Tag Archives: science fiction

Review: The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex

The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex (read by Bahni Turpin)

Published: print: Hyperion, 2007
audio: Books on Tape, 2010

Source: school library

Why I chose to read

2011 Winner of the Odyssey Award for Excellence in Audiobook Production.


Gratuity “Tip” Tucci is about to embark on a road trip to Florida, where all U.S. citizens have been relocated following the Boov invasion of Earth. Even worse, Gratuity’s mother was abducted on Christmas Eve, so she is alone. On Moving Day, Tip packs up her car – and her cat, Pig – and sets out from Pennsylvania, only to find her journey turned upside down and inside out when she meets J.Lo, a Boov mechanic.

What I enjoyed

  • J.Lo – he absolutely stole the show!
  • The loving relationship depicted between Gratuity and her mother.
  • Author Rex may be well known for his drawing skills, but he flexes some serious linguistic muscles.
  • Rex uses flashbacks and intersperses the narrative with other character voices/perspectives.
  • The flashback technique used by Rex is effective at engaging the reader. Tip’s first essay attempt raised so many questions, I was impatient for the story to continue so I could find the answers!
  • Gratuity’s voice is sharp, perceptive, and dredged in dry humor.
  • The parallel drawn between alien invasion of Earth and European exploration of North America.
  • Although this is science fiction, the book doesn’t take itself too seriously and pokes a little fun at the genre.

What detracted from my enjoyment

  • I had a difficult time visualizing the aliens – they were so different from Hollywood depictions! That is good, but I sometimes couldn’t keep the image in my head.
  • Happy Mouse Kingdom was clearly meant to be Disney World, but I wondered if this was in order to satirize it, or due to fear of copyright infringement. I was preoccupied by this, but I’m sure most readers wouldn’t be.

It is obvious why this audiobook won an Odyssey – it is extraordinary! Adam Rex created the characters and the story, but Bahni Turpin breathed new life into them. I don’t think I could imagine J.Lo sounding any different. A marvelous listening experience, one that an entire family could enjoy.

Related reads

Stories with alien characters

Stuck on Earth by David Klass
Boom (or 70,000 light years) by Mark Haddon
The Doom Machine by Mark Teague

Books that feature humorous road trips

Going Bovine by Libba Bray
Reunited by Hilary Weisman Graham


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Review: Cold Magic by Kate Elliott

Cold Magic by Kate Elliott
Published: Orbit, 2010
Source: copy provided by publisher for committee consideration

Why I chose to read

When I read this description from the author, how could I resist? “An Afro-Celt post-Roman icepunk Regency novel with airships, Phoenician spies, and the intelligent descendants of troödons.”


Catherine Hassi Barahal is secure in her knowledge of who she is, a member of the Hassi Barahals, an old, proud, impoverished Kena’ani family. When cold mage Andevai barges into her home and Cat is forced to marry him in a binding magical ceremony, her cozy life shatters. Who she is, why she is married, and her future are all called into question, while the continent of Europa teeters on the edge of unrest. Cat embarks on a journey into mage houses, pastoral villages, and the spirit world, and meets many curious individuals, including the trolls from Expedition.

What I enjoyed

  • Cat. She is smart and resourceful, inquisitive and stubborn. Very easy to identify with as a reader.
  • Cat and Bee’s relationship, because it is impenetrable.
  • Overall characterization. For some characters, they didn’t start rounding out until the end, and some only barely so. Normally this would be a negative, but remember, this is a set-up story. That doesn’t always mean just the plot.
  • The world-building is intricate, original, and thorough. I especially love the trolls.
  • Fires go cold whenever cold mages walk in the room. That cracked me up, because how frustrating would that be? Such a logical detail.
  • Cat’s backstory is mostly fleshed out by the end of the book. I would have been irritated otherwise, because there are so many (necessary) unresolved plot threads.
  • Addresses class issues.
  • Rory. He adds comedic relief, but is also quite important, to Cat’s development and as a character in his own right. I foresee him being crucial to the plot in the sequel.

Lingering thoughts

This was a five-star read for me, so these aren’t really detractions. More like confusing points or reactions to the story.

  • I had difficulty envisioning the eru. Also, her (?) words are so difficult to decode. How is she related to Cat?
  • The spirit world chapters were obviously significant. When Cat meets Lucia Kante, the djeli, is she more than she seems?
  • How does cold magic warm houses?
  • What happened on the ice between Daniel and Tara?
  • The incident with Bee and the old man is creepy, and we never discover his identity.
  • Is the Wild Hunt part of the unseen courts?

The sequel, Cold Fire, will be published in September 2011. I’m eager to see what Cat decides to do next!

Related reads

Fantasies featuring shapeshifters
Trickster’s Choice by Tamora Pierce
Hawksong by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes

Fantasies featuring strong cousin bonds
Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox
Sorcery and Cecilia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer

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Review: Unwind by Neal Shusterman

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

Published: Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, 2007
Source: Copy provided by publisher for committee consideration

Why I chose to read

This was nominated for PPYA’s “What if …” committee, but I have wanted to read it for a while.


To resolve the debate between pro-life and pro-choice, the Bill of life was created. Between the ages of 13 and 18, your parents can choose to Unwind you – a retroactive abortion that transplants 99.44% of a person, so life doesn’t technically end. Connor, Risa, Lev, and others try to escape this fate.

What I enjoyed

  • The characters are all so well developed. They grow tremendously throughout the story. Emby, Connor, CyFy, Lev, Risa – all of them nestled into my heart. I ached for them, I cheered their victories, and I mourned their losses.
  • The important questions Mr. Shusterman raises about life. Although clearly against Unwinding, he never comes down on either side of the life vs. choice debate. His readers are expected to form their own opinions.
  • So many story threads, but they all come together. Very gifted writing.
  • Mr. Shusterman cleverly uses examples, such as CyFy’s situation, to show the horror of Unwinding.
  • I don’t usually quote from the book, but this stayed with me: “What can fingerprints mean when they’re not necessarily yours?” (Lev, p. 280)

Unwind is a heart-pounding thriller that will move readers to tears and linger in their minds long after they’ve finished reading. This was my first Shusterman novel, but it won’t be my last. Oh, and by the way – they’re making Unwind into a movie! Read all about it!

Related reads

Medical-themed dystopias
The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson
The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
Eva by Peter Dickinson

Stories featuring troubled characters
The Supernaturalist by Eoin Colfer
Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

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Review: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

When You Reach Me When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

The 2010 Newbery Award-winner certainly engendered a lot of controversy. I heard positive, neutral, and negative reactions. So I really wanted to read the book myself.

What I liked

The main character, Miranda, is a smart sixth-grader suffering from loneliness and obsessed with A Wrinkle in Time. Her character is what I think will hook most readers, since she is dealing with relatable issues. I liked how Miranda's character grows throughout the story, and she is a better character at the end.

The mystery aspect – regardless of the time travel element – will also pull in some readers. The clues provide the reader with details to look out for while Miranda is sharing her story.

Being a literary nerd, I relished the titles of the chapters. Each one was the title of a category that would potentially appear in the $20,000 Pyramid, the game show Miranda's mother is preparing to play. I think it's clever that Ms. Stead could use those titles to also foreshadow some of the plot elements within a given chapter, such as "Things That Smell." It reminds me of the chapter titles in The Last Book in the Universe by Rodman Philbrick, some of my favorite chapter titles ever.


I think this book is more middle grade than young adult. The age of the protagonist is an impediment to teens – unfortunate, but true. And the cover. However, there is crossover appeal for the right reader. The use of flashbacks to simultaneously relate two parts of the story is sophisticated, adding to the crossover appeal. Also, time travel stories require more thinking than other types of stories (trying to sort out events logically, etc.).

Richard, Miranda's mother's boyfriend, was a nice secondary character, but I feel that the issue of his relationship with Miranda's mother was not fully resolved. Her reluctance to commit was not clearly explained, and the fact that Miranda plays a role in moving the relationship forward was good for Miranda's character, but not for the adults.

Ultimately, I hope this thoughtful, sweet, and puzzling book inspires a generation of readers to investigate the wonder of A Wrinkle in Time.

Source: school library
Related Reads:

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New to me: Maximum Ride flies onto my radar

The Angel Experiment (Maximum Ride, #1) The Angel Experiment by James Patterson

In true James Patterson style, this book was a page-turner. The chapters were very short, making this a possible choice for reluctant readers, despite its heft.

This is the first book in a series about Maximum Ride, a fourteen-year-old girl who escaped from the lab where she was raised – called the School – with five other children, and is now the de-facto leader. All six were genetically engineered, blending avian DNA with human DNA. So, they all have wings, can fly, and each has a special ability revealed throughout the story.

The first conflict in the story involves the rescue of Angel, the youngest of the group, when she is captured by the Erasers, half-human half-wolf creations that also come from the School. But that is only the beginning.

Early in the book, the narrative shifts between Max's first-person to third-person omniscient. After a while, the story was solely Max in the first person. I'm not sure why it was written that way, or if it was necessary. If Patterson wanted to show the thoughts of others, a switch to their first-person narrative might have made more sense, and it could have been capitalized upon later on.

The "flock", as the group is referred to, is well developed as a set of characters. I enjoyed the subtle humor Patterson embeds, the type that comes from a group of people knowing each other really well. Max also has a wry sense of humor, seldom expressed, as when she is fighting Ari (an Eraser with an agenda) and she says, "I shot him the bird. (Get it? I shot him the – never mind.)" (334).

As a narrator, Max has a matter-of-fact tone, which is made more realistic by the continuous internal struggles she experiences as the leader who doesn't have all the answers. I enjoyed the story, and I look forward to reading the sequel.

Source: school library

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