Science Fiction Recommendations: for the genre newbie, intermediate, + experienced reader

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Science fiction has long been my favorite genre. The first series of books I read for myself (Animorphs by KA Applegate) was sci-fi and it even manages to join two of my favorite things: science and technology and the study of the world, and fictional stories. I do know however that many people find science fiction reads a little too “gadgety” and scientific for them, and that many YA readers become a little lost when looking for sci-fi. Therefore I have devised this list of reads that I have personally really enjoyed, and have broken it in to three parts. The first for people who may not be a huge fan of sci-fi or may not have that much experience with the genre, the second for those who enjoy science fiction but may not want a huge dose of the “science” part, and the third for those, like me, who love sci-fi and are all in.

I have also designed the list to be a sort of sliding scale. The most beginner of the beginner sci-fi books are at the top, and the books become more intense and “advanced” as you scroll down. I hope you enjoy, and that you maybe even find your next favorite read!

For the Science Fiction Newbie

The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer

THEMES: Futuristic, Retelling, Romance, Robots

I really love The Lunar Chronicles for how much crossover potential it has. I know many, many people who generally don’t enjoy science fiction who love these books. They do have a lot of heavy sci-fi elements: they are set in the far future, the main character is a cyborg, there is space travel and robots and hacking… Yet they also have a lot of romance and slightly magical elements to soften that a little, and most of it has a very fantastically feel. I highly recommend these to anyone looking to get into reading science fiction… or just to anyone, really.

The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken

THEMES: Dystopian, Superpowers, Found Family

While it is at its core science fiction, The Darkest Minds does not feel at all like science fiction. It is set in essentially contemporary times, (despite some important more ~dystopian~ details) and if you are less of fan of all the technology in science fiction, this series contains basically no gadgets. The scifi elements are eventually explained, but they spend most of the books just in the background. Instead this book is about a group of teenagers who just happen to have superpowers running from the law and trying to figure out where to fit in a world that doesn’t really want them anymore. It’s beautiful, and heart wrenching, and pretty thrilling, too.

The Accidental Hero by Matt Myklusch

THEMES: Superheroes, Alien Invasion, Genre Mashup

I love this book (and all of Myklusch’s work) so darn much but the hardest part of recommending it is actually describing it. The Accidental Hero is middle grade about a nation made up of Superheroes. It’s kind of the ultimate genre mashup, with magic and fantasy elements, but with all the aliens and the tech I would ultimately say it’s mostly science fiction. The characters are all great, the plot is a lot more complicated than it first appears, and while the setting seems clique and ridiculous it’s actually pretty captivating. I especially recommend this one to fans of superhero media and word play. Seriously… 80% of the names are some sort of play on words and it’s amazing.

For the Intermediate Sci-Fi Reader

Epic by Conor Kostick

THEMES: Virtual Reality Gaming, Futuristic Utopia

This is kind of your classic not-quite-perfect futuristic utopia, but with a twist: Any person in this book’s world has their economic and social status entirely determined by their standing in the virtual reality video game called ‘Epic.’ Legal disputes are not determined by a judge and jury but by one on one matches in the game’s arena. Earning virtual money through quests gets your family more food, better housing, and better work. It’s a really fascinating concept that makes for a fast paced, and somewhat mysterious, read.

The Lost Planet by Racheal Searless

THEMES: Space Odyssey, Adventure, Mystery

The Lost Planet is a space odyssey for middle grade readers and is so super fun while also getting into some super serious stuff. I really can’t tell you what this one is about without giving some sort of spoiler so I would say to read the summary and pick it up if you’re at all interested. I also think this one has a really eye-catching cover illustration.

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

THEMES: Supervillians, Dystopian, High Tech Assassins

In Steelheart, when people develop superpowers, they become evil. David, the main character, saw his father killed by a superpowered ‘Epic,’ and since then has wanted revenge against them and all of the other people taking advantage of their powers to become tyrants and bullies. Steelheart is a book that contains a lot of really cool worldbuilding, (because Brandon Sanderson) with some great tech and characters that I love a ridiculous amount. This book seems pretty hit or miss for a lot of people but I really love it and it’s great if you love supervillains, cool powers, and moral complexity.

Insignia by SJ Kincaid

THEMES: Space Fights, Weaponized Teenagers, Politics

Insignia has been, and remains to be, my very favorite science fiction series. The plot is rich, and each of the books in this trilogy is even stronger than the one before. Essentially, in this book World War III is being fought over resources, by giant robotic spaceships. And those ships can only be controlled by teenagers. It deals with the moral issues of technology, using children to fight, and having corporations influencing governments, while also telling a really great story with fantastic characters.

For the Advanced Sci-Fi Reader

The Illuminae Files by Amie Kauffman and Jay Kristoff

THEMES: Survival, Hacking, Space Ships

Though I love Illuminae, I would be the first to admit this is a pretty different kind of book. Hence, the placement into the “advanced” section of this list. This series is told not in a usual story format but through documents. Emails, IMs, photos, mission reports, interview transcripts… You name it, it’s probably in there. It seems like a story written like this would be pretty confusing, but once you get into it it’s really not. Besides the way it’s told, Illuminae is the story of the refugees fleeing from a bombed and destroyed planet, and everything that happens to them afterward. I thought it was so super captivating and just really cool.

The Martian by Andy Weir

THEMES: Survival, Space Travel, Comedy

You might have seen (or at least heard of) the movie adaptation made for this book. The movie was pretty great, but of course the book is much better. The Martian is about an astronaut that becomes stranded on Mars and essentially has to survive until he can be brought back to Earth… None of which is an easy feat. The most amazing thing about this book is that it essentially only has a single character, and yet manages to be hilarious and emotional, even when there is very little interaction between different people. Another amazing thing about it is how much real science is used. This might give a lot of people pause, as the technical explanations can get rather long and in depth. I thought they were fascinating and made the book even better, but it really depends whether you enjoy the science or not.

May 2016 Wrap-Up + June TBR

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I started May off with my regional Synchronized Swimming competition in which I achieved my biggest goal by winning first in the individual figure competition, and both my routines qualified to nationals. Closer to end of this month I then had my school’s “prom” (it was a lot of fun) and I graduated from high school. So… A pretty big month.

What I’ve Been Reading:

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  • A Court of Thorns and Roses (#1) by Sarah J Mass ☆ I’ve been a little wary since I did not really enjoy Mass’s Throne of Glass, but this was a very entertaining book! It was really intriguing and I liked reading it.
  • A Court of Mist and Fury (#2) by Sarah J Mass ☆ Overall enjoyable, but it took SOO long to read. A lot happened that seemed pretty… Unimportant. I enjoyed some parts of this more than the first book, but page count aside I read the first one so much faster and it never felt at all like a chore to read like this one sometimes did.
  • The Hidden Oracle (The Trials of Apollo #1) by Rick Riordan ☆ This was so much more like Percy Jackson than Heroes of Olympus which means Tamara = happy. That said, this book felt much more simplified, predictable and maybe even overall… Younger? But I still enjoyed it.
  • The Crown (The Selection #5) by Kiera Cass ☆ This was a really good series conclusion. It did frustrate me in parts, and the first three books probably had a better story arc, but I still thoughrougly enjoyed The Crown. I also thought it was kind of the perfect length – I read it quickly and didn’t get bored at any part.
  • White Sand Vol. 1 by Brandon Sanderson / Rik Hoskin ☆ It was interesting and I’m intrigued enough to read the other volumes, but the story felt a little rushed and weirdly paced at the beginning. Plus, I didn’t feel much depth to the characters, but that’s a problem I often have with graphic novels. (I feel incredibly weird not loving a Branderson book…)
  • Goldfish by Nat Luurtsema Goldfish is not a bad book… But as I synchro swimmer I had many problems with it. Here, just read my review.
  • I’m Not Your Manic Pixie Dream Girl by Gretchen McNeil ☆ I thought this was pretty good. It was an enjoyable, interesting read that really did some different sort of stuff with high school tropes.

June TBR

I think I’m heading back into a science fiction kick this next month, but I’ve also been loving contemporaries lately. These are just suggestions of course, but here goes:

Not Really Synchronized Swimming: Goldfish by Nat Luurtsema

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Goldfish by Nat Luurtsema, Published by Feiwel & Friends, ARC given to me by a friend. Buy this Book: Indiebound // The Book Depository.

Louise Brown dreams of qualifying for the olympics. She’s waited for these trials her entire life. And then, she fails miserably.

Things couldn’t get worse – so, they get better. Lou finds herself agreeing to coach three boys training for a TV talent show. So cool! She’s training them as synchronized swimmers. Okay, slightly less cool. The boys and Lou form a unique friendship and they feel like they have a chance at stardom.

I am a synchronized swimmer. I love the sport. But synchronized swimming doesn’t get into media very much. Sure there are old 50s movies with that people say have synchronized swimming in them and are referenced every once in a while… But that’s not really synchro in the first place, and it is definitely not what it looks like today.

(here’s a video with some great clips if you have no idea what I’m talking about)

So of course I was super excited when MC sent me this book and said it was about synchronized swimming! Overall, I found Goldfish to be an entertaining and sometimes hilarious book with a pretty good story. Only… The swimming that was included wasn’t at all actual synchro.

For starters, I do want to say that the book does acknowledge that what the main characters are doing is not synchronized swimming. They talk about how they’re really just making up their own thing as they go along. They do keep using the term “synchronized swimming” though which I kind of had a problem with because… No. If anything I’d call what the characters practice more “water acrobatics” than anything else.

I knew going into Goldfish that the main character was a former speed swimmer, so I did expect a certain level of derision at the beginning. You have no idea how many people I’ve met who look down on synchro because they have no idea what it actually is. What I didn’t expect that this attitude would go on throughout the book, even while she was supposedly researching the sport.

“I spend every lunchtime and evening googling synchronized swimming but it all looks so boring” (88, ARC)

When I google “synchronized swimming” the first page contains the official USA website, the wikipedia page, a bunch of pictures of perfectly synchronized splits and arms, and a video of one of North Korea’s team routines. I don’t know about anyone else but it looks pretty impressive to me.

And then, in the last couple chapters…

“[A team] are doing proper synchronized swimming. It looks good, really pro, perfectly in unison. Maybe I’m biased but I think it’s a bit boring” (218, ARC)

After the whole book I honestly would have thought she’d have learned.

There were also a couple perpetuated stereotypes (flowery rubber swim caps, slow movements) that really bugged me. Okay, maybe it shouldn’t be the biggest deal because, yeah, this is a lot of what people in the world think of the sport. But for a book with synchronized swimming in the summary I really thought it would do better.

“… Surprisingly helpful if you’re trying to teach yourself synchronized swimming and Wikipedia doesn’t offer much” (103, ARC)

There are so many resources online to learn about synchro moves and doing it in general that this line honestly made me roll my eyes. This was a good enough book but any research that might have been done is seriously questionable.

On a related note, if you’re looking for a beta reader with 12 years of experience in synchronized swimming, please contact me.

2stars

Recent Reads: May 2016 Releases (New Video)

It has been a metaphorical age since I last made any sort of video. Some of you might even be surprised that I make videos at all. Hi, my name is Tamara, I love video editing and I sometimes film myself talking about books.

For this particular video I decided to talk about some of the books I have read recently. Partly because I wanted to to talk about them, and partly because they were all library books that needed to be returned.

Without further ado, here it is:

This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab: ARC Review

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This Savage Song (Monsters of Verity #1) by Victoria Schwab, Published by Greenwillow Books, ARC given to me by a friend. Buy this Book: Indiebound // The Book Depository.

“The city of Verity has been overrun with monsters, born from the worst of human evil. In North Verity, the Corsai and the Malchai run free. Under the rule of Callum Harker, the monsters kill any human who has not paid for protection. In the South, Henry Flynn hunts the monsters who cross the border into his territory, aided by the most dangerous and darkest monsters of them all—the Sunai, dark creatures who use music to steal their victim’s souls.

As one of only three Sunai in existence, August Flynn has always wanted to play a bigger role in the war between the north and the south. When the chance arises to keep an eye on Kate Harker, daughter of the leader of North Verity, August jumps on it.”

This Savage Song had a world that crawled into my mind and wouldn’t leave, and a story that pulled at me when I wasn’t reading it and sucked me in when I was.

What was really great about This Savage Song was the mood of it all. It was dark and intriguing and mysterious, but it wasn’t TOO dark. Amid the death and the sadness there was also light. Jokes and shared smiles and humanity despite the darkness. Everything in the book felt so real because even though there was fear and violence there was happiness there too to pull me through the dark, and really make me connect to the characters.

thissavagesongfarmsmallAnd connect to them I did. I loved August for his odd kindness and his struggles with his monstrous abilities, and for how he cared for the world and humanity so much even though he knew how terrible it all could be. I understood Kate for wanting to bury happiness and hope so that she could be ruthless and do her best to thrive in a world for of monsters. They both made so much sense and were so detailed and HUMAN. (even though August is really anything but)

In the world of This Savage Song there are three kinds of monsters, and the fight between humans and monsters has split the city into two parts that represent very different view points on how humanity should now go about their lives. The different types of monsters were so interesting to learn about and the whole concept of them was great, and the conflict between the two cities was a great backdrop (and cause) for the plot of the story.

As for the plot itself, it seemed like it was never quite what I expected. It kept me hooked needing to know what would happen next, and I never could have predicted most of the third part of the book.

Overall, this book was amazing. I loved the urban fantasy, I loved the two main characters, (August and Kate are some of my new favorite fictional characters) and I of course loved Schwab’s writing, as I always do. The whole thing has lingered in my head long after long after finishing it because it was just superb. 

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This Savage Song will be published on July 5th, 2016.