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!

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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.”
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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.

Redshirts

redshirtsby John Scalzi
First sentence: “From the top of the large boulder he sat on, Ensign Tom Davis looked across the expanse of the cave toward Captain Lucius Abertnathy, Science Officer Q’eeng and Chief Engineer Paul West perched on a second, larger boulder, and thought, Well, this sucks.”
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Content: Aside from the number of deaths (some of which were gruesome) and a bunch of swearing (including a lot of f-bombs), it’s fairly accessible. I’d give it to any nerdy geek (teen and up) who’s interested.  It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore.

Things are a bit weird on the starship Intrepid. Sure, they’re the flagship of the Universal Union, but they’re experiencing a higher than average number of deaths. Mostly of new ensigns. And no one seems to know why it’s happening. Sure, they’ve figured out it’s always the newbies, and that going with certain crew members either ensures your safety (or demise). But there’s really no rhyme or reason to it. When five new ensigns  — Dahl, Duvall, Hester, Hanson, and Finn — get assigned to the Intrepid, they’re thrown into the weirdness of it all. Except that they (especially Dahl) really like their lives and want to continue to live. Thankfully, there’s one person on the Intrepid — a hermit named Jensen — who has things sort of figured out. It’s all just a lot weirder than anyone was expecting.

First: I’m not really a Trekkie. Sure, I watched some of TNG and most of Deep Space 9. I’m fluent in Trek, I know what’s going on, but I’m not a super huge mega fan or anything. All that is to say that even if you’re not a Trekkie, and you only know the basic fringes of the show (especially the original show), you’ll get what Scalzi is parodying here. And that is enough to have enormous amounts of fun with this. No, it’s not side-splitting hilarious, but it is amusing. And entertaining. It’s not deep (though the epilogues are clever and sweet), but it’s fun. The characters are delightful (mostly), and it’s fascinating watching the meta upon meta plot unfold. In short: it’s a well-written romp through a genre that sometimes takes itself way too seriously.

And sometimes that is exactly what you need.