S. L. Huang – The Little Homo Sapiens Scientist

This week, a little special edition from Book Smugglers Publishing arrived at my house and made lying in bed all day a bit more bearable. I know it was a limited print run, but I still find it so charming that the Book Smugglers included a personalised thank you note and a bookmark. The story itself was also wonderful, although it took me a while to get into it.

little-homo-sapiens-scientistTHE LITTLE HOMO SAPIENS SCIENTIST
by S. L. Huang

Published by: Book Smugglers Publishing, 2016
Paperback: 70 pages
Standalone
My rating: 8/10

First sentence: Dr. Alan Zanga is to blame for this.

A dark retelling of The Little Mermaid from the author of HUNTING MONSTERS

I suppose if this is going to be recorded somewhere for posterity, I should set the record straight. The ghostwriter will probably cut it all, but hey, it’s the principle of the thing.

Dr. Cadence Mbella is the world’s most celebrated scholar of the atargati: sentient, intelligent deep-water beings who are most definitely not mermaids. When Cadence decides to release a captive atargati from scientific experimentation and interrogation, she knows her career and her life is forfeit. But she still yearns for the atargati–there is still so much to know about their physiology, their society, their culture. And Cadence would do anything to more fully understand the atargati… no matter what the cost.

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If you’re remotely interested in fairy tales, you know that Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” doesn’t exactly end the Disney way. Most of us know that and expect retellings of this story to be just as sad. But knowing that going in can also make us blunt to retellings of this melancholy tale because… well, we know the mermaid won’t be happily married to her prince, so why even get emotionally invested, right? S. L. Huang found the perfect way to bring back all the horror and gravity of what the protagonist does to become someone else, as well as twist the knife she puts in your gut right at the end. I can’t say it was a happy experience but it was damn well done!

Caddie Mbella has one passion in life: the study of the atargati (don’t call them mermaids!), a deep-sea species that baffles scientists all around the world. Caddie happens to be very good at what she does. In fact, she is the only one who can sing the way the atargati sing and is thus able to communicate with the “mermaids”. But of course, the government sticks their fingers in what could otherwise be beautiful science, kidnaps an atargati and keeps her in captivity for further study (and who knows what else). Caddie can’t bear the thought o fit and frees the atargati, knowing that from now on she has to live the rest of her life on the run. She takes that risk gladly, except without her studies, without the atargati, she has nothing left. A quick visit to a witch doctor, some DNA-manipulation, and you can see where this flipped Little Mermaid tale is going.

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There were several things that made me absolutely adore this retelling and one thing that bothered me a bit. I loved that Caddie is a lesbian kick-ass scientist (in case any Puppies are reading this: although there absolutely doesn’t need to be a reason for Caddie to be gay, it is truly important for the story!) whose passion for her job shines through in her entire narration. At first, it may feel a tiny bit like a lecture, but then again Huang is introducing a whole new species to her readers, and a bit of background knowledge is totally appreciated. The fact that Caddie delivered it only helped to flesh out her character while doing that crucial bit of initial world building. And the atargati are fascinating! They resemble human females just enough to have earned the name “mermaid” in the wider world, but they are sight-less, genderfluid species who communicate through underwater song. I found learning about them as interesting as Caddie.

However, that introduction was also my one issue with the novella (or novelette?). Because we have to learn all this information at the beginning, I didn’t really connect with the plot that much. My interest was there, but there was no emotional connection to either Caddie or the atargati yet and that made the book feel somewhat slow at first.

That all changes, however, when Caddie frees the captive atargati, has to go on the run, and eventually finds that witch doctor who can turn her into a sort of mutated atargati – with an expected life span of a few months, at best. That was where the emotional hooks finally took hold of me and it was also the first time since I was a kid that I truly felt how gigantic the decision Caddie makes really is – and how equally big the original little mermaid’s decision was (I mean, giving up your species is pretty heavy shit). As it becomes clear that Caddie has lost her purpose in life she pretty much agrees to go on a suicide mission, paved with pain and loss, for one chance to see the creatures she loves so much, live with them and learn from them. Remember when the sea witch tells the little mermaid how every step will hurt like she’s walking on knives? Oh, and how she loses her voice? Those bits are brilliantly incorporated into “The Little Homo Sapiens Scientist” and the loss of the voice especially becomes one of the most painful things for Caddie to endure.

S. L. Huang does a wonderful job of describing the underwater world of the atargati. Considering that Caddie is now missing both her sight and her ability to speak/sing, you’d think there wasn’t much left to tell. But I found the descriptions of atargati society fascinating! It was also the part of the story that let Caddie shine as a character and even offered a sort of romance. And then the ending came and it absolutely broke my heart! Even though I knew it wouldn’t end well – at least if it was a faithful retelling –  it still hit me really hard, like a knife being turned in a wound. I may or may not have cursed out loud while reading it…

All things considered, I really loved this version of The Little Mermaid, how it is both simple and clever in the way it translates the old fairy tale to a near future world. Iliked the author’s Hunting Monsters stories but I loved The Little Homo Sapiens Scientist, and I am hoping very much she’ll give us more fairy tale retellings. So here’s my plea to the Book Smugglers and S. L. Huang: Please, can I have some more?

MY RATING: 8/10 – Excellent

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Jenny Moyer – Flashfall

You know how some books take a while got get going? How a boring or difficult beginning can be hard to read but then the pay-off makes it all worthwile? This is the opposite kind of book. Here, the beginning was the best part, and then it all falls into pieces and gets worse and worse. This will be a rather long review.

flashfallFLASHFALL
by Jenny Moyer

Published by: Henry Holt and Co., 2016
Hardback: 342 pages
Series: Flashfall #1
My rating: 3,5/10

First sentence: Caves make good hiding places.

Orion is a Subpar, expected to mine the tunnels of Outpost Five, near the deadly flash curtain. For generations, her people have chased cirium—the only element that can shield humanity from the curtain’s radioactive particles. She and her caving partner, Dram work the most treacherous tunnel, fighting past flash bats and tunnel gulls, in hopes of mining enough cirium to earn their way into the protected city.
But when newcomers arrive at Outpost Five, Orion uncovers disturbing revelations that make her question everything she thought she knew about life on both sides of the cirium shield. As conditions at the outpost grow increasingly dangerous, it’s up to Orion to forge a way past the flashfall, beyond all boundaries, beyond the world as she knows it.

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Orion and Dram are best friends and cavers. They live in Outpost 5 and their job is to go into a cave and mine for cirium, a substance that is used by Congress in the protected city of Alara for a protective barrier against the flash curtain. If that sounds convoluted and clichéd, that’s because it is. Don’t expect any of this to make sense. However, good-natured as I am, I decided to just roll with it and enjoy the story on a different level.

Orion, our protagonist, is your typical YA heroine, and she is also quite obviously in love with her best friend Dram. They make a kick-ass team and their trips into Cave Nine were thrilling to read. If the author had stuck with that idea and run with it, this could have been a great YA book. But Jenny Moyer apparently didn’t know how to spread out her ideas (or other people’s ideas) and threw in everything and the kitchen sink, without regard for the plot or world building. While the beginning of the book is well-paced, introducing the progatonists and some side characters, there came a point where everything went to shit.

For conflict, Orion has to get into trouble, and I am totally okay with that because that’s what makes great stories. But her and Dram get transported, imprisoned, escape, get imprisoned again, sent somewhere else, escape to a new place, come back, get caught again – so many times and in such quick succession that any dangerous situation feels utterly ridiculous after a while. There also isn’t any sense of real danger because they conveniently get saved by some poor schmuck sacrificing themselves for them.

This actually bothered me a lot. At first, side characters who got some introduction blindly sacrifice themselves for these two teenagers without any hint of their motives. Later, the author just didn’t care anymore and randomly introduced new characters only to kill them off a few pages later so Orion can survive. In some cases, the sacrifice is relatable, but I got the feeling that the author wanted Orion so very much to be Katniss, with the same level of fame and respect from a rebellion that doesn’t even exist in Flashfall. But Orion is really not that special and, much more importantly, her story isn’t broadcast across the nation so nobody knows that she’s sort of uprising. All she does is break a sign. Why should random people – ones she’s only just met – blindly walk into death for her? And the amount of times that happens is just mind-boggling. It’s cheap and it’s bad writing and it weakens the entire story.

Another aspect that showed bad plotting was how convenient things were. Not just character deaths but other things as well. Like a side character is introduced only to give one vital piece of information to Orion and then never be mentioned again (or die in the next chapter). The same goes for tricky situations. They get out of them so easily and so quickly. Every plan immediately works, and if it doesn’t, just throw a side character into their death. Either way, the action scenes rarely took more than a page or two which gave the whole story a weird sense of time passing.

What makes things worse is the terrible world building. Where do I start? Oh, I know, let’s start with the map. I love maps in books because they usually give you a bit of additional information for the story and help you navigate an invented world in your mind while you’re reading. Not so in Flashfall. If anything, the map made things even harder to understand. To be fair, if all the artist had to go on was the descriptions in the book, there really wasn’t anthing to be done. Look here (click to biggify):

I wasn’t the only person who had trouble with this map or the descriptions in the book. Because the working of this world is never really explained, I tried to piece it together myself. But none of it made any sense! The flash curtain is apparently this radioactive wall of fog that kills regular humans, called Normals. Subpars, like Orion and Dram, can withstand the radiaton. They live in Outpost 5, I’m assuming that dividing line is the flash curtain – and the privileged Normals live in the city of Alara protected by that weird dome-like wall thingy. At least I think that’s what it is. However, there are also Normals living in Orion’s outpost – WTF? Why don’t they get sick? What is even the point of having them there if they can’t go down into the caves to mine for cirium? Oh yeah, and cirium is needed constantly for that protection dome/wall… I have no idea why. If there’s already a wall why would they need more cirium? As it turns out, the rich people are evil (who could have seen that coming?) and use cirium for other stuff as well. No spoilers although, trust me, you wouldn’t mind anyway.

As I mentioned before, Orion and Dram “visit” lots of other places as well, some Outposts, some cordons, although the main difference seems to be the vicinity to the flash curtain. The vague and really cheap explanations as to why people are in the cordons at all didn’t help with the world building either. It appears the elite is also really stupid if their secret evil plan is doing what they’re doing. To make things more confusing, we later find out a bit more about Alara and its inhabitants. Like that they have drones and helicopters. Which don’t go with the set-up of the world AT ALL. Everything is jarring, nothing fits together, even distances don’t make sense. The speed at which Orion travels between cordons makes it feel like distances on the map aren’t very far apart. But that doesn’t go with the descriptions of the caves’ vastness.

Very little thought went into the world building. The most effort was probably put into substitute curse words which also don’t make sense. People curse with “fire” or “flash me” – at least “flash me” goes with the general world. The flash curtain is a menace, a danger, so using it as a curse is fine. But why would anybody curse with “fire” ? Fire doesn’t have special meaning in this story, it’s not like fires have to be avoided at all costs because cirium is super flammable or anything. I have no idea where it comes from and it threw me out of the story every time it came up.

But the saddest part was the plot. As I said, it started off so well. I didn’t expect a great work of literature here, just some fun adventure with a romance thrown in or something.  And at the start, the book really showed potential. We see Dram and Orion in action doing their job and being damn good at it, we meet their families and friends, the way they live. They go into cave nine, meet some dangers and get out of them by themselves and by being a great team. However, that seems to have been the only consistent idea the author had, because once the world gets opened up and she tries to show us the bigger picture, it becomes clearer and clearer that there is no plan. The world makes no sense, Orion’s fame makes no sense, the mindless idiots dying for her make no sense. Throw in some magical people – Conjurors – who can manipulate the elements, throw in weird sub-societies in different outposts and cordons, incredibly convenient hints for the protagonists to find, really lame plot twists and a story that, in terms of character development and world building leaves you exactly where you started and you’ve got a hot mess named Flashfall.

In the end, I have more questions than answers. What even is the flash curtain? Why is it a straight line on the map? Why do Normals live with Subpars in the outposts if Normals aren’t resistent to the radiation? Why would anyone work for the protected elite in the first place? How does the world at large work? Why is there magic, why are the powerful people trying to stop Conjurers from using it? Why would they not let scientists work on a cure or a protection against radiation sickness? None of it makes sense. What’s even the point of having outposts and cordons, especially if some of them seem designed only to kill people in ridiculous ways? Why would a city even be built that close to the Flash curtain if it’s such a straight, nicely contained line? Why has Orion never seen the sky? If everything’s so full of clouds and radiation, how do the Normals even survive? What the hell is any of this about???

The ending isn’t really any better. Things work out super-conveniently for Orion again and we get an incredibly cheese last scene but there wasn’t even an attempt to make readers want to read the next book in the series. I can only assume that the many favorable reviews were written by people who still have hope that it gets better, that all those questions are answered in the sequels. I do not have that hope and I feel no need at all to continue torturing myself with a series that is so self-indulgent, so unfocused, and by an author who so clearly doesn’t have a plan.

For a well-executed romance and the nice beginning I’m giving this a handful of points. For starting well and leaving me angry, it’s not a big handful.

MY RATING: 3,5/10 – Bad

P.S.: If anyone has read this and can explain any of the things that were unclear to me, please leave a comment or send me an e-mail. I am genuinely interested if it was just me being an idiot while reading.

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Ian Doescher – William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope

I resisted this a long time, suspecting it may be just as cheap a rip-off as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was (never managed to finish that book…), but a friend convinced me that this is not merely a script of the movies made to rhyme but actually a bit more clever than that. While I don’t think this is a masterpiece of literature, it was truly fun to read and it’s a beautiful physical book to have on my shelf.

verily-a-new-hope

William Shakespeare’s STAR WARS:
VERILY, A NEW HOPE
by Ian Doescher

Published by:
Hardback: 174 pages
Series: William Shakespeare’s Star Wars #4
My rating: 6,5/10

First sentence: It is a period of civil war.

MAY THE VERSE BE WITH YOU!
Return once more to a galaxy far, far away with this sublime retelling of George Lucas’s epic Star Wars in the style of the immortal Bard of Avon. The saga of a wise (Jedi) knight and an evil (Sith) lord, of a beautiful princess held captive and a young hero coming of age, Star Wars abounds with all the valor and villainy of Shakespeare’s greatest plays. ‘Tis a tale told by fretful Droids, full of faithful Wookiees and fearsome Stormtroopers, signifying… pretty much everything.
Reimagined in glorious iambic pentameter, William Shakespeare’s Star Wars will astound and edify Rebels and Imperials alike. Zounds! This is the book you’re looking for.

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I am really glad I bought this book. It came in a lovely slipcase including the other two books in the trilogy (they may be numbered 4 through 6 but who’s the publisher kidding?) and it looks fantastic on my shelf. Apart from the obvious good looks of this book, the content offered some interesting surprises as well.

The story is the one we all know and love. Princess Leia hiding the secret Death Star plans in R2-D2, who is trying to get them to Obi-Wan. Luke Skywalker picks up R2 and C-3PO and gets dragged into this big adventure involving a dark-clad man with a breathing problem, furry co-pilots and a damn sexy Han Solo. There is nothing new here, story wise, so don’t expect any extra scenes or background goodies – although there was a quite funny comment about who shot first (Han did! It’s always been Han!).

So what makes this book worthy of your time is mostly the fun of discovering famous quotes Shakespeare-ified. Whether it’s “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for” or Han’s nicknames for Leia, seeing them in wrapped in iambic pentameter actually made me giggle. However, it was Luke that got to me in this book more than he ever did in the movies. I was genuinely surprised by how well his yearning for adventure came through. In the movie, I always thought of Luke as somewhat of a brat, you know, a whiny teenager who wants to leave home to lead his own life, never mind family responsibilities. But in Doescher’s version, Luke’s speeches actually touched me and conveyed in how much pain he is because he’s stuck on Tatooine (which, okay, I get it, it’s a pretty shitty planet).

There are also a few little gimmicks that made the book worthwhile. R2 may still speak droid (“bleep” and so on) but there are a few asides to us, the audience, in English. It’s nothing you didn’t already expect R2 to think but it’s nice to have the little guy actually get to talk in our language for once and voice his annoyance at his companion droid. Chewie is still Chewie and all we get from him is his famous growing/howling noise.

Even if this book weren’t as entertaining as it ended up being, I would have been happy about it just for the illustrations. Like the cover design, they show the characters in immediately recognisable shape, except wearing old-timey garb. Vader especially cracked me up, dressed in his suit (complete with breathing apparatus) plus super fabulous fur coat and puffy sleeves. Seriously, just look at this:

There are many more fantastic illustrations, some of which made me laugh (the Cantina band), others which were more of a nod to Shakespeare than Star Wars (Luke holding a Stormtrooper helmet much like Hamlet’s Yorick skull), and others still that I’m not spoiling for you. Let’s just say, Jabba makes an appearance in all his Shakespearean glory.

The one thing – and this was to be expected – that simply can’t be done properly in this medium, is the space battles. Whenever description is needed, the choir enters to set the stage for us. In the case of the final battle at the Death Star, the author even acknowledges that it’s impossible to reproduce this scene on a stage (or in a written play), so we just have to put a bit more effort into our readerly imagination. That’s totally okay and there was no way it could have been done differently, but of course it also made that last battle feel much less epic. When all you have to go on is the rebel’s comm messages, some randomly shouting “I’m hit” and others coming to their companions’ rescue, that’s just not very exciting if you don’t see the fight. But it was the only real shortcoming of this version of Star Wars, for which I will gladly forgive the author.

I’m sure a lot of work went into these books and they’re not just the money-grabbing merchandise that they first appear to be. There’s not much to discover here that’s new but if you like Star Wars, you’ll probably get some enjoyment out of this. I quite liked it.

MY RATING: 6,5/10 – Pretty good

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Okay, I can’t resist. Have another picture:

verily-a-new-hope-illustrations

 

 

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Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff – Illuminae

This book has been surrounded by enormous hype ever since it came out. Without that hype, I wouldn’t ever have thought of picking it up. The cover, although I like the colors, didn’t really speak to me and the synopsis just doesn’t do the story justice. So thank you internet, once again, for pushing stuff onto me that ends up being just as awesome as you said.

illuminaeILLUMINAE
by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Published by: Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2015
Ebook: 608 pages
Series: The Illuminae Files #1
My rating: 8/10

First sentence: So here’s the file that almost killed me, Director.

This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do.
This afternoon, her planet was invaded.
The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto an evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.
But their problems are just getting started. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet’s AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it’s clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she’d never speak to again.
Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping, high-octane trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.

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We all know the kind of book that isn’t written in prose but is made up of interview transcriptions, chat messages, letters and so on. Illuminae is one such book, but the format is used very cleverly, not just to create a visually interesting book but also to deliver a whole new level of emotional punch. Kady and Ezra had just broken up and now their planet has been invaded, they are refugees on big space ships and they both have bigger things to think about than their petty relationship fight.

So, fine. Relationship drama is sent backstage in favor of the more urgent threat of the BeiTech ship pursuing them (most likely to kill any survivors from the attack on their home planet, Kerenza), the space ships need to deal with all the additional people they are now carrying – you know, feeding them, treating wounds, giving them a sleeping place, and so on. Families have been torn apart, some dead, others separated with one family member on each of the ships. In addition, a disease is breaking out that nobody seems to be able to cure just yet. So yeah… things are looking pretty damn miserable.

The author-duo throws their protagonists into a horrible, horrible situation and then makes them deal with it beautifully. Kady, a genius with a computer, tries to figure things out by hacking into the system, looking for classified information, anything to make sense of what happened. Ezra, in the meantime, becomes a pilot and joins the fight in his own – much more immediately dangerous – way. And despite this, these two still think about each other and that stupid fight they had. Things just gained a new perspective and they realise that they love each other, never mind the fight.

Through e-mails, chat messages, surveillance footage (described in prose), and snippets of the Alexander‘s AI (the Alexander is one of the three ships carrying our refugees), a story unfolds that is both thrilling and exciting as well as heartbreaking. Actually, mostly heartbreaking. At some points, it was the things that weren’t said that kick you in the face the most. Both Kady and Ezra are suffering from PTSD, both have lost family members – or at the very least they have no idea if their families are still alive and whether they got infected with the Phobos virus. And the only way they can hold on to each other and to life itself, is by talking across two space ships, grasping at the last bit of the life they had.

Plot-wise, I am going to shut up here. There is a lot of potential for spoilers and I am steering right clear of that. But I can say that Illuminae started out incredibly exciting, a real page-turner, then hits a slumpy bit where things don’t seem to move forward, where conversations seem to repeat, where I was waiting for something new to happen. And then it does. And, boy, it doesn’t let off until the very end. There are some plot twists in store that actually made me cry, there are several crowning moments of awesome, and there were times when I was just so proud of Kady – as if she were my friend or sister or something – where I marvelled at her bravery. The same goes for Ezra but Kady was just my heroine. You know, the kind of character that makes you wish you were as brave as her.

Apart from epic space battles and a virus gone crazy, Illuminae examines several difficult themes. The way Kady and Ezra deal with their PTSD, how creating artifiction intelligence may or may not be a smart thing to do, how people with power have to make impossible decisions for the greater good. These characters, even the minor ones, are faced with terrible, impossible situations and in most cases there is no right or wrong answer. There is only death or more death. Morality, gut feeling, none of those help you when you are responsible for thousands of lives and on the run. It’s a hard book to read and I am all the more impressed that it got to me so much with the chosen style. Because we rarely – if ever – read about people’s feelings or thoughts, all of these have to be conveyed through other means. And pulling that off is an amazing feat!

Another great thing was that I was never sure how the book would end. It had that anything-goes-feeling to it, where it could end in complete disaster, or with a bittersweet half-victory, or even with everything turning out fine-ish (I mean, lots of people die way before the end, so “fine” is a relative term here). The ending chosen by the authors was better than I could have imagined. I don’t mean better as in “all was well” but better as in it makes a better story. I’m also glad I waited this long to read the book because now I won’t have to wait so long for the sequel. And believe me, after that ending, I am more than excited.

MY RATING: 8/10 – Excellent!

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Charlie Jane Anders – All the Birds in the Sky

This was one of my most eagerly awaited books of the year. Buzz had been building up last summer already, the cover is gorgeous, and I liked Charlie Jane Anders’ writing on io9. Instead of doing what I usually do (buying all the books, then leaving most of them unread for way too long), I dove right in, without really knowing where the book might go. It turned out to be wonderful, touching, a combination of science and magic.

all the birds in the skyALL THE BIRDS IN THE SKY
by Charlie Jane Anders

Published by: Tor, 2016
Ebook: 320 pages
Standalone
My rating: 8/10

First sentence: When Patricia was six years old, she found a wounded bird.

Childhood friends Patricia Delfine and Laurence Armstead didn’t expect to see each other again, after parting ways under mysterious circumstances during high school. After all, the development of magical powers and the invention of a two-second time machine could hardly fail to alarm one’s peers and families.
But now they’re both adults, living in the hipster mecca San Francisco, and the planet is falling apart around them. Laurence is an engineering genius who’s working with a group that aims to avert catastrophic breakdown through technological intervention into the changing global climate. Patricia is a graduate of Eltisley Maze, the hidden academy for the world’s magically gifted, and works with a small band of other magicians to secretly repair the world’s ever-growing ailments. Little do they realize that something bigger than either of them, something begun years ago in their youth, is determined to bring them together–to either save the world, or plunge it into a new dark ages.
A deeply magical, darkly funny examination of life, love, and the apocalypse.

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All the Birds in the Sky follows Patricia and Laurence through their childhood and this was, at the same time, one of the hardest parts to read, as well as one of the most beautiful. Both children are outcasts in school, and despite (or because) of their differences, they become friends. At first, by necessity, because nobody else will have them, later because they grow fond of each other. Right from the start, the differences between them are also what makes them so interesting, and draws them to one another. Patricia is in touch with Nature, she talked to birds once, and was given a riddle by them. Laurence likes science, and gadgets, and builds his own machines from scrap material at a very young age. The juxtaposition of Nature and Science is central to this book, but it never feels heavy-handed. Anders never picks a side.

What Patricia and Laurence go through is heartbreaking. Their parents – so often absent in books about kids – were amazingly-written. They are fully fleshed out individuals and while we see the parents’ actions through the children’s eyes, they never come across as irredeemable or evil. They are also just people trying to do what’s best, and if that looks like pure cruelty to children, that’s just how the world works. I absolutely adored the portrayal of all characters but the parents struck me as particularly well done, simply because so few writers include the protagonists’ family in any meaningful way. To be fair, viewed through Laurence and Patrcia’s eyes, the parents are quite horrible and only add to their children’s alrady difficult childhoods. In Patricia’s case, even the sister, Roberta, likes nothing more than make her sister’s life painful.

Terrible high school experience behind them, Patricia and Laurence have gone their separate ways for spoilery reasons. Laurence goes on to be hailed as a science wunderkind, Patricia goes to Eltisley Maze (American Hogwarts), and both are trying to make the world a better place, using their own methods and talents. Again, as obvious as the Magic vs. Science theme may be, the two apparent opposites mesh really well and the effortless coexistence of the two is never jarring. This story shows that there can be both, that you can love magic and science, that you can want a wand and a space ship.

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My favorite part was easily the meandering relationship between Patricia and Laurence, the emotional core of the book. When they meet again,  you expect worlds to collide. They have grown into themselves, they figured out what kind of people they are, and just because they were once childhood friends, doesn’t mean they may like who the other has become. But what grows between them is one of the best, most beautiful love stories I have ever read. It all boils down to finding someone who lets you be yourself and loves you anyway.

Laurence and Patricia hadn’t started dating after that or anything—they’d just hung out. All the time. Way more time than Laurence had ever spent with Serafina, because every date with Serafina had to be perfect, and he’d always worried about being clingy. He and Patricia were just always grabbing dinner and coffee and late-night drinks, whenever Laurence could slip Milton’s leash. They were always cheating at foozeball, dancing at The EndUp with insomniac queers until five in the morning, bowling for cake, inventing elaborate drinking games for Terrence Malick movies, quoting Rutherford B. Hayes from memory, and building the weirdest kites they could coax into the sky over Kite Hill. They were always hand in hand.

All the Birds in the Sky has a lot of things to say about fitting in and about the fast world we live in. Whether it’s in throwaway remarks about the latest hipster brunch place or the newest tablet model, the story is firmly based on our times and then taken a little into the future. I thought the point about San Francisco being a hipster capital was hammered in a little hard, but not to the point where it took me out of the narrative. No matter where they are and who they’re surrounded by, Patricia and Laurence either still have a hard time fitting in or feel like impostors when they do find a group a friends. It’s a deeply understandable feeling that was portrayed beautifully.

I found out that Charlie Jane Anders has published a book before this but I am still impressed with her skill. The language is gorgeous, adapting to the character in focus. When a chapter deals with Patricia, everything is earthy and rich and green and growing. Switch to Laurence and it’s all about circuits and code, computer slang and science geekery. I found the prose wonderful, both flowy and fresh, and always hitting home when things went haywire.

I didn’t talk much about the plot on purpose. I knew next to nothing about the plot when I started reading and it was the most wonderful experience. Maybe Patricia’s witchy school days and the people she met during that time could have used a little more backstory, especially some intriguing side characters (looking at you, Ernesto). But overall, All the Birds in the Sky was a surprise favorite for me. A wild mix of genres, an emotional roller coaster, the story of two lives and how they’re intertwined through magic and science alike. I absolutely loved it!

MY RATING: 8/10 – Excellent! I want more!

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Second opinions:

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

Do you like Firefly? Of course you do. If you also like Mass Effect and really good books, I have something for you. The reason I didn’t notice this book until somebody slapped a seriously beautiful cover on it is because… well, I’m shallow and covers are what draw me in. In this case, you should also judge a book by its cover and pick this one up. I promise it will make you all warm and fuzzy inside.

long way to a small angry planet

THE LONG WAY TO A SMALL, ANGRY PLANET
by Becky Chambers

Published by: Hodder & Stoughton, 2015 (2014)
Ebook: 608 pages
Standalone
My rating: 8,5/10

First sentence: As she woke up in the pod, she remembered three things.

When Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the Wayfarer, she isn’t expecting much. The Wayfarer, a patched-up ship that’s seen better days, offers her everything she could possibly want: a small, quiet spot to call home for a while, adventure in far-off corners of the galaxy, and distance from her troubled past.But Rosemary gets more than she bargained for with the Wayfarer. The crew is a mishmash of species and personalities, from Sissix, the friendly reptilian pilot, to Kizzy and Jenks, the constantly sparring engineers who keep the ship running. Life on board is chaotic, but more or less peaceful – exactly what Rosemary wants.Until the crew are offered the job of a lifetime: the chance to build a hyperspace tunnel to a distant planet. They’ll earn enough money to live comfortably for years… if they survive the long trip through war-torn interstellar space without endangering any of the fragile alliances that keep the galaxy peaceful.But Rosemary isn’t the only person on board with secrets to hide, and the crew will soon discover that space may be vast, but spaceships are very small indeed.

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Rosemary is the newest crew member on the Wayfarer, a ship that punches holes in the galaxy so others can fast-travel through the wormhole. It is through Rosemary’s eyes that we get to know the crew of this wonderful, patched-up ship. And what a crew it is. Dr. Chef, the – unsurprisingly – doctor and chef, Sissix, the Aandrisk pilot, quirky and life-affirming tech Kizzy, sour Corbin, the navigator Ohan, the second tech, Jenks, the pacifist captain Ashby, and the ship’s AI Lovey (short for Lovelace).

I could tell you about each and every one of these people because Becky Chambers devotes time to all of them and gives them lives, hopes, dreams, a past, and a future. The comparison to Firefly is mostly due to this – the entire cast is vibrant and three-dimensional. They’re not space cowboy smugglers. There is very little violence in this book which makes it all the more praiseworthy that it’s such a page-turner. Becky Chambers knows that cultural tension, learning new things, adjusting to life in space, and doing a job well can be just as thrilling as intergalactic wars. And while we all have a favorite Serenity crewmember (Mal), I find myself hard-pressed to pick a favorite from the Wayfarer.

long way to a small angry planet self-pubWhile Rosemary is the first character to hold on to, simply because she is the first we meet, it takes all of two pages to fall in love with everyone else. Lovey is much more than a computer, although the Galactic Commons are not in agreement over whether sapient AIs should be considered people or things. Which in turn angers Jenks who is very much in love with Lovey. The Aandrisk Sissix may look like a feathered lizard but it is her culture that makes her so intriguing. I loved her long before I really knew her, and once we visit her home planet, she becomes all the more awesome and wonderful and just made me want to hug her really hard.

Visiting planets is pretty much what happens until the crew finally reach their destination. They were hired to go to Hedra Ka, a formerly hostile planet, which has just joined the alliance and is now part of the Galactic Commons. On their way, they stop over at different planets to re-stock, re-fuel, meet old friends, and take some time off to not go ship-crazy. It’s like hopping in a car (or in this case: space ship) with all of your best friends and going on a road trip. A year-long road trip.

This planet-hopping plot is a little episodic at times but that didn’t bother me at all. I though of it like episodes of Lost, where most of the characters get some screen time in every chapter, but each episode would focus on one character and their back story. The Long Way is just like that (only with a proper conclusion and no plot holes).

One of the most amazing things about this book is its effortless diversity and the way problems are resolved by peaceful means. Almost every crew member belongs to a different species. Instead of fighting or misunderstanding each other, what they do is very simple: they are considerate. That’s it. Rosemary sometimes catches herself assuming things about others, but she always checks herself, educates herself about their cultures, or, you know, simply asks. And if one of the crew is accidentally impolite to another, they don’t start a war over it, they talk it out, they apologize and everyone has gained something from the blunder. I wish the real world was like that, but even if this is only fiction, it was beautiful to read.

Sissix’ culture especially reminded me of experiences I’ve had myself. I haven’t met any Aandrisks, mind you, but for them, showing affection in very physical ways is totally normal. What makes us humans blush is like a handshake to them. When I meet people from southern Europe, it can feel like that sometimes. Some people are used to hugging and kissing strangers when they first meet, while others may already find a handshake uncomfortable. So it doesn’t matter that much of the cast are aliens, they are just as relatable as Rosemary, Kizzy or Ashby.

wayfarer

I could go on about the others. The mystery that is Ohan is worth a whole book to themselves, Jenks and Lovey’s relationship is difficult to read about because I inherently wanted them to be togehter, physically, which they just can’t. Ashby himself is in a steady and loving relationship, a rarity in books, especially when we’re talking about space ship captains. He’s not grumpy or harsh or violent. Kizzy is the quirky, loud-mouthed, always happy girl who’ll drink you under the table if you let her, but she has much more depth to her than meets the eye. Corbin felt like Firefly‘s Jayne most of the time, but (just like Jayne) you can’t help but care about him despite his moods.

This book has a little bit of everything. Space exploration, character growth, beautiful friendships, a chosen family, cultural diversity, and even a bit of action. The ending had me in tears, not only because I didn’t know what would happen to my beloved characters, but also because I had grown to love these people so much I wanted to go on another trip with them right away. This is the type of story that makes you want to pack your stuff, hop on a space ship and travel the galaxy. It made me feel like a child again, staring at the wonders of the universe, and for that I’ll forever be grateful to Becky Chambers.

MY RATING: 8,5/10 – Pretty much perfect!

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Second opinions:

Marissa Meyer – Fairest

I’m all caught up on the Lunar Chronicles! Until the short fiction collection Stars Above comes out, I can officially say I have read all the books in the series, including all the short stories available so far. That’s a good start into the new year and I promise, you won’t hear me talk about mediocre books in fangirlish ways for a while now.

fairest

FAIREST
by Marissa Meyer

Published by: Feiwel & Friends, 2015
Hardcover: 222 pages
Series: The Lunar Chronicles #3.5
My rating: 6/10

First sentence: She was lying on a burning pyre, hot coals beneath her back.

Mirror, mirror on the wall,
Who is the fairest of them all?
Fans of the Lunar Chronicles know Queen Levana as a ruler who uses her “glamour” to gain power. But long before she crossed paths with Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress, Levana lived a very different story – a story that has never been told . . . until now.

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Queen Levana was simultaneously one of the weakest and the strongest parts of The Lunar Chronicles as a whole. She is an Evil Queen of Evil whose Evilness is so obvious and unsubtle that I kept being surprised how nobody dared defy her. But then again, she is a Lunar and their gift for mind manipulation is a cool idea that would put terror into the bravest of people. When somebody can control your body and make you do awful things to yourself (or the people you love), I understand that you’d not want to make that person angry…

But Levana was a child once, too. This is her story. She grows up spoiled in the palace of Artemisia, her coldness eclipsed only by her sister Channery. Channery is not outright evil but, my gods, what a spoiled, careless, heartless brat! She just doesn’t care about other people and she enjoys being cruel. So yeah, maybe evil after all. Levana has sympathetic moments, although she clearly isn’t what I’d call an empathetic person. Her parents’ death leaves her cold and more annoyed at having to go to a funeral. It’s the effort she has to put into looking sad that bothers her, not the fact that she is now an orphan.

But Levana is capable of love (or so she thinks, at least). She falls in love with a palace guard and as things unfold, that love and her hatred of her sister becomes the catalyst for her entire personality. Fairest was a strange book and Marissa Meyer walked a fine line with it. The things she did well were Levana’s different sides. She doesn’t start out as a purely good person, but she’s not completely bad either. Levana shows different facets of her character and Fairest makes readers understand why certain aspects of her character were slowly killed off while others were fed by circumstance.

I found this pretty impressive because I didn’t think it was possible to make the Queen Bitch that is Levana appear sympathetic in any way whatsoever. But there are moments when – while not condoning her actions – the reasons for why she is the way she is are understandable to a point. This tightrope walk is a difficult thing to pull of and Meyer didn’t exactly nail it. Levana seems to have mood swings and they don’t always make sense. In one moment she would be a cold-hearted, naive teenager, then she would have downright evil thoughts of murder, then again she would read like a little lost girl who just wants to be loved by the man she has chosen. These different feelings don’t appear organically but seem almost accidental at times.

Story-wise, Fairest doesn’t offer much and the amount of repetition – especially when it came to Levana’s “love story” – got rather annoying. And, whoa, that love story was creepy! But as a bit of backstory, as a bridge book between two parts of the series, as an illustration of the most evil character in the books, this wasn’t half bad. It’s not a riveting read, because we know the outcome of the story beforehand and the journey just wasn’t exciting or surprising enough. But it wasn’t a bad book either.

fairest detail

This story is filled with moments of darkness, much more so than the main story arc of the series. Levana isn’t born into an easy life, no matter what we think about royalty. She is psychologically terrorised by her sister, she suffers physical harm and feels constantly worthless because of the scars she wears. She believes herself in love (I don’t know if I buy her actually loving anyone) but things don’t work out the way they should. This is nothing like a fairy tale and no prince is in sight to come rescue her. So Levana does what she can to take matters into her own hands. While her methods are terrifying, the motive is understandable. Under that veil, under that crown, there is a person who was once a girl with hopes and dreams. This is the story of how they were shattered.

I’ve had enough of The Lunar Chronicles for a while but I hold by my opinion that these are fun YA books, perfect for those times when you just don’t want perfect world-building or deep characters. If you go into this series without expecting much, you won’t be disappointed. In fact, you might be surprised at the moments of depth that creep up on you and peek around the corner. Fairest was NOT fun but highly interesting, in a look-into-a-microscope way.

MY RATING: 6/10 – Good

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Second opinions:

 

Andy Weir – The Martian

I know, I know. The entire internet has read this book already and I’m totally behind on everything. But whenever something is surrounded by this much buzz, I get suspicious. In this case, I didn’t have to be. Not only are the interwebs in agreement on this book being absolute fun, the boyfriend has been pushing me to read it as well. And he’s notoriously hard to please when it comes to books…

martian

THE MARTIAN
by Andy Weir

Published by: Crown, 2014 (2011)
Ebook: 385 pages
Standalone
My rating: 8,5/10

First sentence: I’m pretty much fucked.

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.
Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.
After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive.
Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first.
But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

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Okay, so the buzz wasn’t unfounded. From the moment you pick up this book, you get to enjoy the charming voice that is Mark Watney’s – astronaut, botanist, and objectively the smartest man on Mars. Mark gets left behind, presumed dead, on the Ares 3 mission. Still very much alive, he makes plans to continue his breathing and being alive habit until Ares 4 arrives and can maybe give him a lift back to Earth.

Using his intelligence, scientific knowledge, and pragmatism, Watney expands his chances of a survival immensely. He becomes Mars’ first potato farmer (or any other farmer, for that matter) and doesn’t spare us the log entries explaining how he uses his shit as manure for the potato plants, descriptions of the smell included. Have I mentioned yet that Mark is hilarious? Were this book less exciting plot-wise, Mark Watney’s humor and hopefulness would have been entertainment enough.

Yes, of course duct tape works in a near-vacuum. Duct tape works anywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshipped.

But this is the kind of cascading catastrophy-story that doesn’t really let your blood pressure catch a break. I don’t remember how many times I held my breath, how much I cursed, how many scenes gave me goosebumps. Considering the amount (and length) of detailed explanations about How Shit Works (On Mars) and How Mark Builds New Stuff or How Mark Accidentally Blows Himself Up (not a spoiler), I’m surprised how gripping and emotional it all was. There are so many moments when I thought, Ok, now it’s over, I’m just going to watch him die for 100 pages now… and Mark finds a way out of it. Mind you, I’m not telling you if he finds a way out of everything. If you consider that everything Mark does, even just sleeping in the hab, any second something could go wrong, some machine could fail, and he’d be dead in seconds. It gives even the quieter moments a sense of underlying dread that makes this book so hard to put down.

Okay, so I was the worst at maths in school. If you told me that one day, there would be a thing that makes mathematics sound exciting and like something I might want to spend more time understanding, I would have laughed in your face (maybe spit on you, too). But it’s true. Watney’s life depends on science, and not a small part of that is calculating stuff. It was a joy to see Mark come up with new ways to fix seemingly unfixable problems, to deal with any crisis, the keep hope when everything seems pointless. I found it impossible not to love the guy.

Another thing that always leaves me emotionally broken and crying is when people come together to work for a common goal. NASA finds out pretty soon that Watney’s alive and they do everything to bring him back. Not only do these chapters convey just how many people put in the time and work to save one man’s life (some at great personal sacrifice), but they also help flesh out the secondary cast. Ares 3’s crew, the people at NASA, they all showed personality and humanity, something I didn’t expect from this book. Really, I thought I’d only ever see Watney and his fight for survival on a planet that wants to kill him.

I can say pretty much nothing about the science in this because I wouldn’t presume to know better. It all sounds plausible, considering what I learned in school, but I’ll just defer to people much smarter than I that the science is sound. I read books for characters but I’d be lying if I said the sciency bits didn’t interest me. I found reading about the science as exciting as Watney’s bitching about the endless supply of Disco music (and nothing else).

This is an emotional roller-coaster ride that is both thrilling and thought-provoking. I can see why it was such a big hit, once enough people knew about the book. Whatever Andy Weir writes next – sign me up.

MY RATING: 8,5/10 – Excellent!

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Second opinions:

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Marissa Meyer – Winter

Dear me, I actually finished a book series. Well… not quite. With a bit of cheating, I guess. The in-between-prequel story of Queen Levana – Fairest – is still waiting on my shelf, unread, but the actual main story arc of The Lunar Chronicles is finished. This last instalment was unnecessarily long but still enjoyable for the same reasons I liked Cress.

winterWINTER
by Marissa Meyer

Published by: Feiwel and Friends, 2015
Hardcover: 824 pages
Series: The Lunar Chronicles #4
My rating: 7/10

First sentence: Winter’s toes had become ice cubes.

Princess Winter is admired by the Lunar people for her grace and kindness, and despite the scars that mar her face, her beauty is said to be even more breathtaking than that of her stepmother, Queen Levana.
Winter despises her stepmother, and knows Levana won’t approve of her feelings for her childhood friend—the handsome palace guard, Jacin. But Winter isn’t as weak as Levana believes her to be and she’s been undermining her stepmother’s wishes for years. Together with the cyborg mechanic, Cinder, and her allies, Winter might even have the power to launch a revolution and win a war that’s been raging for far too long.
Can Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter defeat Levana and find their happily ever afters?

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A widely-used trope in any given TV show is the couple that’s clearly meant for each other but whose love story is drawn out over season upon season in order to keep the tension. And you know what? I kind of love that stuff. That moment, when they finally get together, when all the unspoken feelings suddenly break free – that shit is utterly satisfying to watch. And books are no different. Marissa Meyer took a risk with keeping all of her couples sort of not-really-together until this final book in the Lunar Chronicles series. But it totally works and turns Winter into a firework of FEELS. Until it overdoes it and devliers twenty endings (sort of like Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings).

The plot continues where we left off in Cress but Marissa Meyer has not been idle. The story may continue seamlessly but she ups her character-game a notch or two. What makes this such a pleasure to read is how these characters, based on fairy tales and by default one-dimensional and trope-laden, get together and work as a team. They each get to shine in their own right, they each show different sides of themselves that may have nothing to do with their fairy tale origin. Cress is brave, Scarlet is tough, Cinder doubts herself, Winter is clever. Seeing Thorne in emotional turmoil was a whole different story (I can’t help it, I have a thing for him) and Wolf’s brooding became more than just background decoration. This may all very well be due to my totally getting into this story and not seeing all the glaring faults this book may have. But, dear readers, I don’t care. I had a blast reading this.

Despite the ever growing cast of characters, this book is called Winter for a reason. It tells Winter’s story, the girl of otherworldly beauty that had the mistfortune of being Queen Levana’s stepdaughter. At the end of Cress, we got a little sneak peek into who Winter is and the impression everyone got was that we are dealing with an insane person. But Winter is more than that. She does suffer from a disability, but instead of crawling into a hole she uses this disability to her advantage.

The romance also differed from the ones in the previous books. We’ve had two strangers falling in love (Cinder and Kai, Scarlet and Wolf) and we had a couple where one person thought themselves in love before even meeting the other (Cress and Thorne), but here we have something much more realistic and believable, a romance that is great to read without the banter. Jacin and Winter have been friends forever and it’s no secret that Jacin loves her dearly. Winter’s feelings for him are not so well-known but neither of them hides their feelings very well in front of the other. What you get is total devotion and a love based on years spent together. What a refreshing thing to do in a series that lives off love at first sight.

The plot drags at several points but those are usually the same chapters that are full of tension because characters who clearly love each other are separated and fearing for the other’s life. I have to acknowledge the flaws in Winter but I don’t have to let them keep me from enjoying the book. Sometimes, you need a little silliness, a dumb revolution plot that sounds ridiculous and totally unbelievable. But who cares when you’ve got fairy tale princesses kicking ass, androids fangirling about princes, and four romantic couples that draw out their romance for as long as humanly possible.

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Up until the climax, Marissa Meyer keeps up the pacing well enough (with the caveat mentioned above), and it was interesting to see the Lunar society and how they live. But once the action is over and it’s time to pick up the pieces of this war, things are reaaaaaally drawn out without any reason I could see. The thing is, by this point, all the romantic sub-plots are done. We know who ends up with whom, who lives, who dies, who is broken forever and who makes it out of this unscathed. There were just too many chapters dealing with the aftermath, without really delivering anything that I could consider satisfying. Plus, it all just seems a bit too easy. Nonetheless, a handful of boring chapters don’t ruin a book (a 97-chapter strong one, at that).

These books won’t become classics or end up on best of lists by critics of High Literature (I write this in my snooty voice), but, my gods, are they fun to read! Ever since Cress, the problems with plotting and character development have decreased and left me free to enjoy all the stuff that happens and yearn for my favorite couple to finally get together – in case you haven’t guessed it, I ship Cress and Thorne. It must be said, however, that Scarlet and Wolf, the two characters I cared the least about during this entire series, have actually grown on me. Cinder and Kai still haven’t returned to their glory from the first book, but who cares when there are enough other characters to root for?

As a whole, this series had many problems. But the moment I just stopped thinking about anything too hard (or at all), I could enjoy these science fiction fairy tales. Winter was a romp of fun and action, romance and teamwork. Now it’s time to go back and read about why Levana is such a bitch of epic proportions.

MY RATING: 7/10 – Very good

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Second opinions:

Marissa Meyer – Lunar Chronicles short fiction

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!

I hope your holidays are full of awesome bookish gifts and great food and fun.


Now back to business…After reading Cress, I finally clicked with the Lunar Chronicles and needed to catch up on all the short stories. If you’re interested in “Carswell’s Guide to Being Lucky”, you can get the story by subscribing to Marissa Meyer’s newsletter. I’ve included links to where you can read the other stories.

Lunar Chronicles #0.5 – Glitches

Published by: Tor.com, 2011
Read it on:
Wattpad
Ebook:
32 pages
My rating:
6/10
First sentence: “Are you ready to meet your new family?”

Tglitcheshis Tor.com short story was surprisingly touching. It tells of an eleven-year old Cinder who just comes to join her new family. The connection with her younger stepsister Peony is immediate, almost the same way her new stepmother Adri and her eldest daughter Pearl take a dislike to Cinder, for no more reason than that she has a mechanical hand and leg. But, as readers of the Lunar Chronicles well know, Cinder’s cyborg-ness gives her a few other perks that she discovers in this short story for the first time. The surprising part was the ending. Cinder discvoers her skills as a mechanic – to no reader’s surprise – but I didn’t expect this short story to end on such a bitter note, although of course everyone who’s read Cinder (or Cinderella, for that matter) knows that the stepfather cannot stay with the family for long… a good little story that doesn’t really do anything for the greater worldbuilding but is a nice addition to what has been established in Cinder.

Lunar Chronicles #0.6 – The Little Android

Published by: Wattpad, 2014
Read it on:
Wattpad
Ebook:
35 pages
My rating:
7/10
First sentence: Mech6.0 stood against the hangar’s charging wall, one of hundreds of mute sentinels watching the passengers flutter by with their hovering luggage carts and excited chatter.

little android“The Little Android” is a retelling of The Little Mermaid set in the world of the Lunar Chronicles, although only very loosely tied to the main story. Cinder makes an appearance as – who’d have guessed – the witch that gives the little mermaid her legs but takes her voice. I actually adored how Meyer translated all the plot points from the fairy tale into her own science fictional world. It’s all there. The rescue of the prince (although he’s not a prince), the rival girl who is really lovely, the new legs, the muteness… Mech6.0 was an android to root for and the ending – heartbreaking as it must be, considering the source material – was on point. This fleshes out the world of New Beijing before the beginnign of Cinder and would make an excellent starting point, even if you’ve never tried the series of novels.

Lunar Chronicles #2.5 – The Queen’s Army

Published by: Tor, 2012
Read it on:
Wattpad
Ebook:
32 pages
My rating:
6,5/10
First sentence: They came at the end of the long night, when the manufacturing dome had not seen sunlight for almost two weeks.

queens armyThis is a sort of origin story about how Wolf came to be Wolf. Nothing that happens during his training is surprising, but it is quite well written and gives Wolf some much-needed background. His reluctance to be a mindless drone is there from the beginning and “The Queen’s Army” does have a few great moments that hint at Wolf’s fraught relationship with his brother. Scarlet being the weakest of the Lunar Chronicles, catching a glimpse of Wolf’s training, of those first days after the genetic manipulation, made me think that this should have been in the novel rather than a separate short story.

Lunar Chronicles #3.1 – Carswell’s Guide to Being Lucky

Published by: Feiwel & Friends , 2014
Ebook:
42 pages
My rating:
6,5/10
First sentence: Carswell dunked the comb beneath the faucet and slicked it through his hair, tidying the back so it was neat and pristine, and the front spiked up just right.

carswells guideOh, Carswell! Since I’ve just read Cress, I knew what this story would be about from the start. I found it a bit disappointing that Meyer chose to tell a Carswell story whose plot and ending we already know. Thorne has gotten into enough trouble to pick and choose from and I would have liked to see more of his shenanigans. But okay, the story that was already talked about in Cress is here in its entirety. The charming parts are the ones when Carswell thinks about what he wants from life – a ship. A sturdy, useful ship that he can captain, without it having to be flashy or expensive. He pursues this goal by cheating his school mates out of their money, winning some of it fairly, and generally being Carswell. What can I say, there isn’t a lot of meat to the tale, but I’m a sucker for that arrogant little jerk so I had fun reading this.

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