Unearthed by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

I enjoyed the previous series by these two authors and this new duologyu follows the formula of a teen aged pair in a sci fi setting and their two perspectives. In this case, we have an uptight English scholar and a Chicago street scavenger thrown together on an unexplored planet. Since I had to opportunity to listen to the Audible versions of both books in the series at the same time, this review will have a larger perspective than just a single book.


Story: Jules’s father was one of a select group of experts on the Undying race of aliens. He was among the originals who decoded their message and gave the coordinates of a new world to explore, Gaia. There the IA (the Earth-wide police) found technology that could save a dying Earth. But Jules’ father found a second message hidden among the first that was a warning – a warning no one wants to hear with the lure of Earth-saving technology on the line. When his father is imprisoned for telling the truth, Jules secretly travels to the Undying planet Gaia. The Undying are not there – only ruins are left and the IA has restricted all ships going there. But scavengers are sneaking in – and on one of these ships is a hidden stowaway Mia, there to find enough contraband tech to sell up and save her sister. Jules and Mia meet and must depend on each other to survive. But each is keeping secrets.

I have to believe that Kaufman and Spooner were directed by their publisher to ‘dumb down’ the books even further from the Starbound Series. Plot points are continually repeated to make sure everyone is on the same board; e.g., after the 40th time a character named Mink is brought into a conversation, you’ll get a whole paragraph remind you of her connection to the characters. It got VERY tedious after awhile. The plot itself is risible. I could suspend disbelief somewhat on the Starbound Series but it is REALLY hard here. The aliens are cliched, the ruins generic, the whole ‘Indiana Jones trap aspects REALLY inexplicable for a technologically superior race, and the reason the undying reached out to humans comical. My eyes hurt from rolling so much throughout.

Jules and Mia’s luck is, of course, tantamount to their escapes. I wish it was because of intellect but it is clear the authors wanted to balance Mia’s survival skills with Jules’ book learning by ensuring they solved all the riddles together. But really, when you think about it for just a minute, the ludicrous nature and reasoning of those riddles become hard to surmount. Especially since the scavengers following them were able to do so easily since all the traps were sprung. Why bother with the traps in the first place since any alien species finding it could set off the traps in advance and then just walk through.

The characters are uber likable and that is the heart of the book. You’ll really like Jules and Mia and want to follow them through their travails. And in liking them, you’ll probably look over the complete silliness that is the plot. There is a lot of mystery in the beginning but the reveals throughout were underwhelming and further highlighted the problematic nature of the plotting.

This first book takes place fully on the forbidden planet Gaia. Much of it involves running from other scavengers, which includes being forced into a temple and having to solve its riddles in order to move forward. Jules is the only person on the planet who can read the Undying Glyphs and Mia has the common sense to see what Jules overlooks. The next book has a complete tone shift and takes place on Earth.

In all, it is a nice Summer read if you don’t look too closely at the plot. This first book was much better and more tightly written. It all begins to fall apart quite a bit with the second book. I listened to the Audible version and it was ok – I couldn’t help but feel there were too many accents for the narrators to deal with and so it could be frustrating at times.

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Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge Black Spire by Delilah S. Dawson

I had been to Disneyland’s Galaxy’s Edge (GE) during the opening week in June of 2019 and so had a chance to experience the land before learning about it through the book. Then this week, I went again to Disneyland after having read the book the night before. It did give me a VERY different perspective on GE and I regret I hadn’t the chance to read it before the first visit. It sets the stage for the whole land and puts so much into perspective that I was genuinely glad to have read Black Spire. However, the story itself is fairly generic, the writing somewhat simplistic, and not that much happens.


Story: Leia sends her best spy, Vi Moradi, to a far outpost in order to drum up support for the Resistance and hopefully to find a new base now that the last one was destroyed. To Vi, it is an insult – does Leia believe Vi needs more time to recover from the imprisonment and torture she recently suffered when the First Order captured her? She wants/needs to do real spy work, not this unimportant assignment! To add injury to the insult, she must take her torturer with her: the recently turned First Order Lieutenant Cardinal – who now goes by his real name Archex as he works for the Resistance. Will Vi find supporters among the Black Spire outpost of Batuu?

Although I am sure it will seem this is just an advertisement for Disney’s Galaxy’s Edge, I honestly feel it is instead a vehicle to learn more about the land’s backstory and so be able to be immersed even further. Both times I was at GE, there was a Vi Moradi cast member moving about the crowds and interacting with them/avoiding the imperials. She was even featured heavily in the opening ceremonies at Disneyland and Disney World. What the book does is establish who she is, why she is there, and why the First Order is also at Galaxy’s Edge (they are hunting her and Cardinal down).

The book itself is VERY easy to read. Other than a strangely detailed and egregious torture scene later in the book, it is very kid friendly book and reads like it was intended for middle school or teens as well as adults (in the same way the original Star Wars was). I have to admit, I wish Dawson had taken a cue from the original Star Wars novel – the Leia torture scene was better inferred when the needle droid entered her cell and then the scene ended than if we had seen her harmed. We didn’t need the detailed torture scenes in Black Spire.

Similarly, the simplistic nature of the plot, although great for kids, can be risible at times. Vi is the worst spy possible, the inhabitants (like Savi) who have the force are very idealized, and the First Order Lieutenant (Kath) hunting down his former workmate Cardinal is very one-dimensional. Leia’s motivations and reasoning for sending Vi are baffling and Vi’s own personality and reactions to situations are quizzical and unrealistic. Archex is a complete cypher and really could have used some more development – but it becomes obvious at the end why he gets none. It really is best not to examine the plot too closely and instead just enjoy the world building.

So although not a great novel, I was very glad I read it before visiting Galaxy’s Edge (applicable to either Disney World and Disneyland version since both are the same). It really helped put into perspective the land’s details and set up while also giving more insight into the characters you’ll meet there. It makes the visit even more pleasant and fun.

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Ivory Apples by Lisa Goldstein

This is a very difficult book to review for the simple reason that although it was well written and engaging, it was also unrelentingly dreary. There were no redeeming moments, no characters I liked or wanted to root for, and not a single upbeat or uplifting moment to relieve the bleakness. Life sucks, the bad triumph, and magic isn’t wonderful: just indifferent and damaging. I had a hard time picking the book up again each time I put it down because I didn’t want to go to such a dark place again.


Story: Teenager Ivy, her father, and her 3 sisters live a quiet life in Oregon. Only they know that their eccentric great aunt is the author of a beloved and favorite fantasy novel whose fans are impassioned. Ivy’s great Aunt lives alone in a remote area and the kids visit her once a year while their father makes a living from answering fan mail to the author. When the girls make friends with a lovely lady by the name of Kate Burden, they think all is well. Until tragedy strikes and their world gets turned upside down.

It’s a hard book because these young girls are psychologically and physically tortured, one lives on the street at age 15, doing casual sex, alcohol, larceny, and such, and the rest of the sisters are emotionally damaged through a repeated ordeal. Without giving too much away here, it’s a dark book with dark things happening.

The premise here is that Ivy, when young, encountered a ‘sprite’ or muse and bonded with ‘him’ – and he often takes her over and does random and often bad things. Ivy survives her ordeals because of the spirit but she also pays a heavy price for him as well. At the same time, Ivy is trying to figure out Kate Burden and how she came into their lives and managed to take so much control of it. And whether Kate is another fan after Ivy’s Great Aunt – and perhaps a spirit of her own.

One could say that author Goldstein put a heaping of reality checks in this book – the ambivalence of the sprites, the unrelenting darkness of a bad situation, the mistakes a young girl makes when left to her own devices. It’s probably a book you don’t want to read if you are a parent since it will undoubtedly trigger parental concerns.

For me, I just found this so hard to read. It was far too depressing and dark and not what I was in a mind for at the time. It was definitely engaging – there is a lot of mystery to solve about the great Aunt, about Ivy’s spirit, about the muses themselves, about Kate Burden, etc. But it didn’t make me WANT to read them either. And that meant I finished this book because I had to for a review and not because I wanted to or enjoyed it. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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10 Dance #1 by by Satoh Inoue

In this first volume, we are introduced to two very different but world class dancers, each with the same first name. Shinya Sugiki is a very traditional and old fashioned uptight ballroom dancer. He is elegant, precise, and composed. Shinya Suzuki, on the other hand, was born in Cuba, is half Cuban, and dances Latin with passion and fire. Most of the first volume is about the clash of styles and how each handles their personal lives.


Story: Both Shinyas are curious about the other’s dance styles and need to learn them in order to win a prestigious competition featuring 10 different dances. When they make a deal to teach other, it becomes apparent that one needs to loosen up and breathe while the other needs to become precise and less intuitive. Their female partners, meanwhile, are less enthused about learning another dance style and leave the men to their own devices. What follows is a an examination of the Ballroom and Latin dance competitions and styles – and what it takes to be a leader.

The two main characters are fairly common archetypes for this genre – Sugiki with his Meiji Restoration idealism and manners while Suzuki always has music in his head and was taught to feel the music by his abuelo in Cuba. Sugiki is dead serious about dancing while Suzuki is a dilettante – dancing to the music and whims in his head. Their personalities and styles are at complete odds and it creates complications and drama.

The artwork is fine and well drawn – makes the moves easy to understand. As well, both men’s personalities (as well as those of their female partners) come through clearly in the illustration work. This first volume is about meeting and then learning each other’s styles. There isn’t any romance and only the beginnings of an attraction (at this stage, only curiosity about the other). We learn of Sugiki’s very traditional Japanese family and contrast that with Suzuki, who came from a broken home.

Dancing aficionados will especially appreciate the details and quality of discussions about the art. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Japanese Home Cooking by Sonoko Sakai

Japanese Home Cooking is an extremely thorough and detail oriented book that reads more like an encyclopedia than a recipe book. The key word here is traditional in that the traditions, origins of the meals, background of the ingredients, and the author’s own family history are a large chunk of the book. Each recipe is a huge chunk of small text – you’ll have everything explained to ensure you understand not only what you are cooking but that item’s history and cultural significance.


Of note, this is for the fearless cook who wants to spend time and effort to make a superb meal. I think ‘easy’ on the cover is a bit of a misnomer – each recipe has a LOT of very specific ingredients, some easier to get than others, and the directions are in paragraph form and fairly thick. But there are many photographs so you’ll always have an idea of what you are making. As an example, Soba Salad with Kabocha Squash and Toasted Pepitas has 20 ingredients (many of which you had to prepare from other recipes in the book with many steps) and the steps/intro are 9 chunky paragraphs long. Recipes only have serving size and not dietary restriction information or carb/sugar/etc. breakdowns. But you’ll also find callout pages – a good example is for the recipe above which has a one-page callout on how to clean and cut a squash for cooking with 9 step-by-step images.

The back of a book has a list of places to buy specific Japanese cooking items – from cutlery to ingredients – in the USA.

In all, a very thorough, loving, and exhaustive study of Japanese cooking. If you want to take your Japanese meals seriously and have the time to really get to know what you are cooking and why, this is the book for you. It’s more than a cookbook – it’s a philosophy, cultural, and historical lesson in Japanese home food. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Ninja Air Fryer Cookbook For Beginners by Linda Larsen

This is an add on book to help those who have just bought the product Ninja Air Fryer Max XL 101. It includes everything a person would need to understand their new purchase and also some great recipes. In reviewing this, I do not own the product and was instead interested in using my brand of air fryer to test the recipes. I found the book useful, the items tasty and as promised, and everything very easy – from preparation to cooking.


The book breaks down as follows: Ninja Air Fryer Max XL 101; Start Crisping!; Breakfast, Snacks and Appetizers; Vegetables and Sides; Fish and Seafood; Poultry Mains; Beef, Pork, and Lamb; Dessert; Air Fry Cooking Chart for the AF100 Series Nina; Dehydration Chart for the AF100 series Ninja; Air Fry Cooking Chart for the AF 160 series Ninja; Max Crisp Cooking Chart for the AF 160 Series Ninja; Dehydration Chart for the AF160 Series Ninja; Bonus Ninja Air Fryer 1-Week Meal Plan and Shopping List; Measurement Conversions.

The section on “Start Crisping!” is very good, with information on: 1) get your kitchen ready, 2) step by step frying tips, 3) how to ad-hoc meals when you have loose ingredients but no recipe, 4)
7 tips for the perfect crisp.

The recipes were designed to be very easy for beginners and to take less than 30 minutes, start-to-finish. Each recipe is nicely laid out in 3 colors: a blue title, a red call-out box with prep time/cook time/serving size/temperature/type of cooking. There is an italicized introduction that tells you a bit about what you are making. Then in red italics are dietary considerations (nut free, vege, etc.). The ingredients are listed separately in bold font, and then the steps are short and numbered. At the bottom are variation tips and then break downs of calories, carbs, protein, fiber, sodium, etc.

The layout is crisp and every third recipe or so has a photograph. The meal plan at the back is a nice addition for getting the most from the fryer. The tips for the various Ninja fryer models are useful if you own one of those machines.

In all, a really nice cookbook especially useful for those who own the Ninja Air Fryer products. But you don’t have to own a Ninja to get use from the recipes or many of the tips here. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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Blue Morning 8 by Shoko Hidaka

With this Volume 8, the series completes and we have the final arc concerning Akihito doing what is necessary to consolidate the Kuze’s position in a world that has left nobility and the Shogunate behind. In this period of the Meiji restoration, industrialization was rampant, those who used to be wealthy land holders were taxed out of existence, and the social structure of Japan was completely changed. In this tumult, Akihito and Katsuragi have to stabilize the Kuze industrial holdings or they risk losing everything – and ultimately each other.


Story: Katsuragi has reinvented the spinning factories, providing a safe place for the workers and therefore increasing production output. Even though a disagreement ousted him from the position of CEO, he is still involved with increasing profits of Katsuragi and Kuze holdings. Akihito, meanwhile, has recognized that Kuze will be squeezed out of its industries if Akihito doesn’t modernize his vassals. He comes up with a scheme to take the sons of 12 of his vassals to live in England for 2 years and learn more about the best business practices needed for success. He wants to bring Katsuragi with him – a decision that Katsuragi will agonize over.

Mangaka Hidaka takes pains here to put both Katsuragi and Akihito into perspective. We have flashbacks that give more insight into the motivations of both characters and also many musings and scenes showing that both Katsuragi and Akihito were raised to be the head of a prestigious house (Kuze) – yet each approached it from very different philosophies. That contrast – the brash and decisive Akihito vs methodical and subtler Katsuragi) is both the attraction that binds the two together and the reason for Kuze’s success.

The book ends on a great note. At no time does Hidaka turn Katsuragi into a simpering love struck fool; he remains a very private and difficult person through to the last panel. Akihito, meanwhile, returns from England with a lot of shaggy hair – leading to some amusing scenes at the end. Other loose ends from side characters are also nicely tied up, bringing the story to a close.

This was a very good series with interesting insight into Meiji era Japan (which began in the 1870s) and how the old guard Daimyo rules were changed dramatically with industrialization and the new social structures dissolving the Shogunate. As well, I greatly appreciated the complex characterizations throughout. It’s definitely a series I will reread again in the near future. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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