Book review · contemporary · Young adult

Review: The Grief Keeper by Alexandra Villasante

34522727._sy475_The Grief Keeper is a contemporary story with sci-fi aspects following Marisol, a Salvadorian lesbian who fled her country for her life, together with her younger sister Gabi. To legally stay in the US, she is forced to take part in a program in which she’ll have to bear the weight of someone else’s grief, all of this while dealing with her own trauma.

I feel weird about calling this a sci-fi book. It is one, because it features technology that doesn’t exist in our reality, and it’s not like sci-fi isn’t made for commenting on current, relevant issues. It’s just that I’m used to having more layers of unreality between a sci-fi book’s reality and our own. What makes The Grief Keeper so heart-wrenching is knowing that if this technology did exist, this is exactly what would happen: less privileged people would have to bear the weight of more privileged people’s trauma.
There is a part of this book in which a character says that if this program is successful, it will “ease a lot of suffering.” Marisol’s well-being is barely considered, and if it is, it’s just to ensure that she still exists to protect the other subject, the privileged white American Rey, from her depression.

It’s a painful read, a necessary one, and yet it’s so hopeful. This is not a tragedy, even though some of the characters are forced to endure things no one should have to. The circumstances are horrible, but the relationships between the characters are the light in the darkness for them. Marisol and Gabi’s sibling bond was so well-written and layered: Marisol wants to protect her sister and her sister is what she is surviving for; Gabi loves Marisol but also wants to break free, to rebel like someone on the cusp of teenagehood would.
I also loved the romance. I didn’t know if I would, because Marisol is falling in love with the other subject, Rey, the girl whose trauma she has to re-experience over and over. This could have turned ugly really easily, and it didn’t. We see this connection build slowly, help Marisol with her internalized self-loathing about being a lesbian, help Rey in many ways the technology she didn’t consent to either could have never, and it’s beautiful. Their scenes in the last 30% of the book were everything.

There were so many ways this could have gone wrong. It could have been a “romance cures mental illness” story, and it wasn’t; it could have had an ugly power dynamic and it didn’t. There was only one thing I didn’t like, only one thing in the whole book – this book didn’t shy away from psychiatric medications’ side effects like many YA books dealing with mental illness do, but it does somewhat fall in the opposite cliché with one quote: medication turns you into a zombie. Marisol says that the medication she’s taking is working as intended, which means that she is still anxious and depressed, but has no will. While it could be that this is a sci-fi medication meant to do exactly that, the book says that Rey is taking SSRIs, and implies that her and Marisol are taking the same pills. That’s not how antidepressants are supposed to work. Maybe some people experience this as a side effect and the book meant to show that, while also implying Marisol doesn’t know she’s experiencing side effects? I don’t know. I really would have liked more clarification about this.

One of the things that meant a lot to me was how The Grief Keeper talked about bilingualism. The main character is a Spanish native speaker, and English is her second language. Across different first languages, it was interesting to see how our feelings about English were similar, and for once, it’s so great to see a main character who has gone through the same things I do with language: struggling with idioms, with figures of speech; feeling like she has to be perfect because anything less than perfection in an ESL speaker is a sign of ignorance to monolingual speakers who don’t know a word of your language; the way we both have a relationship with language that people who don’t have to be fluent into two languages can’t understand. The amount of Spanish in this book, and the way it isn’t necessarily translated every single time, made me happy.

Another thing I loved was how Marisol and Rey connected over a (fictional) TV show, and how their understanding of their own queerness was also shaped by that show. I think that fandom has an important place in many queer people’s journey of self-discovery in a way that goes deeper than pop culture references built into a story to be relatable, and I love when books reflect that.

I was also surprised by several things: a slight twist in the ending I won’t talk about for obvious reasons, and the character of Indranie. She is an Indian-American woman, and I thought that what this book did with her and the way she is complicit in Marisol’s suffering and yet not portrayed as a fully bad person was such an interesting direction to take.

My rating: ★★★★¾

content warnings: on-page suicide attempt, depressive thoughts, rape threats and threats of homophobic violence, homophobic slurs in both English and Spanish, detention, psychological abuse of a minor at the hand of a doctor, discussion of trauma and grief, and the main characters have to deal with racist and xenophobic rhetoric and with the way the US treats latinx immigrants.

Book review · contemporary · Sci-fi · Young adult

Review: The Weight of the Stars by K. Ancrum + Small Haul

My physical copy of The Weight of the Stars arrived yesterday, which led me to realize that I haven’t posted my review of it – of one of my favorite novels of the year, which I can now confirm is also beautiful in person – on this blog yet. I read in in June as an ebook and I have talked about it multiple times, but never scheduled the review, so here it is:

36952571The Weight of the Stars is the kind of novel that reminds me of the power of quiet books. There are no grand revelations, surprises or explosions; just two girls, their friends, and the stars – and yet it feels so wide, carrying so much weight sometimes in just a paragraph, so much emotion in the unspoken moments.
It does feel like looking at the stars.

This is a story about Ryann, a queer butch girl, who falls in love with Alexandria, a biracial black girl whose mother left to live in space and never returned to earth. It’s a story about them and their friend group, a group of teenagers (many of which queer and/or people of color) just trying to make it work despite their trauma and the general unfairness of life. It’s about humanity, and the ways we look at space. It’s so many things, and I won’t lie, just like The Wicker Kingit’s such a strange book. It will either speak to you or not make much sense, but I’m sure that in either case it will be unlike every other thing you’ve ever read.

The romance felt also very different to me. Not only because it’s f/f, even though that’s always something I look for, but because Ryann and Alexandra’s relationship isn’t… soft, unlike most f/f romances I know, especially in YA. It’s angry, it’s raw, it’s deeply beautiful.
The friendships are far softer, though not always, but I loved them too. Of the side characters, Ahmed was my favorite, and I was living for the cameos of the characters from The Wicker King (so, Ahmed’s three parents. Who are happy and in love. Polyamory rep and Sikh rep!)

Just like with the previous book, there are some mixed media aspects to this. I’m not only referring to the way chapters are structured – extremely short, with a time in the place of a title – but also to some things that happen near the end. I thought that part was beautiful; I thought it was necessary, because one can’t think about space and not be aware of their own smallness, one can’t think about space and not be aware of being just a part of a whole – one can’t think about space without thinking about humanity.

I loved most of this book. However, I don’t see it as a full five stars. Because I liked these characters, and cared about them, and yet I didn’t understand them, and something got lost along the way.

I think I know what happened. A big plot point in this book is people being separated because they decide to live the rest of their lives in space, away from earth. I think I was supposed to feel that mix of wonder and grief and longing for infinity they felt, and at times I did, but mostly I couldn’t. I am the kind of person who sees the meaning of life on leaves, and feels so strongly about plants that is afraid of them. I… have roots, and the idea of leaving it all behind, the plants of which I want to learn the names of or the combtooth blennies or even the polychaetes living in polluted waters – I don’t think I will ever be able to understand that decision.

I understand that not everyone sees things like I do, but I was so caught up in how horrifying I found even only the idea of teenagers deciding to leave the earth to live shut off in a box floating in nothingness, so away from life, that the ending landed with half the impact it could have had.

It still made me feel so much, and for that, I will always remember it positively.

My rating: ★★★★¾


Small Haul

I only buy physical copies in English a few times a year, not counting the rare occasions in which a book worth buying mysteriously appears in my Italian bookstore’s minuscule English section. (For example, that’s how I got my paperback of The Kingdom of Copper. If you’re wondering, no, the first book in the series never showed up. Neither do far more popular high fantasy series. Italian bookstores really are a mystery.)

This time, I got:

IMG_20190912_202638353

  • Middlegame by Seanan McGuire: this… this was a replacement goldfish, basically. You might already know that I almost only buy physical copies of favorite books, and only make exceptions for some authors (Yoon Ha Lee, mostly) and really, really, really anticipated releases. The really anticipated release this time was Gideon the Ninth, but when I saw that the price (30€? Is that a joke? I hope gets reasonable before next year), I decided to get something else instead of buying nothing, because I could. Middlegame was half the price, which is saner.
  • The Weight of the Stars by Kayla Ancrum: see review. If physical copies are an option for you, I really recommend it, as the mixed media aspect works even better (the background of some pages is different, which wasn’t true for the ebook).
  • Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear: one of my favorite books of the year, another of which I still need to post a review of (yes, I fully admit that I was lazy about scheduling this summer). I don’t know if the picture shows that very well but this is a Tome. Such a beautiful book, inside and outside, and really heavy (only on the outside… mostly.)

Have you read any of these?

 

Book review · Sci-fi · Young adult

Reviews: YA Sci-Fi

As some of you may know, YA sci-fi has a history of disappointing me. Today, I’m reviewing two very different YA sci-fi books that sadly weren’t an exception.


24909347What happens when authors run out of ideas? Books like Obsidio by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff.

I’m not here to read a recycled plotline that follows basically the same beats as the first two books with some equally bland straight teen characters. It was Kady and Ezra, then Nik and Hanna, and now it’s Asha and Rhys, but really, you could swap them and not that much would change.

The only reason this series works is the format, which was a cool idea during book one, but it got old really fast, and everything else about this book – the characters, the plot, the worldbuilding – was both subpar and cliché.

Constantly killing or harming children for shock value doesn’t make your book deeper, it makes it cheap. And so does killing thousands of characters we’ve never met/we barely know while the main characters never die – because being a teen in love in a YA book means being invincible. You’ve done that so many times before, and since all these people are dying, am I really supposed to care about the straight romantic drama?

Even AIDAN couldn’t save this twice-reheated soup of a book.

I don’t have much else to say, because I ended up skimming most of Obsidio out of boredom. The most interesting thing about this was the mixed media format, but even that let me down in this book – there were far too many surveillance camera transcriptions and those just weren’t that interesting to read.

My rating: ★¼


32768520Mirage is the first book in a sci-fi series set in an universe inspired by Moroccan history, and the thing I liked the most about it was the setting itself: I’ve never read anything similar. Not only the “North African royal palaces in space” aesthetic was perfect and the descriptions of its intricate details were beautiful, it’s also a great set-up for a detailed exploration of colonization.
YA sci-fi worldbuilding often disappoints me because of its vagueness and its formulaic nature, but it wasn’t the case here.

Mirage is about the effects colonization has on a culture. It talks about symbols, language, clothes, food, stories that get lost and stories that are passed on anyway, even about religion. It also talks about internalized prejudices and self-hate with the storyline of Maram, the cruel biracial princess who is raised as Vath by the Vath even though they will never see her as such.
It’s a very well-written, complex book and one of the least formulaic YA novels I’ve read in a while, and yet I can’t say I enjoyed reading it.

I loved the middle of this book. I know that some might find it slow, or that they might find the romance somewhat instalove-y, but that wasn’t the case for me. I liked that the middle of this book was relatively calm without losing its tension, because that meant I could happily devour the beautiful descriptions while not having to worry about the characters immediately dying, but without losing my interest in the plot either.

However, I really disliked reading all the parts that involved action. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with them, I just couldn’t read them. I don’t know why, I thought about postponing this review until I understood, but I’m not sure that’s going to happen. I just know that I skimmed both the beginning and the ending, when I have read far more violent and hopeless things in the past without any issue. I think it has to do with “the main character is in a place where she’s forced to do things she finds painful and/or humiliating” thing I’m struggling to read in books recently. It’s not the book’s fault in any way, but it did make me enjoy it less.

[It’s been a few days since I finished this book and I realized that one of the reasons I was bored during the second half is that I felt like I never really got to know the characters. I was expecting that with Maram, as she’s supposed to be kind of a mystery, but both Amani and Idris fell flat for me and they shouldn’t have.]

My rating: ★★★¾

Adult · Book review · Fantasy · Sci-fi · Young adult

Reviews: Two Two-Star Reviews

34388654Toxic was ok.
As I have very little time for reading lately, I don’t want to spend it on a book I know I won’t feel strongly about.

I think my main problem with this book, if one can really call it that, is that I’m not the target audience. I feel like I’ve outgrown this kind of YA.
With “this kind of YA” I mean the kind that has characters on the younger end who feel even younger because of their naïveté, the kind that could more or less work as a middle grade/YA crossover (at least, the part I read could). The kind in which a boy and a girl can’t do anything but fall in love. The kind in which the very dull, naive main characters end up naked together because of Contrivance.
This is also not my kind of sci-fi. While the spaceship Cyclo is very cool and unlike everything I’ve ever read, this book involves aliens, and I just don’t like reading about aliens who feel like humans with dyed hair

Toxic isn’t a book I wouldn’t recommend to anyone, however. If you want to read a cute m/f sci-fi romance on the younger end of YA which has Asian leads and takes place in a very interesting setting, I don’t think you’re going to dislike this.

My rating: ★★¼ (DNF @ 30%)


38633526Vita Nostra is one of the creepiest books I’ve ever read.
I almost feel like I’m doing it a disservice by calling it “creepy”, because it’s so much more than that, but my vocabulary in English is what it is. As this book is about projections, I think it makes sense that the explanation of my feelings in English will be only a shadow of what I could say in Italian.

As I was saying, it’s creepy. There’s no on-page death, there are no monsters, hauntings or anything scary, really. It’s just so overwhelmingly hopeless and unsettling it can’t avoid being creepy. It’s also deeply weird, which doesn’t help.

I could say I appreciated how complex and multilayered Vita Nostra was, I could say I enjoyed this 400-page-long journey into the weirdness, I could say the ending was a satisfying conclusion. I would be lying. This is a very unique book, and in a way I’m glad I read it, but it couldn’t hold my attention and I skimmed most of it. I also didn’t get some parts of it, which was somewhat frustrating, but it’s not like I expect answers from this kind of books.

In a way, for me reading Vita Nostra was just like the main character’s experience as a first year student in this questionable magical university: the words she has to read and study do not make sense together even when they (and they don’t always) make sense individually. Vita Nostra is like that: most scene seem to make sense, but as a whole? I don’t get it. Not as much as I hoped, at least.

I could say that the characterization felt really weak to me, that the main character is often annoyingly judgmental, that the worldbuilding is barely there, but I got enough to understand that none of these things is in any way the point. I can’t review this like I would with any other fantasy novel. What is the point, then? Don’t ask me – if I knew, I would have given it a higher rating. But I can say one thing: even though it was creepy and weird and unique and complex, it was also really boring, and I don’t care about the point, for me “boring” is always a flaw.

My rating: ★★½

Book review · Fantasy · Sci-fi · Young adult

Review: A Spark of White Fire by Sangu Mandanna

37588503A Spark of White Fire is an example of political intrigue done right in YA, and one of the best YA books set in space I’ve ever read. It’s the first book in The Celestial Trilogy.

I don’t know if it’s right to call A Spark of White Fire “science fiction”. This Mahabharata retelling is a genre-bending gem – which isn’t as common as it should be in YA – because it’s set in space, but it reads like a high fantasy novel.
There are gods, talking spaceships that are just the space version of fantasy talking dragons, a beautiful city floating near a nebula, magical weapons blessed by the gods, and people fighting over a throne. A Spark of White Fire doesn’t even try to feel like a sci-fi novel; the space setting is just there for the aesthetics. And you know what? The descriptions in this book are beautiful and the aesthetic was worth every time the thought of people fighting with bows and arrows in space broke my suspension of disbelief.

A Spark of White Fire follows lost princess Esmae, who is now ready to reveal her identity and fight for Titania, the sentient, unbeatable spaceship blessed by the gods. Winning Titania will help her win back Kali’s throne, which was stolen from her brother Alexi by their uncle Elvar and his adopted son Max.
It’s a story about a torn family and complicated loyalties, and I loved how it played out – so much that I didn’t mind that some parts of it were predictable, because Esmae’s character arc was surprisingly subversive and went exactly in the direction I wanted it to go.
One thing I don’t like about political intrigue in YA is that there’s often a good side and a bad side – sometimes the side you thought was the good one turns out to be the bad one, but that’s as far as plot twists usually go. Here, there’s not a “good” side, and if you can argue one is better than the other, you can’t ignore the fact that, in some way, everyone is wrong and has been wronged. I love complex political situations and I love competent heroines who know how to exploit them (…even if sometimes they fail).
Another thing I really appreciated was the way in which the focus switched from “let’s take the throne back to the rightful owner” – which is a trope I hate, especially when the supposedly right person is a teenager – to “let’s prevent a war, we don’t want millions to die because you hate your cousin”.
And preventing wars is more difficult than starting them. Sometimes, the hate you feel for your cousin is more dangerous than the cousin himself.

This book wasn’t flawless – I really didn’t need the step-cousin romance, at least there wasn’t a lot of it – but it surprised me just how much I enjoyed it. I didn’t think I would ever love a story about a lost princess in space, but this book did something new with this trope.
Another thing I could have done without was Esmae’s comment that people who don’t date are afraid of happiness – which was especially surprising because she had just said that dating wasn’t a priority for her, but of course she ends up falling for a boy a few chapters later.
(At least there’s a side character who is a girl who like girls and I love her.)

My rating: ★★★★½

Book review · Sci-fi · Young adult

Review: Hullmetal Girls by Emily Skrutskie

33382313Hullmetal Girls is a standalone YA sci-fi novel.

This was more formulaic than I expected. I thought a story set on a generation fleet that promised queer rep and revolutions wouldn’t feel like the average 2012-era YA dystopian, but it did. I’ve already read this plot at least ten times before; the only things that changed in Hullmetal Girlsare the setting, the technology and the focus on friendship instead of romance, which I really liked.

The queer representation wasn’t great. I say this not because it was bad, but because it was barely there at all and felt like an afterthought.
I have read books with no romance and an all-queer cast that manage to make the characters’ identities more than a label while never making the book about them.
Here? All the representation had no depth, and it’s not that it wasn’t relevant to the plot – I don’t think that’s necessary – it’s that it was never more than a label, and I don’t think “casual queer rep” should look like “everyone 100% passes as allocishet, they just mention they’re queer at some point”.
Let’s talk about Aisha, who is aroace. I’m aromantic, and I was looking forward to the representation, but this felt like tokenism: Aisha mentions being aroace once, and never thinks about it again, never mentions how it affects her, never says how she discovered it, or how she feels about romance (some are repulsed by it! some simply don’t care! some like the idea of it! Not all aros are the same.)
I prefer unlabeled representation to representation that is just the label. At least then you have to make an effort to show it?
Also, I think Praava was meant to be a trans girl, but I don’t remember ever seeing the word “trans” in my copy (why?) and all we know about her is that she has XY chromosomes. But not all women with XY chromosomes are trans – for all I know, she could be intersex with androgen insensitivity syndrome. Vague rep with no depth is no rep at all.

What I liked the most about this book was the technology. It was very unique and also kind of terrifying – YA technology usually doesn’t lend itself to body horror so easily? – and I loved reading about Scela training and exos.
Also, I really liked the scenes about recovery from the surgery. Yes, what happened was almost sci-fi horror, but I never see convalescence and how every step feels like an accomplishment afterward in SFF.

Some of the themes were also interesting: I have already read this story, and I don’t feel like it offers a new angle on the oppressive government vs revolutionaries kind of plot, but the way the book approached the aspects tied to the Scela technology – the themes of agency and friendships – didn’t feel cliché to me.
I like when stories center friendships instead of romance, and even if this book had some flaws, I did end up enjoying it.

My rating: ★★★

Book review · Sci-fi · Young adult

DNF Review: That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E.K. Johnston

25528808That Inevitable Victorian Thing is a standalone ucronic near-future sci-fi book.

DNF at 40% because I have no patience left and this is bothering me so much. Also, I made a goal for this year to DNF books that are not working for me. So, here we are.

That Inevitable Victorian Thing is a book whose premise is basically “what if colonialism didn’t bring everywhere racism, homophobia and other similar problems”, and it’s not an easy concept to explore at all. I was willing to give it a chance, but this is not how you do worldbuilding.

The worldbuilding in That Inevitable Victorian Thing lacked consistency and had a lot of unexplored unfortunate implications:

•This is, supposedly, a society in which racism isn’t (as much?) a thing. And yet, the attitude of the Empire towards people of color is “let’s collect them all”, it felt almost fetishistic. Look how progressive this alt-history sci-fi monarchy is! Yes, having a multiracial queen is cool, but was it the way to do it?
Also:
Margaret’s political training had included lessons in how to determine ethnicity based on a person’s appearance, and therefore she could often guess a person’s heritage without asking.
…what about no?
Also, the Empire’s traditions are still strictly white British ones, because of course.

•This book (in which supposedly colonialism wasn’t as terrible) is set in Canada and yet there are no native characters – not even one – in the first 40% of the book. Why? This isn’t just erasing the hardships of marginalized people, this is pretending they don’t exist. Was genocide a thing? If yes, am I supposed to root for all of this?

•For a supposedly progressive society, it is obsessed with genes, and yet the author never explored its stance on eugenics (…some passages seemed pro-eugenics, and since there are no canon disabled characters in the first 40%, I wouldn’t be surprised if this were yet another pro-eugenics future that is presented as utopia instead of dystopia).

•For a society that is supposedly not against queer people (though bigotry does exist, here and there), it’s incredibly binary, even more than today’s society. There’s no mentions of trans/nb people whatsoever, and when the intersex character discovers she’s intersex her reaction was so cissexist I decided to put down the book. I’m sure she will come to accept herself! But then this society isn’t queer-friendly at all.

(If you want to see how a truly queer-friendly society looks like, read the Tensorate series by JY Yang. If you want to read about a truly queer-friendly society that is also a dystopian space empire, try Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee! It criticizes colonialism; there is genetic manipulation but the book doesn’t erase people with developmental disabilities. Also, both these series have an all-PoC cast.)

So: the worldbuilding is full of holes. But that wasn’t my only problem with it. There were no descriptions of the setting, the futuristic technology was underdeveloped – I had no idea of how anything looked like. Alt-history near-future sci-fi is such a cool idea! But there’s no atmosphere, no coherent aesthetic, just so much wasted potential.

Now, the plot. Was there one? The first 30% is characters preparing for a debut ball in which nothing happens (…it’s over in one scene). There’s no conflict whatsoever.

For a book with such shitty worldbuilding, was it full of infodumps. I stopped at chapter 11, which is basically one big infodump. I mean, just look at this:

There was, of course, some debate on how much of the Computer was God, though the Church of the Empire was adamant in its declaration that the Computer was made by people to better understand God’s design and was, therefore, not divine in its own right. There were several dissenting groups, mostly in the American States, who stridently decried the use of the Computer to store genetic codes and determine compatibility.

…really interesting, isn’t it? Well, it goes on for paragraphs!

I also highlighted many instances of “cheatery narration”: the narration is in [character 1]’s PoV, then tells the reader about the feelings of [character 2], and goes back to [character 1]. This happened at least three times: not enough times to establish an omniscient PoV, enough times to make me wonder if an editor read this at all.

Also: boring characters, but that’s usually what happens when you have no conflict.

Why did I put up with this for 100+ pages, then? I wanted to love this. This is one of my favorite covers of all times and I wanted an excuse to buy a copy because I just love this so much (I only buy physical copies of my favorite books). Also, it has a main f/f ship.
Sadly, this didn’t work for me at all.

My rating: ★½

Book review · Sci-fi · Young adult

Review: Gemina by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

29236299Gemina is the second book in the Illuminae Files trilogy, and the second book I’ve read for the Tome Topple Readathon. Unfortunately, I didn’t like it as much as the first one.

YA sci-fi keeps disappointing me.
Maybe adult sci-fi would too, if I read more of it, but so far I haven’t read many disappointments. I haven’t been as lucky with YA sci-fi.
Illuminae is basically the only YA sci-fi I’ve ever really liked. And Gemina? Like the first book, it was flawed. Too flawed, and this time, I did care.

But let’s start with the good.
What I liked:

  • Ella Malikova, the hacker. She’s by far the best character in the book. And she uses a wheelchair. (a disabled character in sci-fi!)
  • The characters from IlluminaeGemina follows a different couple, but some characters from the first book make an appearance.
  • Nik and Hanna weren’t that bad
  • I read it in less than a day
  • The format. I would have rated this book 2 stars if it hadn’t been written in such an engaging way.

And… that’s it.

What I didn’t like:

  • There are some plot devices you can only use once. Bringing dead characters back to life (in a literal way or in a “they were alive all along” way) is one of them. After that, your readers will expect it.
    Because of that, I didn’t feel like anyone was risking anything. I was bored.
  • If your sci-fi series is going to include parallel universes, don’t introduce them in book two? It’s like writing “and also… there’s time travel! haha I forgot that” in the second book of your low fantasy series. And yes, this series was science-fiction from the start, and there was no realism whatsoever, but some things are on a whole other level of fictional.
  • When the characters flew into another universe, so did my suspension of disbelief.
  • If I rated Illuminae five stars for its beautiful ending, here the ending ruined everything.
  • This series really heteronormative. (Everyone Is Straight In Space)

A minor dislike no one cares about but me:

  • The Unipedia page about the Lanima worms is really badly-written. In the Italian edition, the Taxobox says that Animalia is a genus (…what.). From what I see on google books, it was a translation mistake (not surprised) but if Lanima was the name of the alien worm’s species, then there’s a piece missing (not a translation mistake). It’s called “binomial nomenclature” for a reason. It’s Canis lupus, not Canis (Canis is the genus).

My rating: ★★★¼

Book review · Sci-fi · Young adult

Review: Illuminae by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

IlluminaeIlluminae is the first book in the sci-fi trilogy The Illuminae Files. It’s followed by Gemina and Obsidio (out in 2018), and it’s the first book I finished for the Tome Topple Readathon.

One year and one month ago, I read this book in one sitting. Today, I reread it in one morning.
This doesn’t happen.

I don’t read books in one sitting. It usually takes me 2-3 days or more. The last book I read, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, took me a whole week, and I really liked that one.

What makes Illuminae so special is the format in which it is told. If it had been written in a more traditional way, I wouldn’t have rated it 5 stars.
But it’s told in a way that makes it memorable, and yes, it’s flawed and I don’t care.

I didn’t like the romance. I didn’t care for Ezra. I noticed some things that looked like… science fails to me (the virus is mutating, what a surprise! Isn’t that what viruses do?) but it’s not relevant. There’s just so much good that I can’t not rate this five stars.

The first 400 pages are good, but not perfect – there were some scenes that could have been shorter, some that could have been cut – but the last 200 pages are some of the best things I’ve ever read.

When I finished the book, I was shaking. The ending, the way in which it is written – it’s almost like a film, if films were written in the murderous AI’s point of view. And that murderous, morally ambiguous AI, AIDAN, was my favorite character (knowing who my favorite characters are… this is not a surprise). I also liked Kady, but it took me a while to connect with her – the format does have downsides.

My rating: ★★★★¾

Book review · Sci-fi · Young adult

Review: Warcross by Marie Lu

WarcrossI have very mixed feelings on this book, and it was difficult to decide a rating. This review will be spoiler-free, unless you decide to read the blacked-out parts.

I didn’t have high expectations, because I didn’t love the previous books by this author – Legend was good but nothing surprising, and The Young Elites was just bad (Your Italy Renaissance AU will always be terrible if you don’t know anything about Italy to begin with… do your research, writers).
Warcross surprised me, because I liked it, but I didn’t like everything about it.

For the most part, Warcross was an average book. I loved the beginning and some aspects of the futuristic technology, but I was never really interested in the romance.
This book repeatedly failed to address an obvious aspect of the worldbuilding (Does Warcros have any side effects? Because that sounds too good), and while the author knew what she was doing, it felt unusual to me that the characters never thought about that.

The pacing slowed after Emika (main character) met Hideo (creator of Warcross). I liked to read about them, but I didn’t love them, and I don’t think they were memorable characters for most of the book. I kind of hate the “I have a criminal record and I will angst about it, but then the reader discovers I got it because I had to defend innocent people” trope. It’s overdone. You can allow your character to do bad things for the wrong reasons, as long as these make sense. But from The Young Elites I already knew that I didn’t like how Lu writes antiheroines.
The side characters – especially the Phoenix Riders – were underdeveloped and almost one-dimensional. Their scenes were boring, despite all the action. The “tournament” aspect of the book was a disappointment.

But the book wasn’t disappointing. Why?
The ending – that’s my favorite kind of ending. I’ve seen it only two times, in two of my favorite books of all times. The well-intentioned extremist is my favorite trope.
It’s also extremely difficult to pull off, and I don’t think she quite got it.
There were two ways the story could go:

  • a predictable, solid ending
  • a definitely unpredictable and much less solid ending.

I liked that she didn’t take the easy way out. It definitely makes for a memorable book and sets up a lot of interesting things for the sequel.
But.

For that trope to work, you have to show a realistic, solid motivation for the character to have acted that way.
And she didn’t; I don’t buy that.
I do think that baiting your readers with the predictable Zero mystery to hide the Hideo twist was a genius move, but it also meant that everyone guessed at least half of the final twist..
I’m not complaining, it’s been months since I was surprised by a book. But while this is my favorite kind of ending, and it surprised me, it wasn’t done well.

Acqua’s spoilery thoughts on the ending:
The main problem is that the brother thing didn’t feel like a good enough motivation. The other times I’ve seen this plot twist, it was motivated by massacres, not by the disappearance of one person and the rising rate of crimes. Hideo should have had a more difficult past, or lived in a worse world.

The ending wasn’t executed well, but I loved all of it. If I had liked the book more before the climax, I would have rated Warcross five stars despite its flaws. But the beginning and the ending were the only parts I really liked, so… that’s not going to happen.

My rating: ★★★★

Have you read Warcross? What did you think of its ending? And which is your favorite book by this author?