We’re Not From Here

by Geoff Rodkey
First sentence: “The first time I heard anything about Planet Choom, we’d been on Mars for almost a year.”
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Review copy provided by the author.
Release date: March 5, 2019
Content: There are some possibly scary situations, but Rodkey knows his audience, and the book is neither too long or too complex. It will be in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Lan and his family are part of the last of the human race, the part that escaped to Mars when the Earth dissolved into a nuclear holocaust that made the planet uninhabitable. They’re also the part of the human race that decided to take a chance on the offer of asylum from the Planet Choom — a planet full of insect-like creatures, as well as small wolf-like creatures and marshmallow-like creatures — and take up residence there.

However, when they get out of biostasis and arrive at Choom, they’ve discovered that the government is now against the humans settling there and they want them all to just leave. Except the humans don’t have anywhere to go. So the Choom government — which is run by the insect-like creatures — allows Lan’s family to come down on a trial basis. Which means they’re the sole representatives for the human race and whatever they do the entire race will be judged on it.

If you haven’t gotten the allegory that Rodkey is telling here, let me spell it out (mostly because I knew it going in, and it was quite obvious to me): he’s exploring — in a way that is accessible to kids — the idea of immigration and the idea of being the “other”. And since he can’t write an #ownvoices book, he’s doing it the only way he can: through science fiction. As far as an allegory goes, it’s excellent: it allows the reader to feel how it is to be “alien”, even if they (I’m white and while I’ve felt like an outsider, I’ve never really felt “alien”) are not. But, on top of that, it’s fun to read, it’s got great characters (#TeamMarf all the way! She’s brilliant!) and it’s got a good heart at the center of it. It’s quite probably Rodkey’s best work so far.

And it’s definitely one worth reading!

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The Boneless Mercies

by April Genevieve Tucholke
First sentence: “They say dying makes you thirsty, so we always gave our marks one last drink.”
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Content: There is a lot of death and some drinking. It’s in the Teen sectiong (grades 9+) but it’d be appropriate for younger kids as well.

Frey and her companions — Ovie, Runa, Juniper — are Boneless Mercies: women who roam the country performing mercy killings for payment, such as it is. They’re shunned by society, even while they’re treated with respect. But the girls — and they are all girls, ranging from 15 to 19(ish) — are tired of the death trade. Frey, especially, longs for something More out of life. So, when they here of a monster — a giant — who is terrorizing the Blue Vee area of Vorseland, they head out to perform that impossible task.

There’s more to it, of course. And it’s very much an Epic Tale in the tradition of the Odyssey, or (more accurately) one of the Norse myths. In fact, it’s deliberately Norse (without being explicitly so): the Boneless Mercies worship the goddess Valkree, and others follow Obin. It’s Vorse and Finnmark and Dennish. Warriors die and go to Holholla, and they believe in Hel. This bugged me, at first, because why be Norse without really being Norse? But, eventually, I settled in and it didn’t bother me as much.

It’s a very feminist book, without hitting the reader over her head: it’s female-centric (there are about five male characters in the whole book), it’s a world where while females don’t have power (there are references to the way women and girls are kept down), they search out the power they do have and wield it to the full extent, while working for change. But, mostly, it’s beautifully written. Tucholke has a gift for words in the same way Laini Taylor and Maggie Stiefvater do: she keeps the story going, while painting beautiful word pictures.

It’s a lovely epic story, and one I’m very glad I read.

Pitch Dark

by Courtney Alameda
First sentence: “The wake up shock hits like a sledgehammer to the chest.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher for the Cybils.
Content: There is a lot of violence and gore, and some mild swearing. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

I’m going to be up-front with this: I really liked this book. A lot. But I have NO idea how to describe it succinctly. See, it’s kind of Ready Player One meets Indiana Jones meets Battlestar Galactica plus Aliens with a tad bit of Firefly thrown in. It really doesn’t quite know what it wants to be — a space adventure? A horror story? An archaeological adventure? Stopping a terrorist plot? Yes, to all of those — but HEY, it’s an incredible amount of fun while it’s trying to figure it out.

Let’s try with the plot. In the late 21st century, Earth sent people out into space in stasis, with samples of earth, in the hopes that they’d find another habitable planet and be able to terraform it into something livable. They were sent off, and never heard from again.

Fast forward 400 (!) years, and one ship, the USS John Muir, has just woken up out of stasis, and realized that Things Didn’t Go Quite To Plan. Like, most of the crew is dead, and while there were some survivors, many have turned into mutant beings who terrorize the rest of the survivors. Thankfully, Tuck, the son of one of the premier scientists, was a survivor, and has Things Figured Out.

Enter the ship Conquistador, captained by the Cruz family, who are archaeologists in search of the lost ships from the Exodus. Their daughter, Laura (lao-ra, please, not law-ra) is passionate about history and is excited to see what there is when they discover the Muir. But then a hacker gets into the ship’s systems (and frames Laura) and crashes the Conquistador into the Muir. And suddenly everyone is fighting for their lives.

So, yeah. Hot mess of a plot — things just kept happening and happening and happening and while it kind of made a weird sort of sense but not really — but it was all just so much dang fun that I couldn’t put it down. So, I liked it, in spite of the fact that I can’t figure out a really simple way to make it sound appealing aside from it’s just a fun read!

The November Girl

by Lydia Kang
First sentence: “There’s a foolproof method to running away.”
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Content: There is some swearing, including multiple f-bombs. It’s in the teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Every November on Lake Superior, the weather is unpredictable and ships go down. It’s been that way forever. They call it the November witch. And little do they know that they’re right: her name is Anda, and she’s the half-mortal, half-nature witch who feeds on death and destruction, living with her father on Isle Royale most of the year, and feeding on shipwrecks in November to satiate her appetite.

Hector is a half-Korean, half-Black kid who’s on the run from his abusive uncle. His plan: hide out on Isle Royale until he turns 18 in May, and can be a legal adult, and get out the grips of his uncle. Except, things don’t quite go according to plan. First reason? He can see Anda (no one else can). And second reason? They get involved.

I feel like, as a Michigander, I should have liked this one more. It was super atmospheric, and Kang’s love for the Lake (though not the one I’m most familiar with; I know Erie better) shines through. But, honestly? I just found I couldn’t care for the characters. I didn’t buy Hector and Anda’s romance (and I got tired of it, especially since she played the manic pixie dream girl role to Hector’s cutter outsider persona) and I thought the ending was a bit on the tidy side.

Maybe it’s just a wrong person, wrong time, wrong book problem.

Beasts Made of Night

by Tochi Onyebuchi
First sentence: “I make sure to sit where they can’t see me.”
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Content: There are a couple of mild swear words, some violence, and a bit of kissing. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

The world that Onyebuchi created is fantastic: purity means everything to the people of this city, and so to remain pure from sin and wrongdoing, the rich and powerful hire Magi to call the sin from them, in the form of shadow beasts. Then sin-eaters, called aki, destroy the beasts, and swallow the sin, which appears in the form of a tattoo on their bodies. The aki are considered the lowest of the low, because their impurity is visible on their bodies, and so they are shunned and cheated and die early.

But, unfortunately, that’s as far as the book got. There isn’t much of a plot — first our main character, Taj, is in the slums, and then he’s in the palace, and then he’s sent to train new aki — and it never really seemed to go anywhere. There’s a rebellion and a resistance and who is really the “bad guy” (was it the head Magi? Or the royals?) and the princess Taj was kissing HAD to be at least old enough to be his mother, which just creeped me out.

So, while I adored the world that Onyebuchi created, the book just didn’t do it for me.

The Wicked King

wickedkingby Holly Black
First sentence: “Jude lifted the heavy practice sword, moving into the first stance — readiness.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: January 8, 2018
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Others in the series: The Cruel Prince
Content: There’s a lot of violence and some almost sex. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Spoilers for The Cruel Prince, obviously.

Five months after Jude engineered the plan to put Cardan on the throne of Faerie, she’s discovering that, in the words of Hamilton (the musical), while winning is easy, governing is harder. She constantly has to be on her toes, and she’s always second guessing herself and everyone else. Cardan is still a mostly unwilling participant, but he doesn’t put up too many roadblocks, and lets Jude tell him what to do. But things start unraveling as Taryn’s (that’s Jude’s sister) wedding approaches. Balekin, Cardan’s oldest brother, has been making alliances with the kingdom of the sea to overthrow Cardan (or at least to gain more power). Then Jude is attacked and kidnapped, and things unravel more.

I went into this thinking it was a duology, so I’m telling you up front: it’s not. Things just get more complicated in this book (deliciously so), and so, yes, there will be at least one more to wrap this up. But, it also has everything I loved about The Cruel Prince: a fierce, smart, but vulnerable heroine, some high stakes, and a push and pull relationship that is just thrilling to read. Black’s a magnificent writer, pulling you into her very dangerous faerie world (and I did catch the shout out to The Darkest Part of the Forest, too!) and making you never want to leave.

I can’t wait to see what’s next for Jude.

This Mortal Coil

by Emily Suvada
First sentence: “It’s sunset, and the sky is aflame, not with clouds or dust, but with the iridescent feathers of a million genhacked passenger pigeons.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There are a few mild swear words, and an almost-sex scene, and a lot of violence. It’s in the teen section (grades 9+) 

It’s the future, in which people have figured out how to write code that can write over your DNA, where everyone is literally plugged in, though panels on their arms, and VR nets in their skulls. The company Cartaxus basically rules the world, releasing apps and code updates solely though their company, controlling basically everything. 

And then the Hydra virus appears. This virus has three stages: you become infected, you get a fever,  the virus wraps itself around your cells, and then you explode. If you’re near an explosion, you get infected too. And if you’re near someone in the second it triggers something inside you that makes you go crazy and want to kill. The only way to become immune is to eat the flesh of someone in the second stage of the virus. Sure, Cartaxus created bunkers to keep everyone safe, but in doing so, they take away your freedom. 

Or so Catarina, our main character, has always thought. At the beginning of the outbreak, her father Lachlan, a genius coder, was taken by Cartaxus (at gunpoint) and Cat has been left to survive the virus wasteland on her own. And then one day, a soldier from Cartaxus shows up with the news that 1) there’s a vaccine for this virus and 2) Cat’s father has died creating it, and it’s up to her to figure out how to get it to everyone. 

It’s a lot more complex than this, but that’s the basic gist. And man, it is a fun, interesting, work of science fiction. I liked that it was intelligence — Cat’s ability to create and read code, as well as the whole theory of gene manipulation — not necessarily brawn that drove the plot (though there was a lot of shooting, running, stabbing, and blowing things up). There was a bit of a romance (which was kind of predictable) and the twist at the end wasn’t entirely satisfying for me. But mostly, I thought it was smart and fun.