The Compulsive Reader: August 2016

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Illuminae, An Ember in the Ashes, and Other Books I Finally Read

There was once a time in my life when I was so on top of reading all the new releases right away, and that time lasted for about six months, and now I just live under piles and piles of books and sometimes read something the week it comes out and feel very proud of myself. Mostly, I note new books and add them to my list and only get around to them when my friends yell at me. That's how I ended up finally reading these books.

So, Illuminae is a giant book but it's a cool epistolary novel in the form of a massive dossier, so it reads super quickly. It's centered on Kady and Ezra, teens living on an illegal mining colony on a distant planet. The story begins with them breaking up, and then their planet is attacked by a rival corporation! Because that's how awful break up days are. In the madness of the evacuation and rescue, they get separated from each other and find themselves on different ships in the same small convoy headed for a distant space station, pursued by their attackers! When the AI on the battle ship Kady is on starts to go wonky, they realize that the battle isn't over--biological warfare, dangerously personal ulterior motives, and a possibly mutinous AI may kill them before they are rescued.

Basically, Battlestar Galactica with Reavers!

So, I really loved it. Kady and Ezra are sort of adorable in their post break-up funk, the stakes are incredibly high, and the AI is almost as fascinating/delightful/terrifying as Talis from The Scorpion Rules (another awesome sci-fi book that I read because my friend threw it at me, and I am SO GLAD I did). The identity of the person assembling the dossier is another really great mystery, and the narrative voice is very sardonic and fun. The story has a terrific inevitable twist, and a twist I didn't see coming. The find words of the story got my pulse pounding: Now run. I can't wait for the release of the sequel, Gemina, in October, which I am totally going to read right away and not six months from now.

An Ember in the Ashes has been recommended to me approximately ten million times by five million different customers, and I finally caved and read it because I was worried they'd stop liking me and maybe go elsewhere for their books. I'll be the first to admit that Roman Empire-inspired fantasy doesn't exactly get my pulse pounding, but I am super glad I caved to peer pressure! It's a dual POV, with Elias, a Mask (think elite warrior) and Laia, a Scholar slave who's actually a spy. They're both living at an elite academy where nefarious dealings are underfoot for power, and though it takes some time for their stories to intersect, they eventually do in a very exciting way. The rotating perspectives were really seamless, and the wordlbuilding was beautiful. Every time I thought that the stakes couldn't get any higher, they did. Plus, the story was full of really fantastic, really complicated characters. I have A Torch Against the Night on order already and I can't even imagine how things can get worse for these characters, but I'm sure Tahir will torture them (and her readers) appropriately!

I also read The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig because one day my friend asked if we could start a book club wherein we read the same book and discuss it over snacks, and although I am never one to turn down a good snack plate over book talk, I realized this suggestion for what it really was: a request for me to finally read this book so she could openly discuss spoilers. So I obliged. I love the cover, the tagline, the title, and the premise--a girl who lives aboard a time-traveling ship must try and stop her father from going back to the moment her mother died because doing so might unravel her own existence. This was an interesting book, very trippy and tangled in time. It might have been because I was coming off of two very action-packed speculative novels, but this one didn't keep me as riveted at Illuminae and Ember, but I liked all of the plot elements and the historical Hawaiian setting was so, so good! And I shall be very curious to see what the premise of book two, as well!

Maybe I can keep this trend going and finally read Six of Crows! I am an eternal optimist where my TBR stack is concerned.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Well, this is embarrassing.

I don't think I've ever gone almost two months without posting since I first started this blog nearly ten (10!!!) years ago. Chalk it up to very busy, very exciting things happening over on my end. First, I finished draft #6 of my YA in progress--the book I've been working on for about two years! It's been a long road, but I'm feeling great about it.

Second, I went back to Vermont! I was the grad assistant at my lovely alma mater, Vermont College of Fine Arts. Residencies are always inspiring and overwhelming, and full of laughter and learning and late nights singing Hamilton songs and so. much. book. talk. I was so grateful for the chance to go back and see all my wonderful friends, make some brand new friends, and see the Themepunks graduate.

Third, I've been pretty focused on pulling together the next print issue of Hunger Mountain, the VCFA journal of the arts. It's the only literary journal that accepts children's and YA lit for publication, and our deadline is September 15th! So if you or someone you know would like to submit, get on that! We want to read your work!

Finally, I've been pretty focused on starting the next book and gaining some momentum on that. After spending so much time with one project and a very specific cast of characters, the changeover is a little jarring but I'm getting more and more into it every day!

I'm hoping to start posting again a bit more frequently, but in the meantime here are some great books I've read recently:

Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older

Daniel is one of the newest faculty members at VCFA, so I was super excited to read this urban fantasy novel about Sierra, a shadowshaper who has the ability to infuse her artwork with the spirits of the dead, and must learn how to control her ability to prevent a dark presence from taking over in her Brooklyn neighborhood. It was exciting and smart, and I highly recommend it.

Lumberjanes Vol. 4: Out of Time

I've talked about how much I adore the Lumberjanes before, so I'll just say that this volume delighted me because it furthers the mystery of the Lumberjanes organization, answering some questions that only give us...more questions. We get to see a little bit of the camp's history, and we discover something startling about the girls' experience there. Plus, there are Frozen jokes.

Paper Girls, Vol. 1

I didn't quite know what to expect with this new series, but salty twelve year old paper delivery girls solving a crazy alien invasion mystery with time travel completely blew me away. If you're a fan of the show Stranger Things, pick this one up! Trust me!

The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater

Maggie Stiefvater was the visiting writer at this summer's VCFA residency, so I had to finish the Raven Cycle! I re-read the first two books, and then got into the third and fourth for the first time. It's quite a rollercoaster ride experience reading all four in order. I really enjoyed immersing myself into that world and I think I was able to enjoy the connectivity of her writing a little bit better when I was reading them back to back rather as the books came out.

Plus, Maggie was awesome! Here's a photo of all of the grad assistants with her!

The Last Star by Rick Yancey

Finally got to the end of this trilogy! It was an intense read, and while it did have a plot, I felt like the characters' desires got a bit muddied in the middle of this. There was lots of angst and feelings and explosions. The ending was fairly surprising, but in a good way? I'm glad I pushed through to the end, and I'm curious to hear what others think!

On the adult side of things, I read Out by Kirino Natsuo and I can safely say it was the most disturbing mystery I've ever read! But the writing was so great, and I loved the setting (Japan), so I'll definitely be looking for more of her books. I also read one of the Jane Eyre retellings on my to-read list, Re Jane by Patricia Park. In this novel, Jane is a Korean American orphan working at her uncle's grocery store after college when she takes a nannying job. It follows the Jane Eyre story pretty well, with some interesting divergences--first, the "crazy wife in the attic" is very present from the first day that Jane takes the nanny job, and second, it's not a romance. I found it to be a fascinating story about identity and multi-culturism in the early 2000's.

Of course, I still have articles going up on Book Riot on a more frequent basis, so definitely check over there for great bookish content! Today I have two posts up: where to start with the books of Melina Marchetta, aka one of my favorite authors ever, and how to make your bullet journals more bookish! You can see everything I've written for Book Riot here!