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Cynthia Leitich Smith
A funny middle grade mystery adventure complete with an unconventional knight, a science experiment gone awry, a giant spider, and a boy to save the day!
Title: Planetes Genre: Science Fiction Publisher: Kodansha (JP), Dark Horse Comics (US) Creator: Makoto Yukimura Serialized in: Weekly Morning Original Release Date: December 22, 2015 Review copy provided by the publisher I’ll admit that I wasn’t overly familiar with this story going in but from what I’d heard Planetes sounded like a series of loosely connected ... Read moreAdd a Comment
Doomsday Book. Connie Willis. 1992. Random House. 592 pages. [Source: Book I Bought]
Mr. Dunworthy opened the door to the laboratory and his spectacles promptly steamed up.
"Am I too late?" he said, yanking them off and squinting at Mary.
"Shut the door," she said. "I can't hear you over the sound of those ghastly carols."
Dunworthy closed the door, but it didn't completely shut out the sound of "O Come, All Ye Faithful" wafting in from the quad. "Am I too late?" he said again.
This is my fourth time to read and review Connie Willis' Dooms Day Book. This not-so-little novel combines my love of historical fiction and my love of science fiction. It does so, of course, through time travel. Kivrin, the heroine, will be the first historian--first time traveler--sent to the fourteenth century. The century has just recently, and perhaps unadvisedly, been opened up to time travel. Kivrin will be traveling to a "safe" year: 1320. But Mr. Dunworthy fears that there is no such thing as a SAFE year within the fourteenth century. She's studied and prepped for this for years now, this is HER ONE BIG LIFE-DREAM. And certainly the worries of an "old professor" like Mr. Dunworthy won't stop her from going. But is Mr. Dunworthy right to worry?!
It is set--in the future and the past--during the Advent-Christmas-Epiphany season. The book examines the role of faith and religion, at the very least during this season of the year. But, in particular, it addresses the question of God and suffering. I would never say it is a "religious" book, but, Kivrin, in particular is sent to a century where belief in God IS a matter of fact and the church had more power and influence. Christian readers should note that Mr. Dunworthy and Kivrin both misunderstand much of who God is and what the Christian faith is all about.
Doomsday Book might be "just right" for you if...
Robert Sawyer said, "I care deeply and passionately about this genre [science fiction]" during a presentation I attended at the Ontario Library Association Conference. And it was obvious he does. I was, however, more than a little surprised by the passion he exhibits to defend his vision for the SciFi genre--although I have to agree [...]
The Scorpion Rules (Prisoners of Peace) by Erin Bow. Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Books. 2015. Review copy from publisher.
The Plot: Our world, about 400 years in the future. For various reasons (wars, water shortage, environmental changes) an AI (artificial intelligence) named Talis seized control of, well, everything, and first forced peace on the world by blasting a few cities.
Then Talis realized there was a better way. That destroying towns wouldn't create world peace. But hostages would. Child hostages, to be specific. It's simple: take a child of each leader. Hold onto them until they are 18. If the leader declares war, the child hostage's life is forfeit.
Greta Gustafsen Stuart is the Duchess of Halifax and the Crown Princess of Pan Polar Confederacy. She has been a hostage since the age of five. She is now sixteen; if she can make it until eighteen....
But her country has water. And others don't. And she knows that one day, sooner rather than later, war may be declared and her life may be forfeit.
The Good: Alright, let's cut to the chase: this is a Favorite Book of 2015. Hell, I'll go on record and say this is easily a top ten book. I'll go even further: I'll be damn disappointed if this isn't on awards lists and best lists at the end of the year.
And to say why this is so, why I am so passionate about this book, I'll be talking spoilers. So fair warning: stop now if that bothers you, read The Scorpion Rules, then come back.
The Scorpion Rules is a dystopia, or, at least, a dystopia for those children of rules and leaders who are sent away to be held hostage, knowing that if their parents pick country over blood they will die. They have been taught history to understand their role and their history, including ancient history to give a broader, perhaps colder, perspective on people and war and violence.
Greta, like her friends and fellow hostages, have been taught about their role; have been taught to accept it; have been taught to not fight back. To not resist. To not escape.
And then a boy comes to their school, a boy whose grandmother just gained power so he's been sent as hostage, a bit older than most, and less royal, so less prepared. Elian.
I KNOW WHAT YOU ARE GOING TO SAY IT'S JUST ANOTHER DYSTOPIAN ROMANCE BUT IT ISN'T. AND YES THERE IS A SECOND LOVE INTEREST BUT IT'S NOT A TRIANGLE JUST, WAIT.
Yes, it's dystopian; but like I said, at least for this book, it shifts the burden of the dystopia to the upper class, to the privileged. And the Children of Peace, the hostages, realize both their burden and their privilege. And it's grounded in real history -- the exchanging and taking of hostages has historic basis. (Fans of the TV show Reign will remember King Henry saying he and his brothers where hostages in the Spanish Court. That was true.) I say at least for this book, because we haven't seen much of life beyond where Greta lives, so I can't be sure of how others live. There is a hint that Talis controls and meddles with the lives of others, but it's unclear just how much of an impact that has.
This dystopia also makes sense; it's coherent, enough is given to explain why and how this system was accepted and evolved. It's also thoughtfully and realistically diverse. The Children of Peace come from all over the world, from all types of countries. Some, like Greta, are their for hereditary reasons -- she is the crown princess, born into this world, born to be a hostage. Others, like the Children from what was the United States, are there because parents have been voted into/taken charge by other means. They have no titles; they may arrive at the school older, with their status sudden and unprepared for. That is Elian.
And it's also grounded in science fiction, not fantasy -- the AI that controls the world, Talis, and the link between humans and computers is a scientific element of the story, not a fantastical one, and it's not just the push for the story. Talis is present throughout, lurking in the background, moving to the forefront.
Also, the threats are real. The Scorpion Rules starts with a child hostage being taken away because his country declared war. There is a graveyard by the school. There is torture, there is manipulation, not nice things happen again and again.
Now, on to the love triangle. Which isn't. There is new boy Elian and there is some sort of connection or attraction between him and Greta, but more important than that, is that Elian shows Greta another way. That submission and acceptance is not the only path in life. That no matter what, there is choice.
And then there is Greta's best friend and roommate, Xie. Greta has not just accepted the way she has been raised, the future she's been told to expect. She has also buried most of her emotions and feelings, avoiding emotional risk. And yet when Elian helps provide the catalyst for her to open up, and change, and question, it also helps her unlock her frozen feelings for Xie.
See? It sounds like a triangle because there are two people -- but it isn't. It so, so isn't.
One last thing: Greta may have accepted her part in life and politics; she may have tried to avoid certain deep attachments; but she is also a royal. Born to be a hostage, born to live a role, but also born to take her place if she lives past 18. Born to be a leader, and at her school, she is a leader. She's not a follower. She's not passive, even if to someone like Elian, the Children of Peace hostages look passive and accepting.
So, go, read it, and like me, look forward to the next book. Because I have no idea what will happen next -- and that? That is a great feeling to have.
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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
Of Monsters & Madness by Jessica Verday. Egmont USA. 2014.
The Plot: It's 1824 and Annabel Lee, 17, has moved to her father's death following her mother's death. The world of Philadelphia, and her role of daughter of a doctor, is very different from a childhood spent in Siam. She lacks the freedom she had there.
There are secrets in her father's house -- including her father's two assistants, handsome Allan and cruel Edgar. Including her father's scientific experiments.
And there are the gruesome murders....
The Good: I'll be honest: I read Of Monsters and Madness about a year ago, when it first came out, enjoyed it, but just didn't get around to writing anything up.
Then I saw the movie Crimson Peak (review tomorrow) and began to wonder about possible read-a-likes for teens who may go see the movie and want a taste of Gothic horror and romance. And I remembered Of Monsters and Madness.
The setting, early nineteenth century Philadelphia, is wonderfully shown; Annabel is a strong young woman who has been raised away from her father and his family. She wants to connect with them and please them, but her desire for independence and to pursue studying is at odds with their perceptions of what a proper young lady is. Plus, Edgar Allen Poe as a hot young man!
And plus there are references / homages to works by Poe as well as other writers. So this can lead to wanting to read more Poe, and Robert Louis Stevenson, and Oscar Wilde.
Of Monsters and Madness was published by Egmont USA, which, sadly, no longer exists. So when I went to the author's website to write this post, I was very pleased to learn a few things: first, that it's available on Kindle; second, that for a limited time it is $1.99; and third, that Verday has included the sequel, Of Phantoms and Fury, in the Kindle edition so you are getting two books for one.
Amazon Affiliate. If you click from here to Amazon and buy something, I receive a percentage of the purchase price.
© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
The Martian by Andy Weir has a fabulous back story. Initially published chapter by chapter and made available for free on the author’s website, readers soon fell in love with the story. First, they asked him to make it available as an ebook, so they could enjoy it on their e-readers rather than having to read it […]Add a Comment
When I saw Kirkus describe this book as “Gothic, gadget-y, gay” I knew I needed it in my hands as soon as humanly possible. I am happy to say it is all of those wonderful things. And while I didn’t quite love it, I did really, really enjoy this book. There’s so much to like! Yes, there are wonderfully complex characters, killer robots, and the sweetest M/M romance. The writing beautifully evokes the brooding boarding school setting. This is a near-future sci-fi thriller with a touch of the dystopian. 16 year-old Lee is the closeted son of an ultra-conservative president who is both fiercely anti-gay and anti-robot. It’s unfortunate then, that Lee has a penchant for tinkering with mechanicals, too. The Human Values platform was created in response to an attack by Charlotte, an AI gone rogue, in which Lee’s mother was murdered. Ever since, Charlotte has been using her... Read more »Add a Comment
Do you want to read a dystopian novel with a genderqueer protagonist who may or may not be part lizard? If this sounds like something you didn’t know you wanted, Lizard Radio is the book for you. It’s a hard book to describe. Our protagonist, Kivali – familiarly known as Lizard, was abandoned as a baby (wrapped in a lizard t-shirt!). Lizard is adopted by Sheila, a human woman who becomes her foster mom and sends her, at the opening of the novel, to CropCamp. The novel takes off from there – CropCamp is all about teaching teenagers how to be good citizens of an oppressive totalitarian government; teens have to attend CropCamp or one of the many other strictly regimented government-run camps and, if they fail, risk being sent to Blight. At CropCamp, a camp focused on developing agricultural workers, group conformity is prized; state-sanctioned heterosexual relationships are supposed to emerge... Read more »Add a Comment
It's delightful to slip into the complex and fully realized world where Seekers slice through time and space and unlock the mysteries of the universe.Add a Comment
Blankets by Craig Thompson was one of the first graphic novels I read. Over the course of a week, during lunch breaks while I worked at the bookstore, I consumed this 592 page adult graphic novel and was astounded at what a moving, intimate experience reading this book proved to be. Thompson followed up Blankets with Habibi, an epic story that begins with a nine-year-old girl being soldAdd a Comment
John Scalzi returns to the Old Man’s War universe for his next fantastic installment. Following on from The Human Division, which was told over thirteen episodes, this time Scalzi tells his story over four novellas and once again demonstrates his total mastery in whatever form or perspective he chooses to tell his stories. Have firming […]Add a Comment
Writer: Jason Shawn Alexander
Artist: Jason Shawn Alexander
Color: Luis Nct
Letters: Sherard Jackson
Publisher: Image Comics
Have you heard about the story set in a neo-noir dystopian society somewhere in the not so distant future? Most of you are probably nodding your heads in an emphatic yes.
Adding to that list is Jason Shawn Alexander’s first issue of Empty Zone.
Though the setting isn’t original, the story and the artwork make this comic a fantastic read. Think if the movie Blade Runner, the movie Tank Girl, Vertigo’s Sandman comic, and the anime Ghost in the Shell had a torrid love affair. Empty Zone would be the reason all of them have to submit to a paternity test.
The protagonist’s name is Corrine, a young and sexy woman who moonlights as super soldier for hire. Her easy-on-the-eye looks hints nothing at her enhanced abilities (save for her giant robotic arm of course). Her constantly reoccurring nightmares make her a haunted woman. But in this future where technology is advanced and society is crumbling, bad dreams are not the only things haunting her.
As the story goes, this first issue does well in introducing us to the characters, but still holding enough back that we are left wanting to learn more about their personalities and motives. The strange scenery and events leaves many questions to be answered, setting up what may be a good run for the series. As I mentioned, the atmosphere may not be original, but the writing makes up for that. The twist introduced at the end also sweetens the deal.
Writing aside, the artwork could carry this comic alone. Each panel looks like it should be framed on the wall. A lot of care went into the drawing, inking, and coloring (to which Jason Shawn Alexander wears the three hats of creator, writer, and artist). The facial drawings remind me a little of the rotoscoping used in A Scanner Darkly. Rotoscoping is essentially tracing over a film frame by frame. Everything from body articulation to facial expressions is highly detailed and close to real life. Objects and scenery are equally as well done. Overall, this thing deserves to be appreciated.
Empty Zone is a great addition to comics and collections. The artwork and writing is well done, with the pace taking readers for a fun joyride that doesn’t move too fast or slow. Fans of dark comics, as well as science fiction books and movies will surely enjoy this series. Image Comic’s Empty Zone hits local shelves June 17th.Display Comments Add a Comment
Title: The Time Machine Author: H.G. Wells Narrated by: Sir Derek Jacobi Publisher: Listening Library Publication Date: June 11, 2013 Listening copy via Sync H.G. Wells' The Time Machine is one of those science fiction classics that I just never got around to reading, so I thought listening to a free Sync copy would be a perfect way to finally get around to it. I've seen the HollywoodAdd a Comment
Title: Mort(e) Author: Robert Repino Publisher: Soho Press Publication Date: January 20, 2015 ISBN-13: 978-1616954277 368 pp. ARC provided by publisher "I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords." Kent Brockman Mort(e) by Robert Repino was an ARC I picked up at last summer's ALA Annual Conference and I finally found the time to read it. I was intrigued by its animalAdd a Comment
I’ve a nasty habit of finishing every children’s book I start, no matter how dull or dire it might be. I am sort of alone in this habit, which you could rightly call unhealthy. After all, most librarians understand that their time on this globe is limited and that if they want to read the greatest number of excellent books in a given year, they need to hold off on spending too much time devouring schlock and just skip to the good stuff. So it is that with my weird predilection for completion I am enormously picky when it comes to what I read. If I’m going to spend time with a book, I want to feel like I’m accomplishing something, not slogging through it. My reasoning is that not all books are good from the get-go. Some take a little time to get going, you know? It might take 50 pages before you’re fully on board, so I always give the book the benefit of the doubt. Some books, however, have the quintessential strong first page. They are books that are so smart and good and worthy that you feel that you are maximizing your time on this globe by merely being in their presence. Such is the case with Mars Evacuees. A sci-fi middle grade novel that encompasses everything from gigantic talking floating goldfish to PG discussions of alien sex, this is one of those books you might easily miss out on. Stellar from the first sentence on.
At first it seemed like a good thing that the aliens had come. When you’ve got a planet nearly decimated by global warming, it doesn’t sound like such a bad deal when aliens start telling you they’ve got a way to cool down the planet. The trouble is, they didn’t STOP cooling it down. Turns out the Morrors are looking for a new home and if it doesn’t quite suit their needs they’ll adapt it until it does. Earth has fought back, of course, and so now we’re all trapped in a huge space battle of epic proportions. Alice Dare’s mother is the high flying hero Captain Dare, killer of aliens everywhere. But all Alice knows is that she’s being shipped off with a load of other kids to Mars. The idea is that they’ll be safe there and will be able to finish their education in space until they’re old enough to become soldiers. And everything seems to be going fine and dandy . . . until the adults all disappear. Now Alice and her friends are in the company of a cheery robot goldfish and must solve a couple mysteries along the way. Things like, where are the adults? What are those space locust-like creatures they’ve found on Mars? And most important of all, what happens when you encounter the enemy and it’s not at all like you thought it would be?
The first sentence of any book is a tricky proposition. You want to intrigue but not give too much away. Too brash and the book can’t live up to it. Too mild and people are snoring before you even get to the period. Here’s what McDougall writes: “When the polar ice advanced as far as Nottingham, my school was closed and I was evacuated to Mars.” I could not help but be reminded of the first line of M.T. Anderson’s Feed when I read that (“We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck”). But it’s not just her first sentence that’s admirable. In a scant nine pages the entire premise of the book is laid out for us. Aliens came. People are fighting them. And now the kids are being evacuated to Mars. Badda bing, badda boom. What I didn’t realize when I was first reading the book, though, was that this chapter is very much indicative of the entire novel. There is a kind of series bloat going on in children’s middle grade novels these days. Books with wild premises and high stakes are naturally assumed to be the first in a series. There’s a bit of a whiff of Ender’s Game and The White Mountains about this book when you look at the plot alone, and so you assume that like so many similar titles it’ll either end on a cliffhanger, or it’ll solve the immediate problem, but save the bigger issue for later on. It was only as I got closer and closer to the end that I realized that McDougall was doing something I almost never encounter in science fiction books these days: She was tying up loose ends. It got to the point where I reached the end of the book and found myself in the rare position of realizing that this was, of all things, a standalone science fiction novel. Do they even make those anymore? I’m not saying you couldn’t write a sequel to this book if you didn’t want to. When McDougall becomes a household name you can bet there will be a push for more adventures of Alice, Carl, Josephine and Thsaaa. But it works all by itself with a neat little beginning, middle, and an end. How novel!
For all that, McDougall cuts through the treacle with her storytelling, I was very admiring of the fact that she never sacrifices character in the process of doing so. Carl, for example, should by all rights be two-dimensional. He’s the wacky kid who doesn’t play by the rules! The trickster with a heart of gold. But in this book McDougall also makes him a big brother. He’s got his bones to pick, just as Josephine (filling in the brainy Hermione-type role with aplomb) has personal issues with the aliens that go beyond the usual you-froze-my-planet grudge. Even the Goldfish, perky robot that he is, seems to have limits on his patience. He’s also American for some reason, a fact I shall choose not to read too much into, except maybe to say that if I were casting this as a film (which considering the success of Home, the adaptation of Adam Rex’s The True Meaning of Smekday, isn’t as farfetched as you might think) I’d like to hear him voiced by Patton Oswalt. But I digress.
When tallying up the total number of books written for kids between the ages of 9-12 that discuss the intricacies of alien sex, I admit that I stop pretty much at one. This one. And normally that wouldn’t fly in a book for kids but McDougall is so enormously careful and funny that you really couldn’t care less. Her aliens are fantastic, in part because, like humans, there’s a lot of variety amongst them. This is an author who cares about world building but also doesn’t luxuriate in it for long periods of time. She’s not trying to be the Tolkien of space here. She’s trying to tell a good story cleanly and succinctly.
The fact that it’s funny to boot is the real reason it stands out, though. And I don’t mean it’s “funny” in that it’s mildly droll and knows how to make a pun. I mean there are moments when I actually laughed out loud on a New York subway train. How could I not? This is a book that can actually get away with lines like “If you didn’t want me to build flamethrowers you shouldn’t have taught me the basic principles when I was six.” Or “It was a good time in Earth’s history to be a polar bear. Unless the rumors were true about the Morrors eating them.” Or “Luckily I don’t throw up very easily, but it made me feel as if I was being hit lightly but persistently all over with tablespoons.” That’s the kind of writing I enjoy. Silly and with purpose.
So it’s one part Lord of the Flies in space (please explain to me right now why no one has ever written a book called “Space Lord of the Flies”), one part Smekday, and a lot like those 1940s novels where the kids get evacuated during WWII and find a kind of hope and freedom they never would have encountered at home. It’s also the most fun you’ll encounter in a long time. That isn’t to say there isn’t the occasional dark or dreary patch. But once this book starts rolling it’s impossible not to enjoy the ride. For fans of the funny, fans of science fiction, and fans of books that are just darn good to the last drop.
On shelves now.
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Other Blog Reviews: The Book Smugglers
Misc: And since this book is British (did I fail to mention that part?) here’s the cover they came up with over there.
I think I may like ours more, though both passed up the fact to display the goldfish, which I think was a mistake. Fortunately, the Brits at least have corrected the mistake (though I’m mildly disappointed to see that there is a sequel after all).Display Comments Add a Comment
The Morris Island gang is back in Terminal, the fifth and final full installment of Kathy and Brendan Reichs’ NY Times Bestselling Virals series.Add a Comment
We are thrilled to welcome author Stefanie Gaither to the blog this month as our columnist for Ask a Pub Pro! Stefanie is the author of the very popular and thrilling Falls the Shadow, with the sequel coming in 2016. She's here to answer your reader questions on unusual names for fantasy, how many books can an author squeeze into a series, the balance of fiction and fact for science fiction, and how many POV characters can make up an ensemble.
If you have a question you'd like to have answered by an upcoming publishing professional, send it to AYAPLit AT gmail.com and put Ask a Pub Pro Question in the subject line.
Also, please do not forget next week's Happy Potter Birthday celebration! If you were inspired to write, or if your writing was any way influenced by JK Rowling, we'd love to hear from you! Please send a paragraph (or two) telling us how Harry Potter influenced your writing and you may be included in next week's celebration.
Email posts to AYAPLit AT gmail.com, and please put Happy Potter Day in the subject line. We'll let you know before July 31 if yours is one of the submissions chosen.
1) Writer Question: I'm worried about the names I'm creating for my WIP. My story is a fantasy, and the names I've envisioned sometimes have hyphenated endings to add a suffix meaning onto the name. But it seems that I've heard hyphens in names are frowned upon. I'm keeping the names very simple, even with the hyphens, so that it will not be confusing to the reader. Do you think that will work? Or would the use of hyphens be too off-putting? Would an apostrophe be better?
I totally loved this book. This sucked me in from the opening sentence and still has not let me go. The moment I finished I started missing all the characters straight away and want to get back to this universes as quickly as possible. This is science fiction at its best; expansive, alien, full of […]Add a Comment