Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel

This was terrific. I was so intrigued by the tie ins to Station Eleven (and apparently if I’d read Glass Hotel I would have noticed some of the same characters.) such as a pandemic. So we’ve got pandemic and time travel in this one. Also a weird anomaly that keeps being observed. Also a story told from different points in time. Complicated and a little confusing in all the best ways.  I loved this and think I’ll enjoy re-reading it at some point.

The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera

This was this year’s Newbery Award winner and honestly I hadn’t had much interest in reading it. BUT, like many other Newberys, I found myself reading this and loving it and nodding and saying “Ahh, I see why it won.” Not only did I read it, but I also picked it for my staff book club and got a few other teachers to read it so we could discuss it together.

One of the things that first captured my attention with this book was that in the descriptions it is mentioned that the book Dreamers by Yuyi Morales plays a pivotal role in it. I thought that was intriguing because Dreamers came out in 2018. It’s a great book, a picture book that won several awards. And in this story it is referenced as if it was as beloved and well known in a child’s life as The Cat in the Hat. So I was intrigued to see how this book would fit in.

One way it fits in is that this story is a science fiction story (intriguing for Newbery!) and takes place many years in the future, so Dreamers is an old beloved story.

There’s a pretty standard sci-fi premise-the world is going to end due to a comet, a small select population gets to leave Earth in spaceships will find another place for them to begin again. While on the ships everyone will be in stasis. Petra is lucky enough, along with her parents and brother, to get to leave Earth. She is heartbroken to leave her abuelita, who has taught her all she knows about stories and the power of storytelling. Petra also wants to be a storyteller. Well, Petra wakes up early and figures out all kinds of stuff did NOT go according to the plan.

This was so beautifully written-I can see why it won this year. This was my favorite thing about this book: there were many classic sci-fi elements that most readers would recognize, but with a wonderful unique spin on it , which is much like Petra herself is encouraged to make her cuentas her own by adding her unique elements!

And if you are a young reader who hasn’t encountered the classic sci-fi elements before, well then you get to be introduced to them here and these wonderful types of stories that have us wonder about civilizations, survival, space, and the power of storytelling.

Light Years from Home by Mike Chen

I really like Mike Chen’s books and was really excited to be able to read this via NetGalley. (thank you, Net Galley!)

In this one a family has been deeply affected by their son and father’s disappearance many years ago while on a camping trip. The father returned a couple days later, the son never did. The father maintained they were taken by aliens. The one daughter and mother didn’t believe that at all, but the other daughter has made a career out of tracking potential alien encounters. Because of all this the family has fractured. Now, years later, the son returns from outer space where he’s some kind of amazing alien warrior. Mind blowing! Btw, none of this is a spoiler, it’s all told on the summary and first page. 

So here’s the thing–I did not like this nearly as much as any of his other books. But in reading the author’s afterward I’d have to say my lukewarm response is not due to his writing or anything, just that I didn’t love what this was all about. In the afterward he explains that he very deliberately was writing a story about a family and he definitely achieved that. It’s just that he gives you a taste of what the abducted guy’s life has been like fighting in a big space battle with incredible technology, and that was what I wanted to read more about. I became tired very quickly of the bitchy eldest sister (but who could blamer her?) and her relationship with the younger sister. 

So, while it was well written, it just wasn’t the story I wanted.

*I will say, re: very good writing, having only read the summary and no other reviews, I got to a point in the story where I thought maybe the story was going to be entirely different than I thought (trying not to give anything away here) and Chen had me wonderfully confused and invested in the outcome. 

 

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

After reading The Martian I was really looking forward to Project Hail Mary, which I’d already had on my hold list at the library. You can imagine my delight to find it on the “Lucky Day” shelf at the library a few days before our vacation. I couldn’t take it on vacation (because you only get it for a short time) but I was pretty sure I could read the whole thing before we left or at least start it and keep myself on the hold list if need be. No need-I raced through this. Much like The Martian this was long, but hard to put down and very exciting.
Also much like The Martian-don’t try to understand the math and science unless you are an astrophysicist (etc.)

Plot is basically-man wakes up in a spaceship, no idea why he is there or all alone. He starts to figure things out and the mission he is on and gets to it. What was really cool was because he didn’t know what was going on his present day story was interspersed with flashbacks to tell the story of how he got there. (And I found that story REALLY interesting and enjoyable and thought provoking.)
This one felt much more like science fiction to me simply because of the presence of aliens. I absolutely loved the story, how it was put together, and really the whole thing (which I kept thinking about for days after and finding myseslf believing it to be true. Looking up at the stars in New Hampshire on vacation and thinking “hmm, someone could be flying around one of them”)
I did like the ending but have one question which I was a little disappointed wasn’t answered.

The Martian by Andy Weir

Many years ago (I guess ten, since it came out in 2011) a friend read this book and highly recommended it to me. She raved about it! And then a while later the movie came out and I was like “oh, that’s the book that Tricia said was so good, I really ought to read it.” But I didn’t, nor did I get to see the movie (even though I did want to.) Finally-a few weeks ago we watched the movie. I loved it! I got the book from the library a couple days later and immediately read it straight through. It didn’t matter that I’d seen the movie just a couple days before and knew everything that would happen-it was still completely suspenseful, enjoyable, and a great read. I really don’t understand why it was such a fast paced, catchy read given that there is A. LOT. of science and math in the text. I think the key is to know that you are not going to understand any of the explanations so don’t read for understanding in those parts. Instinctively when reading someone exlain the math for something you try to follow along and figure it out, too. But you know what? You don’t need to understand the orbit calculations or fuel calculations, or chemical reactions. Nope. As long as the main character does so that he can save himself.
There was a pretty big exciting part of the book that was not in the movie (I guess they reasonably couldn’t put it all in) and one part that was practically anticlimactic in the book compared to the way it was shown in the movie, but all in all-pretty true to it.

Highly recommended!

The Overthrow series by Kenneth Oppel

Bloom, Hatch, and Thrive are the individual titles in the Overthrow series. This was a lot of fun to be able to read one right after the other, rather than spaced apart. The action dramatically changed from the first half of book one to the end of book three. In fact, the world changed so much that iwas almost hard to remember how different things were in book one.
This was some kooky science fiction adventure. As our house is always fighting a battle against invasive mugwort, I found the idea of alien invasive plants relatable. But thank goodness my mugwort is not a carnivorous weed nor trying to eat me.
In book one three teenagers who are oddly unaffected by the alien plant invasion try to figure things out and fight back. Book two ratchets up the doomsday vibe of Earth as reasons for the invasion become clear. Book three is, of course, and all out battle.
This was one of those sci fi stories where you think from time to time “even if they win the world is still ruined and a LOT of people died.” Because man, did those alien plants have the upper hand.
This was pretty exciting and all fast reads. I enjoyed this trilogy!

Posted June, read May/June 2021

The Lion of Mars by Jennifer L. Holm

Well this was a delight. I think I especially enjoyed it because I don’t feel like reading a 500 page adult book about life on Mars, but it sure is fun to think about, so this version for kids was perfect for me.  Of course I had to think about Last Day on Mars while reading this-the other children’s book I’ve read where the main characters are children growing up on Mars. What I liked about this so much were just all the details about life there and how to the children Earth things were fantastic and foreign (customs as well as things like windows and sunsets and animals.) And then to think about the adults having left Earth behind and now living on Mars forever. FOREVER.
I also enjoyed the setup of them being isolated from the other settlements and a crisis causing them to explore Mars as they never have before.
An enjoyable story and one that I think is a great scifi intro for kids. Read this and before they know it they’ll be reading Arabella of Mars, Across the Universe, and The Sparrow.

Ready Player Two by Ernst Cline

I’ve been waiting so long for this book! And I was very worried that it would turn out to just be a flop. After all, Ready Player One really didn’t need a sequel and it’s one of my favorite books. Never fear! Although I’m not giving it a full 5 stars, I did love this and had a lot of fun reading it. Yes, there is a lot of exposition at the beginning, but as I said to my husband, “it’s like the uphill part of a roller coaster, building my anticipation. I know when I get to the top the whole quest/plot will be explained and then we’ll hurtle through that exciting adventure just like in Ready Player One.” And that’s basically what happens. A lot of OASIS details of worlds and pop culture and fandom that are just super fun to indulge in.
As for how this is different from the first book–I feel like I can’t talk about it without spoiling the book. I’ll just say that I really enjoyed reading this. And yes, all the things I liked most about it were the things that were basically just like Ready Player One, and I’m ok with that.

The End and Other Beginnings by Veronica Roth

I really liked Divergent and was pretty interested in this collection of futuristic short stories. As with pretty much all short story collections–mixed bag. I really liked the first 2/3, but ended up skipping the last stories because I just didn’t care for the whole premise/setting/story.

My favorite story was the very first one, which read mostly like a good YA story about friends and mistakes. The future element was that a technology/medical procedure has been invented so that before you die you can hook up to a friend/loved one and share favorite memories, truly feel you are reliving them together, but you also get to talk to each other. I mean, who wouldn’t love that? I thought this was a great story.

A little more “less rosy future” was the Hearkener story, in which the world is constantly being exposed to biological warfare in an attempt (by fanatics) to eliminate the population. Certain members of society are Hearkeners and futuristic technology has allowed them to hear people’s life and death songs (something that’s been discovered.)

 

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Well this guy sure seems to have a thing he sticks with, and that’s ok by me. I’m sure in a few months I won’t remember which books was which (this or Recursion) since they both deal with multiple timelines or alternate universes (a multiverse.) And just like Recursion, this story is chugging along and then it just gets weirder and weirder.

I really enjoyed this-part fast paced thrilled, part science fiction. For the sake of my future self I’ll describe this one as: Chicago man is abducted, injected, wakes up in a scientific lab where everyone is excited to see him since he’s been “gone” for 14 months.  He uses his scientific methods and problem solving to figure out what has happened and then try to get his life back. Oh, and there’s a cube and some Shroedinger’s cat theory.