Bookending winter : Comfort reads by the fire

Good Morning ! Today’s my last days as your host for Bookending winter 2020 – – if you don’t know what this is about yet, you can check out the announcement post on Clo’s blog, and check out all the other posts the awesome bloggers who participate in it have written so far this month!

I don’t reread books often, but when I do, it’s because they’re comfort books that always make me feel better. And if there’s anything we need at the end of 2020, it’s some good recommendations of books that will bring us comfort and warmth as we hope for a better year ahead – so here’s today’s prompt :

Prompt Explanation : Winter is the season for warmth and comfort, reading books by the chimney in your favorite armchair. What are your top 5 comfort books to read / reread during this season ?

Honestly, there’s a lot of books I could add to this list – most of the YA novels I read when I was in high school definitely count as comfort reads, but I tried to make a shorter selection and only present the ones I might consider re-reading this winter, watching the snow fall outside my window while I enjoy the feeling of not having any exams to study for for the next three weeks. (And if I had a chimney, I would be right next to it, of course!)

Harry potter and the prisoner of Azkaban

I don’t support J.K. Rowling in any way anymore, and try my best to stay away from most Potter-related news, but I still have my old french copy of the entire series in pocket format – with yellow pages, dog-eared corners, chocolate stains on some title pages (I was a child that didn’t take very good care of my books, sue me!) – so I sometimes still go back to it, especially in the winter season.

There’s just something about coming back to Hogwarts and seeing all out favorite characters again that screams comfort and holidays to me. (And with a hot cup of chocolate, of course. These books have seen worse, so, at this point…)

The Martian, by Andy Weir

Listen, I’m a sci-fi fan. There has to be at least one sci-fi book in every list I make.

I first discovered this one by watching the movie based on it – then switched to reading the book because of how much I liked the movie. The tone of the novel was so much fun for me, I think I borrow it form the library at least once a year to re-read it and rediscover the story all over again. When I’m looking for a shorter read but with all the fun and laughter I could possibly want, this is the one I’ll pick up first!

The count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas

When I was a child, we didn’t really have a lot of YA books in my house. There were the kids books – the ones about cute talking animals that you read when you’re 5 and move past quickly afterwards, and there were the adult books – a collection of pocket classics that my parents had bought here and there, and accumulated in one large bookcase. This lead me to read a lot of classics at a young age, and I never quite got over how brilliant and engaging the Count of Monte Cristo was.

It’s not terribly Christmas-themed, sure, but both the length and the contents of the book make it a perfect comfort read for me, and I can definitely spend whole afternoons re-reading it entirely.

Uglies, by Scott Westerfeld

I know, this one isn’t so popular nowadays – but, as is the case with a lot of books I read in my childhood, it’s not so much the contents of the book than the actual book itself that makes me feel warmth and nostalgia (but the good kind of nostalgia, the one where you happily reminisce about the good moments).

I pick up this novel and remember when I first got it in the school library, where the librarian had ordered it for me after I added it to the suggestions box. I really loved the story as a child, the dystopian world with super cool technology but hiding dark secrets underneath, and I might revisit it sometime in 2021 to write an updated review of it, it I have the time!

Ellana (the trilogy), by Pierre Bottero

This is an entire trilogy – I know, that’s cheating, but I made the rule so we’ll say it counts as one!

It’s composed of the three following novels : Ellana (book 1), Ellana, the flight (Book 2), and Ellana, the prophecy (Book 3), and it’s a shame that I can’t find an English translation for it because they’re honestly the best books I’ve ever read, and they changed my life. Really. These books got me through some really rough times, and everyone I’ve met who’s read them so far agrees : the plot is excellent, the characters are well-developed, the world-building is magical and the writing is stunningly beautiful.

The french cover of the comics

These books follow the life of Ellana, a young girl in a magical world parallel to ours, who is the sole survivor of an attack on her caravan when she’s about 4 years-old, and who grows up into an independent young woman and ends up joining a secret order of mercenaries.

When people around you can make things become real with the power of their imagination (yes, the magical powers are called imagination and drawing. I love this so much), and you’re just…normal – what do you do?

They’ve been adapted into comics recently, and I have to admit that they do an excellent job at representing the world Bottero painted in his novels. If you or anyone in your friends and family who likes YA can read french, I highly recommend picking these up!

That wraps-up my time as a Bookending Winter host for this year – I hope you had a fun time, and feel free to send me the links to your posts if you use any of my prompts – I’d love to go read them!

Fireside favorites : 10 of my favorite 2020 reads

Welcome back to another Bookending Winter post! Today’s prompt is hosted by Lauren and Becky @ Northern Plunder.

Bookending Winter is a book blogging event run by Clo and Sam, in which different bloggers host a couple of prompts each during the month of December. Anyone who wants to participate can register on the announcement post, make 3 (or more) posts during the event, and link them up on the challenge spreadsheet so others can find them easily!

Prompt Explanation : Take a look back at your favorite reads of 2020. Hopefully these will make it to someone else’s TBR for them to pass the time whilst snuggled in with a hot coco next to the fire.

At the beginning of 2020, I set my Goodreads challenge to 52 books – one a week, I thought, was perfectly attainable, seeing as I used to read a lot more than that, and my current classes at the time weren’t that time-consuming. 52 books, I reasoned, was a perfectly adequate challenge, and one I’d surely be done with in September, at the latest.

That didn’t age well. I’ve been trying my best to get through my ARCs and finish the books I currently own, to maybe get to the 52 books goal, but it might very well not happen this year. Still, I’m trying to not be too bummed about this, and this prompt serves as a good reminder that, even if I didn’t read a ton of books this year, I still read a couple of really good ones!

So here’s – in random order – my 10 favorite books I’ve read so far in 2020.

Note : ⏳ are ARCs gotten through NetGalley or the publisher, 📚 are books I own or borrowed from my local library.

5 stars books

⏳ Better sleep, better you

I enjoyed reading this book a lot! It’s full of useful information on the science of sleep – why we do it, and what we’re doing wrong – and has a ton of advice adaptable for almost every situation so that its readers can improve their sleep habits. I learned a lot by reading this – definitely would recommend as a gift for a friend interested in science or how things work, or for your friend running every day on 5 hours of sleep and not understanding why they’re feeling like crap all the time!

Find it on Goodreads here.

⏳ Happily Ever After & Everything In Between

This is the cutest and most relatable thing I have read in a very long time, and every single one of the pages seemed like a situation taken out of my own life. I laughed so much out loud reading this that my partner came over my side of the living room to check if I was okay (and if I needed snacks).

It was my first book from this author, but I’m planning on checking out her other works too!

Find it on Goodreads here.

⏳ Surrender your sons

This was… wow. Just wow. You can check out my review here on Goodreads – I wrote it right after reading and I honestly couldn’t say it better right now. Excellent novel and amazing author, 10/10 would recommend.

⏳ Perfect on paper

I was really excited to see what Sophie Gonzales was going to give us next, and she did not disappoint! You can read my full review on the blog – I wrote an entire post about it, it’s just so good – but if you’re just looking for the short version : this is an excellent queer YA contemporary, and you should definitely read it as soon as it comes out.

Find it on Goodreads here.

Related post : check out my review of Perfect on Paper, by Sophie Gonzales

📚 The starless sea

I’ve been trying to write a review of this book for months now, but nothing I can write renders it justice. While this author’s previous novel didn’t work for me at all, this one was so poetic and beautiful that it went into my favorites in January and stayed there the whole year long. I’m planning on re-reading it in the second half of December, if I get stuck on my current TBR and need a break in the form of the most beautiful prose I’ve read so far in 2020!

Find it on Goodreads here.

📚 Leviathan wakes

I read the first three books of the The Expanse series, and rated them all 5 stars, so I’m only citing the first one here or they would take way too much space in this list. I love the narration, the different points of view, the intrigue and the space battles – everything fits neatly into place and it’s extremely entertaining!

If you like politics and spaceship, this is the book you need to pick up for the holidays. I’m waiting for next weekend to get into book 4, and I’m really excited to see what happens next!

Find it on Goodreads here.

📚 The way of kings

One of my first Sanderson books, and I must admit – this one put him immediately on the list of authors I’ll automatically give a chance to, whatever the subject of his next book may be. It had been a while since I’d read such a long and good novel, and even longer since I’d started a really challenging series – I’m planning on reading more from him next year, maybe make it a small reading challenge?

Find it on Goodreads here.

4 stars books

📚 Skyward

Another Sanderson book! I rated this one 4 stars instead of 5, mostly because I do agree with some other reviewers in the sense that, even though this book was really good, it felt more like a prelude to a bigger novel than an actual first installment in a series. Still, I can’t fault the quality of the writing, and the characters were easy to love and well developed.

Find it on Goodreads here.

📚 Maybe you should talk to someone

A non-fiction book! I love anything and everything psychology-related, so this book by a therapist about her job and her experiences with therapy sounded right up my alley. I really enjoyed reading this, even if it felt a bit longer than it should be in the end. It’s not as informative as I thought it’d be from reading reviews about it, but the experiences described in this book are very touching and complex.

Find it on Goodreads here.

📚 Aurora Rising

2020 was a pretty good year for my sci-fi loving heart! Aurora rising was a fun and easy book to read, filled with humor and nice plot twists. I liked the ending a lot, and my preorder of Aurora burning couldn’t come to my local bookseller soon enough!

Find it on Goodreads here.

What are your favorite 2020 reads ? Did you read and review any of these ones? Let me know in the comments! (And link your reviews if you did, so I can go read them!)

Seasonal switch : Winter version

Today is the first day of Bookending Winter 2020 !

For those of you who haven’t heard about it yet, this is a quarterly book blogging event run by Clo and Sam, in which different bloggers host a couple of prompts each during a month (for #BEWinter, December). Anyone who wants to participate can register on the announcement post, and make 3 (or more) posts during the event.

You can check out the announcement post on Clo’s blog for the complete rules of the challenge, as well as the prompts for the whole month, and link up your posts on the challenge spreadsheet so others can find them easily!

Today’s prompt is Seasonal Switch : Winter version, hosted by Clo ! You can check out her post here to see her own spin of this wintery prompt.

Prompt Explanation : Taking your favorite books, imagine if the book took place in Winter instead? Imagine Winter in Outer Space? What would it look like on a spaceship? How about that favorite summer romance but now it’s in winter? What would happen? How would the seasonal switch affect the story (or not!)?

At the moment, one of my favorite books is actually a series, The Expanse. I’m currently starting book 4, and enjoying it a lot – and this prompt made me thing a LOT more about winter in outer space than I ever thought I would!

I feel like, as a people, we’re quite attached to our calendars and traditions, so even in the emptiness of space, humans would probably try to celebrate holidays and maintain some sort of normalcy – at least for the Earthers in the series, which would still have regular seasons on their planet (even if they destroyed most of it, they seem to still have “normal” weather, which means… maybe they also have snow in the winter? I hope so!).

The Martians might not, but they do seem to still have strong religious beliefs, even when knowing there was an actual alien hive mind spanning multiple galaxies reaching for them, so… If I was in that position, I would probably try to keep traditions alive and have holiday celebrations no matter where I am. Even if they don’t have an atmosphere on their planet, much less a real winter.

Book 3 of The Expanse series

I do wonder, though – in the books, it’s mentioned that ad-screen in public places scan the faces of people in the crowd, analyze their data and use it to target them with ads tailored to their interests. Would all December ads be winter-themed?

For the Belters… they’re a pretty diverse group, divided into factions and with a lot of different beliefs and worldviews, so I’m way less sure about them. I would guess that they might create their own holidays, or maybe just move “winter” around on a part of the calendar that suits them better. Being that far away from Earth, it wouldn’t make that much sense for them to still follow Earth’s holidays and seasons, but habit or sentimentality might lead them to adapt those winter celebrations in their own way. I sure would love to see that!

The Expanse has been adapted as a TV show, and season 5 will be released in a few days on Amazon Prime. I can’t wait to see how they do it, and who knows – we might get to see some winter holidays in Outer Space before the show ends!

November wrap-up

Welcome back ! It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these posts – in fact, my last wrap-up was in May this year. There’s been a lot of changes in my life since then, but I’ve found my way back into a semi-comfortable posting schedule, which means we’re back for a November wrap-up!

Personal update

The second lockdown in our city made me lose my salary, as the restaurant I had found a new job in had to close in-doors dining spaces. But, very luckily for us, my boyfriend found a new job in an essential sector, which will be of a great help paying the bills and keeping us afloat until I can get back to work – with a little more luck, maybe in late January?

In the meantime, I’m focusing all my energy on university and all the administrative tasks that we’ve kinda forgotten over the course of this hellish year. There’s so much to do, I’m never bored!

Related posts : May 2020 wrap-up : let’s see if I hit those goals!

Keeping up with university work

This semester is hard, but so far, I’m still on course! There’s only one class out of five in which I’m not getting the grade I was aiming for – it’s going to be difficult, but there’s still one exam left, which means I’ll have one more chance to rectify the situation and get an acceptable grade that will help me get accepted into the program I’m applying for. Fingers crossed.

I’ve also gotten into an internship I wanted a lot, and it was as interesting as I expected it to be, so I’m really happy about that! Hopefully, I can finish all the tasks pertaining to that internship on time, and get a good grade for the class that goes with it.

Image by @nickmorrison on Unsplash

Playing video games

My boyfriend made me discover The Witcher : Wild Hunt, and I played it a lot in the beginning of the month. I had to slow down on that a little, though, because some changes in our lives meant an added paperwork charge : for the past two weeks or so, my evenings have been filled with administrative tasks, professional emails, talking about more administrative tasks (and stressing out about them) and some reading. Hopefully, I can get back to it as soon as my semester of university is over – this game is amazing!

Reading update

I didn’t really make a TBR for November, as I wanted to relax a little more and just read whatever I felt like reading at the time.

The new e-reader I ordered to replace my old one

Finding my old (as in, bought in 2012…) e-Reader helped me a lot! I hadn’t realized how tiring it was to read all my eBooks on my phone until I tried the paper-like screen again, and it changed everything. It’s so much more comfortable, and I can upload all my eARCs on it perfectly!

I loved using it again so much that, for Christmas, I ordered the newest version of the model I currently own – as mine is discontinued, and has been slowing down a lot and losing battery life over the years.

With the help of my old e-reader, I ended up finishing 6 books for this month :

  • Caliban’s war, by James S. A. Corey – 5 stars (this one was a re-read, and I loved it just as much as the first time!)
  • Abbadon’s gate, by James S. A. Corey – 5 stars
  • Just eat, by Bary Estabrook – 4 stars
  • Empower yourself, by Xenia Tchoumi – 2 stars
  • Bookishness, by Jessica Pressman – 3 stars
  • How to be parisian wherever you are, by Anne Berest – 1 star (yeah, this was… a miss. And a mess. You can check out my short review on Goodreads if you want the details)

On the blog, I published 8 posts this month (including this one). Check out my favorite ones!

Overall, November was a very stressful month, but I have high hopes for December (especially since my semester ends on December 16th, and I can finally have the well-deserved holiday I’ve been waiting for this entire year).

On this topic : December is the month of #BEWinter2020 ! I’m a host for three days this year, and will try to participate in the other prompts as much as I can, so keep an eye out for the hashtag on twitter and come check out all the awesome posts book bloggers will write this month!

Why I love The 100, yet haven’t read the books.

I have to admit it : I not so secretly love the TV show The 100, but have never read the books it’s supposed to be inspired by. And I’m not sure I will.

Warning : this post might contain spoilers for The 100, seasons 1 to 6. It will not contain any spoilers for season 7, which is currently airing. Read at your own risk.

I discovered The 100 in my second year of university, which was in itself a weird time. I was supposed to study biology for a year, then try to get into med school somewhere in France again, as I had failed the first year of med school once. But honestly, I had no idea what I really wanted to do with my life, and I had absolutely zero motivation to study and do well in biology.

I didn’t do much work at home, but one this I did have was good internet and lots of free time, so… I binge-watched The 100 right before finals.

I stopped in season 3, at the Lexa episodeyou know which one, then tried again, and stopped immediately after, when Ontari takes over, because… ew. But I couldn’t stay away from the show for very long, and I’ve been watching it dutifully ever since, episode after episode, right when they come out. It might be the show I’ve stuck with for the longest time, after Criminal Minds (which ended in 2019 and oh boy was I sad about it).

So why do I enjoy this show so much ?

It’s a post-apocalyptic scenario with spaceships

I’m a hoe for spaceships. I just love sci-fi, and anything sci-fi related with a mostly interesting premise will have me interested in no time.

Here’s the synopsis of season 1, on IMDB :

Set ninety-seven years after a nuclear war has destroyed civilization, when a spaceship housing humanity’s lone survivors sends one hundred juvenile delinquents back to Earth, in hopes of possibly re-populating the planet.

Nuclear apocalypse + spaceship + last survivors of the human race ? Sign me up.

It has kick-ass women characters

Octavia is my fave, sorry not sorry – her determination, from the beginning, to survive on the ground and make her life there was admirable. Raven is amazing, and clever, and her character arc during the A.L.I.E. storyline was excellent. And, of course, my favorite bisexual disaster, Clarke. And Harper, who finally got the happy ending she deserved, along with Monty.

Promotional photo from IMDB

I’ve even come to love Emori and Echo (although I don’t say too often that I think the Bellamy / Echo ship is pretty cute, because of how… vindictive Bellarke shippers can be. But that’s a discussion for another time.), and both their tragic backstories.

On a more serious note, I love the strength and the differences between the women characters, and I appreciate the fact that they each have their own interests, desires and goals. And they don’t take shit from anybody.

It reinvents itself every season

Future storylines are mostly set up well in advance, and it makes the renewal of the show at every new season more of a “the universe is bigger than we thought!” thing than a “this is a deus ex machina plot twist” feeling.

When we first learn about the flame, the “spirits of the previous commanders that guide the current leader in their thoughts“, we don’t think much of it. But when we realize that the flame is actually a computer chip that stores people’s consciousness in a highly specialized AI, made by the person responsible for the AI that destroyed the world ? Wow. The universe really is bigger than we thought.

The show tries to reinvent itself every season, and so far, I haven’t been disappointed. Even seasons 5 and 6, taking some pretty big leaps to bring new things to the screen – with the Dark Year and the 120+ years slumber, were entertaining and in line with the rest of the show in terms of risks and consequences for the characters’ actions.

It tries to do justice to some pretty heavy themes

Sure, they might not succeed every time – looking at you, season 3 episode 7 with that dumb as hell “kill the lesbian” idea. But The 100 tries its best to bring some morals to the characters’ decisions, and gives them interesting moral dilemmas right from the start. After all, Clarke is imprisoned because her father had planned to tell the truth about the oxygen situation to the people of the ark – and how might have things gone differently if the people in charge had listened to him rather than executing him for his decision ?

Promotional poster from IMDB

The most important themes in the show are those of humanity, survival and leadership, and you can see these themes in every single episode – from Abby telling Kane in season 1 that she’s “here to make sure [they] deserve to survive”, to Clarke telling Madi that “there are no good guys” in season 5, and choosing to protect her daughter at all costs. Conflict is well set up, and when it arises, it makes sense.

Why haven’t I read the books, then ?

The thing is, the TV show isn’t an adaptation of the books – it’s inspired by them. Which means it doesn’t follow the novels’ plots.

The story itself is apparently very different, almost right from the beginning, and something that accentuates that difference is the absence, in the book, of a number of main characters from the show! Finn, Raven and Murphy, for example, simply don’t exist in the books – and since two out of these three have managed to survive up until the final season, their absence is bound to make for a very different story. It’s true the other way around too : the books introduce main characters (one of them who has her own POV) who never appear on the screen!

Simply put, when writing the TV episodes, The 100 writers don’t take the book into account at all – and I’ve been putting off reading the books because, since I appreciate the show so much, I’m afraid my expectations will prevent me from enjoying the original story as much as I should.

I might still give the books a chance, though, but I think it’ll have to wait until season 7 is over, and all loose ends have been wrapped up in the TV show. I don’t think I could make sure not to be influenced by one in my reading / watching the other, and my enjoyment of both might be diminished because of it.

Have you watched the series and / or read the books? What do you think of them? Would you watch a book that inspired a show, if the show isn’t a direct adaptation?

Starsight, by Brandon Sanderson

If you’ve seen my previous posts, you’ll know that I read Skyward, by Brandon Sanderson , which is the first book in this series, a few weeks ago, and I really enjoyed it. It was my first time reading a Sanderson book, and I didn’t know what to expect of the next : was the enjoyable experience of Skyward only a fluke, or was the sequel going to be as good as it promised to be ?

So, naturally, when my library hold came through for this book, I started reading it ASAP and ignored my university work for a whole day even though I really shouldn’t. And oh boy, I was not disappointed.

Fair warning : even though I try my best not to spoil the action of the book I’m reviewing, this review does contain spoilers for the first book in this series. Read at your own peril (and please don’t be like this reviewer on Goodreads who got angry at the author because the description of book 2 spoiled the ending of book 1. That’s just a big no.)

Synopsis

All her life, Spensa has dreamed of becoming a pilot. Of proving she’s a hero like her father. She made it to the sky, but the truths she learned about her father were crushing.

Spensa is sure there’s more to the story. And she’s sure that whatever happened to her father in his starship could happen to her. When she made it outside the protective shell of her planet, she heard the stars–and it was terrifying. Everything Spensa has been taught about her world is a lie.

But Spensa also discovered a few other things about herself–and she’ll travel to the end of the galaxy to save humankind if she needs to.

What I liked

When I finished this book, I updated my goodreads list and added a few words about it on my account. You can find my abridged, right-after-reading review here.

One of my main critics from book one was that I had some difficulties maintaining my suspension of disbelief when the characters were thrown in some pretty unrealistic situations. The sequel avoids that problem by relying a little more heavily on its science-fiction elements and introducing a lot of new and colorful characters and places, which felt like a breath of fresh air after the confined atmosphere of the first book.

I really appreciated the fact that the main character’s powers, if you can call them powers, weren’t described as fantasy magical abilities, and more like something resembling the X gene in X-men – a mutation granting her the ability to do things others couldn’t, that put her in danger as much as helped her and her people. I loved learning more about what she could do, and how it was linked to her people’s past and their larger role in the universe.

The different species of aliens introduced in this new installment of the skyward series were super interesting to read about, and I loved the surprising turn into politics that this book went to. The much greater world-building helps a lot with the new themes the author tried to reach, and helped raise the stakes for the dramatic ending.

What I didn’t like

That being said, one of the thinks I liked from the previous book was the fact that the ending, while being an open ending preparing the characters for book 2, still felt like the characters arcs had been satisfyingly completed and the story arcs wrapped up.

This one ends on a cliffhanger, and to be honest… I’m not a big fan of those. I know a lot of authors love using them, and it keeps the readers engaged and wanting to read more, but it just gives me such an unsatisfied feeling that I can’t help but be a little disappointed every time a book ends on one.

Conclusion

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I really enjoyed reading this, and I’d rate this book 4.5 stars – it was a fun sci-fi sequel that I’d recommend to anyone who likes YA and Science-Fiction. I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re looking for romance, though, as there is little to none of it in the whole 450 pages. Definitely a fun read !

The loneliest girl in the universe, by Lauren James

I picked this based on the sci-fi tag, and oh boy. It was scary. I’m easily frightened, and I know it, so I don’t usually read thrillers, watch horror, or anything like that – so I was legitimately scared when I read this book.

This is going to be a very short review, because I think this is a book that you need to read without having been spoiled any of the plot twists or surprises in the story, but I’ll do my best to tell you a little about it nonetheless.

Synopsis

Romy Silvers is the only surviving crew-member of a spaceship travelling to a new planet, on a mission to establish a second home for humanity amongst the stars. Alone in space, she is the loneliest girl in the universe until she hears about a new ship which has launched from Earth – with a single passenger on board. A boy called J.

Their only communication with each other is via email – and due to the distance between them, their messages take months to transmit across space. And yet Romy finds herself falling in love. But what does Romy really know about J? And what do the mysterious messages which have started arriving from Earth really mean?

Sometimes, there’s something worse than being alone . . . 

What I liked

The suspense ! The mystery ! Space ! Sending messages between two ships and actually respecting the time delays ! I adore science-fiction, and I’m pretty suspicious when books don’t seem to take into account the time it would take to send a message to a ship lightyears away from yours. 

With the first part of the book being mostly told through messages from Romy to J, the exposition scenes and the science are explained well, and you’re thrust into the story right from the beginning. The tone changes completely after 200 or so pages, and switches from cute space romance to scary space thriller – which I liked, but I see why some people wouldn’t, if they expected this to be a full romance book all along.

The main character was a realistic young adult, and her behavior was coherent with that of someone who had been isolated for a very long time – it made the rest of the story much more believable, and, after the 200 pages mark, added to the scary elements of the book.

What I didn’t like

The main character, to pass the time, reads and writes fanfiction of her favorite show, and sends them back down to earth to her NASA handler. As an avid fanfiction reader, the fanfiction parts of the book felt a bit strange, but I’m not exactly sure why.

Conclusion

If you’re looking for a short, fun and scary novel about a girl in space to fill your quarantine time, this is the book for you. It’s well-written, and you’ll have a good time reading it.

Skyward, by Brandon Sanderson

I’m back with a book review !

It’s been a long time since I’ve actually done one of those, so I might be a little rusty, but I had fun reading this book ! This is a YA science-fiction novel by Brandon Sanderson, who apparently is a very prolific and famous American author and I won’t lie, I feel pretty dumb having no idea who he was before picking up this book.

Synopsis

Defeated, crushed, and driven almost to extinction, the remnants of the human race are trapped on a planet that is constantly attacked by mysterious alien starfighters. Spensa, a teenage girl living among them, longs to be a pilot. When she discovers the wreckage of an ancient ship, she realizes this dream might be possible—assuming she can repair the ship, navigate flight school, and (perhaps most importantly) persuade the strange machine to help her. Because this ship, uniquely, appears to have a soul.

What I liked 

I’m a sci-fi fan, so when I saw this book’s cover and description, I knew I had to try it. I quite enjoyed my time reading it, and got attached to the side characters really quickly – which made it even more heartbreaking every time something bad happened to one of them. But hey. That’s life.

Other good things about this book would be : it’s part of a series, but it doesn’t feel too unsatisfying and unfinished in the end. Story arcs are resolved, and wrapped up quite nicely, and you end up genuinely looking forward to the next one instead of being frustrated and left with no answers at all.

This novel also shows that you can write sci-fi without an extensive knowledge of space jargon, and without drowning your readers in spaceship parts and hyperdrive functions. The sassy AI robot and the snarky characters are a nice bonus, and I did like the added teenage angst in the flight school portions of the story.

What I didn’t like

A common critic about this book is that the main character is an asshole. And… yeah, she is. Maybe dialing that down a little bit would have helped more readers connect with her, instead of DNFing the whole novel because they couldn’t stand the MC. 

I had some suspension of disbelief problems too – at the beginning of the stories, the flight school recruits are called on to pilot ships in a fighting situation, when they haven’t had classes for more than a week. I’ll be honest, I expected it to be a kind of training exercise – they make them believe there’s an emergency, board the ships, and observe how the new recruits react under pressure – but, to my disappointment, it wasn’t an exercise. And even in a dire situation, I just couldn’t believe that instructors would risk recruits and ships without giving them the adequate training beforehand. 

Conclusion

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I’m rating this book 3.5 stars – not because it’s bad, but because it could have been much better than it ended up being. However, I’m still very much looking forward to reading the second installment of this series, when my library hold comes through.

Have you read this book ? Did you read other works by the same author, and if so, is there one in particular I should pick up ?

The Deep, by Rivers Solomon

This is going to be a short review, for a short book – but an excellent one ! 

The Deep is a novella (less than 200 pages) written by Rivers Solomon, and published in 2019. It’s shelved in adult science-fiction and fantasy on Goodreads, but I didn’t know anything about the plot when I borrowed it from the library : I just saw the cover, thought it looked nice, and decided to give it a chance. This was completely different from anything else I’ve read this year so far, and I definitely don’t regret it.

Synopsis 

Yetu holds the memories for her people—water-dwelling descendants of pregnant African slave women thrown overboard by slave owners—who live idyllic lives in the deep. Their past, too traumatic to be remembered regularly, is forgotten by everyone, save one—the historian. This demanding role has been bestowed on Yetu.

Yetu remembers for everyone, and the memories, painful and wonderful, traumatic and terrible and miraculous, are destroying her. And so, she flees to the surface, escaping the memories, the expectations, and the responsibilities—and discovers a world her people left behind long ago.

And now for the review part :

I can’t use my usual review template for this one, because I usually split them in two parts : the points I liked, the ones I didn’t, and why – but for this book, well… I don’t have anything to put in the “disliked” category. And I really tried.

This novella is very slow-paced, and character-driven – in terms of actual story, over the nearly 200 pages of the book, there isn’t a lot of action. But that’s not a bad thing at all : it allows for more room and character development. And there’s a lot of it. 

I felt a lot for the main character, Yetu, whose development throughout the story is spectacular. A critique that’s been made is that her personality feels a bit empty in the beginning, which has been a reason to DNF the novella for some readers, but I personally think that critique is unfounded : when we see Yetu finally free of the burden of her duty to her people, she just doesn’t know who she is anymore

She’s been the historian for a long time, and it has stripped her of her identity, her own memories and experiences, and replaced it with the collective memories of her people. It makes sense, then, that she would feel “empty” – she has to work to build herself back from the beginning, and to figure out who she is and who she wants to be, apart from what she’s been told she should be all those years. It’s a slow rebuilding of her identity, step by step. 

Yetu’s escape and her subsequent journey is extremely touching, and is put into perspective with the story of her people’s origins. The authors use this opportunity to ask the difficult questions : Who are we without the knowledge of our history ? What place should memories have in our lives, in our identity as individuals and as a group ?

The writing itself is beautiful, and makes the sea floor ambience feel cold and heavy, and as terribly vast and beautiful as it actually is. The development of the lore and world-building is excellent, and blends well within the story.

When I finished this book and thought about what to develop in a review, I checked what others were saying on Goodreads and… someone pegged this book as “thinly veiled gender fluidity propaganda”. Which : 1) isn’t true (although there is intersex representation, in the fact that all members of Yetu’s species are described as intersex), and 2) wouldn’t be terribly bad if it was.

In conclusion

I greatly enjoyed this novella. If you’re in the mood for a thought-provoking, slow-paced, character-driven novella about lesbian mermaids (yes!), this is the book for you.

If you have good recommendations for books with a lesbian love interest and good character development, feel free to link them below ! I’d love to read a couple of novels with good LGBT+ representation in them.

Aurora Rising, by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

I wasn’t 100% sure what I was doing when I picked up this book – I’d heard both good and bad reviews of it but didn’t want to go into the details so I could make my own opinion. So when my library hold came through last week, I hesitated a bit before finally picking it up on Friday on my way to university. 

Surprisingly – or not ? – the book ended up being a 4 stars for me ! I enjoyed reading it a lot, and even though some parts of the narrative really bugged me, they weren’t bad enough to make me DNF it on the spot. 

Synopsis

The year is 2380, and the graduating cadets of Aurora Academy are being assigned their first missions. Star pupil Tyler Jones is ready to recruit the squad of his dreams, but his own boneheaded heroism sees him stuck with the dregs nobody else in the Academy would touch…

A cocky diplomat with a black belt in sarcasm

A sociopath scientist with a fondness for shooting her bunkmates

A smart-ass techwiz with the galaxy’s biggest chip on his shoulder

An alien warrior with anger management issues

A tomboy pilot who’s totally not into him, in case you were wondering

And Ty’s squad isn’t even his biggest problem—that’d be Aurora Jie-Lin O’Malley, the girl he’s just rescued from interdimensional space. Trapped in cryo-sleep for two centuries, Auri is a girl out of time and out of her depth. But she could be the catalyst that starts a war millions of years in the making, and Tyler’s squad of losers, discipline-cases and misfits might just be the last hope for the entire galaxy.

What I liked

This book is entertaining, pretty fast paced, and it has space elves. Space. Elves. Do I really need to say more ?

Alright, so you also have space stations, space monsters, super cool spaceships, and even a space masquerade ball on a space station, covering up a space heist. Seriously. This book has everything I could ever ask for. I really liked the different alien species and their specific traits, although I would have liked a better display of the diversity of species that are mentioned in the beginning. 

Another point I really appreciated is the subversion of popular tropes. For those of you who haven’t read the book yet, I won’t go into too much detail, but if you did, or aren’t afraid of spoilers, the next paragraph is for you – it’s written in white, so it should show up when you select the text to see it ! Otherwise, you can just skip to the next one, which should be spoiler-free.

I thought the way the “member of the team betrays the others to the bad guys for a price” trope was used was brilliant ! I 100% believed in the treason up until the moment of the big reveal, and I loved the way the internal POVs were used to deceive you until the very end ! Those points of view are difficult to use well when you want to hide plot points from your readers, and I thought this one was brilliantly executed.

The reveal of the identity of the bad guys at the end was exactly the right amount of drama for me, and I liked the way the stakes kept getting higher and picked up the pace in the second half of the story. I got attached pretty quickly to the characters, and loved getting insight on their lives before the initiating event – and the LOTR references were a nice bonus !

What I didn’t like

There is, at some point in the book, mention of a “mating bond”. Now, I’m not fully against the idea in itself, but I thought the way in which the characters talked about it wasn’t really appropriate for the situation, and that there was an uncomfortable imbalance in the relationship that made the bond situation a bit… icky.

A second point that many other reviewers mentioned is that some of the character’s voices sounded a bit too close to each other, at times. I had to go back to the beginning of a couple of chapters to see whose point of view I was supposed to be reading. 

But the main thing that stuck out, for me, is the “sociopath” thing. You know which one. 

In the synopsis for this novel, the authors describe Zila, a young scientist and member of the team, as “A sociopath scientist with a fondness for shooting her bunkmates”. I disagree with the use of that term, and find it highly inappropriate in this situation

The sociopath etiquette is used as an excuse for the underdevelopment of the character and her use as a comic relief of sorts; even though the very few lines of her POV allude to extensive childhood trauma and complex emotions, both of which are mentioned but never discussed further in the book. As far as sociopaths go, she doesn’t exhibit much of their alleged traits, and it seems like the authors thought it’d just be a fun quirk to add to their character for a little bit more edginess. And frankly, it didn’t work at all for me.

Conclusion

I greatly enjoyed this book, and I would give it 5 stars if it weren’t for the few aforementioned flaws. As it is, I’m giving it a solid 4 stars and I’m hoping the next instalment in this series will fix some of those problems – maybe by giving us more character development for Zila, for example, or by making a little more sense of that mating bond bit ?

Did you get a copy of this book ? What did you think of it ? What’s your opinion on the mating bond trope in sci-fi novels ?