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.”
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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. 

Mirage

by Somaiya Daud
First sentence: “He is the only one of his family without the daan.”
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Content: There is some violence, and a few mild swear words. It was in the teen section (grades 9+) but I moved it to the YA, partially because there was nothing really “offensive” in it, and partially because I think 6-8th graders might be a better target audience. 

I’ve been thinking of this one as Star Wars with a Persian flair. Let me explain: in this universe, there is a cruel imperial overlord, the Vath, who conquer lesser systems, including the home world of our main character, Amani. The cruel overlords (and their droids) have wiped out the native language and customs, though they do keep some. 

The daughter of the emperor is about to come of age, and it turns out that she is very disliked on Andala, the world she is set to rule. So, Amani is kidnapped — because she looks exactly like the princess — and made to serve as a body double, something she resents, until she discovers (you guessed it: the resistance). See? Star Wars. 

The Persian flair is what made this book stand out to me: Daud infuses the world with a rich mythology, religion, and history, sewn together with poetry and family. I liked the developing relationship between Amani and the princess’s fiance, Idris. And I even really liked where the story went, though it took a long time to get to the climax. My only complaint is the usual one: I do wish it had been a stand-alone. 

Even so, it was a unique and interesting tale. 

LifeL1k3

by Jay Kristoff
First sentence: “They kill my father first.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher for the Cybils. 
Content: There is some mild swearing and some very offscreen, alluded-to sex. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore. 

Eve doesn’t remember much — just snippets, really — from her childhood. She mostly just remembers the two years she’s been living in the Dregs with her grandfather, scrapping for work, and fighting the bots in the WarDome. But then, one fateful night, everything changes. Eve “manifests”–she destroys a bot with a wave of her hand — and suddenly she, and her best friend Lemon (Lemon Fresh, named for the box she was found in as a baby) and her bot Cricket are on the run for their lives. But what they find — a Lifel1k3 bot, which everyone assumed had been destroyed, among other things — will rock their worlds forever. 

The best thing about this one, for me, was that Kristoff is playing with the old “robot rules” that Asimov had set up. Not only does he envision a future in which bots are a huge part of everyday life (and the world is run by megacorporations, which is probably the way it’s gonna be), but a world in which bots can not only “pass” as human, but aren’t subject to the “rules”. Which begs the question: are they human or not? 

I was describing this to a friend at work, and she said “oh, like the Romanovs in Russia” and she’s right:it is, very loosely, based on the Romanovs as well. Which kind of makes it cooler. A futuristic, dystopian, robot story based on Russian history. Kind of cool.

I really liked the world Kristoff built: It actually felt a lot like Uglies to me, with the slang and the shortcut languages and the techie world. But I could see how the slang would get tiresome to some readers. Even so, I loved that it was fast-paced, and I loved that it was playing around with ideas of how tech might play a role in the future. 

I really enjoyed this one.  

Sanity & Tallulah

by Molly Brooks
First sentence: “Wow you’re so wrong right now that I don’t understand how we’re even friends.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: October 23, 2018
Content:  There’s a couple of scary moments. It will be in the  Middle Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Sanity and Tallulah are best friends living in a space station at the edge of space. They go to school — where Tallulah excels at science and Sanity is basically comic relief — they hang out — a lot, since Tallulah’s dad is the station director and her mom is off doing border patrol — and sometimes get into trouble. But nothing major. That is until Tallulah’s illegal science experiment — a three-headed cat named Princess Sparkle Destroyer of Worlds — gets out and starts wreaking havoc on the station.

Or so they think. As Sanity & Talullah investigate further, in search of their pet, they discover that there may be something more wrong than just an escaped cat.

A super-fun adventure/mystery in which girls take the lead, this one is great for fans of Zita the Spacegirl and Amulet. It’s got an action-packed and science-filled (well, futuristic science-filled) storyline, and it’s funny as well! Brooks is definitely a graphic novelist I’d like to see more work from.

The Countdown Conspiracy

by Katie Silvensky
First sentence: “Nearly every single person in this auditorium is wearing a T-shirt with my name emblazoned on the front.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s death, but it’s all off screen, and some mild crushes. There are also some intense situations. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore, but I’d probably not give it to the younger set, who might find it confusing.

Miranda is brilliant, especially when it comes to robotics. And so when she’s given the opportunity to apply for a Mars training program, she jumps at the chance, small as it may be. She gets in, and is off to Antarctica to train and learn with five other kids from around the world for their mission to Mars. Except things don’t go right. Her boat is attacked. The program is harder than she thought. Things are being sabotaged. And, possibly worst of all, some of the other kids are difficult to work with, and consider her a liability. It’s not at all what she expected.

So when the kids suddenly find themselves launched into space — which wasn’t supposed to happen for nine years! — the question becomes how on earth are they going to figure out how to get home?

I really enjoyed this book! There’s some good science fiction going on here: lots of science and technology, balanced out with a good plot (including a mystery: who is behind the bombings and attacks?) and some great characters. While there was more pre-space stuff than actual space stuff, it was still a lot of fun. Slivensky is a science educator and it shows; I felt that the science was both realistic and plausible and that she had done her research well. An excellent read.

The Diabolic

diabolicby S. J. Kincaid
First sentence: “Everyone believed Diabolics were fearless, but in my earliest years, all I knew was fear.”
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Release date: November 1, 2016
Review copy provided by the publisher rep.
Content: It’s violent, brutally so in some parts. (No worse than the Hunger Games series.) There’s some romance, but no sex. There’s inferences to rape, but nothing on-screen. I’ll probably put this in our YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

I  was trying to explain this book to someone the other night, and I realized 1) the plot is super complex, and all the parts are important. And 2) I needed to come up with a super-short, catching elevator speech for this one. I think I have it: if you crossed Battlestar Galactica with ancient Rome and thrown in a dash of Game of Thrones,  then tone it down a bit, you have The Diabolic.

Nemesis is a diabolic, a being genetically engineered to be bonded to someone in the upper class to be their personal bodyguard. Nemesis is programmed to love and protect (at all costs) Sidonia, the only daughter and heir of a senator in the empire. The current fashion is to repress education, especially in science and technology, and encourage this outlandish and extravagant religion they call Helionic. But the universe is falling apart, and Sidonia’s father is the leader of a faction that believes they need to encourage education and development of new technology in order to save the universe. The Emperor doesn’t like this, so he calls Sidonia to court in order to hold her hostage. This is where Nemesis comes in: Sidonia’s mother decides that she won’t lose her only child, and instead commits treason by sending Nemesis in her place. Which means Nemesis has to pass.

And that’s just the beginning.

This book is not only fun (though it begins a bit slow, and takes a little to get into), it’s incredibly thought-provoking, dealing with whether or not genetically engineered beings can be “human” and deserving of the same rights as others. There’s the issues of hierarchy and education vs. tradition. It’s fascinating. There are twists and turns (the final one is very, very satisfying), and I thoroughly enjoyed the love story.

I’ll admit that when my Simon rep told me about this one, I was dubious. But, she was right: it’s a fantastic book.

The Adventurer’s Guide to Successful Escapes

adventurersguideby Wade Albert White
First sentence: “At Saint Lupin’s Institute for Perpetually Wicked and Hideously Unattractive Children, every orphan is treated with the same amount of disdain and neglect.”
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Release date: September 13, 2016
Full disclosure: I had dinner with the author at Children’s Institute, and think he’s delightful.
Review copy provided by the publisher. I met the author at Children’s Institute 4
Content: There’s some biggish words, and a wee bit of violence, and maybe some of the humor will go over the heads of the younger kids, but mostly it’s just fine for the middle grade (3-5th) grade set, which is where the book is located at the store.

Anne has spent her whole life at Saint Lupin’s Institute, working and wishing she knew where she came from. She has a plan: when she gets to leave when she turns 13 (everyone is kicked out because the Hierarchy stops supporting them), she’s going to go adventuring and looking for her past. However, when her birthday comes, the Matron denies Anne the right to leave. That starts a chain of events that leads Anne to accidentally stealing a gauntlet (a metal hand thingy) and a prophecy medallion, that starts a Rightful Heir Quest (an unheard of Level 13!), which gives Anne and her friends Penelope and Hiro, four days which to fulfill. It’s not an easy thing: solving riddles, finding weird robots, traveling by fireball, but someone’s got to do it. And maybe save the world (and pass Questing 101) while they’re at it.

I haven’t had this much fun reading a book since The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom. It’s got the same sort of off-beat humor, full of puns and plain silliness. It’s different though; the world that Anne is on is one that isn’t fully fleshed out. It feels like an old-fashioned fantasy, but there’s robots and computer screens and elevators… and mention of an Old World. Is it scifi or dystopian?  I wasn’t sure. (Actually, I do have a working theory of the world, but I’m going to keep it to myself, until I figure out whether I’m right or not.) But, in spite of those questions, I enjoyed this one thoroughly. It was fun, it was funny, it was clever, and it was pretty much exactly what I wanted out of a middle grade fantasy.

I’ll definitely be picking up the next one when it comes out.