Marie Lu’s latest sequel manage to live up to expectations?

Unfortunately not.

Focus & Direction

I found Wildcard to be a big change of pace to Warcross in terms of its approach to plot. In book one, while the story centred around Emika hunting down the mysterious hacker, it was also filled with other elements such as the fun Warcross matches, memories to develop Emika’s backstory, and lightweight interactions to create friendship or romantic links between characters. Wildcard is different in that every scene feels focused and purposeful. There isn’t a lot of extraneous material and if you do get it, it’s often because the scene was also necessary for the main plot. That is, until the end sequence, in which character details about the Phoenix Riders are thrown at the reader in succession a bit like a tennis ball machine.

This approach wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I did miss some of the more light-hearted parts of Warcross, especially considering how dark sections of Wildcard became. However, if there’s one thing I can say it’s that after a slower start, the rest of the book maintains a constant, and good degree, of momentum.

No Warcross

I’ll be blunt: There are no book-one type Warcross matches in Wildcard. We get a one on one match between Emika and Zero and then a slightly Warcross-esque section at the end of the book, but neither fully reaches the excitement of the book one matches. Admittedly, these wouldn’t really fit into the plot of Wildcard, but my whiny, irrational brain just can’t help but feel sad about it.

Emika, Where Are You?

I really enjoyed Emika as a protagonist in Warcross. She was bold, curious, quick thinking, and given a good degree of emotional backstory. In Wildcard, however, I feel as though she wasn’t used to her full potential. Emika spends most of this book either being shuffled around by other big players or simply trying to find the answer to the next question in what seems like a never-ending line of questions. She’s not sure who to trust or what to do which leaves her in a largely passive position until late in the game.

My other problem is that Wildcard adds almost nothing to Emika’s character and backstory except for her starting to rely more on others. We get a few mentions of her father but the only new info we’re given is one fragmented memory sequence. The memory is one Emika considers to be her worst, but it’s never explained why and the context surrounding it is almost non-existent. Because of this, I found its inclusion out of place and confusing.

I won’t even talk about just how problematic the whole Emika-Hideo relationship is in this book. Good lord. Essentially Emika: Hideo, you created a mind control algorithm with the potential to kill people or turn them into mindless slaves, but I love you and keep dreaming about you, so let’s just forget all that. 

Complicated & Heavy (My Head Hurts)

Wildcard is a lot more complex than its predecessor and full of big moral dilemmas regarding technology. I admired Marie’s ability to take on these massive ethical questions and look at different sides of them, to the point where even I wasn’t sure where I stood at times. Although in order to deal with some of these ideas, the book does require you to suspend a degree of belief. For example, only 2% of the world’s population doesn’t use Hideo’s new contact lenses, the villain of the story can physically do what they’re supposed to have done to Zero, Hideo’s algorithm does have the power to turn people into walking zombies, etc. Because of this, I reached a stage late in the book where it started to verge into almost silly for me. To my relief, Marie managed to course correct this with her action-packed climax.

On the smaller scale, there are a lot of layers of mystery in this book. Each answered question led to another and another, causing me to jump back and forward between confusion, immense engagement, and just plain frustration. But, I can’t deny, I still powered through, determined to finally see the bigger picture (if only to stop my brain hurting in the attempts to force everything to make sense).

My Heart Hurts

For me, the Zero/Sasuke storyline was both the best and worst part of Wildcard. The more grounded and human moments of this plot, such as Emika watching records detailing the years after Sasuke’s kidnapping, are extremely heartbreaking and beautifully written. The conclusion of this storyline was also so well done that I found myself almost on the verge of tears reading it – it’s just that good. However, where this story connects into other elements of the novel is where the book started to lose me a little.

Climax & Ending

Following a turn in the Zero plotline, Wildcard delves into an action-packed, although too drawn out, almost-Warcross like sequence involving Hideo, Emika and the Phoenix Riders. This section was well done in that it managed to showcase the magic between the characters we saw in Warcross and some of the excitement of the original book, just with higher stakes.

Without giving much away, there were components of the ending that I thought worked very well and others, far less so. I liked the positive idea the book expressed regarding our relationship with technology, the sense of duality between the ending and Warcross’s beginning, and the resolution of the Zero story. BUT, the end also felt slightly rushed, as if certain complications were tied up too neatly and other elements weren’t given a proper degree of consequence at all – I’m looking at you, Hideo.

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While Wildcard may excel beyond Warcross with regards to its bold subject matter and high emotional impact, it’s let down by an at times messy and unbelievable plot, lack of lighter moments, and a weakened protagonist. There are certainly a number of things to like about the second instalment in this duology but at the same time, I can’t help wishing certain things had been different. Overall, mildly entertaining but largely disappointing.

3 Stars

A Lost “Princess”, a Kraken, Exploding Robot Dogs, and Some Big Moral Questions: Lifel1k3 by Jay Kristoff

4 starsLifel1k3

If any of you have spent time looking through my blog, you’d know that I love Jay Kristoff books. As in, would give up red velvet cake (one of the best things in the world) forever to get my hands on the third Nevernight book.

Alright, alright, maybe for like a month. Forever seems a little bit harsh.

Anyway, for this reason I was practically jumping out of my seat in excitement when I saw Jay was starting a new YA series. Robots! Awesome female characters! Romance! Crazy adventures across a radiation filled wasteland! I was like, GIMMIE.

[Insert witty blurb summary here]

Joking.

Lifel1k3 centres around Eve, a scavenger/bot fighter with a killer faux hawk. When she and her friend Lemon Fresh (I kid you not, the girl was named after a washing detergent) discover the remains of a human looking AI, a Lifelike named Ezekiel, their lives suddenly get massively complicated. Next thing they know, Eve’s grandpa has been kidnapped, everyone from street gangs to a gun toting preacher is trying to kill them, they’re trapped in a kraken’s stomach, and what are these strange visions Eve keeps seeing?

Why You Should Read This Book

Jay Does Characters Right

One of Jay’s strengths has always been his characters. They’re diverse, deep, and always successfully walk the line between strong and vulnerable. These characters are no exception. Here, our central four are Eve, our MC, Lemon, her smart mouthed best friend, Cricket, Eve’s small robotic companion and voice of logic, and Ezekiel, the lifelike with the perfect dimples. I quite liked these characters. They’re well written and very different from each other, and because of that the dynamic between them is a lot of fun. Their interactions during the book’s times of crisis can essentially be summarised as:

*Obstacle arises*
Eve: I have to save my grandpa, so here is my highly dangerous plan! But you guys should go home, I don’t want you to get hurt.
Lemon: I am a babelicious badass. You need me and I refuse to deprive you of my witty commentary.
Cricket: This is a very, very bad idea. Do not do this highly dangerous plan.

*outvoted*

Cricket: I hate democracy.
Ezekiel: I will throw myself into said extremely dangerous situation for you Eve because I’m basically indestructible and feeling guilty over some mysterious secret.
Kaiser (Eve’s robot dog, built fitted with explosives): Woof!

I have to say though that part of me was slightly more interested in the side or “bad” characters. We don’t get a heap of development on them but based on the end of this book I’m expecting a lot more in the next one. Give me robot emotional drama!!!!

Pop Culture Puzzle Pieces

*Minor spoiler* Alright, I admit, it took me a shamefully long time to recognise the fact that this was, in part, an Anastasia retelling. I majored in history at university and adore the animated film, and yet, I was about three quarters of the way through before my slow brain finally went, wow, this family all has names super similar to the Romanovs, and they were murdered TOO, and the daughter…oh.

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I really loved this aspect of the story. I mean, dystopian Anastasia with robots? You can’t beat that. These tie ins also added elements of mystery and tragedy to the story but don’t worry, they don’t also make it over the top predictable.

Lost “princesses” aside, Lifel1k3 delivers on the whole bunch of pop culture references found on its cover and it does so without feeling cliché or mishmashed. There’s a dramatic car chase that screams Mad Max, there’s a teensy bit of X-men awesomeness to one character, and if you enjoyed Blade Runner you’ll definitely find a lot to like here.

  • Destroyed world? Check.
  • Humans with God complexes? Er, check.
  • Major moral questions about the rights of artificial intelligence and what is human? Dooouubbble check. Actually, make that triple check.

In other words, the plot has action, emotion, and depth along with Jay’s usual, quirky kind of humour scattered throughout.

Twisty

Kristoff always gets you right at the end. Jackass.

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Just kidding. I love you and your awful (aka. great) plot twists (aka. gut punches).

Ending and Sequel potential

Jay leaves this book in an interesting place going forward. The fallout of the twist pushes the characters in an unexpected direction and I’m not exactly sure where it’ll end up. Additionally, there are a lot of big players (major tech companies and other Lifelikes) mentioned during the book that are missing from the climax of Lifel1k3 which I’m really excited to see show up further down the track.

Why it Might Not Be For You

Are you Speaking English?

Along with all the other world building, Jay’s also created his own assortment of new slang and jargon. While it’s certainly realistic (new terms get invented so quickly these days that I have trouble keeping up. On fleek? Bae? Who comes up with this shit?) it does tend to create a bit of fish out of water syndrome. At the start of this book, I had no clue what anyone was bloody talking about.

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Eventually it clicks but by then it’s become just plain frustrating. I mean, why the hell does Lemon have to refer to Eve as her “bestest” CONSTANTLY???
To help you out, the two main terms to know are:
Fizzy – good, awesome
True Cert – surely, for sure, honestly

Romance…Eh

So yeah, there’s some romance. There are moments where it’s sweet and all, but it’s also a bit wishy-washy and fast which is a bit disapponting considering how important it is to part of the plot.

Big World, Little Reader

The world in Lifel1k3 has a lot to it. Gangs, crazy geographical features like glass storm wastelands, robot krakens running around the ocean floor, warring and wealthy tech companies, robots… it’s complicated. We often complain about authors info-dumping to the point where our brains explode. My problem at the beginning of this book is that there wasn’t enough info. I was thrust into a world with language, culture, technology, and environments that I was entirely clueless about and Kristoff kind of carries on with the story as if he just assumes you too have seen his super-secret world building word document. It certainly improves with time but there’s still a lot I don’t know. I’m sure book two will help me out.DividerWhile it’s certainly no Nevernight, I can safely say that Lifel1k3 was an largely enjoyable sci-fi, dystopian, action packed ride with a lot of heart, and I’ll highly likely be picking up the sequel when it comes out.

4 StarsLove Ashley