Harrow the Ninth

by Tamsyn Muir
First sentence: “Your room had long ago plunged into near-complete darkness, leaving now distraction from the great rocking thump-thump-thump of body after body flinging itself onto the great mass already coating the hull.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Others in the series: Gideon the Ninth
Content: It’s violent, brutal, and doesn’t mince swear words. It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore.

There really is no way to mention the plot without spoiling it; truly the less you know about Harrow going in, the better it will be. Trust me.

Know this: Harrow has been made a Lyctor. The first three-fourth of the book will have you questioning your sanity and wonder what the hell Muir is up to. Stick with it. It is not uninteresting, and Muir will keep you guessing and wondering. The final fourth makes up for everything that went before.

It is awesome and amazing and I can’t wait to see how Muir ends this all.

The Gravity of Us

by Phil Stamper
First sentence: “At home, I’m invisible.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s a bunch of swearing, including a dozen or so f-bombs, as well as some teenage drinking. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Cal has a decent life in Brooklyn: he lives upstairs from his best friend, Deb. He has a goal in life for after his senior year. He’s got a following on FlashFame, a social media app. The only downer: his parents constantly fight, mostly about his dad applying to be a pilot for one of NASA’s missions to Mars. Which means, if he gets it — and he does — they’ll have to relocate to Houston. Which is something neither Cal or his mom wants.

But once they get to Houston, Call meets Leon, the son of another astronaut. And there’s some instant attraction. Like loads of it. Enough that maybe Cal might change his mind about wanting to go back to Brooklyn.

There’s more to the story than that. There’s tension between Cal’s FlashFame celebrity and StarWatch, a network that is supposed to have unlimited access to the astronauts and their families. And there’s some uncertainty about whether or not the program will, in fact, go forward.

I thought this was a sweet book. I liked the merging of a retro-60s feel with the astronauts and the space program; we don’t really get excited about astronauts going into space anymore, and maybe we’ve lost something by not caring more about space. I liked that Stamper balanced the astronaut story with the story about journalistic ethics and a very cute gay love story. I really liked Cal and Leon and how their relationship developed.

It was a charming read, and I’m looking forward to seeing what Stamper writes next.

Gideon the Ninth

by Tamsyn Muir
First sentence: “In the myriadic year of our Lord — the ten thousandth year of the King Undying, the kindly Prince of Death! — Gideon Nav packed her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and she escaped from the House of the Ninth.
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: It’s violent and it’s sweary (including many f-bombs). It’s in the science fiction/fantasy section of the bookstore.

So, this one is hard to describe. The short pitch is lesbian necromancers in space, though that doesn’t really begin to touch on what really goes on in this book. The slightly longer version is that Gideon is an orphan raised by the Ninth House, which (in this world) is tasked with guarding the Locked Tomb for the Undying Emperor. However, when the heirs to each of the nine houses are called to the emperor to compete to be one of his Hands, Gideon is dragged along as the cavalier to Harrowhawk, the Ninth heir, into a world of intrigue.

But that doesn’t even give you a glimpse into the total awesomeness that is Gideon the Ninth. Not just the book, either: Gideon the character is so very awesome. Full of snark and sass and grit and just plain awesomeness, she’s a marvel. And I adore the relationship that grows between her and Harrow. Muir is a marvel of a writer, and the world that she has built is unique and brilliant and wild.

I can’t wait for the rest of this trilogy.

Tarnished Are the Stars

by Rosiee Thor
First sentence: “There was nothing quite like the first tick of a new heart.”
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Content: There’s some death — but not violent death — and some romance. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

It’s the future, and Earth has become inhabitable for reasons unnamed. A group of settlers have made it to a new world — Earth Adjacent — and have put up a settlement there. The Queen is still orbiting the world in the “Tower”, but the ruler of the earth is the Commissioner, who has issues with technology. So a splinter group of settlers have moved out to a hidden city, determined to use tech, mostly because they need it to survive. Something is making hearts stop working.

Enter Anna, the settlement’s most wanted criminal: The Technician. She defies the Commissioner’s edicts, in order to help people survive. And then one day, she runs across the Commissioner’s son, Nathaniel, who has a TICCER — an artificial heart — just like she does. That opens up a whole world of questions. Which only get more complicated when Emma, the Queen’s personal spy — arrives from the Tower, in order to marry Nathaniel and carry out the Queen’s will.

I started listening to this one on audio, and it was a complete fail. I just didn’t like the narrator, and there were enough moving parts that I couldn’t keep it in my head. Note to self: I don’t do fantasy on audio well (this isn’t my first fantasy audio fail). That said, I was interested enough in the story to pick up the physical book and finish it. And… it’s not bad. I liked that there wasn’t a lot of romance, and that the focus of the relationships were friendship and family. I thought the ending was a bit rushed, but it didn’t take away from the clever premise of a new world and what it takes to settle and populate one. And hooray — it was a stand-alone! I appreciate that Thor was able to wrap the story up in one book.

I solid debut, I think.

Mighty Jack and Zita the Spacegirl

by Ben Hatke
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Others in the series: Zita the Spacegirl, Legends of Zita, The Return of Zita, Mighty Jack, Mighty Jack and the Goblin King
Release date: September 3, 2019
Content: There is some fantasy violence. It will be in the middle grade graphic novel section of the boosktore.

Jack thought he closed the door to the world of the giants. Zita’s been home from her adventures for a while. They’ve met, and they’re hanging out (well, Zit and her friends have pretty much moved in, much to Jack’s mom’s dismay) and Jack is way enamored with Zita’s stories, which makes his friend Lilly kind of angry. But then the giants start breaking through the final door, and suddenly Zita, Jack, Lilly, Maddie, and Joseph (plus assorted robots, space creatures, and goblins) realize that they have to work together to save the world from the impending giant invasion. So, they do.

I adore these books and think they’re great fun. And this one is no exception. I loved the theme of friendship through it all, and how that even though you meet someone new, that doesn’t mean you give up your old friends. And how the sum of many is greater than the strength of one. It gave me everything I’ve come to love about Hatke’s work: adventure, heart, and humor. And it’s a satisfying end to the series.

I’m just really sad this series is ending.

Obsidio

by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
First sentence: “Perhaps we should get proceedings under way?”
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Others in the series: Illuminae, Gemina
Content: There is a lot of swearing, all blacked out, and a lot of violence. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Spoilers for the first two, obviously.

First off: this series is some solid action/adventure science fiction. This one is lacking the aliens or diseases of the others, but deals more on the human aspects of war. We’re back on Kerenza, where for the past seven months (while the previous two books were happening), the people who didn’t escape are now being occupied by BeiTech forces. Who, to be frank, are murderous, awful people. In fact, that’s the central conflict of the book, as we find out how the Illuminae files were compiled (though I wonder how the audiobooks changed from the first, as we learned more) and the conflict between the Hypatia and Heimdall crews. It’s about what happens to humans in time of conflict, and the decisions — and rationalizations — that come from it. Kaufman and Kristoff are also exploring the consequences of decisions made by the AI without the aid of emotion.

And, yes, this one has two new characters to add to the mix. And while we weren’t given as much time to connect with them, they still were fascinating to read through the twists and turns. And while they didn’t play as big a role as other characters, they were still integral to the plot.

It’s such a good series, maybe made better by being able to read them all back-to-back without waiting in between. I was able to catch small things in the stories that I would have probably missed if I had waited between books. But plowing through them all one right after another is highly recommended.

Gemina

by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
First sentence: “… over seven hundred thousand employees across dozens of colonized worlds.”
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Others in the series: Illuminae
Content: All the swear words are blacked out, but there’s a lot of violence and some drug use. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Spoilers for the first one, probably.

The nice thing about not reading a series when it first comes out is that you can read them all one right after another. And I remember what happens! That said, Gemina is part of the whole story, and picks up where we left off, but it also it’s own thing.

It’s the space station Heimdall, and everything is going lovely for Hannah and her boyfriend Jackson for their Terra Day plans. She’s got a super cute outfit, she’s about to pick up some dust to make the party super lit. Except, while she’s on her way, the station is attacked by an elite crew of 24 “auditors” (read: assassins) from BeiTech corp, who is still trying to cover up their attack on Kerenza. They have orders to take over Heimdall and open up the wormhole before any survivors reach the jump station.

(There’s a bit of a gap here: how did BeiTech know that there were survivors from the Kerenza attack?)

Anyway. The assassins capture the station, kill the commander (who happens to be Hannah’s dad), and take over. But, a few people Hannah and her drug dealer, Nik, and Nik’s cousin Ella, who’s a hacker, are left on the outside to stop the assassins from completely taking over.

I wondered how this would go over in print, since I adored it so much in audio. And it’s fabulous. I’m amazed that Kauffman and Kristoff could put so much into just documents, text streams, and illustrations, but they do! (since this one is so heavily illustrated, I wonder how it is in audio?) It never got tedious, I adored the reveals as they happened, and I was never too far ahead of the characters. I figured something out, and by the next page, the characters were there as well. It’s quite brilliantly plotted. And they do tension SO very well. I kept having to take breaks as I read because it would just get too much for me to handle. So very very good.

And yes, I’ve got the third already checked out, so I can see how this story ends.

Audiobook: Illuminae

by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Narrated by  Olivia Taylor DudleyLincoln Hoppe & Johnathan McClain, and a full cast.
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is swearing, but at least on the audio it’s all bleeped out. And there is violence. It’s in the Teen section (grades9+) at the bookstore, but I’d give it to someone younger if they were interested.

So, people have been telling me to read this for YEARS. I’ve brushed them off, partially because it’s a thick book, and partially because, well, I thought it was hack science fiction. (I’m super snobby. I shouldn’t be!) But, I’ve recently read other books by both Kristoff and Kaufman, and my on-line book club picked this, so it was Time. Someone in the book club mentioned that it was a stellar audio book, and so I went that route.

And Holy Amazeballs! THIS was what I was missing?! (I know: I should listen to the buzz!) Set in the future — 2575 to be exact — and written entirely in hacked documents (reports, emails, texts, images, security footage transcriptions — it tells the story of a planet (which was colonized for illegal mining by one company) that was attacked by another corporation. Our main character, a hacker named Kady, along with a number of other citizens are rescued by a fleet of ships: the military vessel Alexander; the medical ship Copernicus; and the science vessel Hypatia. The ability to jump to safety was damaged in the fight with the other corporation, so the fleet has to make it to the nearest jump station, which is six months away.

And then things get interesting. I don’t want to say too much, because the less you know going in, the better. But let’s say it’s FANTASTIC science fiction. There’s a smidge of horror, and the AI, AIDAN is an amazingly written character (think HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey). Kaufman and Kristoff take you through twists and turns and reveals, and will keep you guessing at every turn.

And the audio? It really was fantastic. It was full cast, which is usually not a great thing, but this one pulls it off amazingly. I was literally just driving around so I could listen to the book (I got it on CD, so I could only listen to it in the car), and I didn’t want to stop. I was riveted by the whole production, from plot through the performances.

And yes, of course I’m going to go read the other two. I think I’ll try them in print this time. Just to see.

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.

Pitch Dark

by Courtney Alameda
First sentence: “The wake up shock hits like a sledgehammer to the chest.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
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!