Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks

Another First Second terrific book, this time shining a light on women who were the first in space.  I had never heard of Mary Cleave before and now I think she must be the most brilliant person out there and also “how on earth did she fit in all those careers in her lifetime?!” Before she even joined NASA she had multiple degrees in different scientific fields. This is part Mary’s story, part a little bit Space Race, part the first female Russian cosmonaut, and part women in NASA.
My favorite part was the section describing Mary’s first time in space. Although I have no desire to go up into outer space (um, it seems likely I wouldn’t be chosen) she sure made it sound absolutely amazing and breathtaking.
There is a lot of scientific text in here and presumably it’s all accurate. I wouldn’t know because it was so scientific I had to basically just take in a block of text and say “science blah blah” and move on to the next text.

Very interesting.

Pennington’s Last Term by. K. M. Peyton

This is one of my cherished childhood books. I read it many times and much of it just became the fabric of my memories-certain phrases have stayed with me and become part of my ordinary thinking. I’m not sure why I read it so much or why it practically imprinted on me. And rereading it again I do wonder at the appeal to an American child in the 1980s. It’s set in the late 1960s in England. So much of it was bizarre and foreign, and even now I find it so puzzling–the whole school system puzled me greatly. He’s 16 but everyone talks about when they will “leave”? They eat lunch together and are served communally, but it’s not boarding school, in fact they all seem “lower class”? His parents are casually abusive. It seems to be ok for the kids to drink beer and smoke? And teachers employed corporal punishment!  Penn himself is a brooding misunderstood character with tremendous appeal for the girls. This was a delight to reread.

 

Here’s a post I wrote about it for another blog back when I last reread it:

That Was Then, This Is Now: Pennington’s Last Term

 

Simon vs. the Homosapien Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Feeling quite behind the times to just read this now. It was some solid YA fiction and I really enjoyed it. Funny and heartwarming, all the things I like in YA. Realistic? I don’t know. Certainly parts of it are. But as always I’m acutely aware of just how interesting and quirky everyone in a ya novel is. I am 100% sure that me and my friends were not like characters in novels (is anyone?) but that aside, this was terrific and I liked it a lot.

The Toll by Neal Shusterman

This may have been my MOST ANTICIPATED BOOK OF 2019. Ever since I finished  Thunderhead two years ago I’ve been eager for this final book in the Arc of a Scythe trilogy to be published. [I see I didn’t review Scythe here, but did briefly mention it in my Top Ten of 2016.) Readers, it DID NOT DISAPPOINT. There are only two days left in 2019 and I knew midway through this that it would most certainly be ending up on my Top Ten of 2019 list (which I can’t wait to get started on today.)
So, where to begin.  First of all, this book is 625 pages long. When I picked it up from the library I was thrilled to see how long it was. And then I waited a whole week to read it (because, Christmas.) And it was wonderfully long and satisfying.

As I mentioned, it’s been two years since Thunderhead and while the conclusion of that book has stayed in mind most vividly, I wasn’t sure what else I remembered. No worries-I was easily brought up to speed. This novel is so beautifully constructed you almost want to go back and read it again now that you see how it all fits together. There are multiple sections, multiple points of view, and once again we are reading the Thunderhead’s direct commentary and thoughts. In addition periodic witness to another conversation-but you’re not sure who the participants are. And another repeated interstitial that I think I only just now realized exactly what it is. (so might go back and reread those parts.)

This conclusion is pretty epic. It covers a lot of ground, both in storyline and chronology. I don’t want to say too much about the plot, other than the story is continuing on. It explains exactly what has happened in the world since the dramatic conclusion of Thunderhead and continues, chronicling a rise to power of what I would call a megalomaniac despot. I think you’d have to be blind to not see the parallels to our current socio-political situation. It’s really an amazing work showing how civilizations rise and fall. Throughout the novel I really had no idea how this was going to conclude in a satisfactory manner. I will say –it did. 100% satisfied.

5 stars and one of the best of the year!

 

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.)

 

A Match Made in Mehendi by Nandini Bajpai

I can’t think of the last YA novel I enjoyed as much as this one. I loved everything about it.

Simi comes from a line of matchmakers and her mother definitely wants her to follow in her footsteps. After Simi helps nudge her cousin into a match her mom and aunt definitely believe she has the gift and want her to join them. Her mom and aunt have generations tested methods that her mom doesn’t believe technology can match. Simi’s super smart brother created an app that would be close to it and Simi and her best friend Noah get him to rework it to be an app they can launch to their school.

I liked the diverse cast of characters, the lovely friendship she has with Noah, and how naturally her Indian culture is just part of her life and easily shown-in the descriptions of what she wears, what they eat, celebrations, etc. None of that was a storyline-it just was. Much like Noah being gay and having a crush on someone he’s not sure returns the feelings–not an issue, just is.
I also liked the conversations and reflections Simi and her mom have about matchmaking and methods.

The whole story was just a terrific package!

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

I think Neal Shusterman’s books are great and I feel like the seeds of Scythe can be found in here, in terms of concepts that he’s thinking about. What if…? What if….every disease could be fixed? What if….we could transplant anything and always had enough body parts to transplant?  And very pointedly, this book is tackling abortion wars. What if our country went to war over abortion? And then this book is showing the results of the compromise that was reached. In this future you cannot have an abortion, but you can “unwind” a child between the ages of 13 and 17. The child is sent to a harvest camp where they are unwound and all their body parts are put into other people. Therefore they are still “living.”  It’s CREEPY and HORRIFYING.
I loved how it jumped around from the points of view of the different kids. Fast paced. Thoughtful. The ending was superb.

Wilder Girls by Rory Power

This book was bonkers! And I really liked it. I am left with some questions and need to talk to someone else who read it. (There are some things that I can’t quite tell if I just didn’t understand, need confirmation of what I think, or are deliberately vague. Either way, I think the story works.)
On a remote island off the coast of Maine there is a girls’ boarding school. BUT this is not a boarding school book such as I usually read. No, this is a story that feels more post-apocalyptic. In this case we join in the story a year and a half after some kind of biological epidemic has swept the island. Consequently, the school is shut off from the mainland, they have no contact with the outside world, many girls are dead and continue to die, and it’s somewhat of a Lord of the Flies situation. Basically, the disease (or whatever), that they refer to as the Tox, is making the girls mutate. MUTATE! And just to make it extra scary, the grounds of the school are fenced in, keeping them safe from all the mutating wild animals on the other side.
Woven into this are some intense girl relationships. And overall there is a mystery pushing the story forward–why don’t they get enough supplies? why did she overhear the staff talking to someone? etc.
I found this to be somewhat un-put-downable because you are convinced there is a sinister plot that you are eager to figure out exactly what’s going on (as are the characters. They also want to know what’s what.)

I think the most surprising thing about this book was just how violent it was!  It was definitely pretty bizarre and out there, but I liked it in a weird way.

The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen

This book is one of the choices on Tabby’s summer reading list for entering 6th grade. I checked it out and read it and loved it, but I don’t know if she’ll actually read it. It’s so different from all the books she likes, but it felt very familiar to me, very reminiscent of a lot of this type of YA novel I’ve read (Princess Academy, Alanna (Song of the Lioness), Crown of Blood and Thorns, etc.)
This was a very fast read and I enjoyed it enormously.

Sage is one of 4 orphan boys plucked from around the city by a mysterious wealthy aristocrat. It turns out that he has a massively secret daring plan to present one of them as the long lost prince of the kingdom, to help avoid what he believes is imminent civil war (as soon as the kingdom finds out that the king and queen and their son are all dead.) It’s treasonous and terrifying and difficult, but these are boys without any choice.
There is a perpetual threat of violence, lies, and treachery throughout the story–everyone knows that the boys not chosen to the false prince will be killed. They all depend on each other to make this plan be a success, but also they cannot trust each other.

I enjoyed how everything tied together and worked out, and while it was a little bit predictable it did not diminish my enjoyment.

Field Notes on Love by Jennifer E. Smith

What a delightful romantic story. Hugo is British, Mae is American, both are 18 and the cusp of heading off to college. Hugo is one of 6 children, sextuplets, which has been a huge part of his identity and also determined his future. He’s set to go to college with siblings at the local university, which has been in the works since their birth. Mae lives with her two dads is an aspiring filmmaker. She is crushed that while she was accepted to the college of her choice, she was not accepted into the film program. The two do not know each other, but Hugo has tickets for a train trip across the U.S. His girlfriend bought them for them, but the tickets are in her name, nontransferable, and now they are broken up. He can only take the trip if someone with the same name as his ex can go with him. Mae is that person and they meet for the first time at Penn Station as they board the train, ready to embark on the adventure of sharing a tiny cabin and a lengthy journey with a stranger.
I love stories that are journeys both in actuality (a train trip, a road trip, etc.) and also clearly journeys of self (coming of age, falling in love, self discovery.) That’s what this story is and it’s lovely and romantic and also really, really made me want to take a nice train trip some day.