My first post of 2016! (Though I’ll probably still be talking about last year – and isn’t that odd to say? – for a little while longer.) I read nine books in December, which wasn’t my best reading month in 2015, but what it lacked in quantity, it definitely made up for in quality! 😀 And my reading was also pretty sci-fi-heavy, which isn’t something that’s ever happened to me before… But anyway, on to the books:
Illuminae by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff. A sci-fi thriller that follows two teenagers who – after being evacuated from an illegal mining planet that was under attack – are attempting to reach safety with a group of damaged ships, and pursued by their attackers, whose ship is in significantly better shape than theirs. Interestingly, this story is told almost entirely in the form of data files and IM transcripts, and the such, which I was initially worried that I would find off-putting, but somehow it didn’t make me feel distant from the characters at all (and actually, since the files had personal details of everyone on board, I think it actually made the characters seem more real to me, not less). In terms of the story itself, it was fantastic, and tense, and full of surprises, and incredibly powerfully written. I would definitely recommend this, even for people like me who aren’t generally fans of sci-fi.Blood Will Tell by Christine Pope. The second book in the Gaian Consortium series, which follows the hacker Miala Fels, who’s in the middle of trying to break into the bank accounts of her father’s murderer (the crime lord Mast), when he and his entire gang are killed in a shoot-out – except for the mercenary Eryk Thorn, who Miala saves in exchange for his help getting off-planet. I’ve always found Christine Pope’s writing rather hit-or-miss, but this is definitely one of the better ones! I really loved both Miala and Thorn, and their relationship dynamic was great. The plot was also pretty fun (especially in the first half of the book), though nothing special in itself – the romance is definitely the selling point for this series.Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. A contemporary novel that I’ve been meaning to read for the longest time… It’s about a teenage girl called Sam, who dies in a car accident on her way home from a party one night – and then wakes up again (and again, and again), the morning before it happened. Time loops have, of course, been done to death in literature, but I found that I really liked Oliver’s take on it: Every time Sam relives her last day, she does things a little differently, and learns new things about herself, and the people around her, and this allowed for some really incredible character development. The characters themselves were brilliant – they were very realistically portrayed, and I found that I actually really liked all of them, even though most of Sam’s friends (and even Sam herself) aren’t always the most likeable people. I wasn’t a huge fan of the ending (not because it was bad, but because it didn’t work out the way I wanted it to), but overall, it was an interesting and enjoyable read. I’ve written a full review of this book, which you can read by following this link.
The Mandala Maneuver by Christine Pope. The fourth book in the Gaian Consortium series (which is a companion series, and doesn’t need to be read chronologically), following a human diplomat called Alexa, whose shuttle is attacked, stranding her on the strange, inhospitable planet of Mandala with Lirzhan, the Zhore ambassador – but very soon they discover that not all is as it seems on Mandala. This was one of the less interesting books in the series, though the plot initially seemed to have some promise. Unfortunately Alexa and Lirzhan were both rather bland, which rather killed the story for me. I might have enjoyed this more, however, if I’d read it before I read Breath of Life (the first book in the series, which is also about a human-Zhore couple), but the characters and relationship in The Mandala Maneuver felt very similar to in Breath of Life.Fairest by Marissa Meyer. The prequel to the Lunar Chronicles novels, which tells the story of Queen Levana, the series’ main antagonist. I was initially a bit nervous about reading this, as I’d heard a lot of mixed reviews, but – much to my surprise – I ended up really liking it! 😀 It was also my Library Scavenger Hunt pick for December, so I’ve written a mini-review which you can read here. 🙂Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta. The first book in the Lumatere Chronicles, which follows Finnikin, a Lumateran boy who’s searching for a way to help his people return to their homeland, which has been taken over by a tyrant, and is surrounded by a magical barrier that kills anyone who tries to cross it – and then one day he meets a girl called Evanjalin, who swears that the rightful heir to the throne is still alive. I struggled to get into this book at first: The narrative took some getting used to, and Marchetta seemed quite fond of switching perspectives without warning, which could be confusing at times. The story itself is wonderful, however, and I really, really loved the main characters, Finnikin and Evanjalin, and although the big reveal near the end of the story didn’t exactly take me by surprise, it was so well-executed that I found that I didn’t really mind. Even Froi grew on me, which is fortunate, since he’s apparently the main character in the second book… And, as with many slow-burn fantasy books, I got a lot more invested as the story went on – for the last 200 pages or so, I had real difficulty putting it down!The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide. A short novel about a couple who befriend their neighbours’ cat, Chibi, and how she changes their lives and way of thinking. An enjoyable story, though I’m not really sure how to explain it… It was slow-paced, meandering and quite whimsical, but I found myself liking all the characters a lot. This isn’t the kind of book I’d usually read, but was still definitely worth reading, and I’d recommend it for fans of literary fiction.Winter by Marissa Meyer. The fourth and final book in the Lunar Chronicles series, and the first book I completed for the Holiday Booktubeathon (for which I didn’t write a dedicated wrap-up because I was too pressed for time…). Obviously, anything I could say about the plot would make this place spoiler central, so I won’t, but I can talk about the characters, who were all wonderful. Scarlet and Wolf, in particular, really shone through in this book, which was something of a surprise to me, as they have, until now, been my least-favourite (main) characters in the series – and I also really liked the friendship between Scarlet and Winter. Winter herself wasn’t quite as awe-inspiringly crazy as she appeared to be at the end of Cress, but I still absolutely loved her. 😀 Getting to know Jacin a bit better was also wonderful, as were all the returning characters… My only real complaint about this book is that I wish it had been longer (and since it was already over 800 pages, that complaint seems a little unreasonable), so I’m definitely going to be getting the novella bind-up, Stars Above, when it’s out, as it apparently contains an epilogue-type story (amongst others, of course).
First & Then by Emma Mills. A contemporary romance that’s half Pride & Prejudice, and half Friday Night Lights: It follows a girl called Devon in her last year of high school, as she copes with: college applications; her younger cousin, Foster, coming to live with her; an embarrassing, long-time crush on her best friend Cas; and her developing feelings for Ezra, the captain and star of the school football team. I’ve never been a huge fan of American football, and since I’d heard this book compared to Friday Night Lights, I suspected that it’d be fairly central to the plot, but although it was undoubtedly important to the story, I found that it felt more like a backdrop to everything else that was going on, which I liked; I definitely wouldn’t recommend that anyone read this book purely for the football aspect. As for the aforementioned “everything else”, it was all really great. I loved Devon, and really identified with her; Foster was adorable, and their relationship progression was both realistic and incredibly sweet; Ezra – the Mr. Darcy of the story – was a wonderful combination of swoon-worthy and socially-awkward (my favourite kind of love interest! 😉 ). It was a shame that the book wasn’t longer (my copy is 267 pages long), however, as I would’ve liked to have seen more of Emir – a character who showed up at the beginning, then disappeared until near the end, when he became surprisingly important to the plot – and also of Ezra and Devon as a couple.