Tag Archive: science fiction


fourteenth goldfish

The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm

Released August 26, 2014.

Eleven-year-old Ellie loves doing puzzles, because the pieces fit together so neatly.  She doesn’t like change at all, like the way that her best friend Brianna never talks with her anymore.  She lives with her mother in a tiny house with the garage filled with costumes from her job directing high school theater.  Her mother wants her to find her own passion, but Ellie isn’t sure that she has one.  Then something very strange happens, and her grandfather comes to live with them.  But he’s not really himself, instead he’s thirteen years old again!  Now Ellie has a “cousin” Melvin who goes to school with her but dresses, talks and thinks just like her grandfather.  Could he really have found the key to eternal youth?  This is the classic story of growing up, mixed with someone who is trying to grow down.

Holm’s signature light touch is a large part of the success of this novel.  Dealing with big issues like aging, death, and growing up, Holm manages to keep the tone light enough to make the reading great fun.  She mixes science into the story, clearly displaying her own interest in the subject, but also making sure that the science is just as readable as the story.

She populates her story with great characters from the dramatic mother to Ellie herself who readers will relate to quickly and easily.  Melvin is my favorite character in the book, written for pure delight as a great mix of teen boy and aging man.  In particular, I love that Holm kept him wearing the same clothes, talking to his daughter in the same way, and relating with teens he meets as if he didn’t resemble them in the least.  He’s a brilliant character, a wonderful grandfather, and profoundly funny.

Grab this as a great book to share in a classroom, it has lots to discuss but is immensely readable and serves as a clever entry point to science fiction reading.  Also, get this into the hands of Holm fans who are ready for something beyond Babymouse.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Random House and Edelweiss.

planet kindergarten

Planet Kindergarten by Sue Ganz-Schmitt, illustrated by Shane Prigmore

Told in the first person by a little boy, this picture book mixes science fiction, space exploration and Kindergarten into one awesome picture book.  The boy has been training for this day for some time.  He has gotten supplies, been checked by a doctor, and the countdown to lift off has begun.  He arrives at the Kindergarten door and his parents leave, returning to their own planet.  He joins a classroom filled with aliens from across the galaxies.  The commander gives them the day’s flight plan and then they start activities in the capsule, get to explore the planet’s surface for a bit, and even eat space food.  By the end of the day, it is Mission Accomplished!  And then time to get ready to do it all again.

Ganz-Schmitt nicely ties in science fiction touches throughout the book.  The boy’s parents say goodbye with a Vulcan salute!  She also focuses on NASA and space flight, pulling these two related but distinct subjects together seamlessly.  Children who are fans of either will be right at home here, giggling along with the puns and the idea of school being a space capsule.  Her humor is right on, offering just enough to be funny but not too much to lose the concept of it being a Kindergarten book.

Prigmore’s illustrations have a great zany quality that suits the subject matter.  I love the other little boy with the hood so that you only see his nose and mouth as well as the other children who look like aliens but you can also see the person in there too.  He plays along the line of making it about space but also allowing readers to see the human school underneath too.

Funny and filled with action and adventure, this book will get even the most nervous Kindergarten astronaut giggling about their new mission.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

Zita-BlogTourBanner

When I opened the box that contained The Return of Zita the Spacegirl, I squealed and jumped around (a little bit, ok a lot) and my youngest son arrived to investigate.  He is 12 years old and has loved Zita for years.  The first Zita book traveled around with him for some time.  It was one of those beloved books that went into every school bag, rode on any long car ride, and was tucked under his arm just in case he got bored.  Upon seeing the new book, he immediately pounced, pulled it out of my hands and made to dash off with it.  But no, I had a review to write and he could not have it.  I nestled it onto my book table and went to do laundry.

I was gone a few minutes and came back into the room to see my older child, now 17 years old, getting ready to curl up with the new Zita book that I thought I had secured!  I once again wrestled it out of eager hands (something that feels so wrong as a librarian but fine as a book lover) and told them that they had to wait until my review was finished to read it.

So that is my favorite thing.  My favorite thing is the eagerness that this book series creates in readers.  Everyone knows that Zita will have a great adventure, that there will be plenty of humor, cute and strange creatures, lots of danger, and even some old friends.  It is the type of series that spans from childhood to teen years, cool enough to carry around proudly and beloved enough to curl up with at bedtime even at age 17.

I too have adored Zita the Spacegirl from the very first book.  Now the final book in the series is coming out and  I am both saddened to see Zita coming to an end and also heartened to have a great series end with such a terrific book.

I will spoil nothing for you here.  Suffice it to say that both of my children found it worth the wait to read it as did I.  After all, Zita is one amazing heroine who solves problems both on her own and with her friends.  This is girl power at its best! 

And I can’t wait to see what Ben Hatke does next, can you?

noggin

Noggin by John Corey Whaley

Travis died five years ago.  Now he’s alive again.  But not the same and nothing else is the same either.  Travis’ head is now attached to a different body, a healthy body, one not dying of cancer.  You see, when Travis was dying of cancer, he and his parents took a huge risk and had his head severed from his body and frozen.  Now Travis is one of two survivors of the cryogenic procedure and he has returned to the same home, the same parents, the same friends, but not the same life.  His girlfriend is now engaged to someone else.  His best friend who had admitted he was gay just before Travis died is now dating a girl and about to move in with her.  His mother can’t look at him without crying.  And Travis’ room which used to be his haven now is sterile and hotel-like.  But Travis is the same except for his body.  It was as if he closed his eyes and reopened them.  So what is a guy to do?  Well, he still has to finish high school, get his driver’s license and of course try to regain the girl.  But nothing is simple when you are on a completely different timeframe than everyone else!

Whaley blends immense amounts of humor into his novel.  Though Travis’ experience is unique, it also speaks to the universal experience of being a teen, of not fitting in, of making bad decisions, and yet of being vitally alive at the same time.  Whaley also cleverly turns the trend of books about dying teens on its head (pun intended).  This is a book about life but also deeply about loss, grief and death and how funny it can all be. 

What is most surprising about this book is the honesty it has and that through its humor there are deep truths revealed.  Whaley deals with the emotions of Travis’ return beautifully like in this scene on page 40 when he sees his best friend for the first time:

He let go for a second and wiped his face with the back of one sleeve before holding me by each shoulder and sort of just staring at me for a while with this expression that I’m still convinced no other person has ever had, a combination of shock, joy, pain, and terror.  It was like I could see all his memories of me projected into the air between us, rushing and swirling around and enveloping us both in a nostalgic haze.

This book has tremendous heart and a strong sense of its absurdity.  It has depth, humor and cool scars too.  Pure teen reading perfection.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Review: Champion by Marie Lu

champion

Champion by Marie Lu

This is the third and final book in the Legend trilogy and it does not disappoint.  June and Day have almost entirely stopped communicating with one another now that Day has his brother Eden to care for and June is busy learning to be the next leader of the Senate.  Day also is keeping his deteriorating health secret from everyone, though he is finding it harder and harder to deal with the blindingly strong headaches.  Eden may be the key to stopping a plague that threatens an invasion of the Republic by the Colonies, so June asks Day to join her in Denver without mentioning his brother.  Reunited, the two feel their connection immediately, but both are holding secrets that they don’t want to reveal.  Yet they are also the only two people who have the ability to change the course of a war where winning could be the biggest loss of all. 

Lu has written her entire series with a grand feel of cinematography behind it.  In each of the scenes, they come to life as if shown on a mental screen.  Her writing is crisp and clear, yet it also delves into murky situations that are less than clear.  The question of loyalty to a government that has hurt your own family, killing some members, grapples with dark issues.  It is this wonderful mix of action and adventure but also thoughtful questions about larger issues that make this series compellingly readable. 

The characters of Day and June have grown throughout the entire series.  Both started at very different places than they ended up, and yet the growth has been natural, with distinct reasons for the changes.  Their romance, flawed and consistently stumbling, is gut wrenching and entirely beautiful.  They are a couple that are drawn together like moths to flames and then burned, retreat and then burn themselves again.  The romance just like their character development is honest, natural and glorious.

An action filled, taut ending to an incredible series, this book also has plenty of heart, romance and wisdom.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from library copy.

More Than This by Patrick Ness

more than this

More Than This by Patrick Ness

Released September 10, 2013.

After Seth drowns, bones smashed against rocks, muscles clenching in the icy water, he wakes up.  He is naked except for some bandages and very weak, but most disturbing, he is back in England at his childhood home.  A home that contains many of the worst memories of his life, except for his most recent ones.  There is no one else around, even the insects are silent and no birds or planes fly overhead.  Seth is completely alone in a world that is covered with dust and dirt.  Seth can’t sleep either because whenever he does, memories sweep over him, specifically ones that he would prefer to never remember and it’s as if he was living them all over again.  Is this the afterlife?  His own personal hell?  Seth has to first figure out how to survive and then start finding answers.

Ness creates a world, a hell, an afterlife, a future that is breathtakingly haunting.  It is profoundly empty, amazingly personal, and intensely confusing.  Readers who enter this book will be taken on a journey that is astonishing.  It is a puzzle that they will solve along with Seth and the answer will be astonishing.  I don’t want to give things away because the book is such a journey to the truth.

Ness writes powerfully of first loves, suicide and having to life with one’s decisions.  Seth’s death in the water is described in great detail, each moment captures, each pain explored.  As the memories flash into his head, the reader starts to understand what drove Seth to kill himself but also other deep truths about Seth and his life. 

Complex, gritty and profoundly beautiful, this book is a wonder of writing.  It is beyond inventive, taking readers to a place they never expected to find.  You are in the hands of a master storyteller here in one of his best books yet.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from ARC received from Candlewick Press.

lord of opium

The Lord of Opium by Nancy Farmer

Released September 3, 2013.

This is the sequel to the award-winning The House of the Scorpion, which came out in 2004.  Matt, clone of the dead drug lord El Patron, is now master of the Land of Opium, his own country.  All of the problems he saw as he grew up in Opium are still there.  The eejits, people who have been made into zombies by having computer chips placed in their brains, are still required for Opium to thrive.  Making opium and selling it is still the way that everything is funded.  And everyone expects Matt to step quickly into the same brutal ways as El Patron used.  Matt desperately wants to fix everything wrong with Opium, but he comes up against many obstacles.  Matt must quickly learn who to trust in the web of lies that El Patron created. 

I was thrilled to see a new book in this series, but concerned that I would have to re-read the first one because it has been nine years.  Somehow Farmer manages to place you right back into the world without rehashing the first book.  I found myself immediately recalling the first book, probably because of the strength of Farmer’s stories and world building.  It all came rushing back with no problems.  Now that is amazing writing!

Matt is such a complex character, just as he was in the first book.  He is both indebted to Opium and yet despises it.  He loves the land and the place itself but hates the reason it exists too.  He resents the money and wealth that surrounds him yet finds himself unable to not use it.  Matt is trapped in the most complicated of moral and ethical dilemmas and there is no clear way forward at any time.  The result is a novel that is riveting thanks to those deep questions.

The setting of lush Opium is written with care and detail.  Farmer lingers over descriptions of Opium as the last green place on earth and the fact that it is probably the only salvation for the rest of the world.  Her pacing is also nicely handled.  She slows it at times to allow relationships to build but the action keeps the pace fast and the book flies past.

A worthy successor to a great first novel, this book does not suffer from any sophomore slump.  Welcome back to the world of Opium!  Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

love in the time of global warming

Love in the Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block

Released August 27, 2013.

Seventeen-year-old Pen has survived the earthquake and tsunami wave in her native Los Angeles, but all of her family and friends have disappeared.  For weeks, Pen stays in her destroyed home, living off of the canned goods that her paranoid father kept in the basement.  But when the group of men come, she flees, aided by one of them and given a van, food, water, a map, and the promise of her family being alive.  Leaving her home, Pen finds only desolation and monsters.  There are giants on the loose, stomping around and leaving piles of gleaming clean human bones behind.  When Pen meets her first giant, she blinds his last good eye and flees.  She lands in a house where everyone is high on lotus juice and meets Hex who encourages her to dally there with him.  But Pen is on a quest to find her family, hoping that they are alive in Las Vegas.  Hex joins her and soon others aid her in her journey that is filled with love, butterflies, and danger.

A retelling of Homer’s Odyssey, Pen is a modern Odysseus on her own journey home.  Block’s writing is amazing.  There are passages that are piercingly true like her description of a mall: “The mall, with its greasy smells and labyrinth of silver escalators leading nowhere, always made me hungry and tired like I needed something I could never have.”  Her phrases sing and move, illuminating the truth beyond our surface world.  Block writes of crushes and lust and love in a way that speaks to what happens in the heart and under the skin, a blistering wonder.

Pen is a curious heroine.  She is a reluctant hero, at first unable to leave her home, then blinding the giant in defense.  The book is about her transformation from normal teen girl to rocking hero willing to put it all on the line for those she loves.  She grows in confidence and skill in natural way.  But much of this book is wonderfully unnatural.  The ties to The Odyssey make for a book that is monstrous as well as beautiful.  It is a tale that is unable to be categorized thanks to its genre-bending mix of dystopian fantasy, myths, and modern reality.

Block has created another amazing read in this book.  Her fans will rejoice at a new book from her, but this is also one that will create new fans.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from ARC received from Henry Holt and Company at ALA.

starglass

Starglass by Phoebe North

Terra lives with her abusive, drunken father aboard the Asherah, a spaceship the size of a city.  Hers is the generation that will finally arrive at their destination planet after traveling for over 500 years in space.  Terra’s mother died of cancer, a disease completely unknown on the ship before her death, leaving Terra with her absent older brother and cruel father.  Terra is now 16 and assigned to a job, botanist, though she had wanted to be an artisan because she loves to draw.  Her father doesn’t approve of her art and Terra does not enjoy her dull work as a botanist.  Soon Terra is being courted by her father’s apprentice and is drawn into a mutinous scheme to change the hierarchy aboard the ship.  Her work as a botanist is also getting more interesting.  What more could a girl want than romance and a good job?  Terra definitely wants more, she wants answers.

Out of a standard spaceship story foundation, North has crafted something very special.  This small city-sized spaceship is filled with secrets, ones that spell freedom but also ones that can kill.  Yet the story is less about the endless travel and the claustrophobia of a closed society and much more about one young woman, her choices and the way in which an individual can impact the community around them.  It is a story of opportunities both good and bad, choices that are impossible to make, and a responsibility beyond oneself. 

North has woven Jewish traditions into the story and carefully changed them as if the passage of time had both torn at them but also strengthened parts of them.  The community on the ship is cohesive but deeply fractured.  It is this society that makes the book very compelling.  It is also Terra herself too, a young woman deeply grieving the loss of her mother and seemingly without any choices in life.  Yet she finds strength to fight back, to choose and to love on her own terms. 

Startling, beautiful and richly written, get this one into the hands of science fiction readers.  Appropriate for ages 15-17.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

5W FINAL COVER.indd

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

The author of the Monstrumologist series returns with this riveting story of alien invasion.  The planet knew that the aliens had arrived, but the silence for days left them feeling hopeful.  Then the 1st wave took away electricity and cars.  The 2nd wave took out the coasts.  The 3rd wave brought the Red Death.  The 4th wave took away trust.  Cassie is one of the survivors of all four waves and just may be the only remaining human on earth.  She has seen her family die, her mother from the Red Death and her father killed right in front of her, but her little brother may still be alive, since he was taken to safety on a school bus.  But Cassie also knows that it is death to trust anyone at all, so she is not sure whether where Sammy was taken is safe or not.  Now she is alone, just her and her M16, trying to reach him.  Then Evan Walker enters her life, saving her from a gunshot wound.  Cassie knows to trust no one.  So how does she deal with a situation where she was to trust to heal and maybe even to save her brother.

This is one incredible novel.  The pacing is what I have to talk about first.  There are moments where I could not turn the pages fast enough, then others where I had to walk away for a bit to deal with the latest heart-shattering reveal.  This book is a dance of hope and terror, trust and knowing better.  Yancey proves quickly that he is not afraid to shock, to kill, to maim.  This book is filled with death, filled with despair, yet it is also about strength, hope and humanity.  Yancey writes this perfectly, keeping readers on a razorblade of tension throughout. 

A large piece of the success of this book are the characters and the book tells their individual stories.  Cassie is one strong heroine, who is willing to go through hell to get her little brother back.  She is not fearless but is always courageous and willing to do what has to be done.  Readers find out before Cassie herself does what happened to her little brother.  This adds to that tension, especially since one doesn’t trust Yancey not to do horrific things even to the littlest of children.  There is Zombie, a boy that Cassie went to school with, who has been trained to be a child soldier since the aliens came.  And finally, there is Evan, the farmboy heartthrob who is dangerous but delicious too.

Expect this to be one of the big books this summer.  It would be a pleasure to booktalk, since the alien invasion in waves basically sells this.  Perhaps most telling of all is that this is now the only way that I see an alien invasion happening.  It is clever, chilling and deadly.  Appropriate for ages 15-17.

Reviewed from copy received from Putnam.

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