& Fridays: Ampersand Read’s Best Books of the Year

Ah, we’ve come to the end of another year (yeah….WHAT?!) and thus, the very important Third Annual Ampersand Read Best Books of the Year Awards! Or TAARBBOTYA if you want a title that requires an obnoxiously long acronym (here’s looking at you, A Court of Mist and Fury, or should I say ACOMAF?!) HUZZAH! HOORAY! AND THE CROWD GOES WILD!

It’s been a pretty damn good year of reading. Not that I’ve had many bad years, really. I found that I’ve read an incredible number of good sequels this year. It was quite hard to narrow it down. Without further ago (because I added some categories this time so it’s a long awards ceremony now):

Most Surprising

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas. Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens, May 2016

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas.

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

I almost crowned this book in “Best Sequel” and THEN I thought it might be “Best Twist,” because this book, second in a series, feels like such a different book than the first. It has stronger characters, and this huge, sweeping plot that sets up so much for the books to come. My jaw dropped multiple times at how much I loved this book. I liked A Court of Thorns and Roses. I LOVED A Court of Mist and Fury. There is so much to fangirl about, and I became so invested in the world and the characters. Most of all, I wasn’t expecting these changes and by the end, I couldn’t see how the story could be any other way.


Most Beautiful

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

I’ve got a thing for beautiful stories. Stories that maybe aren’t the most action packed, maybe aren’t the most succinct or as brief as they could be, but damn do they know how to place and write a sentence. McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway does a lot in a small space. At just over 150 pages, it’s rather short for a novel. It takes a lot to set up the world of a book, let alone a book where children fall into other worlds: you must set up dozens of other little stories (the worlds the children fall into) in the one big story (a safe haven for them to meet others like them). But the language evokes such feeling in this novel; it is small but talks about very big things.

Best Start of a Series


Nevernight by Jay Kristoff

Nevernight by Jay Kristoff

The sequel to Nevernight does not even have a name yet, and it is already on my calendar to be ready to buy it. The writing style/language is polarizing: you either jump in with both feet and love it, or you fight the book the whole way. I ate it all up with a spoon, and now I want more. The premise of the story – a Hogwarts-style school for assassins where someone starts killing off the students – is just the tip of the iceberg. It is funny and beautiful and heartbreaking all at once. Can August 2017 get here sooner?!

Best Sequel

City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett.

City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett.

City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett

I was kind of hoping the sequel to last year’s brilliant City of Stairs would be from the perspective of Sigrud – the ass-kicking muscle to Shara’s quiet politician. But war general Turyin Mulaghesh does just fine, expanding the already vividly complex world Stairs began, and turning it a bit on its head. Second books in a series often slump, and are just a bridge to the final act. This sequel turns everything up to eleven, and I can’t wait for City of Miracles, out in April.

Honorable Mentions

So. Many. Other. Contenders. Crooked Kingdom, Leigh Bardugo’s sequel to last year’s stupendous Six of Crows was just as good as its predecessor, shipping all the best ships and hiding all the right secrets from readers until just the right moment to shock and awe us.

And Gemina by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman was crazy great as well. But I’m in love with the series, so I went into reading the sequel a little biased.

Best Cover

Gemina by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman,.

Gemina by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman,.

Gemina by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman

I just….so much work goes into these books! There’s art, there’s story, there’s graphics and diagrams and just so so SO many hours of genius. You only get an inkling of how involved the creation of these books are when you look at the covers, but it’s a good inkling. The transparent, watercolored dustjacket, the censored sections of files, revealed only in bits and pieces, the layout of it all: AMAZING.

Honorable Mentions

Smoke by Dan Vyleta features a beautiful painting by Claude Monet that is so atmospherically PERFECT for the novel and place in time. Plus, the colors are just plain pretty. We Could be Beautiful by Swan Huntley is highly reflective – a stray sunbeam and you could blind passerby if you were reading in public. But its subtle play on an out-of-focus yet still beautiful subject, and suggestion of a mirror is the perfect choice for a book that deals a lot with image and impressions.

Best Character

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Jesper from Crooked Kingdom (and Six of Crows)

Ooh a toughy. Not only do I have to narrow a choice down to a book I read this year, but to a single character that I liked “best.” Which is essentially impossible, because there were so many good guys and gals and monsters to choose from. And everyone in Six of Crows/Crooked Kingdom is amazing. But I came to find Jesper to be one of my favorites. He’s the witty banter-er of the group, the comic relief. But he also has a complex backstory, and I feel like he could have a spinoff series of his own (PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE!). Plus he and Wylan are adorable.

Honorable Mentions

Too many to count. General Turyin Mulaghesh from City of Stairs, Rhysand from A Court of Mist and Fury, Darrow from Morning Star, and Nancy from Every Heart a Doorway to name just a very few.

Book I Most Want to See on Screen

Six of Crows/Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

AGAIN. Can you imagine this movie? I can. It would be AWESOME. I am a sucker for clever characters whose plots are one step ahead of me, and I love that in the movies that I watch, too. Scenes in these books seem to play out very cinematically. Now who wants to direct?

Best Book I Read All Year

I couldn’t actually pinpoint just one (although I will in a moment for the sake of the awards. THE SHOW MUST GO ON!). I read so many books this year that I really liked, that it feels almost dishonest to say “I liked THIS one the best at the time of year/the week/the mood I was in that I read it.” Morning Star by Pierce Brown capped off the Red Rising trilogy so, so well. City of Blades and Gemina were superb sequels to series that I drool over. Nevernight was a fantastic start to what is probably going to be a beautiful friendship between me and Jay Kristoff’s new series.

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire was just straight up amazing, and for how short it is, I know the book will stay with me a long time. The characters, the themes, the unbelievable potential for more stories: fantastic


& Review: Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Gemina by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman. Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers October 2016

Gemina by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman. Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers October 2016

The Book Itself: Well, they’ve done it again: another incredible cover, full of intricate detail and hints at the story within. I cannot imagine NOT having physical copies of these beautiful books. The question now is: what color will the third installment be? I’m thinking purple…or maybe green.

My Review: 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 sci-fi saga that began with the breakout bestseller Illuminae continues on board the Jump Station Heimdall, where two new characters will confront the next wave of the BeiTech assault.

Hanna is the station captain’s pampered daughter; Nik the reluctant member of a notorious crime family. But while the pair 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 strike team invades the station, Hanna and Nik are thrown together to defend their home. But alien predators are picking off the station residents one by one, and a malfunction in the station’s wormhole means the space-time continuum might 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 the known universe—is in their hands.

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

I don’t know if you remember, but I read a little book called Illuminae last year and then I gushed profusely in my review and never stopped talking about it. It was also one of the best books I read last year.

So I had Gemina’s release date in my calendar for A WHILE. And come October I was getting stoked. A few days before its release, I retrieved my copy of Illuminae from a friend I had lent it to and I re-read it and loved it exactly as I had the first time. It was just as impressive, just as beautiful and complex even when I knew the characters, the plot, and the twists. Please, please please, let Gemina be just as amazing, I thought.

Good news. It too is amazing. The hardcover has the same detailed panels of the plot, censored as if the government is shielding you from the truth. The translucent dust jacket is a gorgeous blue. I just want to keep it on a shelf and stare at it all day long. But the temptation to re-read it would be too strong.

Gemina takes place minutes after the events in Illuminae, from the perspective of jump station Heimdall, the goal our ragged fleet of ships was striving toward in the first book. There is already a dark cloud surrounding Heimdall, as they never answered our survivor’s distress calls, and rumors flew that BeiTech had already destroyed or taken over the place.

Our couple this time is Hanna, the captain’s daughter, and Nik, a bad boy drug dealer who belongs to a Russian-mob-type family (ooh, edgy). They will, of course, be love interests. But our girl isn’t a snarky hacker with pink hair this time. No, she’s a rather spoiled party girl who just happens to be well-versed in several types of martial arts. Our boy isn’t the quarterback of a space-football team. He’s a prison-tattooed, capital M Misunderstood tough guy. But to be honest, the rest of the book’s premise is similar.

In Illuminae, we had three major adversaries: a fleet coming to destroy any witness to BeiTech’s attack on Kerenza, an artificial intelligence system that seemed to be going haywire, and a zombie-like virus that drove its hosts into a murderous frenzy (never will I hear or read the phrase “Don’t look at me” again and not shudder). Here are Gemina’s Big Three: a fleet coming to take over jump station Heimdall to use it for their own nefarious purposes, a large group of highly trained thugs-for-hire onboard who are there to subdue the populace so BeiTech’s fleet can succeed, and alien parasites resembling those face huggers from Alien.

See any similarities? Three crazy obstacles: check.

Two crazy teenagers who, against all odds and with the help of threat of imminent death manage to come together and fall in lurve: check.

Countdowns to imminent doom every dozen pages or so: check.

Twists abound: check.

I don’t mind the similarities, really, I don’t. I loved Illuminae and its structure and the way it made the concepts fresh and exciting. But it kind of seemed like they were trying to make the same concepts fresh and exciting here. The Phobos virus in Illuminae scared the crap out of me. The alien parasites in Gemina had one creepy scene in the dark and then they were kind of pushed aside. People under the influence of Phobos haunted my dreams. The face huggers here seemed a bit like an afterthought.

I will put my biggest problem with the plotting of Gemina in a spoiler zone below. Overall, it did a lot of the same things Illuminae did, with a slightly different twist. I still ate it up with a freaking spoon, and I will countdown just as hard for the third installment, but I’m a little surprised it stuck with the same formula.

What Gemina did really well is made me care for a third main character: Nik’s cousin, Ella. Ella might be stuck in a chair, but boy is she an active character (and also everyone would be totally screwed without her). It also set up the main structure for the showdown to come in book three: namely, the ultimate takedown of BeiTech. This book is set up as evidence in a judicial trial against BeiTech, and the bigwigs at the company play a bigger role in this book. The cliffhanger ending makes me need the third book like, yesterday.

Overall, this book is again a work of art. It is still wonderfully complex and unpredictable. And again it blows my mind the amount of work that went into crafting this amazing story. I’m hoping the third book strays a bit from the formula the other two have set up, but I am still so, so, SO excited for it!!


















We good?











They tried to make me believe the male love interest died, and it turned out he didn’t. In fact, they did this twice in Gemina. This is a case of fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. Except this time I wasn’t really fooled. Wait a minute…I’ve seen this before, I thought, as the light faded from our bad boy’s eyes. Twice. It didn’t emotionally impact me the way it should have because I knew it wasn’t real. This time it wasn’t an AI lying to our female protagonist to get her to do its bidding, but I knew in some way Nik was going to end up being alive the whole time. If the third installment tries to do this again, I might be forced to roll my eyes.

Also, there’s a page where the names of a few dozen people are artfully arranged, representing a group of people who have died due to something horrible. Except that Kaufman and Kristoff used names of fellow authors for the victims. So instead of an emotional sucker punch, instead of feeling like innocent people, innocent characters, died, I just thought, Oh look, the author of the Grisha trilogy. The author of Beautiful Creatures. And that woman wrote Red Queen. It took a serious moment and almost poked fun at it.

My Grade: A

24 Hour Readathon: Intro Survey

Good morning (or afternoon, or evening, depending on where in the world you’re reading from) Readathon-ers and blog followers!

I have not starters at exactly hour 1, as that was 5:00 AM Oregon time, and my poor little body couldn’t take it. So here we are in hour three, reading a lot to catch up! Here is my intro survey:

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?
Portland, Oregon!
2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
Besides Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, which I have been excited for for a while, probably Children of the New World by Alexander Weinstein. It’s a collection of science fiction short stories, and it looks really good!
3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?
While I have candy coming out my ears for the Harry Potter party I am setting up later today, there’s only so much sugar a girl can eat! I have Harvest Cheddar Sunchips and bagel pizzas calling my name later 😉
4) Tell us a little something about yourself!
Well I read, obviously. A lot (again: obviously). I have been blogging for over a year (ALREADY?!), am reading mostly sci-fi/fantasy these days, and I have a big soft spot for Harry Potter anything!
5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?
This is my first readathon! I am quite bummed that I will not get to participate as much as I’d like, but I am looking forward to just relaxing and reading most of the day and night. My to-read pile is quite crazy, and hopefully this readathon will help trim it back!

& Reviews: Their Fractured Light by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

Their Fractured Light by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner. Publisher: Disney-Hyperion December 2015

Their Fractured Light by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner. Publisher: Disney-Hyperion December 2015

The Book Itself: Another installment of the Starbound series another pretty, pretty dress! These covers try very hard to stand out, to wow people. They’re a little dramatic, but effective.

My Review: A year ago, Flynn Cormac and Jubilee Chase made the now infamous Avon Broadcast, calling on the galaxy to witness for their planet, and protect them from destruction. Some say Flynn’s a madman, others whisper about conspiracies. Nobody knows the truth. A year before that, Tarver Merendsen and Lilac LaRoux were rescued from a terrible shipwreck—now, they live a public life in front of the cameras, and a secret life away from the world’s gaze.

Now, in the center of the universe on the planet of Corinth, all four are about to collide with two new players, who will bring the fight against LaRoux Industries to a head. Gideon Marchant is an eighteen-year-old computer hacker—a whiz kid and an urban warrior. He’ll climb, abseil and worm his way past the best security measures to pull off onsite hacks that others don’t dare touch.

Sofia Quinn has a killer smile, and by the time you’re done noticing it, she’s got you offering up your wallet, your car, and anything else she desires. She holds LaRoux Industries responsible for the mysterious death of her father and is out for revenge at any cost.

When a LaRoux Industries security breach interrupts Gideon and Sofia’s separate attempts to infiltrate their headquarters, they’re forced to work together to escape. Each of them has their own reason for wanting to take down LaRoux Industries, and neither trusts the other. But working together might be the best chance they have to expose the secrets LRI is so desperate to hide

I read These Broken Stars and adored it. I read This Shattered World and felt let down and disappointed. I picked up Their Fractured Light, the last in this trilogy, hoping it would be more of the former.

And it was good, maybe even great, but maybe I just need to return to the whole trilogy to read it all together at a later date.

Perhaps I just have a bad memory for characters and events in stories after I read them. But it felt like I needed to read these ones back to back in order to really understand and appreciate the conclusion. At one point, all of the main characters from all of the books, including some secondary ones, were interacting and saying and doing things that I felt totally lost when reading. Who was that again? How do these two people know each other? That name is probably supposed to be significant, but I can’t remember why…it all took me out of the story a little.

But seeing as that is my fault (I hate waiting for an entire series to be out before I read it, though! THE WAIT IS TOO LONG!!!) this time we are introduced to our star-crossed lovers, Gideon and Sofia. Let me just say: FINALLY SOME NORMAL NAMES! Lilac and Jubilee as names just didn’t sit well with me. Even if Jubilee is often referred to as “Lee,” I had this fierce aversion to the name so that it didn’t help my reading experience. Gideon is a hacker, Sofia is a thief. They spend a lot of time in the book not trusting each other and worrying about not trusting one another when both are inherently untrustworthy. Those aren’t typical vocations you look for in a significant other.

But I digress. The action in this one starts off right away. We are immediately thrown into a plot-altering situation that has implications throughout the story, and we learn about our protagonists on the fly. Again, if I were reading the books back to back, this would have been more seamless. As it was, I had to reacquaint myself with the world as I read, trying to remember references to places and planets and events that happened in the previous installments. This installment focused a lot on an underground city for the less wealthy, and a city on the surface bursting with wealth and affluence. This is kind of a trope in a lot of dystopian/sci-fi, so it felt a little stale. But I did appreciate moving through the scenery, and even taking it into space.

The book’s action doesn’t stop. I don’t think I ever really lagged reading it because there was always something interesting going on. And these two authors know how to stop a chapter so you can’t help but continue to read.

But I can’t help but feel like Lilac and Tarver’s story (names aside) was always the most strong. Even in this novel, they felt like a big focus. Lilac plays a MAJOR role in the inciting incident that kept me turning pages until the end. I like their relationship, their backgrounds better than any of the couples, and a part of me wishes the series just followed them.

BUT the series was well wrapped up. This series is going down on a lot of people’s lists as a “Favorite Series of All Time,” and maybe if I read them all together I might feel more like that, too. But where I felt the first book was strong, the second one weak. This third and last installment was interesting, well-paced, and well-written, but I felt outside the story because I hadn’t heard from the characters in a while. This might be one I have to return to in a year or two.

But if you haven’t read them yet, I highly recommend reading them now. Back to back: don’t wait a year to read the next one 😉

My Grade: B

& 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


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


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?



& 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