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.

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