Posts tagged ‘Romance’

How to Stop Time

How to Stop TimeTitle: How to Stop Time
Author: Matt Haig
ISBN: 9780525522874
Pages: 325 pages
Publisher/Date: Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, c2017.

I am old.
That is the first thing to tell you. The thing you are least likely to believe. If you saw me you would probably think I was about forty, but you would be very wrong.
I am old — old in the way that a tree, or a quahog clam, or a Renaissance painting is old.
To give you an idea: I was born well over four hundred years ago on the third of March 1581, in my parents’ room, on the third floor of a small French chateau that used to be my home. (5)

Estienne Thomas Ambroise Christophe Hazard has lived a long life under many names. Now going by the name Tin Hazard, he has earned a position teaching history at a prestigious school in London. As Tom told the head of the protective Albatross Society, a group that purportedly aids people like him who age slowly and live longer than most, he wants “an ordinary life.” But as a reluctant member of this society billed as safeguarding his existence, there is no such thing as an ordinary life. One of the rules of this society is to never fall in love, which Tom has no trouble with after loosing his first love, wife Rose, and second love, daughter Marion. The main reason he continues to hide from society is so he can continue to search for his daughter, who disappeared after her mother died while he was away trying to prevent their persecution. However, when someone new enters the picture and questions his lonely connection to this world he’s lived in, Tom wonders if he’ll be breaking this rule in order to break free. And if he does, what will happen to the person he’s finally started to care about?

I find myself more focused on the characters then the writing style, which I guess says all you need to know about the narrative. When asked to describe this book, I find myself comparing it Time Traveler’s Wife meets Tuck Everlasting, although I guess it’s more a romantic version of Tuck Everlasting. Which is to say that unexplained longevity and the challenges that come with it are not new to literature. There is definitely a romance afoot from the very first time Tom (along with readers) is introduced to French teacher Camille, as he describes himself as “momentarily mesmerised” by her laugh-lit face. Camille herself however seems to be more an impetus  for Tom to pivot his thinking around. He is resigned to his existence, however melancholy, until he meets Camille, whom we learn very little about but who’s existence forces him to reconsider his secretive brooding apathy. At one point she relates Tom how as a child with seizures “I was scared of life. […] I was always worrying I could die at any minute.” Of her time working in a grand hotel, she says that she “would be speaking to people all the time, all day, checking in, checking out, but there was never anything deep and meaningful to it” and that philosophy so closely mimics Tom’s attempts at blending in with life but for the complete opposite reason. Even though their reasons are the exact opposites — Camille afraid of a short life, Tom afraid of a long life — they face the same demons of loosing love and being afraid of opening themselves up again. (237 – 238) And slowly, eventually, they both come to accept the advice that Tom gets from an older woman finally approaching the end of her life who also suffers from Tom’s condition; “There comes a time when the only way to start living is to tell the truth. To be who you really are, even if it is a dangerous.” (265)

The book time jumps quite a bit though (hence Time Traveler’s Wife), as we see Tom’s “original” life in the late 1500s, some snippets during his employment with Shakespeare, Captain Cook, and Fitzgerald, and finally a more modern day environment. Tom’s desire to stay off the radar is understandable when we see how first his mother and then his love were persecuted by his inability to age. It’s interesting to compare the injustice done to these women (they were accused of bewitching him) and Tom’s damnation through association, rather than Tom facing the public stigma directly. As told by someone Tom later met, “She had cast a charm and killed a man to give her boy eternal life.” (156) As a final cherry on top, the one other person he trusts with his secret, a doctor exploring aging named Dr. Hutchinson, also is on the receiving end of consequences due to Tom’s condition. How does that compare today, when women’s actions are used to justify strange appearance or behavior of another guy? Maybe I’m stretching here, but I can’t deny that my brain made that connection.

Hendrich, the only other person that we actually see for most of the novel who shares Tom’s condition (there are others who pass through), is more of an enigma then Tom. Throughout the course of the novel, we receive very little background information about Hendrich, who seems to be the brains behind this organization that operates under the guise of protecting the afflicted. However, we don’t know any details regarding its establishment, Hendrich’s early life, or his ability to continue to serve as it’s defacto head. Also, Tom and everyone else’s blind acceptance of his authority is never fully explained, except that Hendrich catches Tom at a weak point in his life and seems capable of manipulating people’s emotions. He continues to promise Tom his help in Tom’s search for his missing daughter, but I wonder at what point even someone with such a long life as Tom and Hendrich would finally get tired of waiting. It’s also difficult for others who have this condition to envision anything different then this agreement because they are intentionally left isolated from each other by Hendrich. He seems to pull power from his unlimited knowledge of the others and his own unhindered activities and mystery, much like the Wizard of Oz, and his methods are never elaborated.

A lot of options for discussion direction, possibly particularly with a book group with older participants as they grapple with their own questions of longevity and loneliness. I end this blog with a final quote, almost at the very end of the book.

“Why are you the one scared of time? You’re going to live for ever. […] It’s strange.”
“What’s strange?”
“How much time you spend worrying about the future.”
“Why? It always happens. That’s the thing with the future.”
“Yes, it always happens. But it’s not always terrible.” (323)

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Renegades

Renegades.jpgTitle: Renegades
Series: Renegades #1
Author: Marissa Meyer
ISBN: 9781250044662
Pages: 556 pages
Publisher/Date: Feiwel and Friends Book, an imprint of Macmillan Publishing Group, LLC c2017 by Rampion Books

Nova had one dart handcrafted by Leroy Flinn, their own poisons master. She only needed one. If she missed, she wouldn’t get a second chance.
But she wouldn’t miss.
She would kill the Captain.
Once he was hit, Ingrid, the Detonator, would emerge from hiding and hit the Council’s parade float with as many of her signature bombs – made from a fusion of gasses in the air—as she could launch. Phobia would focus on Thunderbird, as she usually took to the air during a battle, giving her a frustratingly unfair advantage. They’d heard that Thunderbird was deathly afraid of snakes, which was one of his specialties. They were banking on the rumors to be true. Worst-case scenario: Phobia startled her long enough for Nova or Ingrid to take her down. Best-case: He gave her a midflight heart attack.
And that was it. The Council—the five original Renegades—all eradicated at once. (28-29)

But of course, the plan that Nova and her team have spent so much time concocting doesn’t go off as planned, and one of their own get captured. Plan B is a Hail Mary effort, sending Nova in deep undercover to train with their enemies. She succeeds, and is placed on the very team that thwarted her efforts to kill the Captain. Serving as a double agent becomes harder then she expected when she realized not only the people she is spying on, but also her own allies are keeping things from her. Plus, with a new prodigy (person with superpowers) in town that no one knows anything about, it’s anybody’s guess who is going to end up helping Nova in her hour of need.

Superpowers seem to be a rising trend in literature these days, possibly a result of the growing interest and excitement around the Marvel and DC movies. Personally a fan of Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on her newest series. But while I found her first series ground breaking in her reimagining of fairy tales, this one treads some well-worn ground of vengeance, vindication, villainy and virtues. We’ve seen this story told multiple times, of a “bad guy” who is out to kill the “good guys” with questionably justifiable reasons. In this case, seventeen-year-old Nova is focused on the Renegades, a group of five super-powered adults who are trying to restore order to a world taken down by chaotic and more selfish super-powered antagonists when powers were first starting to develop. The Anarchists, the group that Nova is originally a part of, is all that’s left of an organized front trying to enact revenge against the Renegades for hunting them down and confining the Anarchists to hiding and petty crimes necessary for survival. A variety of ethnicities, backgrounds, and powers are well portrayed, and reminiscent of Brandon Sanderson’s Reckoners series (which begins with Steelheart). We see the conflicting philosophies and responsibilities played out time and again, all the way back to Spiderman’s famous “With great power comes great responsibility” and more recently by V.E. Schwab in Vicious. The actual debate sparked by the different camps is explicitly laid out in a scene between Nova and one of the Renegades, where they discuss the influence that the prodigies had on the world, and whether non-gifted people could contribute to the rebuilding of something that the gifted but greedy individuals brought about.

Nova is very set in her ways and ideals, but even she is not immune to the altruism showcased by her team, which includes Adrian (superhero name “Sketch”), Oscar (“Smokescreen”) and Ruby (“Red Assassin”). Oscar, Ruby, and injured Dana are background characters to dual narrators Nova and Adrian. On the opposing side is Honey, Winston, Leroy, Phobia, and Ingrid, with Ingrid receiving more screen time then the rest as the default leader of the group. Everyone on both sides seems aware of the hype that they are obligated to live up to, with the Renegades being recognized on the street and the Anarchists being villainized and characterized by public displays and paraphernalia.

Adrian has his own secret, which readers are privy to within the first few chapters. Trying to live up to the legacy of his adoptive parents, he’s experimenting with his ability in order to enhance and add to his powers. Assuming the secondary identity of “Sentinel”, Adrian’s actions end up in an unenviable position where he needs to right a mistake before revealing himself. Then he receives a tip about a new prodigy who might be involved in his mother’s death, and he’s ready to discover everything he can, even if it goes against the wishes of the Council. This unexpectedly also places himself in a position to realize that not all Renegades are as altruistic as the organization wants them to be, and he’s struggling to come to terms with that idea since he’s been indoctrinated with the goals and dreams his entire life. D

The tender romance for Nova that begins by the end of the book is expected. Hints of the spectacular double-cross during the climactic battle are also liberally laid as to come as little surprise. The true unexpected twist revealed on the very last page is what will leave readers gasping and struggling to wait until the sequel arrives later in November 2018. I expect more background information will have to fill in the blanks that readers realize the author has been purposefully hiding since the very first page.

Little Brother

Little Brother.jpgTitle: Little Brother
Author: Cory Doctorow
Narrator: Kirby Heyborne
ISBN: 9780307711540 (audiobook), 9780765323118 (paperback)
Discs/CDs: 10 CDs, 11 hours 54 minutes
Pages: 382 pages
Publisher/Date: Listening Library, c2008.

I lost it. “Dad! Are you listening to yourself? They’re talking about investigating practically every person in the city of San Francisco!”
“Yeah,” he said, “that’s right. They’ll catch every alimony cheat, every dope dealer, every dirtbag and every terrorist. You just wait. This could be the best thing that ever happened to this country.”
“Tell me you’re joking,” I said. “I beg you. You think that that’s what they intended when they wrote the Constitution? What about the Bill of Rights?”
“The Bill of Rights was written before data-mining,” he said. He was awesomely serene, convinced of his rightness. “The right to freedom of association is fine, but why shouldn’t the cops be allowed to mine your social network to figure out if you’re hanging out with gangbangers and terrorists?”
“Because is’t an invasion of my privacy!” I said.
“What’s the big deal? Would you rather have privacy or terrorists?” (137-138)

Marcus is a computer nerd living in San Francisco. He’s cut out of school early with his friends to pursue a clue as part of an online scavenger hunt, when the impossible happens. A terrorist attack leaves them one man down after the Department of Homeland Security apprehends them and holds them for secret questioning. When Marcus gets out, the city is in a semi-militarized state as the government hunts down the perpetrators. That’s what they claim they are doing, but as their surveillance methods increase, Marcus isn’t the only one who begins to wonder who these people are and what or who they are really collecting and pursuing.

I don’t want to turn this into a rant about technology, surveillance, privacy, and how they intersect all too often these days. However, reading this book gave me the same creepy crawly feeling that Robopocalypse did almost 5 years ago. Written before Robopocalypse, nothing has really changed since Cory Doctorow wrote this a decade ago. The general public still blindly accepts that surveillance is happening, that information about them is being collected about their movements and habits and activities, and nobody questions where that information is going or how it is being used. We grant access to huge quantities of information because companies require it in order to use their services, and now these publicly owned companies have the ability to control that information, including selling it to third parties, analyzing it for their own purposes, and deciding whether or not the authorities can gain access to that stored information.

It’s hard to imagine any of this happening in real life, and that’s Doctorow’s point. It might be hard to imagine, but it could happen, and we have the technology already where it could. Obviously advocating for a more involved and informed society when it comes to technical privacy, the book ends with Marcus advocating in what feels like a public service announcement for “signing up voters and getting them to the polls.” It includes afterwards by a security technologist and the MIT student who hacked the XBox, both of whom encourage readers to evaluate the world. “Trading privacy for security is stupid enough; not getting any actual security in the bargain is even more stupid” says the security technologist Bruce Schneier, while Andrew Huang ends his essay with “Be like M1k3y [Marcus’ screen name in the book]: step out the door and dare to be free.”

As a result of the technical nature of the story, there are huge sections of info dumps, where action is forwarded and details are revealed in professorial paragraphs mimicking a classroom lecture. This means that readers might get more out of it when they read it over listening to it. While the background is necessary to understand the story and appreciated by this reader, I do wish there had been a better way to incorporate it into the narrative. Obviously Marcus, the main character, is going to surround himself with people who can aid in his digital exploits and who are already more knowledgeable than readers about hacking concepts, so explaining it in character to a character wouldn’t ring true to the story. But they do have an opportunity when they finally have to involve a less-tech savvy but no less paranoid character (I won’t reveal who) about two-thirds into the story. And five pages on key-encryption or an even longer passage on Marcus’ history of LARPing, while appreciated, seemed a little wordy.

The story is insular in nature, with the close-up focus of Marcus and his movements and point of view. As a result, we don’t get a detailed feel for any of his classmates, friends, or fellow hackers who aid in his attempted take down of the government overreach. There is a romance, and they do have protected sex off screen which might prevent recommending it to some audiences. In fact, I feel like we get more information and character development from Marcus and his parents then from any of his friends, most of them falling to the sidelines due to objections of Marcus’s activities.

It’s an important book to recommend in these times of digital sharing and oversight, and hopefully one that not only sparked discussion when it was published but will continue to encourage debate and free thinking, along with caution and thorough analysis of the world, both virtual and real.

Barking Up the Wrong Tree

Barking Up the Wrong Tree.jpgTitle: Barking Up the Wrong Tree
Series: Bluff Point Romance #2
Author: Jenn McKinlay
ISBN: 9780399584749
Pages: 315 pages
Publisher/Date: Berkley Sensation, published by Berkley, , an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, 2017.

“Are you flirting with me?” he asked. His voice was a low rumble that resonated somewhere in Carly’s tailbone, making her entire body hum like a tuning fork.
“You started it,” she said.
“I thought you were set on doing the ‘friends’ thing, buddy,” he said.
“I am,” she shrugged. “It’s just kind of a new thing for me. I usually don’t see a man after I’ve slept with him, but I do enjoy flirting with my guy friends and it’s hard to shut off. You’re kind of a new category for me.”
“I like that,” he said.
He was too close. […] She had to get a handle on this thing between them before it spiraled out of control–again. (142)

Carly has moved back into her parents’ house after she lost her job to downsizing. Although they’ll be out of town for the immediate future, her pain of a younger sister will still be living there. Add into the mix the dog and the foul-mouthed talking parrot she inherited from a neighbor, and Carly is less then thrilled. Looking for a distraction at the local bar, she meets James Sinclair, and sparks fly. While James is anxious to continue this relationship, Carly’s policy is one and done, and she is not keen on changing that for anyone, no matter how good the kisses (and other physical acts) make her feel.

I think my favorite part of the book is when Carly and James are placed in a position where they have to explain to James’ family how they met. They alternate coming up with one outlandish scenario after another, from jail to a charity bachelor auction to a strip club. This sort of humor runs throughout the novel, especially when Carly’s new pets interact with the people and James’ disabled dog Hot Wheels. Past relationships with family members complicate things for both James and Carly, but they work it out. James is a sweetheart, a fact that Carly recognizes repeatedly. Carly has more hesitancy in seeing where this heads than James, although her attempts to keep him at arms length are half-hearted at best as they share simmering gazes, flirty banter, seductive physical contact (arms around waists and necks) and sultry kisses through most of the book. There’s never any question that these two will end up together, and it’s only amusement at the lengths Carly will go to prevent it and the persistence James showcases in making it happen that encourage readers to continue to the end. Reoccurring characters from About a Dog, the first book in the series, will show up. The friendly banter is a little frank for my taste at times, but the friends truly care for one another and look out for each other, even if it’s not what the person thinks they want. It’s unnecessary to read them in order, and this one continues the trend of being a light, funny, fast read for fans of flings that turn into love at first sight.

Turtles All the Way Down

Turtles All The Way Down.jpgTitle: Turtles All the Way Down
Author: John Green
ISBN: 9780525555360
Pages: 286 pages
Publisher/Date: Dutton Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, c2017.

Daisy and I were scanning stations in search of a song to a particular brilliant and underappreciated boy band when we landed upon a news story. “–Indianapolis-based Pickett Engineering, a construction firm employing more than ten thousand people worldwide, today–” I moved my hand toward the scan button, but Daisy pushed it away.
“This is what I was telling you about!” she said as the radio continued, “–one-hundred-thousand-dollar reward for information leading to the whereabouts of company CEO Russell Pickett. Pickett, who disappeared the night before a police raid on his home related to a fraud and bribery investigation, was last seen at his riverside compound on September eighth. Anyone with information regarding his whereabouts is encourage to call the Indianapolis Police Department.”
“A hundred thousand dollars,” Daisy said. “And you know his kid.” (15)

When news breaks of the disappearance of a local billionaire, sixteen-year-old Aza’s friend Daisy can hardly believe that Aza used to go to camp with his son, Davis. Aza and Daisy lead very different lives compared to Davis, and Daisy is definitely interested in the reward money. After Daisy and Aza are caught snooping around, Davis and Aza reconnect in a manner that only two lost souls who are looking for support can appreciate. However, Aza is more interested in simply getting through the day, as her spirals of thought prove more consuming and destructive. Her medicines and therapy visits aren’t helping, and even she is beginning to realize that maybe she can’t handle everything as well as she thinks.

Be warned, this review includes several longer quotes. I tried very hard to avoid any spoilers in their content. But if you want to be as blown away by the thought-provoking nature of the book as I was the first time you read it, this will probably impact your enjoyment and awe.

Aza suffers from an unnamed illness which appears to my uneducated brain as some combination of paranoia, anxiety, and OCD. She is constantly reopening a wound on her finger in an attempt to drain any infections or harmful bacteria from her body. I don’t think I have ever read a book that has so thoroughly described a mental disorder from the sufferer’s perspective. It begins a conversation about identity, awareness, and self-control that was started long before the phrase “I think therefore I am”. In fact, that quote is discussed at length in the book:

“It’s . . . like, I’m just not sure that I am, strictly speaking, real.”
Dr. Singh placed her feet on the floor and leaned forward, her hands on her knees. “That’s very interesting,” she said. “Very interesting.” I felt briefly proud to be, for a moment anyway, not not uncommon. “It must be very scary, to feel that your self might not be yours. Almost a kind of . . . imprisonment?”
I nodded. […]
“You’re imprisoned within a self that doesn’t feel wholly yours, like Molly Bloom. But also, to you that self often feels deeply contaminated.”
I nodded.
“But you give your thoughts too much power, Aza. Thoughts are only thoughts. They are not you. You do belong to yourself, even when your thoughts don’t.”
“But your thoughts are you. I think therefore I am, right?”
“No, not really. A fuller formation of Descartes’s philosophy would be Dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum. ‘I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am.’ Descartes wanted to know if you could really know that anything was real, but he believed his ability to doubt reality proved that, while it might not be real, he was. You are as real as anyone, and your doubts make you more real, not less.” (166-167)

I love the way that John Green presents mental illness in a manner that helps me empathize with sufferers but also allows me to see that there is still a lot to be understood about the brain and how it works. There is a lot to process as the book raises questions on self, awareness, identity, being, and thought. I would love to use this as a book discussion pick, and see what others have to say, either based on their own experiences with mental illness or how they interpret the interactions of biological, chemical, and mental responses.

There’s another passage that I quoted to a friend who is suffering depression right now who said that it pretty damn accurately describes her brain.

“I don’t understand how you can be so inhumanly calm down here, […] but you have a panic attack when you think your finger is infected.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “This just isn’t scary.”
“It objectively is,” she said.
“Turn off your light,” I said.
“Hell, no.”
“Turn it off. Nothing bad will happen.” She clicked off her light, and the world went dark. I felt my eyes trying to adjust, but there was no light to adjust to. “Now you can’t see the walls, right. […] Spin around a few times and you won’t know which way is in and which way is out. This is scary. Now imagine if we couldn’t talk, if we couldn’t hear each other’s breathing. Imagine if we had no sense of touch, so even if we were standing next to each other, we’d never know it.”
“Imagine you’re trying to find someone, or even you’re trying to find yourself, but you have no senses, no way to know where the walls are, which way is forward or backward, what is water and what is air. You’re senseless and shapeless– you feel like you you can only describe what you are by identifying what you’re not, and you’re floating around in a body with no control. You don’t get to decide who you like or where you live or when you eat or what you fear. You’re just stuck in there, totally alone, in this darkness. That’s scary. This,” I said, and turned on the flashlight. “This is control. This is power. There may be rats and spiders and whatever the hell. But we shine a light on them, not the other way around. We know where the walls are, which was is in and which way is out. This,” I said, turning off my light again, “is what I feel like when I’m scared. This” –I turned the flashlight back on– “is a walk in the fucking park.” (262-263)
There’s another scene where Aza is fighting her OCD, and the claustrophobic nature of the conversation is palatable in the prose. It’s these scenes that make the book a stand-out among young adult fiction.
The rest of the book was less effective from my point of view. The plot of Davis’s missing father is all but forgotten for most of the book. Now this was probably intentionally done to emphasize Aza’s point of view and how all consuming her mental health issues are from her perspective. However, for a book billed as being about a search for a missing billionaire, there is very little searching done. The search for clues that does take place is short, conveniently accomplished, and then the mystery is left on the sidelines until the very end of the book. I also wish we had seen more of Daisy. While the subject is broached of how self-consumed Aza can be, Daisy seems equally one track, talking exclusively about herself, her likes, her relationship, and making decisions for both of them. There are one or two scenes where their problematic friendship is broached, but then the disagreement is truncated and they return to each other without resolving the underlying issues. The above quote is one of the few times that I feel there is actual understanding and connection happening between these two life-long friends.

Davis was equally enigmatic. We see more of him through his blog posts and poetry than we do during his interactions with Aza. He’s memorable qualities are his fascination with astronomy, his apathy towards his father, and his uncertainty about his brother. His concern over what will happen to his brother and himself as opposed to what has happened to his father is heartbreaking and the one thing that made him a relatable character. He sees his life as reactive to his father’s actions, a life he has no control over, which is what really allows him to connect so easily with Aza. Both Davis and Aza see their lives as a result of reactions, Davis to external forces (his father, the media, his brother) and Aza to internal forces (bacteria, chemical reactions, the OCD inside her head).

The last two pages seemed unnecessary to me, as the whole tone changes and it’s added almost intended as an “It gets better” postscript” or epilogue to the story. While that might not stick with you, Aza’s struggles will. Don’t pick this book up for the mystery or the romance. Instead, read it for the thought-provoking portrayal of mental illness and the conversations, self-reflections, and empathy it will elicit. If that was the sole intent of the book, to wrap a discussion of mental illness into a digestible package bookmarked by a billionaire’s disappearance, than John Green succeeded in his goal.

Gemina

Gemina.jpgTitle: Gemina
Series: The Illuminae Files #2
Authors: Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Narrators: Carla Corvo, MacLeod Andrews, and Steve West, with a full cast
ISBN: 9781101916667 (audiobook), 9780553499155 (hardcover)
CDs/Discs: 11 sound discs (12 hr., 30 min.)
Pages: 659 pages
Publisher/Date: Listening Library, Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, c2016 by LaRoux Industries Pty Ltd. and Neverafter Pty Ltd.

Mayday, mayday, mayday, this is Acting Captain Syra Boll of the WUC science vessel Hypatia calling Jump Station Heimdall, please respond.
Please respond. Heimdall over. […]
On the off chance we are not receiving your transmissions, or you are unable to reply, Hypatia is still en route to the Heimdall waypoint with Alexander survivors and refugees from the original Kerenza assault aboard. We’re hoping like hell it’s not just a smoking pile of debris when we get there. Estimate our arrival in fifteen days.
If you guys can roll out any kind of cavalry, now’s the goddam time.
Hypatia out.

Little does the crew and passengers of the Hypatia know that Jump Station Heimdall is having their own problems at the moment, and could use some cavalry assistance of their own. The same people who blew up the illegal mining colony of Kerenza and is pursuing the Hypatia is intent on cleaning up this botched effort, through any means necessary. And those means just might include making sure no one from Hypatia or Heimdall can report back on the mass murder that has taken place. A celebratory event turns into a hostage situation, with the captain’s daughter Hanna pairing up with the Nik, the reluctant member of the crime family secretly transporting illegal materials on-board the ship. But those materials may prove more trouble than the hostage takers.

With an almost entirely new cast of characters, the audiobook for this second in the series is almost as good as the first. Although some time has passed since I listened to the story, I remember there were two snags in the production of the early discs where the sound quality didn’t quite stay consistent. However, they were easily forgettable by the time you got to the final scenes. A notoriously impartial and unapologetic Surveillance Footage Analyst from the first book makes a welcome reappearance. Towards the end, overlapping narratives portrayed side by side in double-page spreads in the book are read consecutively, so as to maintain the intended connections.

This second outing in the saga gets slightly more fantastical than the purely scientific first book, especially involving the climatic solution to a problem that seems unsolvable. The death scenes are also more graphically rendered, partially as a result of the cargo being stowed on ship. That’s really all I can say about either event without giving too much away. While I enjoyed the continued use of transcripts, typed analysis, and other written communications to convey the story, the commentary provided during some of the more intense scenes stretched credibility. When trying to deter a hacker, would Nik’s cousin Ella, a skilled hacker in her own right, really take the time to type exclamations like “I TOLD YOU I TOLD YOU I TOLD YOU NOT TO DISTRACT MEEEEEE AAAAAAAHDB#OWALEKVNLAKENLQWENVLQKENV”KQENV”LQENV”LAV ” while trying to save her cousin’s life? In my experience, it might have been more of a vocalization as opposed to an actual typed response, especially when your fingers are otherwise occupied. Ella’s disability is touched upon in a matter-of-fact manner, but never belabored.

Having read the first book, readers will be not be surprised by the blooming romance between two of the characters, but like the first one it is relatively tame and PG compared to the violence and death of the numerous assaults on the characters. In that respect their attention is appropriately focused on staying alive rather than developing a relationship, although there are some tender moments between the two. Nik and Ella’s back and forth rapport also brings some lighter moments to the gripping suspense of when they are going to die.  There is some drug use that might not be appropriate for younger readers, but all of the frequently used swear words have been censored out of both the written and audio versions. Overall, an excellent addition to the sci-fi series, and I’m eagerly anticipating the third and final book in the trilogy.

Illuminae

Illuminae.jpgTitle: Illuminae
Series: Illuminae Files (#1)
Author: Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Narrators: Olivia Taylor Dudley, Lincoln Hoppe, and Jonathan McClain, with a full cast
Book Design: Heather Kelly and Jay Kristoff
ISBN: 9781101916629 (book on cd), 9780553499117 (hardcover)
Pages: 599 pages
Discs/CDs: 10 CDs, 11.5 hours
Publisher/Date: Listening Library (audiobook), Borzoe Book published by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, c2015 by LaRoux Industries Pty LTD. and Neverafter Pty Ltd.

Interviewer: Tell me about yesterday.
Kady Grant: I was in class when it started. This is going to sound stupid, but I broke up with my boyfriend that morning, and he was right there on the other side of the room. I’m staring out the window and coming up with all the things I should say to the jerk, when these ships fly right overhead and all the windows start shaking.
Interviewer: Did you know something was up?
Kady Grant: No. You don’t jump straight to an invasion. […]
Interviewer: You evacuated at that stage?
Kady Grant: You make it sound way more organized than it was.
Interviewer: How was it?
Kady Grant: All kittens and rainbows. Apart from the screaming and explosions. (2-3)

Kady Grant and Ezra Mason are two teenagers who have just broken up, when their illegal mining colony is attacked by a competing mining corporation. Their hasty evacuation puts them on different ships, with a warship following close behind their tiny, limping fleet intent on finishing the job. But a virus has found its way onto one of the ships, and command is not sharing information in an attempt to stop rumors and panic. Hacking into the system, Kady is more knowledgeable than most, but even she is still in the dark about just how much trouble they are in. Forced to work with Ezra in order to piece together this puzzle, Kady has a hard time trusting anyone, including the supposedly unalterable AI system aboard the ship that seems to be updating itself with a mind of its own. And she’s unfortunately not the only one, as command  is conflicted regarding their course of action. With the odds clearly stacked against them, it’s anyone’s guess if they will make it out alive, and if they don’t what will finish them off first.

First, let’s talk design and production. In listening to the audiobook, you get a full cast narration, in which listeners can experience what it must have been like for people when War of the Worlds radio broadcast was first released. There are sound effects, there are harried voices talking over each other, there is the robotic monotone of the AI and other electronic system alerts. When a tremendous explosion rocks through the story, there is a pregnant pause in the audio of silence. Reminiscent of the Death Star explosion scene in Star Wars the audiobook stops completely and allows you to attempt to come to terms with desperately trying to overcome the shocking turn of events. You’re continually scrambling to figure out what is happening, and the audio allows you that time in its unhurried spooling of the story.

This brick of a book is designed beautifully, and some librarians were surprised to hear my raving reviews of the audio that it translated so well into an audio presentation. There are censored words throughout the book, blacked out with heavy marker. There’s paraphernalia paper clipped to reports. There are logos and letterhead for each of the ships involved, and spiraling script that conveys the chaotic events. I didn’t miss any of it, and in looking at the print version I am more thoroughly impressed with the quality of the audiobook. They took into account every detail and it shows.

The story itself reads like the Star Wars epic space opera/drama that it is. While there is a romance involved, for most of the story the two main characters are separated by space so there is very little PDA. Because the story is told in transcripts of verbal and textual conversations and summaries of surveillance footage, there is also surprisingly little technological jargon. The two primary characters, Ezra and Kady, don’t start out as soldiers or scientists or computer specialists, and that allows a very different story to take place than compared to other science fiction thrillers, like The Martian. The dialogue is riddled with censored swear words, incomplete sentences, and it’s refreshingly realistic. Kady is already sarcastic and suspicious, and her blatant disregard for authority is only amplified as the lies and secrets are uncovered. Ezra is slightly less skeptical than his ex, and is willing to go along with orders, until even he can’t ignore the writing on the wall. They play off each other extremely well, and their growing concern for each other evolves naturally as they cling to whoever they can as feelings of trust begin to dwindle. The other characters are fully realized, and everyone is struggling to reorient themselves in this ever-changing, perilous situation.

There is so little true science fiction available for teens, regardless of the quality this title would have been included on reader’s advisory lists. But because it exceeds all expectations that I had, I’m placing it as one of my favorites. The sequel Gemina is already available, and I’m looking forward to continuing the series and finishing the trilogy when the third one arrives at the end of the year. Highly recommended.