& Fridays: Best Books of 2015

Welcome to the Second Annual Ampersand Read Best Books of the Year Award!

It seems so strange that I can say “second annual” on this blog – I’ve been doing this for almost two years? WHAT?

Okay, I’ve recovered. This is my end of the year coverage of some of the best books that I have read all year. They were not all published this year, and they are by no means the only good books I read all year, but I did read every single one of these between January 2015 and December 2015, and they all stuck with me. Many of the categories are similar to last year’s, with a couple new ones thrown in.

Without further ago, THE BEST BOOKS I READ THIS YEAR!!

The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan. Fiction. Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

The Royal We

Most Surprising: The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
I think I was definitely just expecting a fluffy, light read that I would read for fun and then be happily on my way. And while that was the case: it is a light, happy romance that basically rips a love story from real life and tweaks some of the details and names, I found that Ireally, really liked The Royal We. It was beautiful and wish-fulfilling and so much fun to read. I devoured it and pushed it onto all of my friends.

 

A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan. Fiction. Publisher: Simon & Schuster, August 2015

A Window Opens

 

Close Second: A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan
This one was so surprising because its synopsis makes it sound so frivolous and obnoxiously chick lit-heavy. While it did have some of those tropes, it was also heartbreaking and real and a good read.

 

 

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. Sci-Fi/Fantasy. Publisher: Del Rey June 2006

The Lies of Locke Lamora 

Best Start of a Series I Read All Year: The Lies of Lock Lamora by Scott Lynch
I love a fantasy series that pulls you in to a complex, well drawn world and holds you there. I found it hard to put Lamora down because the setting was so intense, the characters so witty and fun to be around. The plot kept you guessing and the heists kept increasing in complexity. A good first book keeps a reader for the rest of the series. I intend to keep going with the Gentleman Bastard series (partly because that’s an awesome series name, too).

 

goldensonBest Sequel I Read All Year: Golden Son by Pierce Brown
Uggghhhhhhhh….remember how I hated this ending? A cliffhanger, Pierce Brown?! WHY?! Luckily, Morning Star, the third and final installment of this amazing series, comes out February 9th. Which is still two months too long. I might buckle down and re-read the first two (like I did when I first read Golden Son) just to get in the proper mindset. I also freaking love the books, so that’s just an excuse. If you can’t already tell, I want all of you to go read this series right now.

Poison by Sarah Pinborough. Sci-Fi/Fantasy. Publisher: Titan Books

Poison

Best Cover: Poison by Sarah Pinborough
This cover is probably best appreciated in person. The texture, embossed details of the title and graphics, and the simple feel of it in your hands is really, really well done. It’s so eye catching to me. I think this fairytale re-teller did an awesome job capturing a reader’s attention.

Close second (and third): Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff will win another award later one, but I certainly waxed poetic about the effort that went into this entire book, including the elaborate cover

And The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan, whose dreamy watercolor painting cover of a girl in an ethereal gown and setting made me lunge for it on the shelf.

The Fold by Peter Clines. Science Fiction/Fantasy. Publisher: Crown.

The Fold

Best Twist: The Fold by Peter Clines
The whole premise of The Fold is a brainy consultant goes to investigate a mysterious machine, which claims to have mastered teleportation. What it really does is so much more dangerous and interesting, and the whole mystery is revealed very skillfully in this novel.

AND FINALLY (drumroll please)………..

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. YA Sci-Fi/Fantasy. Published: October 2015

Illuminae

The Best Book I Read All Year 2015: Illuminae

Ah, Illuminae. I didn’t really know what to expect from this collaboration between one of the authors of the Starbound series, whose first installment I loved and whose second installment left me a bit disappointed, and another author I had never read, but Illuminae is fantastic. The sheer work and writing and designing that went into the book is so impressively mindboggling to me, but the story is great to boot. The two enemies: a zombie-like virus, and a smart and vindictive AI system that controls the whole ship, are amazingly balanced. The story and obstacles had me flipping pages rapidly, pausing only to admire the beautiful artwork and design choices the authors made. 600+ pages flew past in just a couple of days.

Close Second: Golden Son by Pierce Brown
I feel bad for the books I read close to the beginning of the year, because I don’t remember them as fresh as I do books at the end of the year for these awards. Perhaps if I read Golden Son and Illuminae back to back, I would give the edge to Golden Son. Who knows. Both are excellent. I am excited there is at least a little more in each series.

Honorable Mentions:
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
A fantasy novel that is surprisingly lovely, complex, and interesting. Another book I stayed up late flipping the pages for. Novik can expect a regular reader out of me.

In Some Other World, Maybe by Shari Goldhagen
I almost put this as a “Close Second,” in a couple of these categories. This common trope, of a group of people’s lives and relationships over the span of a few years, can be overdone. But this story brought something fresh to the table with really, really good writing and characters I wanted to hear more from.

So there you have it! What were some of the best books you read this year? What do I absolutely have to read that I haven’t yet?

Oh, and HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

 

& Review: The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. Sci-Fi/Fantasy. Publisher: Del Rey June 2006

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. Sci-Fi/Fantasy. Publisher: Del Rey June 2006

The Book Itself: It’s not an overly remarkable cover. And it’s really one of those images that makes more sense once you immerse yourself in the story’s world: a grungier, more packed version of Venice, perhaps, is how Lynch wants us to see Camorr.

My ReviewThe Thorn of Camorr is said to be an unbeatable swordsman, a master thief, a ghost that walks through walls. Half the city believes him to be a legendary champion of the poor. The other half believe him to be a foolish myth. Nobody has it quite right.

Slightly built, unlucky in love, and barely competent with a sword, Locke Lamora is, much to his annoyance, the fabled Thorn. He certainly didn’t invite the rumors that swirl around his exploits, which are actually confidence games of the most intricate sort. And while Locke does indeed steal from the rich (who else, pray tell, would be worth stealing from?), the poor never see a penny of it. All of Locke’s gains are strictly for himself and his tight-knit band of thieves, the Gentlemen Bastards.

Locke and company are con artists in an age where con artistry, as we understand it, is a new and unknown style of crime. The less attention anyone pays to them, the better! But a deadly mystery has begun to haunt the ancient city of Camorr, and a clandestine war is threatening to tear the city’s underworld, the only home the Gentlemen Bastards have ever known, to bloody shreds. Caught up in a murderous game, Locke and his friends will find both their loyalty and their ingenuity tested to the breaking point as they struggle to stay alive…

It’s been a while since I have bitten into a good fantasy series. I am sad to say that I lost steam on Peter Brett’s The Demon Cycle series (The Warded Man, The Desert Spear, The Daylight War, and now The Skull Throne). Only the first three books were out, and it was a series I felt I had to read straight through, like Game of Thrones, where there were so many characters and settings and things toremember, that it would have been easier to just sit down and read it all straight through.

That being said, only three of this series – Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastard series – is currently out on shelves. The fourth will be released in July of next year (Oi vey), and cover art has not yet emerged for the fifth installment. So there is the potential to lose steam on this series as well.

But what a promising start! I kept passing up this book when I read the synopsis because it seemed a little been-there, done-that.  A group of orphans raised to be thieves grow up to be even more competent scoundrels, stealing from the rich to give to…themselves. I kept reading it and going “meh,” time and time again. Then I saw that a fellow fantasy read I knew gave it a five-star rating on Goodreads. I found the mass market version of the book on sale and decided to go for it.

And I’m glad I did. Lynch is a clever writer, who has written a very clever protagonist and plot. The story is twisty and turn-y, and the characters have a biting wit that is funny to read. It’s a long book – my paperback topped out at around 700 pages. But I found the time to fly by. A bulk of my reading throughout my days this holiday season has been on my lunch breaks. I have spilled many a food item into my lap while trying to simultaneously read this book and also eat my lunch.

But yeah, great characters, witty dialogue, plot twists galore…we’ve seen this all before, right?

Yeah, but none are set in the world that The Lies of Locke Lamora. Remember the movie Moulin Rouge? How Baz Luhrman made that Paris look so gritty, so awesomely complex and, even though it was dark and full of sickness and drugs and alcohol, look really, really cool (and if you aren’t a fan of Moulin Rouge, well then 1.) you’re wrong, and 2.) we can’t be friends) Lynch’s Camorr is like that. From mysterious Elderglass towers that tower hundreds of stories in the air, to the Floating Market, where vicious man-eating sharks can only be fought by tough-looking women with hand machetes and axes, this worldbuilding ROCKS. The setting is what really pulls the story together. You fall in love with Camorr and its faults like you fall in love with Locke and Jean, Galdo, Calo, and Bug. They are good characters, woven into a terrific setting.

The story zigzags back and forth between past and present, but it does so evenly and smoothly. It does that mean thing that your favorite TV shows and movies does, where you get to a really tense part of a scene…and then moves to a flashback. Darn you, Lynch, I guess I’ll just have to keep reading… It is a lot of set-up: we get all of Locke’s childhood and adolescence, his training with a sneaky priest nicknames Chains, and the building of his relationships with his fellow thieves.

I will say that the ending packs an emotional wallop. It is a bittersweet end that makes me want to read what happens next. To sum up: a terrific start to a fantasy series. I’m glad I finally got over my snobbery and read it 🙂

My Grade: B+

& Fridays: My Christmas Party: Chocolate Frogs, Mandrakes, and Muggle Studies (Oh My!)

Hedwig balloons!

Hedwig balloons!

So I had a Harry Potter-themed Christmas Party.

Yep. I went there.

My best friend posted a link to a few Potter-themed party favors and ideas and tagged me, basically all Caps-shouting “SARAH, YOU HAVE TO DO THIS!” (Also, it’s 2015 – almost 2016 – where is the ability to italicize things on Facebook?!)

So I did. I set a date, made a Facebook event, enlisted the help of another friend to help me set up and organize it, and let my nerd flag fly.

Plastic spiders leading to the Forbidden Forest

Plastic spiders leading to the Forbidden Forest

First of all, the event description alone was a game of “let’s see how many Harry Potter references I can fit into a couple of paragraphs.” I live in a rural area, so of course people are traveling through the Forbidden Forest to get to me. I didn’t want people to arrive in ballgowns and tuxes, so dress robes could be left at home, and “Weasley jumpers  and the like are encouraged.” The White Elephant gift exchange turned into a Muggle Studies gift exchange, and in case weather permitted transportation to my house in the woods, the party could have moved “to either Durmstrang or Beuxbatons.”

Getting the idea yet?

Mandrake cupcakes! Devil's food cupcakes, crushed chocolate wafers for dirt, baby shower favors, and rosemary!

Mandrake cupcakes! Devil’s food cupcakes, crushed chocolate wafers for dirt, baby shower favors, and rosemary!

I fervently brainstormed, Pinterest-ed, and crafted my little but off in the weeks leading up to the party. I made my own Harry Potter-themed props for a photo booth, I duplicated Honeydukes (using Muggle candy, of course), and bought ingredients for Shepherd’s Pie (very British pub food), Snitch cake pops, and Mandrake Cupcakes.

The whole week leading up to the party was manic for me. I would go straight home from work, or pick up groceries and then run home. I baked the cake pops two days ahead of time, and the Mandrake cupcakes the day before. I enlisted the help of my family to help carve foamcore backgrounds for my props. I hot glued wings to gold ornaments to make Snitches for everyone to take home, and I bought a frog mold to pour chocolate in to make a favorite Hogwarts treat.

Winged keys hung in the entry!

Winged keys hung in the entry!

And people loved it. I did too, although I was exhausted the next morning. Pictures galore were taken, the Shepherd’s Pie was devoured (I have made it again since the party – it’s DELICIOUS. And I like you so much, here’s the recipe!), and the Honeydukes bags stuffed to the gills. For the Muggle Studies gift exchange, a friend of mine crocheted a Gryffindor scarf, and I got a hilarious book mimicking male models (Coffee table post on that later…)

 

 

 

The Honeydukes pop-up shop!

The Honeydukes pop-up shop!

And you know what? My nerdiness really helped with this one. My familiarity with the Harry Potter world surprised even the otherPotter fans in the room, even if Moaning Myrtle scared them when they were in the bathroom. So don’t be afraid to let out some of the nerd, everyone. Even if everyone at the party or dinner or whatever it is you host is not as big a fan as you are of Firefly or Bob’s Burgers or The Big Bang Theory, they can appreciate hard work. And you’ll have fun doing the work, because you love the franchise/indie film/TV series. It’s a win-win-win, in my opinion!

Can't have Honeydukes without Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans!

Can’t have Honeydukes without Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans!

In case you are curious, here was my Honeydukes menu:
Chocolate Frogs (chocolate poured into my handy, dandy $5 plastic mold)
Peppermint Toads (chocolate with a little peppermint extract)
Licorice Wands (sour straws – I could have used Twizzlers or actual licorice, but these were cool colors! Chocolate covered pretzels would have worked too)
Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans (jelly beans – any kind. They do make an actual Potter sponsored Bertie brand, but they’re more expensive)
Cauldron Cakes (Ding Dongs – Hostess cupcakes would be another good option)
Jelly Slugs (Gummi worms)
Sour Slugs (not actually a Potter candy, but I have a lot of friends who like sour gummi worms…)
Pepper Imps (Red Hots or other cinnamon candy)
Acid Pops (Caramel Apple Pops – Dum Dums or Tootsie Pops would have been great, too. But the apple pops were a nice bright green)
Lemon Drops (Lemon Heads)
Drooble’s Best Blowing Gum (Hubba Bubba bubblegum)

& Fridays: What Should I Get My Bookworm for the Holidays?

I know, I know, it’s a little late in the game. But, if you’re a last minute shopper, or if, like me, you have just a couple more things to pick up for a couple more people (I’m almost done, I swear!), here are a few suggestions I have from browsing the interwebs for book-themed goodies.

1.) A book-based subscription box.

I mentioned last year a service called Just the Right Book, a somewhat spendy but AWESOME subscription that sends you books every month (or every two months, a few times a year, etc.) WELL. Now more subscriptions services have been popping up, or so it seems. I’m not sure how long some of these have been around, but I am just now discovering them, so there ya go.

The contents of November 2015's Uppercase Box!

The contents of November 2015’s Uppercase Box!

Uppercase Box is a YA-literature based service that not only sends you a hardcover, YA new release book once a month, but ALSO some AMAZING book-themed accessories and/or jewelry and/or doodads to fill your little bookworm’s heart with glee. I am including some pictures from their website of past boxes. They look amazing – just the kind of fun book-themed goodie bag I want to get in the mail. You can gift someone a subscription for just books ($17/month), books with book-themed goodies ($23/month), or books and goodies personalized to the reader ($29/month). A gift subscription of a couple of months is on my wishlist this year. Should Santa be so generous, I will certainly review my boxes here on the blog!

OwlCrate is another YA subscription service (YA seems to lend itself to monthly boxes well), ALSO with awesome book-themed doodads. You can subscribe ($29.99 per month on a month to month basis, with discounts if you purchase multiple months at a time), or gift a membership of a month ($29.99) or three ($86.98) or six ($167.94).

FINALLY, Book Riot has adult fiction and non-fiction books, plus goodies, PLUS a handwritten note from the author of the book and/or curator of the box. Woah (note: I believe Uppercase Box does this as well, or at least the author’s signature). The subscription is less frequent, at a new box every 3 months, and boxes are $50.00 apiece. But they’re all so prettttyyyyy….

2.) Book-themed games

bookopoly

I for one HATE Monopoly. It drags on forever, and can get ludicrously complex (you can put a mansion on someone’s house in Times Square, but if I land on this next square, I get fined $2,000,000?!) BUT. BUT. I MIGHT play a Monopoly in a book theme. Don’t get stuck Watching TV or you’ll lose three turns!

 

haikubes

Haikubes and/or Story Cubes. I got a small set of Story Cubes in my stocking one year, and they’re a lot of fun to do quick writing exercises with, or just to play around when you’re bored. Themed in sets, they have a series of pictures on their faces. You roll, you come up with a story having to do with those images, however you see fit. Or create a Haiku with these handy-dandy dice (I’m sure there’s a drinking game in there as well…)

3.) Book-themed furniture

booklamp

This lamp is on my wishlist this year – after redoing my bookshelves and replacing my nightstand earlier this year, my cheap, white bedside lamp looked like it needed a refresher or replacement. I saw this in a catalog and ISN’T IT A GREAT IDEA?! A lamp with a shelf built in! I’m always cluttering my bedside table (which already has a built in shelf for books above the drawer…I may have a book-buying problem), and this would definitely free up some space while presenting some lovely books.

This is the Pottery Barn Drew Nightstand, which is not on sale anymore, but there are copycats out there (and I imagine you could make one yourself...)

This is the Pottery Barn Drew Nightstand, which is not on sale anymore, but there are copycats out there (and I imagine you could make one yourself…)

Or how about an entire bedside table intended for books? I can see the categories now…to be read…will never read but they look good at my bedside…guilty pleasures…short stories…poetry…

4.) Ummm…books? I know, I know, it seems like a crutch, right? But trust me: bibliophiles love books. It’s kind of in the name there. Whether it’s a gift card, a new hardcover, or a nice copy of one of their old favorites, that “Thank you” you hear on Christmas Day/Hanukkah will be genuine (or it should be, in any case). My humble “Best Books I’ve Read This Year” annual post will be coming up at the end of this month, but you are certainly welcome to pick my brain or comb through my reviews this past year. One of my favorite part of my jobs as a bookseller was making recommendations 🙂

Other brands to look into:

outofprintclothing

Out of Print Clothing – clever clothing and tote bags for your favorite classic novels (my best friend is into Alice in Wonderland…she’s received an Out of Print or two…)

novelteas

Novel Teas – have a book loving friend who loves tea? (the two often go hand in hand…) give him/her a bag of Novel Tea, where every bag is printed with a literary quote.

& Review: The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood. Fiction. Publisher: Nan A. Talese, September, 2015

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood. Fiction. Publisher: Nan A. Talese, September, 2015

The Book Itself: Well, the story definitely has to do with a prison! The image does a good job with depicting the surrealism that can get pretty heavy in the book – our two people look washed out and vaguely happy (the woman at least, has a hint of a smile). And the whole thing is in a kind of haze. Very mood-setting.

My ReviewLiving in their car, surviving on tips, Charmaine and Stan are in a desperate state. So, when they see an advertisement for Consilience, a ‘social experiment’ offering stable jobs and a home of their own, they sign up immediately. All they have to do in return for suburban paradise is give up their freedom every second month – swapping their home for a prison cell. At first, all is well. But then, unknown to each other, Stan and Charmaine develop passionate obsessions with their ‘Alternates,’ the couple that occupy their house when they are in prison. Soon the pressures of conformity, mistrust, guilt and sexual desire begin to take over.

I have enjoyed some Margaret Atwood books more than others. One of these days I will sit down to re-read Oryx and Crake before reading the rest of the series, and The Handmaid’s Tale is one of my favorite books of all time. Some of her stand alone’s have not been my cup of tea, but overall, I like her work.

The Heart Goes Last is an interesting one. It veers in a direction that you don’t expect (or at least I didn’t).

First of all, it is one of those books that covers the synopsis within the first 50 pages or so. We get through the premise rather quickly: our down on their luck protagonists, the utopia set up of the project they get mixed up in, and Charmaine’s affair with the couple that takes over their house. After reading through the entire story that I had read on the synopsis, I didn’t really know what to do with myself. I had expected those events to last the whole way. I thought they would take part in this social experiment, Charmaine would gradually meet and fall for the other man, and the conclusion would wrap it all up with the truth of the utopian experiment being exposed, both to the characters and perhaps the world within the novel as a whole.

It didn’t quite go that way. The novel includes, but is not limited to: chicken plucking, (more than) chicken plucking, cult-ish utopian leaders, a woman who falls in love and lust with a teddy bear, Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe sex dolls, and knitting circles. If you haven’t gathered, there is a lot of gratuitous sex in this book. So much so that it makes the whole thing quite unsexy (not to mention unhealthy – there is no “normal,” healthy physical relationship in this book), and a little unsavory. The theme of this book seems to not be about the normal façade of a community peeled back to reveal a corrupt cult, but about how everyone is screwed up in their own special way.

Charmaine and Stan are not likable. Where she is naïve and old fashioned in a maddening way (even while having crazy sex with essentially her neighbor in abandoned houses), he is oafish and rude. They didn’t really redeem themselves either. Neither had a moment of clarity where they saw themselves for how they really acted, or changed in any way. They are not irredeemable…it’s just that Atwood didn’t make them grow.

The pacing is a little off: we rocket out from the start, there’s a sluggish, unclear middle, and a wishy washy ending. It ended with a a weak trumpet blat instead of a fanfare. And the tone is very confusing – I’m not sure whether to laugh at some of the obvious satire and tongue in cheek parallels, or consider the book to be dark and brooding, a dystopian to scare us all off from buying into something too good to be true (is that the point? I’m just plain old confused!)

It was one of those books where the premise was promising, but it just kind of snarled up into this sex-obsessed, wishy washing ending with a weak tone. Not my favorite Atwood tale.

My Grade: C-

& Fridays: The Math of NaNoWriMo

Don’t worry, I won’t make you do the arithmetic.

My mother is a middle school math teacher. I had her for seventh grade Pre-Algebra, and have become quite familiar with her lessons over the years. She always did a unit on graphs. She would point out how easy it is to make graphs misleading, and how they are EVERYWHERE: newspapers, TV, even textbooks. So for a week or two, her students comb through graphs, talk about them, and draw them themselves.

Well, NaNoWriMo has GRAPHS (how’s that for a segway?). Every day that you update your word count, your little word count bar inches closer and closer to the goal line of 1,667 words per day. If you don’t write that much per day, your bar falls below the line. If you surpass it, you could leave that goal line in the dust (seriously, some people write 100,000+ words during November. How do they do it?!)

I think the graphs have provided me with a cool way to look at my writing over the past few years. For example:

graph

In 2013, I tried NaNoWriMo for the first time.

Notice that I was behind on my word count the entire month. I can’t even remember why I didn’t write ANYTHING for Day 2 or Day 3. The whole month it looks like I am struggling to stay afloat. But somehow, on the last day, I remember holing myself up in my room and pounding out those last 7,000 or so words. When I was done, I ran downstairs to show my parents the winner’s screen.

I think it’s pretty cool that although I was behind literally THE ENTIRE TIME, I didn’t give up. I’m pretty proud of that 🙂

graph

2014 was a revisit of a story I had started before. I rewrote everything I had done before, to be in first person, present tense, and to clean up some messes I had left in the first (very rough) draft. I had mixed emotions about submitting it for verification on Day 30, because I technically hadn’t finished the story. I ended it on a scene, but it wasn’t the scene I intended. There were still about 30,000 more words itching to be written, but they weren’t on the page.

But I was clearly a little bit more motivated this time. I remember right there in the middle of the month – that noticable dip – I went to visit my friend in Washington. I brought my laptop, and we were SUPER lazy the whole weekend – I think we watched something like 7 movies while sitting on her couch. But I didn’t write a whole lot. I had a big resurgance in the second half of the month, though, and only had to write out about 3,500 words to make it to the end. Again, I took a screenshot of the winner’s screen.

2015stats

Which brings us to this year! When I was on vacation (again, that dip in the middle of the month), I forced myself to write AT LEAST 1,000 words a day. The daily goal is 1,667, so I knew I was going to be behind, but not as much as if I just didn’t write. Luckily, my significant other is very laid back and happily watched TV in the background, or sketched while I wrote. And they kept me honest, saying “GO WRITE YOUR WORDS” whenever I started to procrastinate. True love, right there.

On the 21st I took myself to a Starbucks and made myself write a good 5,000 words, and again on the 29th. I only had around 1,600 words to write on the last day, but I got so caught up in the final scenes that I just wrote another 2,000 😛

This year’s story still has another hidden 50,000 words that need to go into it. I can feel it, how it’s just half-finished. Once my characters and I take a little break (I’ve put them through a lot!), I think I might need to fill in a few (giant, noticeable) gaps.

Portland, Oregon, the region I wrote NaNo with, was the 12th highest word count for all of NaNoWriMo 2015. That’s pretty damn impressive, seeing as there were hundreds upon hundreds of regions, and cities around the world participated (Germany had the highest word count). I’m pretty proud of that, too 🙂

Whew! This was a long post! But I missed writing for the blog! Any of you bored stiff by my graph talk? Or do you like seeing things laid out logically?

& Reviews: Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. YA Sci-Fi/Fantasy. Published: October 2015

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. YA Sci-Fi/Fantasy. Published: October 2015

The Book Itself: Picture’s don’t do this cover justice! The hardcover of the book itself is complex, with scribbled out, censored documents and schmatics. The jacket, a semi-see through plastic, only gives you peeks of this, the rest wrapped in a lovely space cloud in rosy hues. A lot of work went into it, as is the case with the rest of the book.

My ReviewThis 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.

From one of the authors writing the Starbound series (These Broken Stars and This Shattered World, with Their Fractured Light coming out this month!), I was hesitant but optimistic for this new series. I absolutely loved These Broken Stars (my review here), but was less than impressed with This Shattered World (review here). I will still be getting my copy of Their Fractured Light this month and devour it as I did the others…I’m just hoping it lives up to what I loved about the first installment.

But I digress.

Because Illuminae is a completely different kind of animal.

The book jacket (which is beautiful, by the way) tells you right off the bat that the whole thing is told in journal entries, interviews, transcribed records of video files, etc. This also made me cautious, as this can make a book really, really excellent, or lackluster, with flat characters and tepid storylines.

Thank goodness this was the former.

Illuminae is excellent. It is a brick, with over 600 pages, and it’s not about to fit in a small purse anytime soon, but I highly recommend a hard copy. First of all, that cover. Pictures don’t do it justice. The transparent, tinted dust jacket over the book cover, bedecked with censored file information and titles = amazing. And even though it’s huge, the storyline and format had me polish off the book in two days.

Just an example of the beautiful prose, told in the form of a space flight.

Just an example of the beautiful prose, told in the form of a space flight.

The amount of work that went into this book is staggering to me. The detail paid to make pages look like files, the actual artwork they do to illustrate battles in space, as well as tokens of love and appreciation between two people that cannot see each other because they are on different ships…it’s astounding. The book is a quick read, but I encourage you to take the time to appreciate all that effort. Kudos to Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff for making a book that not only holds a great story, but is gorgeous on the page as well. I could feature this as a coffee table book just as easily as I could review it as a regular book!

I’m gushing, and haven’t even really gotten to the story yet.

The Starbound series likes to connect to its young adult readers by featuring young, very accomplished military personnel at unfeasible ages (16-17). Kady and Ezra are the same, and at times I had to remind myself that these characters were supposed to be teenagers, and that what they were doing seemed way beyond their maturity level and physical ability. But I explained that away by reasoning that in these high pressure situations, they have to be faster, smarter, and stronger than their opponents or their circumstances. Theyhave to be mature beyond their years, not only for their job, but for the situation.

So angsty teenagers doing unfeasible things aside, wow was this done well. Twists and turns abound, and I turned pages until the wee hours of the morning, hooked on what was going to happen next. It’s a little bit of Walking Dead, with just enough gruesome to make you cringe, and some I, Robot (or insert book/movie/franchise in which robots rise up against humankind here). When you have a super advanced artificial intelligence AND and virus that causes aggression/violence/cannibalism in your fellow man working against you…you’re going to have a bad time. I think these two authors balanced these two “bad guys” well. And honestly, if one or the other were the sole antagonist in this story, I think it would have suffered. With both seemingly insurmountable obstacles, the stakes are ratcheted up incredibly high, and it makes for an intense but very gratifying read.

I can’t say enough good things about it, basically. I’m so glad it’s going to be a series, and I am getting the next installment the first day it is out on shelves (if I can’t get my hands on an advanced copy…although a digital version would lose a bit of the magic, I think).

Not only would I place this above the Starbound series in terms of readability and wow factor, but I would mark this as one of my favorite books I read all year…maybe even one of my favorites of all time.

My Grade: A

& Fridays: Since I’ve Been Gone…

HEY ALL!!!

Wow, I feel like I have crawled out of a cave and have seen the sun for the first time in MONTHS. It feels weird to construct a sentence that is not part of the novel I was writing this past month.

Which brings me handily to my next order of business:

I WON I WON I WON!

I WON I WON I WON!

I COMPLETED NATIONAL NOVEL WRITING MONTH 2015!!!

YES! For three years straight, I said I would write 50,000 words over the course of only 30 days. And I have DONE IT. Every year, without fail, I feel a surge of pride and accomplishment when I press that button saying “I am ready to validate my novel,” when I copy and paste all 50,000 words into that box, and when the winner screen loads to tell me all these nice things about myself and my writing. It is truly a one of a kind feeling.

And if I hadn’t written 50,000 words? I would still be so proud. It is HARD to sit down and write every day, no matter what your life looks like. I don’t currenly have kids, but one November when I do, I can’t imagine how much tougher it will be. I managed to eek out 52,285 words this year, with a full time job, trying to go to the gym, cooking and baking for two or three days for Thanksgiving, and going on a week long vacation with my significant other. Those seem like such weak excuses, but it was tough! From Day 10 to Day 29, I was behind on my word count (I’ll be posting some fun (in my opinion) analyses of my words all three years next week). Several times I had to remove myself from my house, from my living room to be able to write and not get distracted.

There will be many more years, and many more distractions ahead. If you participated in National Novel Writing Month, whether you got in your 50,000 words or just 1,800 words, congratulations. I’m proud of you 🙂

So! I’ve been behind in posting!! I did managed to read a few books during my writing marathon. And currently I have *goes to count* eight books that I have read, but not yet reviewed. EEK! Plus, this little blog has been sorely neglected in terms of Friday posts and Coffee Table posts. I will do my best to fill the void!

So tell me your writing stories, readers! Did you do NaNoWriMo? What is your current word count, and are you still writing? (I hope so! Although me and my characters need a tiny break from each other) I am already looking ahead to my writing adventures in 2016…I’m thinking of trying to write a short story every week. It’s less pressure than writing EVERY day, but I’m still making a commitment to work on creativity!

Didja miss me? 😉