Twain’s Treasure (Phantom File’s #1) by William B. Wolfe

Alex, the protagonist of Twain’s Treasure, is a liar. And if I could see ghosts and they constantly got me in trouble I would be a liar too. After all, who believes a kid who says he can see ghosts? We’ve got medication and counseling and all kinds of other ways to deal with supposed paranormal sightings.

The only problem is that Alex’s best and only friend in town, Bones, is crazy for paranormal activity stories, shows, books, even conventions. And Alex has been lying about his ability to see ghosts for a long long time, even to his best friend.

Alex might have gotten away with his lies if it weren’t for one Samuel Clemens, supreme haunt of the library in Hannibal MO.

This book was ten times more delightful than I expected, and was chock full of facts about Mark Twain and the town of Hannibal. It reminded me Richard Peck’s The Ghost Belonged to Me only updated and, honestly, a bit more interesting. Definitely one to recommend to middle grades (and old fogies like me still reading them in their 40s).

Drive, Act 2 by Dave Kellett

Welp, that didn’t take long.

Drive Act Two is (obviously) the continuation of Drive, Act One, which I reviewed earlier today… because I inhaled both books today.

The second act of this story is as intoxicating as the first, filled with aliens and worlds beyond ours, introducing new characters and new twists and turns to the plot line at every convenience. The pacing continues to be spot-on. The art continues to be polished and delightful. The situation for our cast of characters continues to worsen, which, I mean sure, act 2, that’s it’s job.

I’ve reached the point in the story where even if I tried to explain the plot to the reader, it would take longer than actually reading the book. Plus I’d mess it up. Suffice it to say that I look forward to Act 3 with great admiration for Dave Kellett’s writing and a sincere desire to see how this all wraps up.

Or whether it does wrap up. There’s no law against a five-act space opera.

This isn’t one you’re going to find on Amazon. Buy directly from the Drive store in hardback, paperback, or PDF.

Drive, Act 1 by Dave Kellett

I fell in love with Dave Kellet’s art and storytelling style with his strip Sheldon, a long long time ago when I had the time to read daily comics. I can remember when Drive launched.

But then life happened and I never got back to it.

This was a tactical error on my part.

Drive is a delicious mix of humor and heartbreak, a grandmotherly taking-no-crap human captain, two other humans that are in La Familia (the government) and all kinds of other aliens. The most important of the aliens are a Russian-accented Veeta the size of a rhino, and a tiny we-don’t-know-what named Skitter.

The thesis underpinning the story is that Skitter could conceivably save the human race and their empire by becoming pilots in their military. But there are mafias, planets full of dumb bullies, a parasitic-virus-based race spreading through the galaxy, a very very pissed-off group of aliens looking to regain stolen tech, and, well, space to deal with.

This book is the first act of the story. You will not want to read it without also getting your hands on the second act, which is now also available.

(Well, I mean, you could, but you’ll be like WHYYYYYY)

The art is fantastic, the storyline paced well for such a long arc, the switching of points-of-view to different places and times used to great effectiveness. The story is occasionally interrupted with important notes, historical elements, pages from an encyclopedia, and foreshadowing.

Oh the foreshadowing.

I inhaled this book in less than a day and as soon as I am done this review I’m starting Act 2.

This isn’t one you’re going to find on Amazon. Buy directly from the Drive store in hardback, paperback, or PDF.

The Ends of the World: Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans, and Our Quest to Understand Earth’s Past Mass Extinctions by Peter Brannen

I wasn’t one of those kids that was enamored with dinosaurs, and we didn’t really explain that birds were dinosaurs until I was well outside the age where my clothing shopping took place in the kid’s section. I became interested in dinosaurs and their extinction because I was one of those kids who was fascinated by plate tectonics and geology, and the plate tectonics and geology kept bouncing against the paleontology and, well,  eventually one takes a hint.

Thus I’ve found myself becoming interested in dinosaurs somewhat unexpectedly. I watch PBS Eons and read things about how chickens are actually dinosaurs.

And on the other side of the science debates, I numbly agree that yeah, humans are causing climate change, but do we know what could actually happen? Do we have any models?

Turns out we do. Not the models we would have chosen, but definitely actual research-driven mind-adjusting models. They’re called the mass extinctions.

The Ends of the World: Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans, and Our Quest to Understand Earth’s Past Mass Extinctions by Peter Brannen scratches the geology itch, the plate tectonics itch, the biology itch, the paleontology itch, even a touch of anthropology near the end when the humans show up. It skips all those long “boring” stretches when everyone’s living just fine between the ends of their worlds. It puts significant attention on those times when multiple things, like a perfect storm, go horribly wrong. We don’t just learn about the mass extinctions. We learn about the places on our own roadsides where we can see the evidence of those extinctions – juts of ground that were the bottom of seabeds, cliffs that were volcanos, rocks that were animals.

This is the most in-depth look at what rises and falls in CO2 levels actually do to the Earth – its oceans, its land masses, and its atmospheres – that I’ve found anywhere I’ve looked. It’s the first time I’ve gotten an explanation of how the planet does its best to self-regulate its temperature (and it turns out to have a lot to do with dissolving the mountains) and the first time I’ve gotten a good idea of the time frames involved (really really *really* really long).

So will there be another mass extinction? Eventually, and it will probably involve CO2 levels. Whether that’s soon enough for our society to remember it, or far enough out that we’ve moved off-planet remains to be determined by our own behavior over the next 100 years.

In the meantime, this very readable, very relatable book will help you see far in the past and possibly imagine far in the future.

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

I’m an East Coast woman, living on land colonized three hundred years ago. I know nothing of the Navajo, nothing of the desert, and my only experience with a mesa was a family trip decades ago.

In other words, everything about the world of Trail of Lightning‘s protagonist, Maggie Hoskie, should feel absolutely foreign to me.

Well, I mean, some of it is certainly supposed to be foreign to anyone. The book takes place in a post-apocalyptic (for White people) Sixth World, where the Navajo gods, heroes, and monsters have resurfaced and started their unnatural lives anew. Don’t get much of that here in the suburbs. (Not really hoping to have Coyote swing by the house either, gotta say.)

I can feel the desert dust on the library shelves, smell the ozone in the air, see the greenish tinge of a nightmare sky, and certainly hear the rez dogs barking.

Rebecca Roanhorse’s characterizations, her world building, her storytelling, captured me in all the right ways. Her characters have complex and shifting motivations. The action is fast-paced and brutally violent, while simultaneously filled with heartbroken love. The supernatural is extremely supernatural.

And at the same time, the stories, the Navajo language, the culture that Rebecca describes, they are all (as much as any fiction story is) real.

Frankly, if I’m going to read kick-ass women kicking ass (and yes, I’m going to read lots of it) I’d much rather be doing it with a culture of real people with a real language and a real history than a fully made-up culture of elves speaking elvish. (And I love elves.)

There are many people and many cultures in this world, and often they’re intermingled and next-door-neighbors with my white colonial upbringing, that I’d never see if writers like Rebecca Roanhorse weren’t bringing them to the forefront. These stories should be heard. They need to be heard. And damn we would be worse off if we didn’t get a chance to hear them.

I loved it.