Tag Archives: Book Reviews

Best Books I Read in 2018

history-books

51AX-4koEFL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_It’s a name we usually associate with William Wallace since what we know of him comes mostly from Mel Gibson’s Braveheart. He’s the one that betrays Wallace in the film but there is so much more to the story. With the release of Outlaw King this year, I finally pulled this off the shelf to read everything that was missing from Chris Pine’s movie. It’s an incredible read or intrigue, murder, medieval warfare and a life dedicated to creating a free Scotland. This book is just brilliantly written, keeping you invested at every turn. I highly recommend this!

81OnyWJzGtLThis was also a pick up because of Damien Chazelle’s movie based on this biography. The film had left me wondering if Gosling’s characterization had been correct, well it was. Neil was a complicated man, whip smart, yet reserved emotional, to a fault. Hansen weaves the tale of Amrstrong’s life, personally and professionally very well. Heroes are never perfect and it’s an important lesson, driven home to perfection in this bio.

 

91qWWm0iVMLI’ve liked all her previous Strike mysteries but Rowling takes a different tactic in this one and it’s a welcome change. The book still revolves around a murder but the focus is much more on the characters this time. Both Strike and Robin’s personal lives are in the forefront and after three books with them, it’s nice to see all that growth start to pay off with some big changes for both of them.

 

A1UZFooN1dLJonah Goldberg has done it again and this time he traces human history to show just how special what’s happened in the West has been. It’s an extensive look and the “why” of tribalism and why it is now rearing it’s ugly head once again. Even though I do like this book a great deal, I did struggle with his approaching the subject from an atheistic foundation. There were times where I felt it actually hurt his arguments. In the end it’s still very much worth your time.

 

SOLO - A Star Wars Story MOST WANTED Cover Ultra Hi ResolutionFrom my original review, “Carson’s world building on Corellia is excellent. She adds to the understanding of the White Worms gang, Qi’ra’s background with The Silos, other crime syndicates on Corellia and the idea of droid freedom from Solo. What makes this book so good is the way it adds to the film and expands the experience through deepening the understanding of the characters and the life they had before the film. Most Wanted is highly recommended.”

 

sex-in-a-broken-world-original-imaf6z7ytkzxnftqThe world has broken sex. It doesn’t take much to see this is the case. Just watch TV for five minutes and almost every commercial will use sex to try to sell you everything from cars to gum. Paul David Trip breaks down the degradation of sex and helps show us the ways to redeem one of the most misunderstood gifts from God. Honestly, this is a must read.

 

the-kingdom-of-speech“Where does speech come from?” This is the question that Tom Wolfe brilliantly tackles in The Kingdom of Speech. He brilliantly rejects the idea that speech is something that could have naturally evolved, at every turn answering objections to his premise. This is one of the most thought-provoking books I read this year and cannot recommend it enough.

 

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Sasse cements himself as one of America’s best thinkers who also happens to be a politician. He addresses the reasons for the slow decent into tribalism and why we are so consumed with an us vs. them mentality. He doesn’t just diagnose the problem but also looks for ways to overcome it before it’s too late. I didn’t rank this list, but if you can only read one book in 2019, make it this!

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Solo: A Star Wars Story Novelization – Revew

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This review was originally seen on The Star Wars Report.

It’s been a good year for Star Wars books. Most Wanted, Thrawn: Alliances, and The Mighty Chewbacca and the Forest of Fear are just a few examples of the good stories that have been released. This month Del Rey released the novelization of Solo and, like they did with The Last Jedi, it’s an “Expanded Edition.” An “Expanded Edition” means it contains deleted scenes incorporated back into the story, as well as extensions to existing material seen in the film. This tactic worked well for The Last Jedi, whose novelization was better than its source material.

So the question is, does it work again with Solo? Thankfully the answer is a resounding yes!

Murr Lafferty has seamlessly integrated the new material with what was seen in the movie to create something truly special. She masterfully takes what was there and accentuates everything you wanted to know more about while watching the film. Han, Qi’ra, Beckett, Chewie, L3, Enfys Nest, and almost every other character in the film benefit from added time spent with them, as well as the added bonus of being privy to their thoughts. It cannot be overstated just how much fun it is to be back in this story with new material that adds to the depth and richness of the Solo part of the Star Wars galaxy.

The rest of this review could spend the next few paragraphs laying out all the additions the novelization has, but there would be no fun in that. Part of the joy of reading this book is the delight in not knowing exactly what has been expanded. The highest praise this book could be given is how deftly it shows the fertile playground the underworld is in the Star Wars universe. It’ll leave readers longing to watch Solo again and to see more Solo films that continue the story. Solo is a must read and is rated 4.75 out of 5 stars.

This review was completed using a copy of Solo: A Star Wars Story provided by Del Rey.

Thrawn: Alliances – Review

Dh6ituIXkAApangThis review originally appeared on The Star Wars Report. Don’t miss The 602 Club review!

There was, Vader had noticed, a strange sort of symmetry in the Force, a balance that often manifested in patters and resonances and strange reunions. People long separated would unexpectedly meet again; events of significance would see echos of themselves within new events; places once visited would somehow draw a person back to create new memories, whether good or for ill” (Thrawn: Alliances 254)

Vader’s ruminations are the perfect summation of Timothy Zahn’s latest book Thrawn: Alliances, which explores the first the meeting of Anakin Skywalker and Thrawn as well as a mission Vader and Thrawn are sent on by the Emperor. Loyalty is tested and secrets are uncovered as the Unknown Regions become the backdrop for two events that will help shape these men’s lives forever.

The strength of this book lies in it’s characterizations. Each main character is written so well that it’s impossible not to hear Matt Lanter or Cat Taber’s voice when reading Anakin or Padmé. James Earl Jones and Lars Mikkelsen are almost audible with every word of dialogue from Vader or Thrawn. And it’s not just the voices that Zahn captures, it’s everything the characters think or do feels completely in line with who fans know them to be. Zahn has written something that feels like an arc of The Clone Wars and Rebels all in one. Using Padmé and Anakin together was a perfect touch as they bring out the most intimate parts of the other’s personality. And their individual interactions with Thrawn give us a nuanced sense of who he truly is. Lastly, Zahn does not disappoint in his Vader/Thrawn showdown, as each man works to understand the other, seeing if they
can be trusted.

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The other thing Zahn does well is the way he weaves the mysteries of each story and the implications they have on the prequel time period and possibly the sequel era. The Clone Wars era story adds one more layer of machinations of Palpatine, adding dimension to his plans for bringing down the Republic. The Imperial era story continues to build on the mysteries of the Unknown Regions, races there, the Chiss Ascendancy and what the Emperor could be so interested in. This may be the most intriguing part of the story and it’s one that leaves the reader clamoring to know more and with the hope that all this focus on the Unknown Regions is going to pay off in the future.

Thrawn: Alliances is a book that much could be written about, but as a review, it’s honestly best left to the reader to discover. Zahn has created something wonderful here, so should you buy it, yes! Warning, it’ll leave you hungry for more, but isn’t that the hallmark of a good Star Wars book, opening the door for more? Thrawn: Alliances is rated 4.5 out of 5.

This review was completed using a copy of Thrawn: Alliances provided by Del Rey.

Rebel Dawn – Review

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Rebel Dawn arrives as the last book in A.C. Crispin’s Han Solo trilogy. The series spans most of the 19 years from the end of the Clone Wars to the beginning of A New Hope. One of the greatest strengths of the series and something that’s fully on display in this book is that it’s not just a story about Solo. This series explores the underworld of the Star Wars galaxy and the beginning of the Rebellion. In many ways, this last book is less about Han and more about the pieces of the galaxy that Crispin has been playing with throughout each book.

The first of these elements is the Hutt syndicate and Jabba’s rise to power. Crispin wraps up the power struggle between the Desilijic and Besadii clans while also setting up other underworld crime bosses like Xizor of Black Sun. The series does a magnificent job of playing with these elements, depicting the way Palpatine is using them for his benefit and delving into a whole other side of the galaxy rich in characters and potential. You can see how Solo: A Star Wars Story uses some of these elements and just how ripe the underworld is for stories. Reading this series has me praying that Lucasfilm will continue to make movies with Han, Chewie, Qi’ra, and the rest of this underworld they set up in the film.

The second element that is fleshed out is the Rebellion. Bria is now a commander in one of the rebel cells, so we get to see the rise of the Alliance through her character. Rebel Dawn shows us not only the rebellion’s rise, but it tells the story of the theft of the Death Star plans and their transmission to the Tantive VI. Of course this is all before Rogue One came out and just one of a few stories in Legends on how this went down. Honestly, this part of the story, especially the theft of the plans, seems rushed and not all that satisfying. When it’s just about Bria and her part in the Rebellion it works, but the moment Crispin tries to squeeze in the Death Star plans, it just feels too cluttered.

Something I was not expecting was for Crispin to work in Brian Daley’s Han Solo trilogy into her narrative. This was an interesting choice and it works for the most part. Even if there are parts of the Daley novels that do not always feel completely like the Star Wars we have come to know, it’s a nice tip of the hat to the first Solo stories we ever got outside of the films.

One thing that does not work for me is Han’s relationship with Bria. Her betrayal of him and her death just feel too close in time to the events of A New Hope. It is hard to buy that Han would be interested in Leia so soon after the loss of the love of his life. It feels like this book would have better served the larger story if it had been set four to five years before A New Hope, giving Han time to move on from such a tragic loss.

Regardless, Rebel Dawn is probably my favorite book in this series. Crispin does such a good job of utilizing all the plot elements she set up in the previous books to bring this to a mostly satisfying conclusion. There are parts that feel forced to me, but ultimately they’re not detrimental to my enjoyment of this underworld of Star Wars that she’s developed through the story of Han Solo. I’ll say it again, reading this has me hoping and praying that Lucasfilm will continue what it started in Solo. This series shows just how much they could do with it on the big screen. Rebel Dawn is rated 4 out of 5 stars.

 

The Hutt Gambit – Review

The_Hutt_Gambit_coverMy look back at A.C. Crispin’s Han Solo trilogy continues with the second book in the series, The Hutt Gambit. I was pleasantly surprised that this was a better book than the first. The writing was better and I just personally found the story line a more engaging.

The book starts off with Han already having been kicked out of the Imperial Academy. I found this frustrating because I was hoping that Crispin would delve into his time there, it seems like something that gets glossed over too easily. The other annoying thing, and Crispin makes a habit of doing this in the series, is telling important parts of Han’s story in flashback. What I don’t like about it, is that it feels unnecessary, especially when the flashback is the meeting between Han and Chewie and Han’s rescue of him, which is the cause of his dishonorable discharg. The meeting of these two icons deserves more than a flashback. I wish the book had started with Han, in the Academy and then let his meet-cute with Chewie be the focus of the first few chapters.

This book also introduces Boba Fett and Lando into Han’s life. I felt like Crispin does a great job of creating enmity between Han and Fett so that you believe there is true hostility between the characters. Lando on the other hand, just came out of nowhere and his reason for looking for Han just didn’t seem to fit the character, he’s wanting piloting lessons. Couple this with Chewie needing to be taught by Han how to fly, it just makes everyone a little too dependent on the “GREAT HAN SOLO”.

There are a few other minor things that bugged me about the book. One is that Han is a little too good at leadership and willing to fight for a cause here. I would have much rather seen him have to learn these things throughout this entire series than see him pretty much be the guy that could transition into Rebel general at a moments notice. Lastly, the way they fool the Empire (and I won’t give it away here) felt straight out of Star Trek not Star Wars. Lastly, there is a bit of this book in the middle that drags and it definitely has the middle book syndrome because some major plot elements are left dangling for book three.

Where this book excels is in the world building. Crispin creates such a vibrant smuggler community. Her descriptions of Smuggler’s Run and the Kessel Run are excellent. She also gives us a lot of insight into the Hutt cartel. I found myself using The Clone Wars hutts and their looks as stand-ins for her hutt meetings. Crispin is also able to make what Daley did with the Corporate Sector work well in this version of the Star Wars galaxy. It’s not just the Empire that’s a worry or of interest here, there are a lot of neat factions and she brings the seedy underbelly of the galaxy to life.

I feel like The Hutt Gambit is an improvement over the first book, leaving me excited to finish the series. I rate it 3 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Most Wanted – Review

SOLO - A Star Wars Story MOST WANTED Cover Ultra Hi ResolutionThis review was originally published on The Star Wars Report. Also don’t miss The 602 Club review!

One of the best things about a new Star Wars film are the books that come out in support of them and Solo: A Star Wars Story is no exception. Last Shot by Daniel José Older was a wonderful companion to the movie, giving depth to both Han and Lando around the time of Solo but also featured them after Return of the Jedi. Fans would be doing themselves a disservice if they neglected the YA novels that have been released as tie-ins to the movies. Lost Stars is considered one of the best of the new canon and Rebel Rising added tremendous depth to Jyn in Rogue One. With that in mind, Most Wanted looks to do the same thing for Solo by giving us the backstory to how Han and Qi’ra become the team we see in the film.

Character Work

The joy of these books is when they help flesh out the characters, giving us insight as to who they are and who they will become. Rae Carson nails the characterization of Han and Qi’ra perfectly. She is able to use the plot of the book to not only get them to where we see them in the film but to explain who they are at the core. It’s fascinating to see what attracts Han and Qi’ra to each other and not so much romantically, but as people. Carson is able to show though her story the reason these two people gravitate towards each other and make such a good team. She’s also able to show the complexity of their relationship and why they’ll continue to care so much about each other, even when taking different paths in the end. The nuances here are what stand out and Carson brings those to life beautifully.

What Will Save You

The biggest strengths in the book is Carson’s ability to sow the seeds of incongruity between Han and Qi’ra’s worldview. For Han life is, “…having one person in all the galaxy to fly with. Someone you can trust to have your back”. His experiences in Most Wanted galvanize this idea for him, whereas for Qi’ra, even though she sees the benefit of this kind of thinking, she cannot fully commit to it. She senses that it’s power and money that will give her the freedom she so desperately deserves, because in the end, everyone will betray you. What’s so good about this, is again, it’s nuanced, it’s not clear cut, especially when it comes to Qi’ra.

The Book

The bar for these books has been set very high with stories like Lost Stars and Rebel Rising and thankfully, Most Wanted lives up! Carson’s world building on Corellia is excellent. She adds to the understanding of the White Worms gang, Qi’ra’s background with The Silos, other crime syndicates on Corellia and the idea of droid freedom from Solo. What makes this book so good is the way it adds to the film and expands the experience through deepening the understanding of the characters and the life they had before the film. Most Wanted is highly recommended and rated 4 and a 1/2 stars out of 5.

Don’t miss The 602 Club Podcast and Cinema Stories Podcast reviews of Solo!

The Paradise Snare – Review

The_Paradise_Snare_coverIn light of Solo: A Star Wars Story I thought it would be fun to go back to the Legends line and read some of the books that deal with the character’s origin and his homeward. Having recently read Brian Daley’s trilogy for Aggressive Negotiations, A.C. Crispin’s trilogy felt like the right place to begin.

What is really fascinating is reading this book post-Solo. There are some things here that feel very familiar. Han’s life on Corellia has a lot of similarities to the movie and I feel like it’s well done here in the book. It does a good job of beginning to show us why Han is so “solo”. I will say him having a wookiee raise him was a bit on the nose. I was also a little disappointed to find out that Solo was not an orphan but related to a well-to-do family on Corellia.

The Paradise Snare is a mixed bag for me. The Han we get in this story seemed a bit too much like the one we know from A New Hope and therefore his arc to becoming the man who will live up to his last name does not seem as pronounced as I’d like it to be. On the other side, seeing the way he gets to the Imperial Academy was great. Far from the Empire being seen as the bad guys, it was neat to see how people think of the Academy and being part of the Empire is a good thing at this point in time. This point of view, in light of the end of Revenge of the Sith, still works well.

The part of the book I like the best is the way it shows us the galaxy outside the Rebellion/Imperial conflict. Seeing the cartels like the Hutts, the spice trade and the seedier parts of Star Wars opens up so many story-telling opportunities. It also uses Daley’s ideas about the Corporate Authority in that, these crime syndicates are another major faction in what is happening between the Prequels and Originals.

The goal of these reviews will not be spoilers or to get into every single detail, but more to give an overview of my impressions looking back on something with all the knowledge of canon. The fun thing for me is I’ve not read these books and it’s enjoyable to see just how much of what is canon now references works such as this. I’d rate the The Paradise Snare 3 1/2 out 5 stars. Worth going back and reading.