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Free Space by Sean Danker, possibly my favorite sci-fi novel of all time

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Free Space

evagardian #2

author : sean danker

pages : [paperback] 320

favorite character : the admiral

summary :

In the follow-up to Admiral, the intergalactic war has ended and hostilities between the Evagardian Empire and the Commonwealth are officially over, but the admiral is far from safe. . . .

“I’d impersonated a prince, temporarily stopped a war, escaped a deadly planet, and survived more assassination attempts than I could conveniently count. After all that, there shouldn’t have been anything simpler than a nice weekend with a charming Evagardian girl.

However, some corners of the galaxy aren’t as genteel as the Empire, and Evagardians aren’t universally loved, which is how I ended up kidnapped to be traded as a commodity.

Their timing couldn’t have been worse. I’m not at my best, but these people have no idea whom they’re dealing with: a highly trained, genetically engineered soldier in the Imperial Service who happens to be my date.”

review :

You may be thinking: Kayla, might it be an exaggeration to claim this is the best sci-fi novel you’ve ever read?

Nope. It isn’t. This is the sci-fi for people who don’t think they’d like sci-fi, and the one to get for those already obsessed with the genre.

For the record, I really enjoy sci-fi. I think it’s interesting to see what authors can come up with in terms of technology, space, and most importantly, characters. If your characters are flat, or boring, or just unenjoyable, it doesn’t matter what kind of tech they’re parading around the galaxy.

There is absolutely none of that when it comes to the cast filling Free Space. They tend to alternate between  hilarious or terrifying. Some of them are capable of humor while also potentially able to kill someone five ways with the tip of a finger. This is the kind of stuff I live for.

First, let’s talk about how awesome it is that two of the four main characters this book centers around are female. Each completely capable of destroying or saving the known universe, possibly with one hand. But they’re also allowed their vulnerable, fragile moments. They’re allowed to make mistakes. They’re realistic–well, as realistic as it gets in science fiction, which is incredible. It’s so rare for me to find amazing representation in this in a sci-fi book–let alone one where the main narrator is male, let alone when written by a man. I could go on and on about this, just this, as a reason to read it, but like an infomercial, that’s not all!

As for the main narrator himself, the Admiral himself is as witty and always on the edge of death as ever. I love how Salmagard only ever refers to him with the title both of them know he never earned. I love how he somehow always seems to be two seconds away from death and yet acts like that was always park of the plan. Kind of like if Jack Sparrow had ever been intelligent enough to be an intergalactic spy.

I mean, yes, terrible, heart-pounding plot twists and insane things happen in the book that have you on the edge of your seat. Things that will encourage you not to put down this novel until the very end. Things that are as awesome as they are terrible for the characters to actually have to experience.

Let’s talk about the plot. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like it. Kind of part bumbling quest, part escape novel, part let’s-just-try-not-to-die. I love how this novel, as well as The Admiral, presents its own self-contained story within the series. I feel like that does so much more for these books, makes the writing more powerful and concise, and allows for more fun with the characters. I don’t want to spoil it by mentioning any specifics of what happen, because Free Space, unlike real space,  is best experienced when you dive right in without knowing too much about it.

I can’t recommend this book enough. Honestly, I feel like I’ve been endlessly talking about it ever since I knew that it existed. Can there be more? I want more. I’d read more of this series in a heartbeat.

5/5 stars

 

When I learned a sequel existed:

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When I finished the book:

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How I feel about the characters:

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1 star · fiction · middle grade

The Accidental Afterlife of Thomas Marsden: faeries, death, & mystery

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the accidental afterlife of thomas marsden

author : emma trevayne

pages : [hardcover] 247

favorite character : thomas

summary :

Grave robbing is a messy business. A bad business.

And for Thomas Marsden, on what was an unremarkable spring night in London, it becomes a very spooky business. For lying in an unmarked grave and half covered with dirt is a boy the spitting image of Thomas himself.

This is only the first clue that something very strange is happening. Others follow, but it is a fortune teller’s frightened screams that lead Thomas into a strange world of spiritualists, death and faery folk.

Faery folk with whom Thomas’s life is bizarrely linked. Faery folk who need his help.

Desperate to unearth the truth about himself and where he comes from, Thomas is about to discover magic, and ritual, and that sometimes, just sometimes, the things that make a boy ordinary are what make him extraordinary.

review :

I found this book at a library sale and was instantly attracted to the gorgeous cover and intriguing title. It seemed a little dark for a middle-grade book, enough so that I dove into it without reading anything about the book so I could get the full, uninhibited experience.

The Accidental Afterlife of Thomas Marsden is kind of hard to pin down with it’s genre. Set in the past, with fantasy elements, a mystery plot, as well as a hero’s quest, it’s truly unlike anything I’ve ever read before. Paired with some confusing, rushed writing and my surprise at how unfinished this standalone book ended, this book left me unsatisfied and, mostly, disappointed.

Let me first state that I wanted this book to be standalone. It was only in the last thirty pages or so that I realized the plot couldn’t possibly wrap up each of its elements neatly in the space left to it. Unfortunately, Trevayne did try to finish it all before the pages ran out. It’s extremely hard to write a fantasy book as short as this one. Throwing in all of the half-heartedly realized plot elements that appear in this novel . . . It reads like someone got to the last week of NaNoWriMo and realized they needed to patch up the plot quickly enough to reach their goal on time, never again to revisit the manuscript and fix anything.

I’m still confused. There were points where the characters would literally have the answers to their quest handed to them, with no foreshadowing whatsoever, possibly because, again, there was no time in the novel for anything but easy answers. Elements so fully thrown in that I needed to read whole paragraphs several times over to try to understand what was happening, only to fail. I don’t want to spoil anything by leaving any examples, because these random moments would always serve to answer some part of the plot that hadn’t been mentioned until the page before.

Mostly, I’m frustrated with this book because it had the potential for so much more. It could have been a cute fantasy, or an interesting mystery. I love books that are complexly written and aimed toward children, because far too many authors in middlegrade tend to belittle their readers. No, what The Accidental Afterlife of Thomas Marsden needed was a thorough overhaul, or at least a duology to spread this cluttered plot out a little more.

1/5 stars

5 stars · fiction · young adult

Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker: a surprising thriller

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emma in the night

author : wendy walker

pages : [hardcover] 320

favorite character : dr. winter

summary :

From the bestselling author of All Is Not Forgotten comes a thriller about two missing sisters, a twisted family, and what happens when one girl comes back…

One night three years ago, the Tanner sisters disappeared: fifteen-year-old Cass and seventeen-year-old Emma. Three years later, Cass returns, without her sister Emma. Her story is one of kidnapping and betrayal, of a mysterious island where the two were held. But to forensic psychiatrist Dr. Abby Winter, something doesn’t add up. Looking deep within this dysfunctional family Dr. Winter uncovers a life where boundaries were violated and a narcissistic parent held sway. And where one sister’s return might just be the beginning of the crime.

review :

Emma in the Night is everything you want in a thriller, every plot-twist you could ever dream of, every perfectly imperfect characters, rolled into one novel.

It’s like reading a Dateline episode in real time.

Emma in the Night tells the story of a family, but most importantly of two sisters: Emma and Cass. Three years ago, they both disappeared, with no leads, no suspects, and no explanation. One night, Cass arrives at her mother’s house with a story to tell and an iron will to do everything in her power to make sure they find Emma as well.

I didn’t expect to love this book–but I did. I loved how it portrayed Cass’ unhealthy family, from her narcissistic mother to her well-meaning but weak-willed father. I feel like most fictional mysteries like this I’ve read present the family in a golden light before the disappearance, and only show it as falling apart afterward. The home is, generally, presented as a safe space, or at the very least if it was dysfunctional it seems like outsiders knew about it. No one understood Cass and Emma’s childhood apart from the two of them and even they couldn’t form a united front, as their mother constantly pitted them against one another.

That was another aspect of the book I loved, considering narcissism. I don’t think I’ve ever read a work of fiction where ‘narcissist’ isn’t meant in passing, as a descriptor rather than a diagnosis. Dr. Winter, who works on the disappearance case in Emma in the Night, has done extensive research on narcissistic personality disorder, as well as the fact that most people in general do not give it credence or think it could truly affect anyone apart from the narcissist. And as with many layers of the plot in this novel, I love how it is presented with the option for the reader to form their own opinion of events. Dr. Winter isn’t allowed an official diagnosis, so there are no “official” answers.

Because Cass is most certainly not a reliable narrator.

I don’t think I would want it any other way. Emma in the Night is written brilliantly, in a way that immediately makes me want more of Wendy Walker’s writing, and this is exactly the kind of mystery that gets readers excited for more. And because there isn’t, it leaves you thinking, and that’s exactly the kind of book I love.

5/5 stars

 

5 stars · fairy tale · fiction

Stardust by Neil Gaiman: everything I need in life

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Stardust

author : neil gaiman

pages : [paperback] 266

memorable quote :

Have been unavoidably detained by the world. Expect us when you see us.

favorite character : tristran

summary :

Young Tristran Thorn will do anything to win the cold heart of beautiful Victoria—even fetch her the star they watch fall from the night sky. But to do so, he must enter the unexplored lands on the other side of the ancient wall that gives their tiny village its name. Beyond that old stone wall, Tristran learns, lies Faerie—where nothing, not even a fallen star, is what he imagined.

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Neil Gaiman comes a remarkable quest into the dark and miraculous—in pursuit of love and the utterly impossible.

review:

WORDS CANNOT EXPRESS HOW MUCH I LOVED THIS BOOK.

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Not that I can ever underestimate Neil Gaiman anymore. After The Ocean at the End of the Lane and The Graveyard Book (just to name two), I’m ready to devour everything he’s ever written. Luckily for me, Stardust has been on my mental TBR for years. My physical TBR for a pile. Now I’m kicking myself because, after reading it, I realized that this is one of my absolute favorite books for the year–if not of all time.

It’s that amazing.

If you love fairy tales, or retold fairy tales, you’ll love this one. It’s like a fairy tale for adults–but not, you know, those adult themes. It’s the kind of perfect you want to go into knowing almost nothing about, just so you can fall headlong into the story and fall in love with Tristran Thorn.

Apart from the fact that I kept thinking “Tristran” is just a really complicated way of saying “Tristan”, our hero was amazing. Mostly because he isn’t perfect. He’s a little foolish, making promises to people he barely knows about things he hardly knows about. Running off to lands he knows absolutely nothing about and accepting help from people he’s just met. But he has such a kind heart, such good humor, and such a loving soul that you can’t help rooting for him and desperately hoping that the people he meets along the way will root for him, too. Because, of course, he’s entered the land of Faerie, where nothing is ever quite as it seems and most creatures aren’t as nice as you would like them to be.

But it’s oh so magical.

I don’t know why I love stories about Faerie so much when the creatures aren’t so nice. Maybe because it means most of the characters will be inevitably witty or clever. Tristan is kind of accidentally both of those things, which makes him even more endearing.

And then there are the other characters. I can’t delve much into them, because I don’t want to give anything away. I want you to step into this book, into this world, and be sucked in as deeply and immediately as I was. You’ll want to own this book, re-read it immediately, and share it with everyone you know.

I don’t think you’ll be surprised to hear I’d recommend Stardust to literally anyone. So what are you waiting for? Go take a trip to Faerie.

5/5 stars

 

5 stars · reread review · young adult

Reread Review: The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

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How do you review a book after you’ve already read it? Review the reread!

Dearest readers, I don’t think that I can rightly explain to you how much I love this book. I mean, I read it for the first time in the eighth grade, and now here I am, twenty-three and still loving it.

Yes, I’m old now, but that’s beside the point.

This is the kind of book that lasts. It’s the kind of book that makes you think, and delve into the mythology, and desperately want more. I didn’t realize for years after reading this that there was a sequel–and do you know how happy I was when I found out there was another book written in this world? And book five was just recently released. Imagine my head exploding. From happiness. From all the good things.

Well, bad things do happen in this book, but at least they’re beautifully written bad things.

The thing that makes The Thief stand out so much for me, even all of these years on, are the characters. The Thief himself, Gen, is kind of a sarcastic asshole, but he’s a criminal, so you shouldn’t expect anything less. The best part is that there are plenty of characters who don’t let him get away with that, which leads to plenty of banter. I don’t think there’s a piece of dialogue in here that seems frivolous. Everything either furthers the plot, or gives something away about the characters, or delves into the myths of this place.

Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that I met the author last month at Book Con, and a small literary piece of me died and went to that great library in the sky. Book conventions are amazing things. Anyway, I’m getting distracted.

Go read this book, if you haven’t already. And if you have–discuss it with me!

 

5 stars · reread review · young adult

Reread Reflection: Unsouled by Neal Shusterman

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How do you review a book after you’ve already read it? Review the reread!

THIS BOOK. Just when you think this series can’t get any more intense, any sadder, any more painfully happy moments hidden in all of the mess that is this world, Neal Shusterman pulls out all of the stops and outdoes himself yet again.

If you haven’t read the previous two books, Unwind and Unwholly, stop right now and get them. This is definitely the series in which you can’t read any books out of order. Not only will you be incredibly confused, you’ll only end up spoiling yourself, and that’s absolutely no fun.

Unsouled is amazing and crazy and fabulous and horrifying. I mean . . . I could basically use all of those words to describe absolutely any novel Neal Shusterman puts out.

There are so many more things at play here that weren’t evident in the first book. Now, in my reread, I feel like I picked up on more in the first two books that came into play in book three. There are so many details thrown into these books, rereading them just makes them more enjoyable. It isn’t that the world or the concept is too complex; there are just so many factors, politically and physically, going on with the plot that it’s so interesting to see how complexly they weave together.

I feel like the more books of this dystology I read, the more invested I become, and the more eager to recommend these books to anyone and everyone I know. Yes, you need to read them. Yes, I’ll probably read these over and over again in the future.

Yes, this book maybe has enough fuel for a few nightmares.

 

 

5 stars · reread review · science fiction

Reread Reflection: Unwholly by Neal Shusterman

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How do you review a book after you’ve already read it? Review the reread!

Gearing up to finally read book four in this dystology, I decided to reread the three books I’ve already known and loved so I can sink my teeth back into this universe. And there’s no way I could forget just how much I’ve loved Unwholly.

I love how this book literally expanded the reach of book one, Unwind, to focus on the issues of unwinding globally. Basically, in these books, it’s been accepted that parents can decide to unwind their children, which is a jazzed up form of organ donation because technology has progressed so much that anything can be donated. Arm crushed? Replace it with a new, fresh, healthy one. Bash in part of your brain? You’ll get hundreds of pieces of brain tissue from hundreds of unwinds. Just feel like you want to try out a different eye color, or get taller legs, or graft on some better hair–there’s a surgery for all of that. Unwinding is as much a vanity as it is a health industry.

Unwholly is intense. I think what’s most insane about it isn’t the actions of the characters from the previous book, but the new kids on the block. (Not the boy band. I don’t think they exist in this AU.) It just raises new questions of unwinding morals. One character is created entirely from the parts of unwound teens. If you thought you had existential crises, then think again. It’s all at once undeniable that he is living and yet impossible to think he is his own person.

That’s what I love about these books. The questions that spring up. I mean, sure, I’m also in it for the characters, the romance, and the inescapable action-packed plot twists. But they leave you thinking, and wondering, and questioning things. One of the most important things learned is to question everything and think for yourself.

And just wait until you get to book three.