Book Review: Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith by Matthew Stover

Book Review: Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith by Matthew Stover

Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (Star Wars, #3)Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith by Matthew Woodring Stover

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don’t normally go for novelizations, but Stover’s telling of Episode III enhances the story and makes the characters more likeable and understandable. This title fills in so many holes for me. You are able to feel Anakin’s struggle. Jedi aren’t the good guys. And my goodness, Padme isn’t completely a whimpering sack of potatoes.

I also highly recommend the audiobook version. Narrator Jonathan Davis does a fantastic job. His Yoda and Obi-wan vocals are spot on. The production is great weaving John Williams’ musical themes and sound effects throughout. Not only do we hear Artoo’s blips and beeps, but Stover also gives the little astromech droid a voice by providing us with translation.

I was hesitant to check this out, but my husband kept insisting I would like it. Very glad I finally did!

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Book Review: The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

Book Review: The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

The Heart Goes LastThe Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Publisher: Bloomsbury

dystopia, science fiction

This was a very strange and interesting book. I don’t know that I have ever encountered so much fetish sex and slapstick comedy in one book.

Stan and Charmaine are living in a car, trying to survive a crashed economy. They are trying to maintain their pride and dignity. Neither of them is doing anything criminal… not yet, anyway. And then Positron, a corporate prison provides the solution to all of their problems. Employment, food, a respectable life… for 6 months out of the year. Every other month they rotate between being prisoners and “civilians” living in a house as a couple, though they aren’t ever allowed to leave Positron or communicate with the outside world.

With this false sense of security, they each begin straying from each other in mind and action. They both get entwined in a mostly sick, sometimes comedic plot to get out of Positron and out of what is increasingly revealed to be a really bad decision. Sex bots? Woman-on-blue knitted teddy bear action? Oh yes, this book has it all!

Atwood’s writing here has a very distinct style. So much so that I asked my English teacher sister-in-law about it. Turns out she was (QUITE HEAVILY) employing a style called free indirect discourse where the narrators words convey the inflection or feelings of the character about which they speak. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it distracting, but it was definitely noticeable and I was wondering if her other work that I have a read in the past was similar.

Not a feel good book in the slightest (but then again, it is Atwood), it did make me think a lot about the thin line that separates us from animal. A major theme is mirage. How much people are willing to sacrifice for a skin deep sense of security. Stan and Charmaine were living in a car but they were working together to stay alive. Once they get into Positron and have the house with the white picket fence, they are at each other’s throats and screwing around on each other. The ending is another example of this though I won’t talk about that here.

I won’t be reading this one again, but it certainly kept me asking, what the hell is going on with this book?! I laughed. I felt sick to my stomach. It was certainly a roller coaster.

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Book Review: Legends of Zita, Book 2 by Ben Hatke

Book Review: Legends of Zita, Book 2 by Ben Hatke

Legends of Zita the Spacegirl (Zita the Spacegirl, #2)Legends of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Publisher: First Second Books

2nd in the series

middle grade science fiction

Though this second in the series didn’t have quite the polish as the first in the series (what second book ever does?), Hatke still does a great job continuing the story of Zita’s adventures in space. Though taking place on other worlds and flying through space, Zita deals with some typical middle grade problems such as competitiveness and helplessness. My favorite panel is one without text where Zita gives her look-alike robot a high five.

Zita is a brave and smart heroine that I love to follow. Looking forward to the last installment in this series.

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Book Review: The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer Holm

Book Review: The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer Holm

The Fourteenth GoldfishThe Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Publisher: Random House

middle grade science fiction

“Life is precious because it doesn’t last forever.”

Wow. I just finished this book and I. Loved. It. It took awhile to grow on me but Holm definitely got me in the end.

Ellie is an eleven year old with a divorced mom who is a high school drama teacher. She and her father are still close, her grandmother died when she was young, and she isn’t very close to her grandfather because he and her mother always bicker. He is a scientist with 2 PhDs and isn’t thrilled to have a “creative type” for a daughter.

Her grandfather has been working with a species of jellyfish that can revert to its polyp stage…. actually go back to a younger version of itself. He believes he has found the fountain of youth and does some experiments… on himself! He is reverted back to a smelly teenage boy and comes to live with his daughter and granddaughter, Ellie.

While attending school with Ellie, he sets out to make his discovery known but needs Ellie’s help to do it. They end up learning a lot about each other and about life in the process.

I love that Ellie’s eyes are opened to science by her grandfather, a sort of anti-hero as he is a crotchety old man even as a young teenage boy. Throughout the story important scientific people and events in history are revealed to Ellie (and the reader) through storytelling in a compelling way.

Holm does a wonderful job of capturing the ever present friction between parent and child at all ages and stages of life… even reversed as they are here. At one point, Ellie realizes that her grandfather (as a teenager) treats her adult mom as a child and that her mother responds as an annoyed teenager would.

All the while, these characters learn from each other. Ellie learns many things from her grandfather but also teaches him some very valuable lessons in return. The ability of young readers to see that they can provide value and teach those older than them is very important and demonstrated well here.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the book:

“Endings are sad. Like goldfish dying and Grandma’s slippers and Brianna and me. But beginnings are exciting. Like discovering something I might be good at and making new friends.”

“Is growing up, growing old – LIFE – is it all so terrible?”

“Life is precious because it doesn’t last forever.”

“He was the fourteenth goldfish.”

This title is great for middle graders with an interest in science or science fiction. Great female lead. I would definitely purchase this title for a public library collection and use it for a tween book club discussion.

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Book Review: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Book Review: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

When You Reach MeWhen You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Published by Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books

middle grade science fiction

Is time travel possible? Will Miranda’s mother win $20,000? And why did her closest friend, Sal, suddenly push her out of his life? On top of all of this, an anonymous person sends Miranda four mysterious notes warning her of the future and giving her proof that the warnings are real. But she cannot accept that they are really for her or are serious until the proof begins revealing itself to her.

This was a great story about getting out of your comfort zone which is such an important concept during the middle grade years. Miranda branches out and meets new friends, befriends her enemies, and learns that not everything is to be envied… that things are not always as they appear.

Stead includes a lovely nod to L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time. It is Miranda’s favorite book that she carries with her wherever she goes. I love that her interest in a book makes the seemingly impossible things that happen over the course of the story seem possible to her. This could be Stead’s way of reminding that books are incredibly powerful.

Stead gives us a roller coaster filled with sweet moments, troubling puzzles, and revelations that change Miranda for the better. I really enjoyed this book!

Unrealistic fiction for middle grade books tend to be heavy on the fantasy and lighter on the science fiction. When You Reach Me has the classic middle grade elements of focusing on family and friends, coming of age, etc. But this title would be good for the middle grade reader who shows an interest in science fiction over fantasy. It could be a special read for those who really loved Wrinkle in Time.

I would recommend this title for purchase for a public library collection. I would also recommend this title for a book club.

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Book Review: Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke

Book Review: Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke

Zita the Spacegirl (Zita the Spacegirl, #1)Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Zita the Spacegirl, #1
by Ben Hatke
First Second Books

graphic novel, middle grade science fiction

There are two ways of getting home; and one of them is to stay there. The other is to walk round the whole world till we come back to the same place. ~ G.K. Chesterton

Hatke opens with this appropriate quote from Chesterton. Two friends are ripped out of normal childhood activity after stumbling upon a device that opens a portal to another planet. They lose each other in this raucous new world and Zita spends her time trying to find her friend. She meets many new friends and makes some enemies along the way. Oh, and she and her friends save the planet.

I am actually rereading Zita right now because I recently recommended it to someone seeking out middle-grade science fiction. I read it previously and gave it four stars then. But upon rereading it I bumped it up to five stars.

This is a great read that explores science fiction themes in an nonthreatening way for young readers. There are touching moments between friends, silly sidekick characters, and I am always a sucker for a good female lead. Even better, Zita could have been ambiguously gendered and nothing would have changed. Hatke gives her depth by showing her fear and strength. He shows silence and movement beautifully in his illustrations.

I would purchase this title for a public library collection and definitely recommend it (again) for anyone seeking out middle grade science fiction!

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Book Review: Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson

Book Review: Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson

AuroraAurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Is it really possible for humans to settle on other planets? Or did we only evolve as we did because of the conditions on Earth? Is it possible to make planets outside of our solar system habitable for humans? What about the life already there? Could we cohabitate? Once again, KSR asks the big “what if” questions that are eye opening, thought provoking, and horrifying in his latest book, Aurora.

Readers are dropped in the middle of mission on a generation ship taking humans from Earth to the Tau Ceti star to explore a habitable planet there. Passengers on the ship are dealing with balancing elements in their flying petri dish and genetic degeneration in human, flora, and fauna. The kinds of problems one expects on a mission of this nature. Once they reach their destination, they are dealt many other difficulties that don’t really let up until the end.

Devi and Freya, mother and daughter, are the main human characters but I believe our protagonist is the AI/Pauline/Ship. Ship is by far my favorite character and KSR does a phenomenal job of taking this character from quantum computer to conscious being. Ship becomes fixated on metaphor and as Ship evolves begins to use phrases like “its as if” more and more. Towards the end, Ship even begins to use the pronoun I and the possessive adjective my in the narrative.

KSR puts so much research and technical information into his writing and yet makes it very accessible. In fact, as I read this and other books of his I find myself asking questions and doing research on things he mentions. He writes beautifully.

I read the book and listened to the audiobook simultaneously. When Ship begins to speak to passengers, Ship discusses the level of decibels that are painful to the human ear. They applied some nice effects on the voice of the narrator during these scenes. I didn’t care for the voices used to differentiate between characters but the female voice that narrates Ship was appropriately computer-like.

This will be a good read for those who enjoy creepy AI and thought experiments. If you enjoy 2001, I believe you will enjoy this book. It is a haunting story that makes reader question how one would feel as passenger on such a voyage.

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