Forging Silver Into Stars

by Brigid Kemmerer
First sentence: “This was supposed to be a peaceful protest.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series (sort-of; it’s a spinoff, but reading these helps):  A Curse So Dark and LonelyA Heart So Fierce and Broken, A Vow So Bold and Deadly
Content: There is some violence and off-screen sex. It’s in the Teen section grades 9+) of the bookstore.

So you know: this book picks up four years after the events in “A Vow So Bold and Deadly”. There will probably be spoilers for the first series.

Friends Jax and Callyn live in a small village, a few hours outside of the main city in Syhl Shallow. They’re just a blacksmith and a baker and are a bit wary of the idea of magic being in their country in the form of the king. so, when an opportunity to earn some silver ones their way, they jump at the chance. Little did they know they were getting into an organized insurrection, one that was determined to overthrow the king. There’s more to the story, one that involves Tycho, who is a friend of the king and a courier between Syhl Shallow and the neighboring country of Emberfall. There’s also some romance, betrayal, and a lot of riding horseback through the country.

I didn’t dislike this book, but I didn’t absolutely love it either. Kemmerer has a good storyteller, but maybe I wasn’t in the mood for this. Even so, i might be interested enough to finish the story when th enext book comes out.

The Honeys

by Ryan La Sala
First sentence: “My sister wakes me with a whisper.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: May 3, 2022
Content: There is swearing, including multiple f-bombs, and descriptions of sexual assault and rape. It will be in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore.

Mars is a twin, the undesirable twin, the one who lives in the shadow of Caroline, the Chosen One. He/they is gender fluid, doesn’t quite fit the norms of the rich, societied life his parents set out for him. Especially when it comes ot the summer camp, Aspen. Mars had a falling out years ago at the camp, when he pushed back against the gender norms and roles at the camp and hasn’t been back since. So when his sister unexpectedly shows up in the middle of the night, crazy and delious, attempting to kill Mars and then dying herself, he knows something is up. And that something has to tdo with the Honeys.

The Honeys, as he finds out when he goes back to Aspen, are a clique of girls, set apart, yet welcoming to him. At first, seems heavenly, to be accepted and understood by people who also knew and loved Caroline. But the farther he gets in, the more sinister it becomes.

I really had no idea what to expect when starting this. There’s a lot about bees and the way the hive works (most of which I knew from reading The Bees). But it’s also about societal expectations and the ways in which conforming to those hurts individuals. I have a theory that the hive/honey is Capitalism, but it could also be greed and power, both of which teen girls, even white ones from weathly families, have little of. It’s a fascinating study of groupthink and the power of suggestion, and how sometimes good things go bad.

I don’t know if it’s a book for everyone, but it’s a good book, one that will lead to fascinating discussions. I will be thinking about it for a while.

The Ogress and the Orphans

by Kelly Barnhill
First sentence: “Listen.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: It is long, and kind of old-timey sounding. It’s probably not for every kid. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the booktore.

Things are amis in the town Stone-in-the-Glen. The neighbors, who used to be neighborly, are now suspicious of each other, and who didn’t really interact as a community. The orphans at the Orphan house are struggling with supplies; the community has gone back on their promise to keep them funded. And the mayor, well, he’s shiny and charismatic, but there’s something Not Right about him. And when an ogress moves in outside of town, everyone (well the mayor) decides that it’s all her fault that things seem to be going wrong.

On the one hand, if you don’t realize that this is a fable, an allegory for the United States in the past few years, you’re probably a clueless reader (or young? Will kids get this?). The fear of the Other, being hoodwinked by the shiny (and corupt), thee reteating into our own holes, and the decline of what it means to be a neighbor. It’s all there. But: Barnhill is a gifted writer, and she has spun this classic fable, this touching story about belonging, about what itmeans to be a nieghbr and a friend, and about community. The ending made me cry, the characters were super charming, and it’s a reminder that we’re not alone in this world.

It may be more for adults, but it’s still a very good book.

Network Effect

by Martha Wells
First sentence: “I’ve had clients who thought they needed an absurd level of security.”
Support your independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is a lot of swearing, including multiple f0bobs. It’s in the science fiction section of the bookstore.
Others in the series:  All Systems RedArtificial Condition, Rogue Protocol, Exit Strategy

Spoilers for the first four, obviously. Although you don’t have to read those to read this, it really does help.

Murderbot has come to Preservation a non-Corporation planet, to live, to figure out what it wants to do and to be Dr. Mensah’s bodyguard. It’s sent on a mission with several people from Preservation, including Mensah’s daughter and brother-in-law, and that’s when things go sideways. They are attacked by a ship as soon as they leave Preservation space, and Murederbot and another team member are kidnapped. The others manage to come along (unfortunately, it means more humans to protect), and the greater plan is revealed: ART’s (the asshole research transport from book 2) crew has been taken by some people who are on a planet that has been compromised by alien remnants, and he wants it back. So, he sent the kidnappers to get Murderbot, because ART knew Murderbot would be able to find and retrieve them for it. Murderbot is not happy about being taken forcibly, but it cares (that’s a strong word) enough for ART that it’s willing to do what ART wants.

That’s basically what happens – sort of – but the real pleasure was having the ART-Murderbot relationship back. It was hilarious and sweet and delightful, and Murderbot would hate all of those words if it knew. There was one point where one of the other characters decided ART and Muderbot were in a relationship, and Murderbot got incredibly angry about that, mostly because it’s true. but, it’s also still a well-plotted book: a mystery to solve, corporation/non-corporation dynamics to explore, a weird planet (gotta love those), and a lot of fun, cranky inner dialogue on Murderbot’s part. U was a little wary that the longer form would dilute some of the charms of these books, but thankfully, II was wrong. It was still just as fun as a full-length novel.

These are such a delight to read.

Aurora’s End

by aie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
First sentence: “I am rarely surprised.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Aurora Rising, Aurora Burning
Content: There is some mild swearing, illusions to sex, and a lot more f-bombs than in the previous two books. They’re still in the YA section (grades 6-8) though maybe they should get moved?

Things I loved about the book:

The tagline on the cover. It really is about time. And Kaufman and Kristoff play with it so well.

The way all the pieces fit together, and the characters learned and grew and it just worked.

The fact that a bawled for the last s00 pages or so. They made me care about these characters and their fates and man, it was all just so satisfying.

I can’t wait to see what these two do together next They just create pure gold.

Exit Strategy

by Martha Wells
First sentence: “When I got back to HaveRatton Station, a bunch of humans tried to kill me.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series:  All Systems RedArtificial Condition, Rogue Protocol
Content there is some violence and a handful of f-bombs. It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore.

To be honest, I really don’t have anything new to say about Murderbot. This one wraps up the arc that started with book one, as Murderbot meets back up with Mensah and they all take on GrayChris, the corporation that has been killing people to cover their tracks. It still has everything I have come to love about these books: it’s funny, it’s got action, it’s a bit of a heist book, it’s a quick read, and I love it so much.

Seriously: if you haven’t read these yet, do. They’re great.

The Last Cuentista

by Donna Barba Higuera
First sentence: “
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There are some intense moments and suggestions of killing. It’s in the YA section (but will be moved to the Newbery section, since it won the Newbery medal on Monday) of the bookstore.

Petra wants to be a storyteller like Lita, her grandmother. But the world is ending, and her family is one of the few that found a space on the departing ships because they are scientists. She is put in stasis, which kind of goes wrong, and when she wakes up 380 years later the world has gone sideways. A group called the Collective has taken over the ship, and it’s nothing like Petra — who can still remember Earth — was expecting.

What she found is a ship full of “shrimp” people, who eat this nutritious “biomass” block every day, who have tonics who alter their moods, and who don’t question the word of the Chancellor. All diversity, all difference, all remnants of Earth life have been erased.

In many ways, this is the same old story: diversity is what makes us strong; the acts that get us to sameness are despicable. Butt his adds a layer. Petra is a storyteller, a person who loves to tell the stories that she grew up with. And stories, more than anything else, are what connect us to our past. I loved that Higuera emphasized the importance of stories in addition to knowledge.

There was so much to love. It’s a brilliant world Higuera created, one that I would love to know more about. And she knows how to ramp up the tension. I was quite anxious several times in the story, not knowing how it was going to go. The stakes were real without being harsh. You do have to suspend your disbelief a bunch – can a 13-year-old who has been in stasis for 380 years really do this? – but other than that, it’s an incredible book.

I’m glad I read it.

Rogue Protocol

by Martha Wells
First sentence: “I have the worst luck with bot-driven transports.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series:  All Systems Red, Artificial Condition
Content: There is some swearing including a handful of f-bombs. It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore.

Murderbot is traveling again, looking for more information about the GrayChris corporation, information that they are breaking laws and illegally mining for alien material on planets. This means it has to head to yet another planet, one with a closed “terraforming” project, on yet another bot-driven transport. (All it wants to do, though, is watch entertainment media it has downloaded. It’s a hard thing it’s doing.) Once on the planet, though, Murderbot gets roped into being a security consultant/SecUnit (not entirely against its will) as the people on the ship are suddenly faced with life-threatening situations.

Summing these up really doesn’t give you a sense of how fun they are. Yes, it’s’ hard SciFi, but they are smart, funny, and a pretty good thriller. I laugh aloud, I want to read parts aloud to people, and I have to put the book down because the tension is so high. In short: They are perfect and I wouldn’t change a thing.

On to the next one!

Artificial Condition

by Martha Wells
First sentence: “SecUnits don’t care about the news.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: All Systems Red
Content: There is some violence, and a small handful of swear words, including a couple of well-placed f-bombs. It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore.

Picking right off where All Systems Red left off, Murderbot is determined to figure out what happened in its past that made it kill 57 people. Was it because it hacked its governor module? Was it because it was following orders? It figures it needs to go back to the scene of the crime, that there will be answers there. So it hitches a ride on a research transport ship, that happens to have a super-intelligent, curious bot on it, which Murderbot nicknames ART (for a-hole research transport because the bot just won’t shut up). Between the two of them, they manage to get Murderbot a job as a security consultant for some humans with what Murderbot calls a “death wish”, and start to figure things out.

I adore this series. I adore Murderbot as a narrator; it is sardonic and blunt and so very funny. They are tight thrillers, with some good twists and turns. I adore that they’re less than 100 pages; there are no extra words in here, just some tight, fantastic storytelling.

I can’t wait to read the next one.

All Systems Red

by Martha Wells
First sentence: “I could have become a mass murderer after I hacked my governor module, but then I realized I could access the combined feed of entertainment channel carried on the company satellites.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is a small handful of swear words, including two f-bombs. It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore.

In this future, everything is run by a nameless company. Everything costs, and is for hire, including Murderbot, a security robot (AI with human bits?). Except Murderbot (which is what it calls itself) has gone rogue: it has hacked the module that is supposed to make it obey commands. It’s good at faking it, and so the people on its current job — protecting those who are surveying an unknown planet — dosn’t know. That is until they realize that something has happened to the other sureying crew on the planet. Then it becomes a matter of life and death, and Murderbot is the key.

This is one I’ve heard about and have had on my TBR list for a long time. I probalby owuldn’t have picked it up, except I wanted a short book to finish out the year, and this fit the bill. (That, and Wells just won the Hugo award wo I was reminded about it.) Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed this. It was short, tight intesne, and lots of fun. I have a coworker who says she’s never identified more with a character than Murderbot, and I get it. It was a compelling narrator, and I found myself thoroughly enjoying being its presence (which would probaby mortify it).

An yeah, I’m probably going to keep reading about Murderbot’s adventures.