Am I Not Merciful? (Illuminae Review)

Illuminae (The Illuminae Files #1) by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Young Adult Science Fiction

Find on Goodreads

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Baa baa black sheep… OK, don’t get me wrong, I didn’t dislike this book. But wow, I don’t really understand the hype. I mean, yes, it’s a very unique book which gives it novelty and yes, there are some crazy plot twists I did not see coming. However, these two things do not a story make. So let me dissect this a bit…

The Characters

The number one thing that will make or break a story for me is the characters. So the characters in Illuminae were… OK? The main characters are Kady Grant and Ezra Mason, and you get a semi-decent feel for them. This book is told through documents, IM chats, interview transcripts, etc., so you definitely get a very good feel for how they talk, and thanks to Kady’s diary entries, a little of how they feel. However, I just never connected with them at all. I only kinda/sorta liked Kady and I barely tolerated Ezra. He could be kind of sweet but he was also kind of crude, especially when talking to McNulty (who I didn’t like AT ALL). And speaking of secondary characters like McNulty, I cared 0% about any of them.

*MILD spoilers in this paragraph* The most interesting character in this whole book is the AI, AIDEN, because he’s complex and we get a lot of his perspective in the latter part of the book. But as one who’s seen a few too many Star Trek episodes where Captain Kirk literally talked a computer to death, I wasn’t sure about him. First off, no, he does not get talked to death (I really thought Kady was going to do this), but he was definitely extremely affected by humans. Way more than made sense to me. Now, I have seen a lot of other Star Trek episodes where I liked this sort of thing, particularly if we’re looking at Data in The Next Generation, but I didn’t feel this really worked. Especially when I started to get the vibe that AIDEN might be kind of into Kady romantically even though he claims he can’t feel that way? Eh. (In fact, it feels like all the guys who know Kady seem to freaking love her for reasons unknown to me.)

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The Pacing

Another big thing for me is pacing, and the pacing in this book was very strange for me. It started off pretty good, the novelty of the story format kept me hooked plus we pick up right after a big event happens. Then after a little while I got bored as there is just a lot of talking about things but nothing actually happening, and I was a little confused about everything transpiring anyway, but wasn’t interested enough to go back and figure things out. Then about the halfway mark things got crazy and intense and good, so I was again into it. But then it kind of slacked off a little again, which theoretically is fine because breaks are nice, but I got bored of Kady and AIDEN and all that. Then the very end was pretty good but not super strong. There are enough reveals and action elements to keep the story flowing, but at the end I definitely didn’t understand why we needed 599 pages for this story.

The Format/The Voice

So overall I appreciated the formatting of the book, and it was particularly effective when we had the pages that showed outer space and the text was sparse and it felt very appropriate. However, there were a lot of transcripts and things of that nature included and all of them had the same exact voice. They were all sarcastic, unprofessional, etc. and did not make sense to me in the context of what they were supposed to be. It made a little more sense in the end (I’ll elaborate more on that when I get to spoilers) but it really threw me out of the book multiple times. You would think with two authors it would be easier for everything and everyone in the book not sound so much the same.

There were some other added elements that were interesting, like an ad for a TV show, a PSA, etc. that added context to the world that I appreciated, and weren’t as tainted by the overall voice thankfully.

The Ending (This Portion Contains *Spoilers*)

So in the end, if I understood correctly, Kady collected these documents and sent them to Leanne, so presumably a lot of the commentary was her own, which would explain the voice issue I had. At least, sort of, because I feel some of those documents should not have been tainted by her own tone. And Kady is starting *something* to fight against Leanne, the true big bad, who is behind *something* that is… uh… bad. Probably the initial attacks and stuff. This was all very fuzzy for me. I don’t understand why anything in the story happened, happened. Why were there attacks? Why was there a mutating plague? (And why do all sci-fi plagues result in people acting like zombies?) Are there going to be repressions of that in the future (other than, obviously, the detrimental death toll)? Why was the Lincoln chasing after the other ships? Why is everything that is happening such a freaking big deal other than, once again, the obvious death tolls? (And unrelated but another question I had of this book: What’s happening on Earth?)

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Basically, I felt like this was all one giant set-up for something bigger coming down the road, but after this book I can’t help but wonder if it will actually result in a satisfactory pay-off. I had issues with some of the plotting and the ending of These Broken Stars as well, another book co-authored by Amie Kaufman. I like some of the sci-fi ideas she presents, but they end up playing out in ways that feel kind of hollow to me. For me, I want my sci-fi to explore the nature of humanity and confront big questions, but this is more weird conspiracies from big corporations who plot terrible, universal destruction, and I don’t feel much from the people or don’t feel myself (or the characters) grappling with big, societal issues.

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Final Thoughts

Ultimately, this book is a low 4 star read for me, probably more like 3.75 stars if I was going to get very particular. It had some good elements to it, but it didn’t quite live up to all I wanted it to be. Will I continue the series? Eh, maybe. I’ll probably wait until it’s finished to see if it sounds like the pay-off is truly worth it. As it stands right now, I’m not dying to know what happened next, even if the ending wasn’t completely satisfactory on its own.

Content advisory: Moderate language – strong language is marked out for document censorship but milder language and taking God’s name in vain (g–d—, etc) is not. Some violence, though not extremely graphic. Some sexual discussion that is more implied and innuendo rather than graphic, but could be crude. 

So what are your thoughts on Illuminae? Do you feel I missed the point? 

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Ranking of 2015 Released Movies I Saw

I only saw nine 2015-released movies last year, but I’m sure I’ll pick up a few more along the way. I wanted to rank the ones I saw and share a few sentences about my thoughts on them. The rankings are based on an unscientific mix between the movie’s subjective likability for me personally, and my as-objective-as-possible feelings on the strength of the story.

9. Tomorrowland

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I really wanted to like this one more. First the good: the concept is interesting, and I really loved the main character. I would read a book series that followed her for sure. But the story fell flat and this movie had no clear target audience. Sometimes it felt like a kid’s movie, sometimes it felt a little older, but it certainly never felt consistent. I expected more of Brad Bird with The Incredibles and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol under his belt, but I guess they can’t all be hits. 3 stars

8. The Peanuts Movie

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I am a big fan of The Peanuts, so I wanted to be sure to catch the new movie. My husband and I went and saw it in theater I believe the second weekend, and we were the only people in there who neither a child nor had a child. Not the target audience, I guess. However, it was very cute, and felt very true to the original content while still feeling fresh. It didn’t change my life but I enjoyed it. 3.5 stars

7. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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Even though I think I enjoyed Peanuts more, I decided to rank this one higher because I think in the grand scheme of things this will be more enduring both for me and in general. At least I hope one day I will look back at this and see why everything happened the way it did. The first 2/3 of this movie was great for me, so solid; I was really into. The only thing I felt a little meh about during this part was when Kylo Ren took off his mask because (1) mystery gone and (2) hello you do not look like Han or Leia at all. But in the last third it just fell so flat for me. There are various reasons and I got into some in my post about hype, but let’s hope this is a set-up for something greater, because considering how much time and money was devoted to this movie it could have been more epic. And I love BB-8 forever. 3.5 or 4 stars? Time will tell.

6. Cinderella

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Unlike Star Wars, I probably won’t rewatch this movie until if and when I have a daughter, but I thought it was very well-done, especially for its genre. It’s definitely very fairy-tale; this isn’t some gritty, more realistic version, but I think there needs to be a place for this sort of story, especially for young girls. And Cinderella isn’t helpless; she is courageous and just as beautiful on the inside as she is outside, and ultimately that’s why the prince falls for her. I was very pleased with this adaptation. 4 stars/My review

5. Avengers: The Age of Ultron

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It’s the Avengers back together again, and with that comes quips and action and yeah, I liked it. But it did have its flaws and it’s not my favorite. 4 stars/My review

4. Ant-Man

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Ant-Man was so fun, and it really pleasantly surprised me. It’s not perfect either but I really enjoyed it. 4 stars/My review

3. Inside Out

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Pixar, you’ve finally done it again: making me laugh and cry and feel things and be amazed at your original ideas. 4 stars/My review

2. Mockingjay: Part Two

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I don’t understand the hate that some of the Mockingjay movies have gotten. They are not easy movies to watch, they’re not as exciting as the previous two, but they are SO IMPORTANT. The themes of war and PTSD and all that are so prevalent. I think I like Part One a little better, but I’ll have to rewatch them back to back to know for certain. I just wished the ending of Part Two had played out slightly differently (not changed the story, just been shown differently, if that makes sense). But overall, I thought it was really good. 4.5 stars/My review

1. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

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I rewatched this one recently and even though it didn’t have near the suspense of the first watch, I still loved it so much. I don’t know what it is about these newer MI movies but I am just all about them. They’re interesting action movies with very likable characters. 4.5 stars/My review

What was your favorite movie that was released in 2015? Do you have any recommendations for ones that I missed? 

Top 5 Books I’ve Recently Added To My “Maybe” TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is Top 10 Books I’ve Recently Added To My TBR.

I’ve gotten very picky about my actual TBR list on Goodreads, sticking most reads that sound interesting on a “maybe” shelf, because I know I won’t get around to reading 75% of them. Some stay on the maybe shelf until I read them. But most will stay on the maybe shelf indefinitely. So today I thought I would share a few of these recently added to the maybe shelf that do have some stronger interest from me, and your thoughts on them could push me one way or the other! The list is no particular order.

1. The Geek’s Guide to Unrequited Love

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This doesn’t come out until this summer so it will probably be a while before I see reviews. But geeky romance! I mean, it sounds awesome!

2. Red Rising

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Sometimes a book has to be out for two years and I have to hear people outside the YA community talking about it to be like huh, maybe I should check this out… If I do read it, I’ll probably wait until the last book is out and binge.

3. These Vicious Masks

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Jane Austen meets X-Men?! Yeah, so only bad reviews will keep me away from this, I’m pretty sure.

4. Passenger

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Current NYT best-seller, lots of hype, but mixed reviews, plus the time-travel romance is always something I want to love but doesn’t always work for me. So… we’ll see?

5. My Lady Jane

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Comedic historical fiction + Cynthia Hand as one of the authors = I’m intrigued. This one also has a summer release date.

Have you read any of these? Are any of them on your TBR? 

Mini Review Roundup

It’s been ages since I’ve written a real book review (November to be exact), so I thought I was overdue to share a few thoughts on some of my reads from December and my first read of the new year.

Killer Instinct (The Naturals #2) by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Contemporary/Thriller YA

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I read The Naturals more than a year ago and I was slightly worried about remembering enough about Cassie and company after so much time away (yay book amnesia), but I had no problems getting back into the swing of things! I enjoyed this one even more than the first; I thought the pacing was spot-on and I was engaged the whole time. I hated the love triangle in the first book and I thought I had read in a review that it was even more pronounced in this one, but it actually bothered me less this time. She does choose someone at the end, but since there are at least two more books I’m a little curious if this is her final choice or not. I don’t have a strong preference between the guys but I’d hate for her to go back and forth. Overall though, I really enjoyed this book and look forward to the next one!

4 stars/Content advisory: some violence

My True Love Gave to Me, edited by Stephanie Perkins

Holiday Young Adult – Some Contemporary, Some Magical Realism

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I finally got to read this anthology this past holiday season and it was definitely a mixed bag for me. You can see my Goodreads review where I broke down my thoughts on each individual story, but I did not finish two of the stories, while a couple of others really stood out to me. My favorite overall turned out to be Stephanie Perkins’ story, which felt appropriate since it’s her anthology, and I was excited to find out that in her upcoming summer anthology, Summer Days and Summer Nights, we’ll get follow-up with the same characters!

3 stars overall/Content varies by story

In Between (Katie Parker Productions #1) by Jenny B. Jones

Contemporary Christian YA

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I had gotten the e-book of this one for cheap or free a while ago and let it sit in my Nook for a long time. I had read one previous book by Jenny B. Jones and liked it but didn’t love it. I was also nervous because I feel that most Christian books are either not as well edited or they’re a little on the cheesy side, but I always want to find good Christian literature so I pick up something from the genre every now and then. I wouldn’t really recommend this book to people who are not familiar with church or Christian culture, even though Katie herself is not familiar with many of the terms used by others in the story either, however, I didn’t think it was cheesy at all.

The main character, Katie, has a great voice, and she made me laugh quite a few times! There were several great, quirky characters who felt natural and made the story fun, even with some serious elements thrown in. There was no romance for Katie in this book, which I missed a little but was OK with under the circumstances, but it looks like there will be in future books. There are three more books in the series and I definitely intend to continue!

4 stars

Quidditch Through the Ages (Hogwarts Library) by Kennilworthy Whisp (J.K. Rowling)

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I love quidditch, but learning about it wasn’t quite as fun as I hoped it would be. There were some interesting tidbits though, and it was a fast read.

3 stars

The Archived (The Archived #1) by Victoria Schwab 

Young Adult

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This was my first Schwab book! And it was very different from what I was expecting. I knew this book wasn’t a typical fantasy, but I thought it was going to be more fantasy rather than the contemporary/urban fantasy?/magical realism?/I have no idea what the heck to call this genre it was. That wasn’t bad though, just very unexpected. I had a hard time really grasping the idea of the Archived and Keepers and all that. I mean, it was explained well enough, but I never felt like I really understood why everything existed and why everything was the way it was. Maybe – probably – I was just supposed to accept it as it was, but it didn’t make sense to me.

I liked Mackenzie well enough but she also drove me crazy with how she would never tell anyone anything. The whole thing with Owen was kind of creepy and I did not like it. I did really like Wes though, and he’s pretty much the main reason I want to read the next book.

4 stars/Content advisory: Some language, violence

Have you read any of these books? What are your thoughts?

A Quiet Beginning to a New Year

I haven’t been very inspired to post lately, and I thought I might make myself write some reviews. But then I thought, why don’t I just share what’s on my mind? Isn’t that why I created this blog in the first place?

I like the idea of resolutions, goals, and new beginnings like most other people, but I don’t like the hype of New Year’s and I don’t like making promises I won’t keep. So this year, I kind of just decided to not really make any real resolutions. I thought this was a good idea, and then I read somewhere that not making resolutions or goals because you’re afraid of failing is not a good reason to not make them, and I thought, ouch, OK. But then I still didn’t made any.

I don’t want to make resolutions just for the sake of making them either though. I like having direction but right now the only direction I feel really compelled to go in is to keep doing what I’ve been doing. So last year I hoped would be the year I would start querying agents, and it wasn’t, so now I really hope it’s this year and will continue to work towards that. I don’t have any big goals otherwise. I do anticipate things will change in my life, for example, I know my husband and I will be moving into a new house this year, but it’s not like anything I am resolving to do majorly different. Basically, I am just going to keep going forward until I feel it’s time to make changes. I feel like I am usually aware of what  needs improvement in my life and can usually devote myself to at least taking small steps in the right direction.

I asked for this big calendar for Christmas that is all the months together, so you see the year at a glance and you see it more so by weeks than months. It’s a neat idea and I wanted to write all kinds of things on there, but right now it’s just blank. Part of me is upset by this, but then I realize I don’t want to write things on there just to fill up blank spaces. When I get ready to send my story to beta readers, I will write the day I’ll send, along with a targeted deadline for my next step. I’ll fill it out as I go, taking one goal at a time. I don’t want to say today I will query by May and then life happens and it’s too early or I get some crazy creative mojo and it’s late.

So there has been no pomp and circumstance for me in 2016, but I aspire to be do my best everyday. To each day be realistic with what I need to get done and find out how I can do it. And if I mess up that day, I don’t want to beat myself up; I’ll start fresh again the next day.

One thing I am working on pretty faithfully these days, since it’s clearly not this blog, is my new bookstagram Instagram account. Please check it out and follow me if you haven’t already! I’ve gotten a decent number of likes and comments and such, and try to do the same for other accounts, but I don’t have very many followers.

How’s this new year looking for you? Do you have a lot of big resolutions, or has it been a more quiet beginning? 

My Top 10 Anticipated Films of 2016

I was considering whether or not to create this list since I rarely actually watch all the movies on these lists, but my husband made this just about one of the easiest posts for me to write by providing me with his list. I literally changed one movie, rearranged the order, and presto, my list was born. Plus, I think I actually will watch all these movies unless they are universally panned.

1o. The 5th Wave

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I probably won’t see this in the theater, but I’m hoping it’ll be good enough for a Redbox rental. The thing I’m most excited about with this adapatation is seeing Liev Schreiber because that casting was perfect.

9. Independence Day: Resurgence

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When I heard this was happening I groaned, but then I saw the trailer and thought, wow, this looks legit…

8. X-Men: Apocalypse

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I mean, it’s X-Men, so I’ll watch it.

7. Untitled Next Bourne Chapter

This is another Matt Damon Bourne film as opposed to Jeremy Renner, and that’s about all we know. I love the Jeremy Renner one most, but I’ll still excited about this one.

6. Star Trek Beyond

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I’m really hoping this will be OK since this movie’s gone through about 10 directors.

5. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

I don’t know what this is about except Star Wars, obviously. And not to be confused with Episode VIII. Felicity Jones is also starring and I really liked her in The Theory of Everything.

4. Doctor Strange

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Benedict Cumberbatch + Marvel = winning.

3. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

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Eddie Redmayne + J.K. Rowling = also winning.

2. Finding Dory

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Because how can I resist this?

1. Captain America: Civil War

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Even though I found the first trailer wanting, I know I’m going to eat this up.

What movies are you looking forward to in 2016?