Unearthed

by Amie Kaufman and Megan Spooner
First sentence: “This is really, really not going the way I’d planned.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher for the Cybils.
Content: There’s some intense action, and some mild swearing. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore, but I’d give it to either older or younger readers depending on interest.

My 30-second handsell: It’s Indiana Jones in Space! I mean, kind of. It’s set in the future, after Earth — especially America — has ignored climate change and basically driven itself into ruin. Then, we get a message from aliens — the Undying — that went extinct 50,000 years ago, welcoming us to their planet, if we “dare”, It’s got a pair of teenagers working together — a girl who’s a scavanger (read: thief) and a boy who’s an archeologist who has spent his entire life studying the Undying. Put the two of them on this planet, and they have to figure out how to make it through a temple and read messages to figure out what the Undying was trying to say. Oh, and the government is trying to stop them.

Full of action, suspense, death-defying stunts, and just a whole lot of fun.

Okay, maybe that was longer than 30 seconds. But seriously: this was a ton of fun. I liked Kaufman and Spooner’s vision of the future; it was bleak but not overly so, and the idea of mixing post-apocalyptic with aliens is an interesting one. I liked that they kept the action moving, and that it was (mostly) plausible. It really did feel like a fun action movie; nothing deep (there’s a wee bit of romance, which I suppose was to be expected), but it did keep me turning pages.

And yes, I am going to read the sequel.

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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!

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. 

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.

Last Day on Mars

by Kevin Emerson
First sentence: “Many hundreds of light-years from the solar system you call home, inside a spindly crystal structure floating at the edge of a great nebula shaped like an eye, a yellow light began to blink.”
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Content: There are some intense life-threatening situations and several deaths. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Imagine this: in the distant future, the sun starts to expand, eventually getting so big that it makes living on earth impossible. Thankfully, humans have had a bit of time to prepare, so they decamp to Mars, where they find a planet in a distant solar system that should support life, and work to create a terraforming system. But, now, the sun’s expansion has sped up, and Red Line — the deadline to leaving — has arrived.

I’m going to interject here that I was a bit suspect about this one. It starts with aliens, and it leaves a lot explained at first, but trust me: stick with this one. I read it in one sitting, once I got into it, and it was an incredibly intense experience. I could NOT put this one down.

It nominally follows Liam  and Phoebe the kids (not siblings) of the last scientists left on Mars. They’re on the terraforming team, and want to get a couple last experiments in before Red Line. Except what starts out as boring gets really interesting really fast when things start going wrong. And after Liam and Phoebe discover proof of alien life.  It’s up to them — for some very intense but plausible reasons — to get off the planet and to join the spaceship headed for the new planet. But things don’t go as planned.

This is a first in a series, and I’m totally on board with Liam and Phoebe and their adventures. So very good.

Audiobook: William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Collection

Verily a New Hope, The Empire Striketh Back, The Jedi Doth Return
by Ian Doescher
Read by: Full cast
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Content: It’s Shakespearean English, but it’s also basically the movies. It’s in the humor section of the bookstore.

So, when I talked to my dad on his birthday, he gushed about these, especially on audio. And you know: he was right. They’re a LOT of fun, especially on audio.

The premise is thus: Doescher got approval from Lucasfilm to take the scripts (alas, they were the updated scripts so Jabba shows up in the first one) and then he worked them into a Shakespearean format: language, play structure (each book is 5 acts, which is a very Shakespearean thing), etc. It was actually kind of impressive! There were subtle differences: R2D2 didn’t just beep and whistle; he had asides where he commented on the action around him (Doescher said in the afterward to Jedi that R2D2 was the fool of the play, and I could see where he was going with that, though R2 had more lines in the first movie), and we got asides from pretty much all the characters. It felt a bit jarring at first with some of the characters (like, Han, for instance), but eventually, I became used to it and enjoyed it.

And it really was like listening to the movies. Doescher got rights to the music (yay!) and there were sound effects. And I know the movies well enough (I think it’s for those people who do know and love the movies) that I could picture what was going on while the play was going. (Though, I missed the “I love you!” “I know.” in Empire, but that’s because it wasn’t scripted.)

Oh: and stick around for the Afterwards. Doescher talks a bit about his methods and how he decided on different types of forms for each character (Yoda’s in haiku!), and a bit about the process working with Lucasfilms. It was an absolutely delightful book to listen to.

 

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.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
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.