Tag Archives: Book Reviews

Best Books of 2017

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Making_sense_of_GodTimothy Keller cements himself with this book as the C.S. Lewis of our time. He writes to the skeptical in an age of reason by taking on Nietzsche, Marx, Freud and others. Its a book for those that may be interested in the Christian faith as well as a wonderful reminder for those that profess it. Honestly, it’s a must read.

 

under-our-skin-coverBenjamin Watson has written one of the most timely books. In an age of growing tribalism and segregation, Watson confronts race relations head on. With clarity, humility and raw honestly he dives into the issues we face, bringing light to areas we so often try to sweep under the rug. This book deserves your immediate attention.

 

9781578061259-usGeorge Lucas it not the most loquacious filmmaker and much of what he’s said over the years has been twisted to fit a writer’s preconceived ideas about him. Here, Sally Kline collects all of his interviews from 1971 through 1999. It’s fascinating to hear from the man himself, in his most formative years. The only bad thing about it is that it does not cover through is sale of Star Wars (which makes sense since it was released in 1999).

 

591b42d3aeb66.imageSasse does a marvelous job at pinpointing the major issues facing the American people in the 21st century. The book looks to begin a conversation about what has been lost in the last 50 years and some ways which we can possibly get them back. Whether you agree completely or not, it’s worth reading and thinking deeply about these issues, if we don’t, we might not like where we end up.

 

9781455540181_DemocracyHC.tifI think this is one of the most important books of 2017. Rice uses history to show the story of democracy from the American experience to it’s experiments in places like Russia, Poland, Africa and the Middle East. In each, looking at what has made it successful or lead to it’s corruption. It’s a “long road to freedom” and unless we understand what’s come before, we’ll never know how to get where we want to go.

 

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I know in my own life and faith that there are times we need the simple reminders of what we believe and why. Butler does such a good job at laying these out and reminding us that, “…God’s reckless love is on the prowl, willing to crash through our distance and crush down our idols to get to our heart. God’s divine grace bears down upon us, calling us to turn and receive his love. As his footsteps draw closer, the sound of his voice breaks through the silence, and the light of his encroaching presence begins to pierce the darkness. The question we’re then faced with is not whether we’ve been good enough, jumped high enough, or sought hard enough. . . .”

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I love this book. It speaks directly to us in the 21st century and lays out the importance of thinking deeply. Just to whet you appetite here’s a quote, ‘Why would people ever think, when thinking deprives them of “the pleasure of sharing an attitude one knows is socially approved”—especially in an online environment where the social approval of one’s attitudes is so much easier to acquire, in the currency of likes, faves, followers, and friends? And to acquire instantaneously?’

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The election of 2016 dominated the news and much of our collective conversation. Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes spent that time interviewing those in the campaign, compiling an account of just went wrong and why. It’s an important read for all Americans.

 

 

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Carr, like Jacobs, is worried about our thinking. He looks at the history of how mind works and how we as humans have learned in the past. Each invention we create, impacts the way our brain’s behave, so how has the internet changed us and is it a good thing? It’s a fascinating read and again, one of the most important. We must think critically about these things or, “…as we come to rely on computers to mediate our understanding of the world, it is our own intelligence that flattens into artificial intelligence.”

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I love Isaacson’s work. Each of his previous biographies has been brilliant and his work on Da Vinci is the same. This does differ in that since Da Vinci lived so long ago, the records about him are not as extensive, yet Isaacson finds a way to weave the narrative of his life alongside his artistic and scientific accomplishments well. Da Vinci was a man, who in many ways was before his time but his impact is still being felt. One major plus is that the book has color pictures showing you his art and sketches which enhances the experience as you can look at what Isaacson is referring to.

Honorable Mentions

There were some fantastic Star Wars books this year, Thrawn (Don’t miss my panel from Dragon con with author Timothy Zahn and Star Wars Rebels co-executive producer about Thrawn),  Inferno Squad, Rebel Rising and Phasma were all top notch. I thoroughly enjoyed Harry Potter’s Bookshelf as it explores the inspirations in literate to Rowling’s creation. George Perez’s Omnibus volume one for his run of Wonder Woman was brilliant.

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Canto Bight – Review

DelReyStarWars_2017-Sep-13This review first appeared on The Star Wars Report. Don’t miss The 602 Club review as well!

One of the very first glimpses fans got from The Last Jedi was a menagerie of high rollers from a brand new casino planet called Canto Bight. It featured aliens of all shapes and sizes while evoking feel of Las Vegas in the 1960s. Now as the film rapidly approaches (2 days from the writing of this review), the last book in the “Journey to the Last Jedi” gives us a taste of what life is like on this “paradise”. Canto Bight is like a few of the most recent Star Wars books, a collection of short stories connected by a single theme or place. It has four different tales by four different authors, each giving us their own unique perspective on this world.

Rules of the Game

In the first story, Saladin Ahmed tells the story Kedpin Shoklop, the winner of VaporTech’s Salesbeing of the Year award. The award comes with a full, two-week, all-expenses paid trip to Canto Bight. The tale is mildly amusing. Kedpin is a trusting soul, which leads him to being a “mark” from the moment he lands on the planet. As hijinks ensue, he finds himself mixed up in a dangerous game with a corrupt police officer and the man hired to kill him. It’s a weak opening to the book, but luckily there are three more stories.

Wine in the Dreams

The second story is by Rae Carson. Her writing is exquisite, and her exquisite use of language is mesmerizing. She leaves you feeling like you understand Canto Bight perfectly when you’re done reading her installment. The story revolves around Derla, a sommelier who’s arrived in hopes of procuring one of the rarest wines in the galaxy. She finds herself in an interesting game with one of the casino owners and some twins. The theme that, “Everything is the legend. Everything is the lie,” is perfectly portrayed. Canto Bight is a beautiful lie, and most people in it are as well, and by the time this story is over you know intrinsically what that lie is all about.

Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing

The third story by Mira Grant adds the mob element that every good casino town needs. Lexo Sooger is a simple massage specialist who ends up having to relive his past in order to save an adopted daughter. The question is, just how far will he go to get her back? Carson finds that right balance between the mob and action genres to craft the perfect yarn for this “Star Wars Vegas.”

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The Ride

The last story is by a name familiar to Star War book fans. John Jackson Miller writes the story of Kaljach Sonmi, determined to make it in Canto Bight. He’s a decent card player and a proposition player employed by the casino. But that’s not good enough for him; he wants to win big. This desire puts him in debt with one of the mob bosses and he’s got just till sunrise to pay it all back. As luck would have it, he runs into “The Lucky Three” and they may just help him find the right streak.

The best thing about the story is the way it ties in the theme of losing joy in life and how many times we’re the ones responsible for killing the magic in our own lives. Much of the time, the way to get that joy back is have it shown to you by a friend. It’s not only the theme of joy that is well done, Jackson is also able to comment on the importance of places like Canto Bight existing. One of the characters sums it up best when he says,

“Of course not—because people come to Canto Bight so as not to have to think about all that.” He gestured to the casino floor, teeming with happy people. “When there’s so much bad going on, it helps to know that there’s a place where none of that matters.”

Conclusion

Canto Bight is a fun book. Three out of the four stories really work. Yet, there is still a feeling like none of them are truly essential or add anything to the mythos of Star Wars in a way you’d be missing if you hadn’t read them. It is a fun way to wait for The Last Jedi and could possibly be even more rewarding to read after the movie is out and seen. Canto Bight is rated 3.5 out of 5 stars.

The Legends of Luke Skywalker – Review

Legends-of-Luke-SkywalkerWith the lead up to the new Star Wars episodes, there has been a marketing push in the literature, “Journey to” which has lead us into The Force Awakens and now is doing the same for The Last Jedi. The latest in this line is Ken Liu’s stories in The Legends of Luke Skywalker giving us a glimpse into the ways the galaxy views this hero and a few of the things he may have been up to after the Return of the Jedi.

Structure

The book is a series of stories that are being told by the work crew of a long-haul, transport barge that’s on it’s way to Canto Bight. The time period seems to be set somewhere near the new film, The Last Jedi. All the tales are of the aforementioned Skywalker, as told by different members of the crew. A couple of them are familiar but told with a twist, whereas the rest of them are new. Like the previous book of short stories, From a Certain Point of View, some of these stories soar, while others range from good to complete duds.

Stand Outs

Screen Shot 2017-11-05 at 4.11.35 PMThere are two of these stories that are clearly superior to the rest, the first is call “Fishing in the Deluge”. Luke is traveling the galaxy to learn all he can about the Force and arrives on Lew’el where he asks to learn about “The Tide” (their name for the Force) from the Lew’elans. They agree to teach him if he can pass three tests. This story is everything you could want from Luke learning about the Force from another culture who’s views are different from traditional Jedi doctrine. The depth of the philosophical discussions that happen transcend the middle grade level of this book. Luke humbly places himself under the tutelage of these people to unlearn what he has learned in the search of wisdom, it’s quintessential Luke Skywalker.

The second stand out is “Big Inside”. As Luke is traveling the galaxy he picks up a young biologist on her way to another planet to continue her studies. They end up following some space fireflies in an astroid field and find themselves trapped in a space slug. This story does the same thing “Fishing in the Deluge” does, in introducing us to different Force users, this time from the distant past. The story gives readers another good look at many ways the Force has been thought of and used. It connects so well with things like Mortis, the Bardottan mystics or the force priestess in The Clone Wars and leaves readers longing for more stories just like them.

Honorable mentions go to “The Starship Graveyard” and “I, Droid”. Both of these add to the joy of seeing what Luke has been doing between both of the films called Jedi.

Conclusion

The Legends of Luke Skywalker had some real joys but, it also had a couple of complete fails and that hurts the over all. While the good does outweigh the bad, a feeling of disappointment that a third of the book is wasted cannot be shaken. It’s worth picking up for the stand out stories though and is rated 3 out of 5 tall tales.

From a Certain Point of View – Review

Star_Wars_From_a_Certain_Point_of_View_coverCThis review originally appeared on The Star Wars Report.

It is an understatement to say that Star Wars has revolutionized the film industry but it’s impact didn’t stop there. It’s something that has ingrained itself into cultures all over the world. As the movie celebrates it’s 40th anniversary, Del Rey books has released a collection of 40 stories by 43 different authors to commemorate the occasion called From a Certain Point of View.

Format

The format of the book is not just a random anthology of stories that all take place around A New Hope, but a systematic and chronological compilation. Each vignette tells the story of A New Hope from the perspective of people in the background of the movie. Side characters, aliens, creatures, and droids all have their parts expounded upon to create a rich tapestry in, through and around the film. Each entry ranges in length and quality. As is to be expected with 40 stories by so many different authors, some will work better than others. Part of this will be individual, as each person will respond to specific stories based on where their fandom is the strongest in the saga.

Stand Outs

As mentioned above, the highlights of this volume are sure to vary but these are the ones that worked best for this reviewer.

The Red One by Rae Carson was an early favorite, telling the story of R5-D4. Rae gives us a look inside how this little droid saves the galaxy through their unselfish act.

Master and Apprentice by Claudia Grey is phenomenal. It’s a dream come true to finally see the interaction of Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon during the long exile on Tatooine. It highlights just how special Old Ben is and why Star Wars fans deserve a book by Grey about these two during Obi-Wan’s time as a padawan, possibly even their adventures on Mandalore with Satine.

The Secrets of Long Snoot by Delilah S. Dawson continues to cement her legacy as a Star Wars author. The same devotion and care that went into her Bazine Netal story, The Perfect Weapon is on display here (not to mention her making Phasma one of the most fascinating characters of the sequel trilogy). Garindan ezz Zavor emerges from these few short pages as a fully rounded character and it’s Dawson’s skill that makes this possible.

Eclipse by Madeleine Roux is greatly helped by the recent book Leia, Princess of Alderaan, which gave readers much needed insight into the Organas and Alderaan. This short story tells the final moments for Breha and Bail Organa and it’s difficult not to get a bit teary reading about the last time we’ll see these two.

Verge of Greatness by Pablo Hidalgo uses Rogue One to perfection to explain how the ghost of Krennic haunts Tarkin, making his time on the Death Star much less triumphant that he anticipated.

vbTime of Death by Cavan Scott receives the highest marks this reviewer can give. Scott tells of Obi-Wan’s last battle and his transition into the force. It’s recommended that the reader have tissues available while reading this one.

Stories receiving honorable mention are There is Another, Palpatine, Desert Son, Contingency Plan, The Angle, and By Whatever Sun.

Conclusion

From a Certain Point of View is a fantastic way to celebrate 40 years of Star Wars and it leaves readers with the hope that each film in the series would be given this same treatment. This books is rated 4 out of 5 destroyed Death Stars.

This review was completed using a copy of  From a Certain Point of View provided by Del Rey.

Leia, Princess of Alderaan – Review

Leia_-_Princess_of_Alderaan_-_new_coverListen to The 602 Club review here!

Leia is one of the most recognized and revered characters in film, yet we still know very little about her upbringing. From the time she was whisked away by Bail Organa, adopted by he and his wife and then shows up in A New Hope, we know almost nothing (we do know just a bit more now, thanks to an appearance by the rebellious princess in Star Wars Rebels). Now thanks to The Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Claudia Gray, Leia’s transition from princess to rebel is now complete.

The Cost

When Star Wars premiered over 40 years ago, the rebellion was more an ideal in the film. Even throughout the next two movies, the cost to those involved was never fully fleshed out. Leia is one of the characters that suffers most from this. She looses her whole planet and we never see the impact that has on her, at least on screen (it is seen in the Leia comic that came out a couple of years ago).

One of the highlights of Leia is the way Gray is able to explore the risks involved for people like Bail and Breha Organa in helping create a uprising against the Empire. The costs for them will be high if they are found to be peddling “treason” to the masses. Bail and Breha know that they are putting their lives and the life of their daughter on the line. In fact, through most of the book, Bail is insistent that Leia be kept in the dark about their defiant activities, with the slim hope that Leia might be spared by the Empire if they are discovered. Freedom is never free. Bail finally resigns himself to the fact that Leia will never be safe, even if she is not involved. The Empire will make an example of them no matter what, if he and Breha are caught, so they might as well allow Leia to be involved. Star Wars has done an excellent job recently of bringing to life the cost being involved in the Rebellion through Star Wars Rebels, Rogue One, Twilight Company and now in Leia.

Another price that we see in A New Hope is the annihilation of Alderaan. That loss has never feel so great till now. Gray does a magnificent job of creating a vibrant society and planet that is the jewel of the Empire, free, open and beautiful. The Organas are not just putting their lives in danger, they are risking their whole planet. If their insurgent activities are uncovered, the Alderaan that is will cease to exist. It’s eventual destruction is more poignant now that Claudia Gray enlivened it in the pages of her book.

Coming Together

Palpatine was a genius at using the selfishness of people to his advantage. His continued use of the Senate was a way of getting his hooks into systems and using their greed against each other. Pork-barrel spending and fear allow him to keep the galaxy divided against itself. Mon Mothma makes this point to Leia in the book when she says,

“More than anything else, I’m honored that you trusted me with this. The Empire’s worked so hard to destroy our faith in one another, throughout the galaxy. Only by daring to reach out will we ever make the allies we need.”

It’s a relevant point, even today. The more we are driven apart into our little tribes and groups the harder it is to benefit the whole. Making those connections, finding common ground and coming together are the only way to make a difference.

Connections

This book is under the Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi banner and it uses this to familiarize readers with some things that will be seen in the film. Readers are taken to the new planet Crait, that has been seen in the trailer and also introduced to Amilyn Holdo who will be a Vice Admiral in the Resistance alongside Leia. The story also helps in building the character of Leia, showing why she would be able to recognize the danger the First Order presents to the New Republic and be willing to do whatever it takes to stop it.

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Crait and Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo from The Last Jedi.

Conclusion 

Claudia Gray has already written two of the best books in the new canon with Lost Stars and Bloodline. Leia is not quite at that level, but it’s still a good book. The best thing any tie-in fiction can do is to enhance your viewing of the films or show it’s connected to and Leia does just that. In reading this book, you’ll never watch A New Hope in the same way again. Gray’s coming-of-rebellion story for Leia is wonderful and worth the read, especially before The Last Jedi. Leia is rated 4 out of 5 lost stars.

Phasma – Review

phasma2This review originally appeared on The StarWars Report.

Listen to The 602 Club review here.

This review does contain spoilers.

In the lead up to The Force Awakens, the anticipation for the new filmwas palpable. Fans were atwitter about everything they were seeing in the trailers, toys and through the media, including one of the most striking new characters–Captain Phasma. This chrome-plated stormtrooper had many fans asking questions about who she was, where she came from and just how awesome she would be in the movie. It’s not an overstatement to say that she was a letdown in the film as she was given nothing to do other than be thrown into a trash compacter by Chewie, Han, and Finn. Fortunately, the rehabilitation of Phasma has now begun. She’ll be back in Episode VIII, she’s starring in her own comic (where she’ll escape Starkiller Base) and her backstory has finally been revealed in the latest release from Del Rey by Delilah S. Dawson.

The Title Character

Phasma is an enigma, not only for fans but also for the rest of the characters in the latest book. She jealously guards her secrets about where she comes from and who she was before arriving with Brendol Hux at The First Order after helping him escape her home planet of Parnassos. This story offers a character study in who the “real” Phasma is.

Cardinal

Cardinal

In The First Order’s efforts at training children they have “rescued” and molding them into a stormtrooper corp, Cardinal has been acting as Brendol’s right-hand man. This all changes when Phasma arrives and he is demoted to training only the younger children while Phasma is given control over the cadets from their teens to graduation as troopers. A mistrust grows between Cardinal and Phasma in response to this turn of events. Spurred on by his misgivings about her, Cardinal begins digging into Phasma’s past to uncover exactly who she is and if she can be trusted. What he finds will change his life forever. Cardinal captures Resistance spy, Vi Moradi, who has been hot on the trail of Phasma’s history, and forces her to reveal what she knows of The First Order’s “perfect” solider.

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Vi Moradi

Vi Moradi’s story exposes the heart of who lies beneath the armor. Phasma is revealed as the embodiment of Darwinian ideology, survival of the fittest. She knows who she is, a stone-cold dealer of death, and no matter who gets in her way, she is determined to survive. Phasma adheres to no other belief system than her own survival, which is her highest ideal. As Vi weaves her tale, Cardinal realizes that Phasma is a user not a believer. She constantly looks for the next best thing to further her existence; as long as it benefits herself,that’s what she will side with. Phasma proves time and again that she will turn on those “closest” to her if it means bettering her position in life.

The most interesting thing to see is how even on Parnassos, where survival is about being the fittest, Phasma’s approach to life is viewed as an aberration. Her supreme selfishness and lack of care for others shocks those she lives with. Phasma is comfortable with who she is, yet she knows that the rest of the galaxy does not share this opinion, so she covers up her past. She makes sure that everyone she betrays ends up dead, unable to tell the truth, and in doing so, creates her own reality. Phasma truly exists as only what she allows people to believe her to be. She has exchanged the truth for a lie and that lie has become her “truth”.

The First Order 

So far, we have been shown very little about The First Order in the sequel trilogy, and luckily, Phasma lets readers get a peak behind the curtain. The character of Cardinal demonstrates just how committed the Order is to creating an army that will do its bidding, no matter what they are asked to do. Children are taken at a very young age and brainwashed through training, conditioning and subliminal messaging permeating every single moment of their lives.

When The Force Awakens was released, J.J. Abrams compared The First Order to Nazis in hiding after WWII, yet in Phasma, it comes off more like the Soviet regime. The people and military are told that they are going to be saved from the evils of the New Republic, that the corruption of the powerful will be brought down and that all will be treated with equality under The First Order. In reality, those in charge of the Order do not actually care about equality, they only care about control. Phasma explains it to Cardinal,

“Ah, Cardinal. That’s your problem. You were only ever meant to be the tool, not the hand that wields it. You’re what Brendol thought he wanted, a dull creature he crafted to do his will. But me? I’m what he didn’t know he needed. I am your evolution. And that means you’re deadweight. Extinct.”

In The First Order, there is a clear distinction between those who are in power and those who are not. The First Order and its troopers are a dark mirror for the Jedi Order in many ways. The Jedi took children to the temple with the permission of their families andraised them to adhere to the Jedi Code, a philosophy which taught them to free themselves from familial attachments so that they could best serve the needs of the Force and others. Conversely, The First Order takes children in order to indoctrinate them to think and act only according to the dogma of the Order. It squashes all of the humanity out of them, leaving only automatons to be wielded as those in power see fit. This is groupthink at its most dangerous.

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Conclusion

Delilah S. Dawson’s Phasma is a deliciously chilling character study. Its revelations about the character and the nature of The First Order make it a perfect read going into The Last Jedi. The prose is well done and the creation of Cardinal is something that will leave the readers wanting more of him as well as Vi. Phasma is rated 4 out of 5 downed Naboo yachts.

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Inferno Squad – Review

BFII-InfernoSquad-2This review originally appeared on The Star Wars Report.

Don’t miss The 602 Club review!

In the aftermath of Scarif and the destruction of the indestructible Death Star, the Empire finds itself vulnerable for the first time in twenty years. Its time to get serious about the treat of the Rebellion and destroy what is left of Saw Gerrera’s Partisans. For this task, the Empire forms a new group who will work on the outside, an elite team who will suss out the Imperial traitors, infiltrate Rebel and Partisan groups to find out where the leaks are coming from and bring them to justice. The group, Inferno Squad.

Moral Quagmire

Christie Golden has given Star Wars one of it’s most thematically rich and complex books to date. Following the Inferno Squad through their missions, they are constantly being faced with the moral questions of just how far they should go to complete their mission. Is it right to kill Imperial subjects to keep their cover? Is it right to loose a member of their team for the same reason? How far is too far in war? Was the destruction of Alderaan justified?

The point becomes even more complicated when Golden introduces the Partisans. Rogue One made it clear that it was Saw’s militancy and extremism that lead to his split with the Rebel Alliance. Calling themselves the Dreamers, what is left of his sect works to continue what Saw began. Yet the actions they are willing to take, to fight the Empire, leave the reader uncomfortable. They are supposed to be the heroes, right? The Partisans are asking the same questions Inferno Squad has, how far is too far? In the end, when do you lose your moral superiority over your enemy?

Golden never makes it easy on the reader and for that she should be applauded. The answers to these questions are not easy and their expansion in the Star Wars universe feels like a milestone. It continues the fantastic groundwork laid in Rogue One and books like Rebel Rising.

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The Book

Many of the books so far in canon have allowed the read to peak behind the iron curtain of the Empire and see what life is like for those among it’s ranks and Inferno Squad continues that trend. Each of the new characters Golden introduces feels fresh and recognizable, creating an immediate sense of intimacy with the story and desire to keep turning the page. Don’t let the brevity of this review fool you. The length is the highest compliment. This book needs to be experienced and read for itself, the less you know going in, the better. Golden has done it once again, batting 1000% in the Star Wars canon. Inferno Squad is a must read and is rated 4.5 out of 5.

This review was completed using a copy of Inferno Squad provided by Del Rey.