Book Review – Gemina

Title: Gemina: The Illuminae Files _02
Author: Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff
Published: October 2016
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi

Rating: 5 Stars
Cover: Like It


Moving to a space station at the edge of the galaxy was always going to be the death of Hanna’s social life. Nobody said it might actually get her killed.

The saga that began with the breakout bestseller Illuminae continues on board the space station Heimdall, where two new characters will confront the next wave of BeiTech’s assault. Hanna is the station captain’s spoiled daughter, Nik the reluctant member of a notorious crime family. But while they are struggling with the realities of life aboard the galaxy’s most boring space station, little do they know that Kady Grant and the Hypatia are headed right toward Heimdall, carrying news of the Kerenza invasion.

When an elite BeiTech team invades the station, Hanna and Nik are thrown together to defend their home. But alien predators are picking off the crew one by one, and a malfunction in the station’s wormhole means the space-time continuum may be ripped in two before dinner. Soon Hanna and Nik aren’t just fighting for their own survival. The fate of everyone on the Hypatia—and possibly in the known universe—is in their hands.

But relax. They’ve totally got this. They hope.

Briefing note: Told through a compelling dossier of found documents—and featuring guest journal illustrations by bestselling author Marie Lu—Gemina hurls readers into an enthralling new episode that will leave them breathless.

“You might get only one shot. So shoot.” p. 494

If you missed my review of the first book in the series, Illuminae, you can find it here.

As was completely expected, Gemina was a rollercoaster and I was hanging on tightly to discover the end. This second installment of the Illuminae Files takes place at the space station Heimdall that Hypatia and all the people aboard have been fighting to reach the whole last book. The story opens just before a station-wide celebration of a holiday. Cue Hanna, the spoiled station captain’s daughter who will stop at nothing to get her way. She’s planning the perfect expensive outfit for the perfect date with her boyfriend to the big celebration at the station. Until suddenly the station is ambushed by BeiTech. Suddenly people are dying left and right, and she is cut off from her boyfriend. The only people able to team up with Hanna to save their station are two cousins from a criminal gang. About two thirds of the way through the book, the crew on Hypatia are able to make contact with the space station and both discover themselves in a nearly impossible phenomenon that has caused two alternate universes to merge as one. Not only do Hanna and her team need to save their space station from their invaders, but now they also need to team up with the crew from Hypatia to save their universe from collapsing.

Of course the whole book is filled with strategic ass-kicking and grotesque deaths, because what else would you expect from Kaufman and Kristoff? A cool aspect that separates this book from the previous is the illustrations by Marie Lu. Hanna is a creative thinker and best processes things by doodling in her journal. Many of her journal pages throughout the invasion are included with the files and allow for the reader to connect with her and other characters on a deeper level. I love this addition to the storytelling. My favorite aspect of Gemina, though, was the amount of character growth developed throughout this intense reading experience. Each of the characters (at least the ones that outlived others longer) where fully fleshed out and came out the other end as a changed person. It made me root for the characters even more.

Gemina follows Illuminae as one of my favorite reads this year. Kaufman and Kristoff have this habit of ripping your beating heart out of your chest, crushing it, inflating it with a breath of hope, repeating this a couple times, and then shoving your heart back into your chest, filling you with every emotion in the book. Now dump some delightful romance into the madness that will warm up that very heart that is going through so much turmoil. I anxiously await the third and final installment with bated breath.

No Plain Rebel – Book Review

Title: No Plain Rebel (No Ordinary Star #2)
Author: M.C. Frank
Published: July 2016
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction, Dystopia 

Rating: 4 Stars
Cover: Like it


A soldier is summoned to the North Pole, days before the year changes, told to fix the great Clock for a celebration. He had no idea what to do.

A girl, hunted for the crime of being born, almost dies out on the ice. She is rescued by the last polar bear left alive.

A library waits for them both, a library built over a span of a hundred years, forgotten in the basement of an ice shack.

The world hasn’t known hunger or sickness in hundreds of years. It has also forgotten love and beauty.

The year is 2525.

Inspired by the short stories of Ray Bradbury, this futuristic novel is set in a world where Christmas—among other things—is obsolete and a Clock is what keeps the fragile balance of peace.

Written in three installments, this is the breathtaking and sensual story of how two unlikely people change the world, and each other, one book at a time.

In No Plain Rebel, Felix finds out the truth. Or so he thinks. He’s trying to come to terms with that, as well as with the fact that the Clockmaster’s shack has been discovered by his fellow-soldiers, but he can’t exactly concentrate. The match girl’s fiery curls appear before his eyes every ten seconds, distracting him, and then he starts talking to her in his head. Because she’s no longer there.

The Stadium is looming in the distance.

It’s ten heartbeats to midnight.

“Silence is not peace, Felix, my hope” (p. 188).

*I received a free copy of this book from the author in return for an honest review*

The truth is out there. *Cue “The X-Files” theme music.*

No Ordinary Star ended with a cliffhanger, so naturally I scrambled to continue the story with No Plain Rebel. (You can see my review for NOS here.) I love reading about Felix and Astra and watching them learn, and as they learn, their worlds grow so much bigger. I love how they learn about how humanity was before it was taken away from them, and watch them marvel at it: “They stand for a few more minutes there, absorbing all the newness of the Old World” (p. 25). Felix and Astra learn what knowledge, ideas, beauty, and love are when the world they live in is void of it. This continuation of their story was perfect.

All of the questions left in NOS are answered in the second installment. Felix learns the truth about who he is, who his family is, and where the world is headed. I think I could feel his mind blowing as his knowledge grew. Both characters learn who to extend a trusting hand to and who is perpetuating the bleak future of their world. There is a delightful part of NPR where Felix is forced to swallow a giant pill of humility and face reality in the fact that he can’t help change the problem without recognizing he’s part of the problem. Whoa! The character growth is through the roof!

Astra and Felix {finally} start realizing their feelings for each other, even with the knowledge that any sort of romantic relations is illegal. Heck, everything they do in this book is considered illegal. I can’t imagine living in a world where reading is treason! I was disappointed, though, that this story seemed to be mostly focused on Felix, and we don’t hear much from Astra in the second half of the book. I am a fan of that feisty red head.

Ultimately, I think book one is my favorite of the two, specifically because of the world immersion rather than the overflow of information. However, as I said, this book didn’t disappoint – and of COURSE it ended on another cliffhanger. Where’s book three?

Love. Hurt. Betrayal. The story continues.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – Book Review

Title: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – Parts I & II
Author: J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, & Jack Thorne
Published: July 2016
Genre: Fantasy, Play

Rating: 2 Stars
Cover: It’s okay


Nineteen years after the Battle of Hogwarts…

It was always difficult being Harry Potter, and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband, and a father of three school-age children.

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: Sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.

Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a new play by Jack Thorne. It is the eighth Harry Potter story and the first to be officially presented on stage. This special rehearsal edition of the script brings the continued journey of Harry Potter and his friends and family to readers everywhere immediately following the play’s world premiere in London’s West End on July 30, 2016.

Harry: I’ve never asked you how you felt about me naming him after you, have I?
Dumbledore: Candidly, Harry, it seemed a great weight to place upon the poor boy.

Before I dove into this book, I felt I had to mentally prepare myself for the different formatted storytelling of the characters I’ve loved the majority of my life. This is not a book, but a play; therefore it should have different expectations. Even with this in mind, I felt the execution was less than expected. It felt like the writer didn’t know whether they were writing a play or a novel, often being excessively descriptive in the stage directions or using unnecessary details, such as the specific number a character dialed in the telephone booth entrance to the Ministry of Magic. An audience member is not going to be able to see what number is being dialed. It was a little confusing to keep going back and forth between mindsets – is this a script or a novel?

First, let me give you a quick overview of the plot in non-spoilery fashion. Harry and Ginny’s son, Albus, and Draco’s son, Scorpius, become friends over their societal outcast—Albus’s being self-inflicted because of his apparent hatred of his relation to his father, and Scorpius because of persistent rumors that his father and mother used a special Time Turner to go back in time, resulting in Scorpius being Voldemort’s heir. For some reason, Albus becomes obsessed with Cedric Diggory’s death, and ropes Scorpius into running away from school in order to find this alleged special Time Turner, go back in time to save Cedric, and alter time, as well as Harry’s fame. They are encouraged and accompanied by Cedric’s cousin, Delphi.

The script starts off where the 7th book ended, the next generation of Potter’s, Wesley’s, and Malfoy’s boarding the Hogwarts train. However, we barely get to see Hogwarts, which was a surprise to me. For the first 20-ish% of the book, the new characters are being introduced in quick glimpses, flashing through years at a neck breaking speed without giving much of an in depth look at characters’ lives. This whole beginning was just a fast paced view of Albus getting moodier and more self-centered over the course of four years. When the pacing does slow down, we are then thrown back and forth in time without a moment to breathe. It was hard to get connected. On top of that, the dialogue is not natural and often awkward. I cringed several times when characters spoke to each other, particularly when Albus and Scorpius interact with the trolley lady on the train to Hogwarts. You know, the one that comes around and sells sweets? Apparently she is nuts. I would like to scrub that scene from my cranium.

My biggest complaint was the lack of depth to the characters. I’m not just talking about the fast forward introduction to the new ones, but also the characters that are iconic to the Harry Potter industry. Ginny’s character was completely flat and uninteresting (Flashback to the movies?), Ron is constantly trying to make awkward jokes and works at the Joke Shop now (What happened to George? I thought Ron was an Auror?), and Hermione’s intelligence isn’t anything special. Draco’s character was the only that seemed relatively close to what we would expect, and he brought some of those nostalgic feelings back. Three cheers for Draco! Oh, and of course we have a Dumbledore cameo. He appears through various picture frames as a painting in two scenes. I feel that his addition is completely unnecessary; his scenes could be cut out of the play completely and make no difference. The first scene in which he makes an appearance, he offers Harry advice that is promptly ignored, instead causing Harry to respond in the opposite direction. In the second, Dumbledore’s lines are extremely uncharacteristic and he proceeds to make an awkward and emotional apology to Harry for the way he’s treated him over the years. It feels that Dumbledore’s role was specifically to give fans some closure they felt they deserved, though uncharacteristic. This is completely unnecessary because we often don’t get closure in our real lives.

Hands down, beyond a doubt, Scorpius is by far the best character. His wit cuts through the awkward dialogue and brings humor to the angsty characters. He responds to situations with normal emotions and questions that one would expect. He is loyal, even when his best friend is caught up in his get-back-at-his-dad-for-being-famous schemes. He kept me going. *fist pump for the witty, strange Scorpius*

Some of the scenes were inconsistent with things readers know to be true of the Wizarding World. On many occasions, characters would come and go from Hogwarts grounds without any dancing around security spells. Harry, Ginny, Ron, Hermione, and Draco all come through Professor McGonagall’s chimney by Flu Powder and nothing is said about it other than Professor McGonagall’s complaint about the carpet getting dirty. Is anyone allowed to come onto school grounds now? Did security become lax after the Battle of Hogwarts? Isn’t this a little overzealous? One of the first things the new trio does in their vengeance scheme is use Polyjuice Potion to transform into Ministry of Magic employees AKA the parents. Did the author(s) forget that Polyjuice Potion takes a month to make? There is no way they could’ve whipped it up so fast! Apparently all Wizarding World rules are out the window though, since Time Turners play such a huge role in the story, even though they were all destroyed in the Battle of Ministries in the 5th book. However, these are special Time Turners that break all the rules because they are able to go back years instead of being limited to an hour or so. Who would’ve thought? To top it off, during one of their leaps through time in attempt to save Cedric, the three appear in the maze portion of the Tri-Wizard Tournament. Somehow they are able to navigate the twists and enchantments of the maze, while remaining completely unseen by the scorekeepers, announcer, and crowds. There are a lot of things that don’t quite connect throughout.

In an attempt to be spoiler-free, I have not talked about Delphi in depth, nor the big plot twists in the second half of the book. Please comment if you’ve read this so that we can talk about these things!

The suspension of belief required during this read is exceptional and the dialogue cringe-worthy. The most redeeming quality of The Cursed Child is the humor Scorpius and Draco bring to the table. If you are hoping to reconnect with the story and the familiar characters, you may be left wanting more.

Book Review – Norwegian Wood

IMG_8288Title: Norwegian Wood
Author: Haruki Murakami
Published: 1987
Genre: Bildungsroman

Rating: 4 Stars
Cover: Like It

I found myself sitting still for a while after I finished this book, enveloped in the peculiar sadness you feel when you think about someone who used to be a big part of your life. The character, Toru Watanabe, adds to this feeling when he says, “People leave strange little memories of themselves behind when they die” (p. 197).

Haruki Murakami is well known for the magical realism elements in his stories. It’s interesting to me that the first book I picked up by him instead tells the story straight. I will be interested to see what my opinion of Murakami will be once I read some of his other books. Magical realism is very dear to my heart.

The descriptions in Norwegian Wood captured me right away and I felt as if I were walking alongside the characters, taking in the scenery as described and feeling the sometimes confusing emotions as the characters try to explain themselves to each other. When the book starts, the reader is introduced to the main character, Toru, who almost instantly takes us back into his memories of his college years. From the way he’s wrestling with his memories, the reader should be prepared for some difficult things as he sorts through them. Difficult indeed. I found myself cringing as one character tells him about how a 13-year-old girl raped her (an extremely detailed and uncomfortable scene), or getting frustrated as characters seem to push and tug Toru however they see fit.

One character that plays a large role in Toru’s college years is Naoko. A friend of his from high school, they both come together over the equal confusion and hurt over a mutual friend’s death. Naoko has a tough time, though, as this person is one whom she has loved and spent almost every waking moment with since a young age. She struggles to learn who she is and how to live without being a joint person.

I find Naoko’s character fascinating. Murakami does such a good job showing Naoko’s internal struggles and poor mental health from an outsider’s perspective. Throughout most of the book, she is a confusing character and quite strange – I had trouble as to what to make of her. However, by the end, I realized that this was masterfully handled to show the perspective of one who loves another who struggles with their mental health, and feeling unable to completely understand or connect with that person.

One thing I find very strange in this story is that all of the female characters are equal parts self-deprecating and pushers. They each come into Toru’s life, instead of he into theirs, decide they are going to make him be friends with them by sweeping him up into their lives, and have long conversations about themselves that usually end with, “Don’t you feel sorry for me?” Each of these characters is so wrapped up in their own worlds and drag Toru along, without a care as to how he’s affected. Poor Toru just goes with the flow, his only friends being those who have sought him out, and sometimes gets trampled on in the process. While his friends or romantic interests ask him questions about himself and praise how unique he is, their ultimate goal in everything they do seems to benefit their own little worlds, instead of him. I was very discouraged by this throughout the book because they all seemed to be extremely unhappy with their lives, leaving Toru depressed in their dust. I can only hope the poor guy learned how to make healthier relationships after this season in his life.

Norwegian Wood was a beautiful, confusing, and stressful adventure. The writing itself is almost poetic at times and is rightfully praised. It deals with heavy issues, sex-crazed college students, and a heart of pure gold. This book is the title that sent Haruki Murakami into fame and stardom, which makes me wonder how his books written before and after read.

Book Review – True Notebooks

IMG_7875Title: True Notebooks: A Writer’s Year at Juvenile Hall
Author: Mark Salzman
Published: 2003
Genre: Sociology

I finished this book while riding the subway to my internship in New York City. It took every ounce of self-control to reign in the tears threatening to overflow. Why? I’ll tell you.

Mark Salzman writes about on opportunity he had in 1997 and how it affected his life. He was stumped while working on a novel and wanted to get some insight on the life and character of a juvenile delinquent. Somewhat reluctantly, he started volunteering in L.A.’s Central Juvenile Hall as a writing teacher for teenagers charged with murder and other violent crimes. He had all these expectations of what to expect from these boys. I’m sure all of us do. That’s not a situation most of us would desire to find ourselves. Some of these stereotypes seemed to be well-labeled at first, but then…Through their writing, the boys found their voice and began exploring their experiences, their emotions, their thoughts. Many wrote about how it feels to be locked up, awaiting their court date, knowing the eventual outcome–often a life sentence in prison. Through this experience, they struggle to understand their lives now that these mistakes they’ve made define them.

A few of the boys stayed in the class for most of the book, but one of the hardest things was reading about boy after boy who came into the class, found hope in their self-expression and a positive role model in their teacher, and would suddenly, unexpectedly leave, being sent to spend a lengthy amount of years in prison. Salzman’s writing connects the reader with all the characters, no matter how vulgar or what they had done. They weren’t criminals in my mind. They were humans with passions, thoughts, creativity, longing, and personalities. Salzman humanizes the convicts and calls the reader to allow them in your heart.

One of the biggest themes the boys strive to work through in the book is their struggle with hopelessness. What would they do with their lives if they had done it differently, if they had had another chance? Some find hope everywhere they can, like being able to see a cloud out of their small window. Some are unable to find hope at all.

The reader learns about the culture of the boys and why they feel they need to do the things they do or why they wish they hadn’t done what they did. We learn about how gangs run and influence their lives and about how they believe they must be strong for their families. One boy explains that, when they go to court, they have to wait to cry until they leave because they don’t want that image to be the last version of them their families see. He wrote a long piece about his experience in court, how he was unable to stay strong, and one passage in particular hit me in the gut:

I thought about all the people that were sitting in the courtroom giving me their support and love and I lost complete control of my emotions. The tears that I had held in for so long streamed down my face as I cursed myself for letting these people down. Why couldn’t the judge see that the young man sitting before her was not the same person that had entered juvenile hall two years ago? Why couldn’t she see that I had dreams of getting out and getting my life together, to be somebody?
p. 207

This book caused me to feel a wide range of emotions and feel completely connected. Salzman’s writing is uncensored and raw. He gives a real look at what life is like for these boys while in juvie, and what their lives look like after. By including the writing from all the boys he was able to teach, he allows us to feel for the characters as if they were people in our own lives who made mistakes. He makes us feel hope, fear, sadness, anger, and joy with each of the characters. The boys all discover more about themselves and their world through their writing. My only wish is that they could’ve had an experience like this before they made the choices they did. My only hope is that others can experience the therapeutic aspects to writing their hearts.

Now you know what happened. Now you know my story.
I hope I’m not just a face for you to see.
I’m a person with a past. I’m a person with a future.
So if I may, can I ask you to please pray for me?
p. 68