Starsight

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 there were crushing. The rumours of his cowardice are true – he deserted his flight during battle. Worse, he turned against his own team.

Spensa is sure there’s more to the story. And she’s sure that whatever happened to her father could happen to her. She’s heard the stars too – and it was terrifying. It turned her world upside down. Everything Spensa has been taught is a lie.

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

After ploughing through Skyward in a couple of days, I quickly picked up Starsight, the sequel to Brandon Sanderson’s story about space pilots fighting a seemingly endless war against an alien race known as the Krell. Like I mentioned in my Skyward review, aliens aren’t really my thing, but after spending two books with Spensa and her multi-planetary (and species) war, I might be willing to change my stance.

There are a lot of aliens in this book. But I’ll get to that.

I’m not going to lie, diving pretty much straight from Skyward to Starsight was a bit of a disorientating experience. There’s a time jump between the events at the end of book one and where Starsight picks up. It’s been six months – and a pretty significant six months at that. The people of Detritus, Spensa’s home planet, have seen their knowledge advance a lot since the reveals at the end of the first book in the series, and while in a lot of ways this was no bad thing – it certainly pushed the story into some new and surprising territory quickly – I did find myself feeling a little bit robbed. After gradually putting the pieces together throughout the first book to finally understand Spensa, her father and what really went down that fateful day he appeared to abandoned his army in the midst of battle, missing out on much of the development of that understanding meant that the start of Starsight did fall a bit flat for me.

But don’t fear – Brandon pulled it back. It becomes apparent within a couple chapters that he made the choice to skip over six months of Spensa’s life because he had something big in mind.

Those other planets that were hinted at during Skyward are explored during Starsight, and it’s quite a ride. As I’ve mentioned, this book things get fully alien, and we find ourselves up close and personal with the Krell (who it turns out are crab people); diones, who tend to be either blue, red or purple and are non-binary; the kitsen, who are tiny fox people; and figments, which are invisible – plus a very scary murdery force out there in the stars which I won’t go into. It’s really better if you learn about those guys yourself.

Much like in the first book where Sanderson used a story of war as a way of thinking about courage, Starsight is more than anything a novel about compassion. When Spensa first encounters the other alien races that populate Starsight she sees them as just that – alien. Other. Not on her side. What becomes increasingly apparent though is that this war Spensa has spent her entire life consumed by is a lot more complicated than she had ever imagined. She comes into the situation as the persecuted party, but as she experiences more of the war from the other side she starts to realise that her own race isn’t blameless. And not only that, but the alien races she is surrounded by maybe aren’t so alien after all. What it means to be ‘human’ – from M-Bot’s struggles to make decisions independent of its AI’s programming, to the dione who wants to be a soldier even though that really isn’t something diones do – is the overarching theme, and I was 100% here for it.

I’m not going to lie, Starsight is not what I was expecting. Spensa spends the vast majority of the story away from Detritus, and therefore the flight team I fell in love with in book one, and while to start off with I felt pretty resentful about that (I love those guys!), the unexpected places Starsight took me had me sucked in again in no time.

Bring on book three. Soon please.

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before has an unlikely premise. When Lara Jean decides the time has come to put a crush to bed, she writes a letter to the boy in question filled with all of the reasons she loves him, as well as all of the reasons why she isn’t going to anymore. She then places the letters in envelopes, stamps and addresses them before putting them inside a vintage hat box. It’s supposed to be cathartic.

I’m glad that To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, by Jenny Han showed up on several must-read lists, because if it hadn’t, I probably wouldn’t have read it. I would have judged its terrible pretty girl cover and cringe-worthy title and decided that it was not for me.

to all the boys i've loved before

But it kept showing up.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before has an unlikely premise. When Lara Jean decides the time has come to put a crush to bed, she writes a letter to the boy in question filled with all of the reasons she loves him, as well as all of the reasons why she isn’t going to anymore. She then places the letters in envelopes, stamps and addresses them before putting them inside a vintage hat box. It’s supposed to be cathartic.

One day the letters get sent out (gasp). Two in particular are of major consequence. One goes to Josh, the very recent ex-boyfriend of her sister, Margot. The other goes to notorious school dude-bro, Peter Kavinsky. Kavinsky was Lara Jean’s first kiss, and a recent dumpee of school bully, Genevieve. So that she can get out of the Josh awkwardness and he can appear unbothered by Genevieve’s dumping, Lara Jean and Peter strike up a fake relationship.

What I liked most of this book was how Jenny Han used it to study the way that Romance, the pervasive cultural beast, affects our actual relationships. From such a young age we see the build-up and break down of relationships played out over and over again in film, television and books. The bombardment of constant sexual tension means that we’re experiencing the ideas and sensations of falling in love over and over without actually… experiencing it. Jenny Han uses Lara Jean’s budding relationships to explore her fear of dealing with an actual real life boy outside of the constraints of a perfect movie script. A boy who might be influenced by shitty friends or have complex relationships with other women. A boy who doesn’t show up with perfect timing.

Lara Jean is forced to recognise that what the boys she professes to love have in common is unavailability. She realises that perhaps that isn’t so much bad luck as a defence mechanism. Over the course of the story Lara Jean learns that falling in love can’t just be hopeless admiration from afar, that instead it’s opening up to an actual, real, complicated, unpredictable human.

I read this book on a train. This is why I hated the cover quite so much, because I felt like the suits surrounding me were rolling their eyes behind their iphones and designer glasses. I thought this because even though they were in front of me I was making them into imaginary people.

I considered whether there was actually something to be learned from this book.

I think there is. And it doesn’t have to be romance specific. I think that embracing (note: not literally – people don’t like that) real life people rather than withdrawing into imaginary scenarios is something all us book people could probably do more of.

I got talking with one of the people behind the iphones. He was a true crime documentary writer from New York. He told me about how he has to acquaint himself with every minute detail of a case before he can start writing. His team sometimes have the manipulate murder victim’s families to talk to them for the documentaries that are 90% true but adapted for entertainment purposes. It sounded both great and awful. Whichever it is, I was glad that I had got to hear about it.

Really great fiction helps you reflect on your every day. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is definitely worth a read.

Three Series to Binge Read

Today, I want to talk about some of the series that made me feel like that. I’m talking about those series I have read and reread and yet still cause me to hold my breath with each turn of the page even now. I’m talking about the series with staying power.

The series is at the centre of obsessive book behaviour. We’ve all had that throw the book across the room moment because we have to wait an ENTIRE FREAKING YEAR for the next one.

Today, I want to talk about some of the series that made me feel like that. I’m talking about those series I have read and reread and yet still cause me to hold my breath with each turn of the page even now. I’m talking about the series with staying power.

The best thing about this list is that these series are finished already. There is no throw the book across the room moment, there is only buying the next one!

The Missing series – Meg Cabot

MISSING

Jess Mastriani has a temper. She spends a lot of her life in detention for beating up the football team. Other than that she’s pretty normal. She’s crushing on the boy who sits behind her in detention. She worries about her family. She can’t wait to get the hell out of high school.

One day Jess gets hit by lightning. She survives. But when she recovers, she finds that she somehow knows the whereabouts of people reported missing. It isn’t long before the FBI are onto her to work with them.

Obviously Meg Cabot is like a YA deity. I always felt that these books were a departure for her. They’re darker. Jess’ home life isn’t easy. Her brother Douglas has recently come home from university after he developed schizophrenia and attempted suicide. It’s a tense time. And that’s without even addressing the core subject of the series which is, of course, that Jess can find missing people. Sometimes she finds missing dead people. Sometimes she finds people she probably shouldn’t have. Her talent means that control of her life is removed from her by the FBI, who need her.

Missing is a really great series from a wonderful writer. I read through it in a couple months.

Gemma Doyle trilogy – Libba Bray

a great and terrible beauty

Gemma Doyle is sent from India to Spence Academy in England after the death of her mother. As far as the world is concerned she died of Cholera, but Gemma knows different. Gemma witnessed her mother kill herself in a vision. She killed herself so as not to be consumed by a beastly creature Gemma cannot explain.

These books are set in 1895 and in addition to the magical and creepy elements, explore the realities of being female in that time. We witness the restrictions suffered by all the girls: Gemma’s frustration at her lack of freedom, Pippa’s need to hide her epilepsy, as it would make her unmarriageable, Anna’s inheritance-less future, Felicity’s bleak present of abandonment and abuse.

Much of the series is set in an alternative realm, and it isn’t difficult to see why it is the girls want to escape this world all together, despite the danger that comes with that. You’ll read through these fast.

Darkest Powers series – Kelley Armstrong

the summoning

This is a go-to series for me whenever I’m feeling down. Kelley Armstrong’s world envelopes, atmospheric in equal parts frightening and intriguing.

One day Chloe wakes up seeing ghosts. She’s attacked by a dead custodian at school. The doctors say it’s schizophrenia, but she’s not so sure. Incarcerated at Lyle House with other ‘troubled teens’, Chloe begins to discover the grim truth after another inmate, Liz, who had always claimed to possess uncontrollable telekinetic powers, is transferred only to return as… a ghost. Who killed her? Why? Is Chloe next?

I love everything about these books. I think it’s very empowering to read about young people taking back control over their lives from an overarching evil. What I like most about the series is how amateur the whole operation is. In the end, they are simply a group of kids on the run from an organisation that holds all the cards, and throughout there is no escaping that fact. Over and over, Chloe and co are forced to confront the fact that most of the adults, those in whom they have always placed their trust have been lying to them.

Honestly, the only criticism I have of these books is that there were only three of them. I definitely wasn’t done with Chloe yet.

IMPORTANT NOTE: All of these books contain men so hot it’s actually ridiculous.