Tag Archives: ebooks

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.

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.

Lords of the Sith – Review

Lords_of_the_SithIt has been a tough start for the new Star Wars book line. A New Daw began things perfectly by telling a story that introduced us to Kanan and Hera of Star Wars Rebels. It chronicled their first meeting, giving us our first canon book as well as our first taste of these new characters. Tarkin followed and unfortunately felt like little more that filler which is more than can be said about the dismal Heir to the Jedi.  A seemingly promising start has been watered down to stories with little impact on the saga, ranking with some of the worst in the old Expanded Universe. Can Lords of the Sith turn things around?

This is the book you are looking for

Paul Kemp’s Lords of the Sith is exactly the book I was hoping it would be. It has weight to its story and adds depth to the characters in the tradition of the best tie-in fiction. The story follows  Cham Syndulla, Hera’s father, as he uses all of his resources to take down Vader and the Emperor who are traveling to Ryloth on their own mission to root out traitors in Orn Free Ta’s delegation.

Kemp is able to add so much to our understand of Vader, his growth as a Sith as well as his relationship with Palpatine. It’s the thing many readers have expected from this new line of books, that they would add something legitimate to the characters, as well as deepening our understand of what drives them. Lords of the Sith has this in spades, in it’s story of the Sith and the Rebels. By telling this story of Cham Syndulla we not only have a greater insight into a character first seen in The Clone Wars, but his daughter who is the star of Rebels. Both stories have the impact you’d hope for.

There is so much that is worth talking about in this book but that would lead to spoilers that are best left to discovery while reading. So pick up Lords of the Sith and enjoy how the Star Wars new canon books should feel every time you read one, significant. Rated 4 out of 5 Sith Lords.

Disclosure: This book was provided by Del Ray as an early review and in no way affects the thoughts or feelings of the reviewer.

Star Wars Heresies – Review

71gU+5spqhLFor almost three generations, the Star Wars Saga has captivated the imaginations and hearts of children and adults. In 1999, George Lucas introduced a whole new trilogy to the world and changed Star Wars forever. In the history of film, there many never be a more debated issue than the merit of the Prequels (until JJ Abrams releases Episode VII that is). These films have been characterized in pop culture as ruining the childhoods of many. Yet is this really the case? Do these films really deserve this intense hate, hate worth of Sith Lords? That is the subject of The Star Wars Heresies: Interpreting the Themes, Symbols and Philosophies of Episodes I, II and III by Paul McDonald.

The book walks through each film and dissecting the mythology, literature and religion behind the stories of the Prequels. McDonald explains his focus and process this way,

While understandably reticent regarding his own press, George Lucas made a telling statement during an interview recorded by the Star Wars Insider magazine regarding the release of Episode I: The Phantom Menace. “If criticism were the kind of analysis it was meant to be in the first place— as it is in other arts, where you have literate, sophisticated people, who are knowledgeable— then it would be worthwhile to listen to it,” he remarked. “[ But] to have them [the critics] rant and rave about their personal feelings is a waste of my time.” I find this really intriguing for a couple of reasons.

To begin with, Lucas himself very clearly delineates between two types of criticism. The first is scholarly, studied, and refined; the second is mostly personal opinion and knee-jerk reaction. More often than not, Star Wars has been subjected to the second—especially the prequels— while Lucas tellingly identifies the first as more important. As we will see, this is where Star Wars really lives and breathes.1

McDonald uses literate criticism to prove his point that far from being nothing but money making, special effects extravaganzas the films are personal explorations of some of our most profound questions in life.

But clearly I must disagree with those who argue that the prequels were only driven by special effects (as well as Lucas’s alleged need to amass a large fortune, especially in light of his donations to charity). As this book proves , Star Wars meets you where you meet it. That Lucas didn’t simply farm out the prequel trilogy for someone else to create speaks not so much to an obsessive need for control but rather to a deep , personal commitment to the project itself. In some ways it could be argued that he was far more invested in the prequels than in the originals, as he purposefully took on the task of writing and directing each of them.2

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. McDonald shows just how well read and literate Lucas is as each Prequel entry is teaming with illusions to philosophy, mythology, religion and literary constructs from many different eras. Whether you are a Prequel hater or lover, this book has something for the Star Wars fan in all of us.

Notes

1. McDonald, Paul F. (2013-09-03). The Star Wars Heresies: Interpreting the Themes, Symbols and Philosophies of Episodes I, II and III (Kindle Locations 85-92). McFarland. Kindle Edition.

2.McDonald, Paul F. (2013-09-03). The Star Wars Heresies: Interpreting the Themes, Symbols and Philosophies of Episodes I, II and III (Kindle Locations 3616-3620). McFarland. Kindle Edition.

 

 

Star Wars: Heir to the Jedi – Review

Heir_to_the_JediHeir to the Jedi is the latest book in the canon created in the wake of Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm. Following the excellent A New Dawn and the disappointing Tarkin, Heir to the Jedi has a lot riding on it. This is a first person tale of Luke Skywalker, set after the events of A New Hope but before The Empire Strikes Back. Luke is sent on a mission by the Rebellion to recover an important defector from the Empire, along the way learning a few things about the Jedi and his own powers.

I was really looking forward to this book. Knowing it was about Luke and from his point of view before Empire had me excited. Here was our chance to get the canon answers to how Luke learns to control the lightsaber in the Wampa cave on Hoth as well as possibly integrate some of the prequel era information.

The Good

There are some good things here. Luke learning a small bit about the Jedi on Rodia as well as receiving another lightsaber was a highlight. The book did a great job showing how Luke is already eager to learn everything he can about the Jedi as well as understand more about his lightsaber and how it works. This will also help explain Luke knowing how to build a new lightsaber after the events of Empire. When the book is focused on the story of Luke as the heir of the Jedi, it’s working well.

The Bad

Unfortunately the parts of the book about Luke as the heir to the Jedi are few and far between. Maybe I expected too much from the book in this regard, yet I felt a canon novel about Luke would delve deeply into this topic and while the scenes where it does are wonderful, it’s marred by a blasé story. The rest of the book just does not have the feel of Star Wars for the most part. The technology, the weapons and the use of technobabble, hamper that feel the films created, where that was just a vehicle to tell the story, never the focus or too recognizable.

The other big issue here and it’s the same thing that Tarkin ran into, is that the story feels disposable. It’s much like the feel you’d get with the old Star Trek books written while the series were still on television, all the toys had to be back in the box, the way you found them when you closed the book. As you reach the end, you don’t feel the reward of having read the story, as if you hadn’t read it, you’d be missing something invaluable to the whole. The Clone Wars did a marvelous job for the most part of making you feel like the series had value, it added to the characters and the over all saga. This new canon of books, aside from A New Dawn has failed to truly add anything of real value to the saga. The reader needs to feel like the story has weight and until that starts happening, many will be disappointed with this new book line.

Conclusion 

I can’t recommend that you pick this up, but if you come by a copy it not a terrible diversion. Two and a half out of five stars.

Disclosure: This book was provided by Del Ray as an early review and in no way affects the thoughts or feelings of the reviewer.

The Magicians – Review

The-Magicians-Book-Cover-e1317909429117In 2009, Lev Grossman, a writer for some of the most popular newspapers and magazines in the world gave us a new fantasy book. The premise, what if the Harry Potter series and the Chronicles of Narnia had a child, but that child turned out to be a vulgar, “adult” perversion of it’s parents. This is The Magicians

The Good

The was one thing that stood out as a positive. The innate depravity of human kind is on full display. Every character is lost in a hopeless cycle of searching for happiness and never being able to find it. They are trapped in a life were there is nothing beyond themselves and the material world, even their fantasy realm is just as mundane and morose as the “real word”. It is a fantastic representation of darwinian, atheistic belief and the utter despair that kind of worldview fosters.

The Bad

The Magicians stands on the backs of fantasy genius, Rowling and Lewis, yet it lacks any of the heart, depth or soul of either. The plot meanders for far to long, following pointlessly vacant characters doing aimless things. There is no driving force to the plot or passion in the story. It is the post-modern Harry Potter/Narnia and it suffers under the weight of it’s hollowness.

Another important issue is the amorality of the characters. This fits perfectly with the feeling that Grossman seems to be striving for. The problem is it never rises above feeling like Harry Potter: The College Years. Grossman seems to revel in the salaciousness and profanity of his characters. The whole time it just feels forced, as a way to cover up for his constant and blatant ripping off of Rowling and Lewis; it’s the book’s undoing. By leaning so heavily on these pillars of fantasy, Grossman’s story falters, coming up completely void and empty in comparison. Tolkien and Lewis both speak of the power in fantasy and myth to teach as well as mirror the great story of the Gospel, even George Lucas with Star Wars understood this. Myth can guide and teach in ways no other literature can. Yet as you read The Magicians, the lack of purpose gnaws on you, reminding you that Lewis, Rowling and Tolkien are all on your shelf with the ability to wash away ruinous, joyless fantasy such as this.

Although there are many problems with this book, the last I’ll mention is the lack of joy and fun. All of the characters are completely lost and lifeless, eking out, what can only be considered vapid, wearisome lives that no one reading would wish for. The hopelessness and purposelessness translates to the reader, a rain cloud following you everywhere. It is sad because just as much as there should be some fun, fantasy can also be a very serious work and regrettably here too, the book fails. There is just not enough self reflection for the characters or meat to the story for there to be of any redeeming value. Fantasy should have a sense of awe and wonder, like Harry in Diagon Alley for the first time or Lucy entering the wintered Narnia to find a lamp-post in the wood. Unfortunately all The Magicians has to offer is drunk, drugged miscreants with little worth living for.

Conclusion

Do yourself a favor, pick up Narnia, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, something by Le Guin, Riordon or Asimov and leave The Magicians to gather dust at you local bookstore.

Best Books I Read in 2014

history-books

Click the book to buy


The-Goldfinch-by-Donna-Tartt

1. The Goldfinch

A deeply moving story following the life of Theo Decker and his connection to the famous Carel Fabritius painting. Poignant, striking and utterly engrossing, Donna Tartt’s novel will keep you riveted. It’s 775 pages feel short and you’ll wonder where the time has gone to when it hauntingly ends.

 

lila2. Lila

Marilynne Robinson’s latest entry in her Gilead series is a prequel to the previous two novels It chronicles the grace-filled meeting and marriage between John Ames and Lila. With lyrical prose Robinson weaves a tale of beatific grace and it’s power to change a life, even the most broken. This is not to be missed.

StationElevenNorthAmericaHiRes3. Station Eleven

What if there were not internet, social media, planes, trains or automobiles because 99% of the human race had been lost to a plague? Station Eleven is such a tale, using the connecting tissues of 5 peoples lives, it will leave you pondering, “What really matters in life and what is essential for not just survival but fullness in life?” It may just keep you up at night wondering.

71H07YG4zWL4. The Children Act

My review this year still says it the best, “The Children Act is well written and McEwan’s prose sparkles as per usual. The though-provoking nature of this book, along with the lack of sufficient answers to it’s timeless questions make it worth the read.”

 

undaunted-courage-9781439126172_hr

5. Undaunted Courage

Few men have dared the unknown like Lewis & Clark. Trapping across lands never before seen by Europeans their mission would change to course of America’s future. Ambrose makes you feel as if you were there, every step of the way and you’ll find yourself longing to see the wilderness along with them.

all-the-light-we-cannot-see-9781501104565_hr6. All the Light We Cannot See

World War II comes to life though the eyes of a young German boy and a blind French girl in Doerr’s captivating and stunning novel. His prose sparkles as he intertwines these two unlikely characters. It’s no wonder it was a National Book Award finalist.

 

EE67DF36-92F3-4FE0-9BEA-D713A267E598Img1007. Theodore Rex

Picking up from his previous work The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, Morris tells of his years as president. Teddy pops of the pages so that when you are done you feel as though you know him as you would a close friend. One of the most interesting and entertaining men to read about, well worth your time.

9780679643333_custom-01536d8d724691f824c0238a335f639a9c182645-s6-c308. Les Misérables

This was my first time to read through Hugo’s melancholy masterpiece. Full of detail and character moments that would not fit into a movie or musical that bring to life further Jean Valjean’s life. Still one of the most powerful representations of the Gospel in literature and therefore worth your time.

 

51bnekrLwsL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_9. Popcultured

The perfect primer for critically thinking about the influences that bombard us daily. From photography, news, films, comedy, fashion, advertisements and more, Turner helps us understand the problem of mindless consumption. This is a must read for 2015.

 

ST_Vgr_Acts_Contrition_Cvr10. Acts of Contrition

Sometimes tie-in fiction transcends it’s unfortunate reputation and touches you personally. Beyer’s work here with the character of Tom Paris did that for me and made this not just a good continuation of the Voyager story line she’s so deftly, it created a genuine connection. And that, makes it a good book in general.

Honorable Mention

book_thiefThe Book Thief

Although this book has been out for years the film finally motivated me to read it before I saw the movie. I really enjoyed it. The storytelling structure is unique and the themes of love and friendship in times of hatred and fear are timeless.

 

What did you read this year that you would recommend and what are you excited to read in 2015? Comment and let me know, I always need good recommendations; two of the books on this list are there because of a friend!