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Best Books of 2015

history-books

This is a list of the best books that I read this year in no particular order. There are some links to full reviews or a podcast so be sure to check those out as well. Comment and let me know what you read so I can add to my list for 2016.


the-sun-and-other-stars-9781451667127_hr

The Sun and Other Stars

I feel in love with this book and it’s simple story of a small Italian town that is turned upside down when a famous European football star escapes to a villa just outside the city. Pasulka makes you feel as if you are in the seaside village of San Benedetto, as Italy comes alive around you. This is the perfect book for any time of the year when you wish to escape on an exotic vacation.

91PrwyEfcwLAstoria

Six years after the success of the Lewis & Clark expedition, John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson dreamed of a Northwest empire along the Pacific coast. This is the true story of the three year journey that would end without an empire but inadvertently blazing the Oregon Trail. It’s a harrowing story of the wild frontier, survival and shattered dreams. Fascinating from start to finish.

star-wars-dark-discipleDark Disciple 

I cannot add anything to my original review, “Christie Golden has written the finest book in the new canon with Dark Disciple. The book immediately feels like an arc of The Clone Wars. In many ways it is a stinging reminder of just how much life was left in this show and the power it had to tell amazing stories. My sincere thanks to Dave Filoni and Pablo Hidalgo for continuing to find opportunities to get The Clone Wars content to fans any way they can. Dark Disciple is now my gold standard for what this new line of canon books can and should be. This book is rated a perfect 10.” Be sure to check out The 602 Club review and interview with author Christie Golden.

81Yengb18CLBecoming Worldly Saints 

Maybe the hardest thing to do as a follower of Christ is to live in the world but not of it. With so many books swirling around the Evangelical world, many with opposing views on how to live as Christ has called, Wittmer wisely and carefully shows that enjoying the life we’ve been given and radically following Jesus are not at odds. “Careful Christian thinking holds these two truths in paradox, never allowing one truth to drown out the other, never allowing the extreme position of one side to lead us to the other. To miss one side of this paradox or the other is to distort the beauty of Christianity.” Excerpt From: Michael E. Wittmer. “Becoming Worldly Saints.” iBooks. https://itun.es/us/fBev1.l

Lost-Stars-CoverStar Wars: Lost Stars

This may have been the biggest surprise of the year. Lost Stars was released on Force Friday this year and aimed at the young adult market. In the shadow of the much touted Aftermath, Lost Stars flew under the radar with no expectations and with that eclipsed Aftermath in both quality and praise. Gray weaves an expansive story that moves from before A New Hope to after Return of the Jedi all from the point of view of the Empire’s finest recruits. Next to Dark Disciple, this is the finest example of how to add to the Star Wars canon. Be sure to check out The 602 Club review.

Epitaph hc cEpitaph

Mary Doria Russell has long been a favorite author of mine and this year’s Epitaph was another feather in her cap. A work of historical fiction about the man behind the legend, Wyatt Earp. Russell has dug deep to research this book, giving it an authenticity and reality that will blow you away. This may be the closest you will ever come to reading the true story of the O.K. Corral and the people behind the famous shootout.

book-bag-the-wright-brothersThe Wright Brothers

David McCullough is back as he chronicles the Wright brothers determination to see a man fly. The ingenuity these men had as self-made inventors is astonishing. The “can do” spirit has never been stronger as they take advantage of every benefit American freedom offers to create the first piloted aircraft and make sure their names would be long remembered.  Inspirational to the last.

20150326140533US_cover_of_Go_Set_a_WatchmanGo Set a Watchman

I cannot add anything to my original review, “Go Set a Watchman set the world afire when it was announced. After years of rumors that Harper Lee had written another book and questions about if it would be published, the book’s final discovery continues to be followed by controversy surrounding whether or not Lee had been taken advantage of by her publisher. Regardless, the book is out and with society in upheaval again, it just may be the perfect book at the perfect time. In the story, Jean Louise (Scout) is home visiting from New York and what follows are vignettes on a theme. Each vignette builds to a crescendo as Jean Louise breaks the shackles of childhood to become her own person…Go Set a Watchman is a visionary book about the past yet it is just as relevant today. It’s an important read and well worth your time. I encourage everyone to wrestle with the themes because you just might find yourself changed in the end.”

fellowshipThe Fellowship

The Inklings are the stuff of legend in the literary world and with giants like Lewis and Tolkien in their midst the other members are often overlooked. In The Fellowship, Philip and Carol Zaleski look at the lives of the four main members J.R.R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield and Charles Williams. They never shy away from the imperfections of each, giving a well rounded look at each man’s strengths and weaknesses and just what made this group so special. It’s a long read that is worth the investment. 

Honorable Mentions:

For the Star Wars Fan: Weapon of the Jedi, Smuggler’s Run, Moving Target, Before the Awakening, Shattered Empire, Lords of the Sith and The Star Wars Heresies.

The History Fan: Dead Wake.

The Mystery Fan: Career of Evil.

For the Star Trek Fan: Sight Unseen and Atonement.

The Young Adult Fan: The Sword of Summer.

The Non-Fiction Fan: Into Thin Air.

Book Reviews · Books · Faith · George Lucas · Kenobi · Star Wars · The Clone Wars

Dark Disciple – Review

Dark_Disciple_CoverWhen Disney purchased Lucasfilm in the fall of 2012 it marked the end of The Clone Wars. It was as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in horror, yet instead of being silenced, they have only continued to speak strongly, with the hashtag #SaveTheCloneWars still a staple of Twitter to this day. Since it’s demise, Dave Filoni and Pablo Hidalgo have worked tirelessly to find the best venue for all the displaced stories that were in development. The Lost Missions were released on Netflix, there have been two releases of arcs on StarWars.com in animatic form, as well as a comic book  chronicling more of Darth Maul’s story.

It is no surprise that one of these untold stories has found it’s way into a novel. The newest edition to Star Wars canon is Dark Disciple by Christie Golden, which was to have been an eight part arc in an upcoming Clone Wars season. It follows up on the character Quinlan Vos who is tasked by the Jedi Council to assassinate Count Dooku after he commits near complete genocide. Vos’ mission is to secretly recrute discarded assassin Asajj Ventress to take out the Separatist leader at all costs. What follows is a tale of darkness, deception, hope and ultimately redemption.

The Road to Hell

One of the strengths of The Clone Wars has been the way it fills in the gap between Episodes II and III. Lucas has mentioned before that in the course of the Skywalker saga there was not the time to dive into the war itself. The Clone Wars does a spectacular job at showing the slow slide down the slippery slope that the Jedi have been put on as war was thrust upon them, They have gone from keepers of the peace to soldiers, in a war that has been manufactured as their doom.

starwars2-movie-screencaps.com-491Dark Disciple is one of the finest examples at how far the Jedi Order has been eroded by the war. It has begun to chip away at their morality and connection to the light. They are willing to put aside what they know is right for a chance and victory, yet the price may be more that they can bare. The road to hell is paved with good intentions and that is the case here as the Jedi Council authorizes a dark mission for Quinlan Vos to enlist the help of Ventress through deception to assassinate Count Dooku. Irony of it all, the greatest proponent on the Council is Windu who once defended him to Padme by saying, “You know, My Lady, Count Dooku was once a Jedi. He couldn’t assassinate anyone. It’s not in his character.”  Unfortunately the war has created an atmosphere for the Jedi where what was once unthinkable has become tolerable or even acceptable. The corruption of the Jedi is almost complete.

It’s a powerful reminder of just how easy it is for the truth to slip away from us, even when we think we are doing the right thing. Circumstances cannot craft right and wrong as the Jedi learn here. Embracing even the smallest amount of the the dark side can destroy lives.

Interview with Christie Golden

The Power of Sacrifice – Spoilers 

One of the greatest character arcs in The Clone Wars is that of Asajj Ventress. At the resent Star Wars Celebration, Dave Filoni mentioned that Lucas was not happy having Ventress as an acolyte of Dooku. George felt like her story would be much stronger if she were to make her own way and boy was he right.

The last time Ventress was seen in the show she had assisted Ahsoka who was on the run from the Jedi Order. Her character had already begun to turn from the darkness in the Darth Maul arc from season 4 where she saved a young girl who was about to become a slave wife.

As Dark Disciple begins Asajj is still working the bounty hunter scene, going it alone when Vos shows up. As they begin a fledgling partnership, she begins to open her heart to the possibility that she could have more. The most powerful theme in the book becomes the redemption of Ventress, a character who has been to the brink of the abyss and clawed her way back. It is her love of Vos and her willingness to embrace the way of the light that enables her to sacrifice herself for another. She lives out the words of Jesus when he says, Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” The affect she has on Vos and Obi-Wan is profound. Obi-Wan specifically points out to the Council the error of their ways and just how much they can learn from Asajj. They have lost their way and turned to the dark side for answers, but is it though the light that the true power comes.

This story brought tears to my eyes as it illustrated the beautiful truth that no one is beyond redemption. Most of the time, people only lack the light to show them the way so it is our job to love those that others might see as unlovable. It is only through self sacrificial love that this can happen. People are not won by words but by actions and there is nothing more powerful than true love at work.

Kenobi and Yoda

UntitledAnother fascinating about Dark Disciple is the way Kenobi and Yoda seem to be setting themselves apart from the rest of the Jedi. Both of them are uncomfortable about the idea of an assassination mission. Kenobi voices strong opposition to the plan and even gets rather heated with Master Windu as the Council debates whether or not to pursue this dangerous idea. Kenobi seems to be channeling the defiance of Qui-Gon as he tries to steer the Council back towards the light. One character even remakes that Obi-Wan always strives to take the high road and see the best in people.

As the book progresses it is Kenobi and Yoda that have the hardest time believing Vos could have fallen to the dark side. They seem to be the only ones that still have faith in the Jedi’s ways. Not only do they have trust in Vos but they also give that trust to Ventress as well. Kenobi and Yoda, again and again in this book portrays the very best qualities of the Jedi, fighting for what is right and trusting in only incontrovertible evidence about the guilt of a trusted friend.

This book puts to rest any doubt that Yoda and Obi-Wan were the greatest Jedi and showing just why they survived. I’ve personally never been prouder of my favorite character Kenobi than when he stands before the Council at the end of the book and says,

“We lost our way,” Kenobi had said. “We lost it when we decided to use assassination, a practice so clearly of the dark side, for our own ends, well intentioned though they might have been. All that has happened since—Vos succumbing to the dark side, the deaths he has directly and indirectly caused, the secrets leaked, the worlds placed in jeopardy—all of this can be traced back to that single decision. Masters, I submit to you that Vos’s fall was of our making. And Asajj Ventress’s death is on all our hands. That Vos is here with us today, devastated but on the light path once more, is no credit to us, but to her. She died a true friend of the Jedi, and I believe that she deserves to be laid to rest with respect and care, with all gratitude for the life she gave and the life she has restored to us, and this bitter lesson that came at so dear a price. We are Jedi, and we must, all of us, always, remember what that means.”

Conclusion 

Christie Golden has written the finest book in the new canon with Dark Disciple. The book immediately feels like an arc of The Clone Wars. In many ways it is a stinging reminder of just how much life was left in this show and the power it had to tell amazing stories. My sincere thanks to Dave Filoni and Pablo Hidalgo for continuing to find opportunities to get The Clone Wars content to fans any way they can. Dark Disciple is now my gold standard for what this new line of canon books can and should be. This book is rated a perfect 10.

And be sure to check out John Mills’ review who joined me for the discussion.