The Cobra Trilogy

Title: The Cobra Trilogy (Cobra, Cobra Strike, Cobra Bargain)

Author: Timothy Zahn

Nutshell: The Cobra Trilogy covers three generations of  super-soldier. In the first book, small town boy Johnny Moreau wants to change the odds in the war against an alien menace to the Human worlds. He undergoes surgery to become a super-soldier, with servo-assisted, ceramically strengthened muscles and bones, built in lasers, and an implanted computer loaded with an acrobatic skill set to help drive them. He fights the war with the Trofts, and then afterwards deals with the political ramifications of a segment of the population having been turned into un-retireable weapons.

In the second book, Jonny’s twin sons Joshua and Justin impersonate each other on a covert mission. A planet populated by humans has been discovered far from human-controlled space, but intel suggests they are hostile. The inhabitants don’t seem hostile at first. In fact, they seem unnervingly peaceful. Unsettlingly peaceful.  And a strange bird explorers find on a different planet may hold the key to getting back home safely.

In the third book, Justin’s daughter Jessica is made the first female Cobra and sent to surveil the formerly suspicious planet, but she is unexpectedly shot down. Somehow, as an obvious offworlder in potentially hostile territory, she  must escape the planet. Od course, she thinks she’ll be able to complete her mission on the way.

Read-alikes: Michael A. Stackpole and Jerry Pournelle both write similar planet-based military SF.Read More »

Annabel Lee

Title: Annabel Lee

Author: Mike Nappa

Nutshell: Somewhere in the backwoods of Alabama, a little girl is hiding in an underground bunker. Her uncle locked her in with his attack dog for protection and told her to let nobody in. But her uncle’s dead. The only person who knows she’s down there is The Mute, an ex-special forces sniper who survived the raid. And even if he knew where the bunker was, he doesn’t have a key.

Trudy Coffey is a reasonably successful PI in Atlanta. She knows something’s up. A suspicious and sinister man came asking about an old acquaintance of hers. But she’s not expecting her ex-husband (and friendly neighborhood CIA agent) Samuel Hill to show up. And she’s certainly not expecting him to ask if he can borrow an old book of hers. And she most definitely isn’t going to just stay out of the way. Not when there’s a mystery just waiting to be solved.

They’d better settle at least some of their differences and solve it. Annabel’s time is running out.

Read-alikes: I simply don’t have titles for you yet.

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Top Ten: A Wrinkle in Time

Title: A Wrinkle In Time

Author: Madeleine L’Engle

Nutshell: Meg Murray has woes. Her father disappeared during a science experiment. Her younger brother is bullied. Her teachers think she cheats. And she is at the age where she is growing into everything, gawky, flyaway, peering at the world through glasses. She wants her father to come home and solve all her problems. She’s about to find out that sometimes instead of being rescued, you have to be the rescuer.

A strange woman comes to visit Meg. The visitor, Mrs. Whatsit, seems to have an uncanny connection to her little brother, and a profound knowledge of Meg’s father. Intrigued, Meg and Charles Wallace meet Mrs. Whatsit and two of her friends at their home to talk about their father.

It turns out, Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which aren’t people, and they aren’t from earth. They’re from distant planets, and Meg’s father is trapped out there. The children must travel across the galaxy to save him.

Readalikes: The Space Trilogy, by C. S. Lewis, is like this. Very like. The Giver, by Lois Lowry and the Matched Trilogy by Allie Condie are the closest of the dystopias to the dystopia section. Read More »

Top Ten: The Alphabet of Thorn

Title: The Alphabet of Thorn

Author: Patricia McKillip

Nutshell: In the center of a kingdom is a city carved into a cliffside, too high to hear the ocean break against the stone below. In the depths of the city is a labrynthian library, filled with dusty, ancient scrolls and soft-eyed scribes stuffed with secrets. Nepenthe is a junior scribe, and a foundling. She has a gift for strange alphabets. She coaxes knowledge from them like a gardener coaxes blooms from the earth. Far above her, the country is gathering to celebrate the crowning of a queen, new like a green tree, and uncertain. But in the library, a young sorcerer from the Floating School comes, bringing a book that sorcery cannot persuade to give up its secrets. He finds Nepenthe to do what his masters cannot. The alphabet is made of brambles. They twist and coil around the secrets they protect. And as Nepenthe delves into their thickets, their barbs sink into her and draw her down into ancient history and strange magic.

Read-alikes: Unless I name poets, there are few authors that come anywhere close to Patricia McKillip in style. Peter S. Beagle is the closest, and Robin McKinley sometimes comes close, especially in her Chalice. Patrick Rothfuss also comes close in portions of his writing, most especially The Slow Regard of Silent Things.

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Top Ten: Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Title: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Author: C. S. Lewis

Series: The Chronicles of Narnia

Nutshell: Edmund and Lucy are English schoolchildren sent to visit their rather horrid cousin Eustace for the summer. Eustace’s main hobbies are pinning bugs to cards for his collection, being a know-it-all, and loudly looking down on everyone. His parents are an early version of the sorts of people that get their knickers in a bunch when other people play “spot the vegan.” Edmund and Lucy are not excited, espcially since Eustace is most likely to tease them about something very dear: a secret, magical world where they once were rulers. Sure enough, Eustace starts in with the mockery right away. When, a minute later, they fall through a painting into the ocean of Narnia, he at first attempts to believe that his cousins have somehow drugged him or tricked him. But, on a sailing ship surrounded by strangely dressed men, under unfamiliar stars, he is convinced: Narnia is real, and he is in it.

As with all good adventures, poor Eustace cannot simply hop back through the painting and go about his life. He must stay, discovering enchanted islands and mystical creatures, being kidnapped by slave traders, and having dinner with stars, until he has learned something about himself, and been changed.

Read-alikes: The Secret Country By Pamela Dean is a slightly more complex secret world series. The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles, by Julie Andrews Edwards is somewhat less, but just as delightful. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster is odd, but similar. And The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson.

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Top Ten: Dealing with Dragons

Title: Dealing with Dragons

Author: Patricia C. Wrede

Nutshell: Cimorene lives in a very classic kingdom. She and her sisters drink tea, wear lovely dresses, and learn ladylike arts and etiquette — how loudly it is appropriate to scream when being carried off by an ogre, for example, as opposed to a giant. Their father knows that eventually they will all be rescued from monsters or curses by gallant knights and be happily married. Well, perhaps not Cimorene.

Cimorene would rather scream battlecries. Cimorene would rather ply a sword than a needle. Cimorene would rather wear armor. Tea is alright, though. Her parents are nearly despairing of her ever being rescued properly. They try to explain to their daughter how things are. Princesses simply must be captured, by giants or sea monsters or dragons.

So, Cimorene packs a bag and visits the dragons. Once she has convinced one to let her stay in exchange for cooking for parties and organizing the back storage caves, she settles in happily. Knights come by every week or so, which is a nuisance, but she sends them down the cliff to try rescuing the next princess over. Dragons do take a lot of feeding, especially at parties, but Cimorene does have a Cauldron of Plenty to help her with the task. And she’s alphabetized half the magical ingredients.

If only someone would do something about the wizards that seem to be hatching a villainous plot.

The job falls to Cimorene, so, armed with a bucket of washwater and a thriving common sense, she takes on the Wizards, with the help of some quirky dragons, a properly kidnapped princess, a witch with far too many cats, and one prince, as long as he is well-behaved and doesn’t try much rescuing.

Read-alikes: E.D. Baker’s Frog Princess Series, Once Upon a Marigold, Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine.

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Top Ten: Spindle’s End

Title: Spindle’s End

Author: Robin McKinley

Nutshell: Katriona, a young woman training in the ways of the wise woman, visits the capital city in order to attend the new and greatly lauded princess’s name day. While she sits in the audience, twenty fairies give the princess name-day gifts, each more shallow than the last. Golden hair, a tinkling laugh, the gift of embroidering… You may have guessed what happens next. Tragedy. A spurned, wicked-hearted fairy. A curse.

Katriona is the first to move after the smoke clears. Snatching up the wailing infant, she gives her a gift, almost by accident, blessing her with the ability to speak to animals. Then, because the palace is an obvious location, and the danger is still great, the queen sends the baby with Katriona, to her small village far from the capital, to be as safe as any other ordinary person.

So the princess grows, surrounded by her people, raised by Kat. But by the time she reaches the edge of her destiny, she has her own life. Friends. Loves. Her twenty-first birthday is approaching, the end of all she knows. And her curse isn’t going to be broken by a simple prick and a kiss.

Read-alikes: Cameron Dokey’s rewritten fairy tales are just right for someone looking for tales like McKinley’s. Also Jessica Day George’s Princess of the Midnight Ball and sequels; Shannon Hale’s The Goose Girl; Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted and sequels. If looking for something similar in theme and feel but less traditional and more grown up, try Patricia Mckillip’s Winter Rose.

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