Star Wars is Life.

Star Wars. Is there a better name for literally anything? Definitely not. And especially not the magic that is the Star Wars Universe.

I remember my first introduction into the Star Wars world. I was about five years old, and I was at my grandparents’ house where my parents, aunt and uncle, and grandparents had congregated to watch Return of the Jedi for the first time. My sister and cousins and I were supposed to be in the other room playing, but I was curious about what they were watching, so I snuck around the corner and laid in the back of the living room watching something I would forever after consider a cornerstone of my childhood. I felt worry as Luke fell into the Rancor pit in Jabba’s palace; I felt awe as the Rebel fleet blasted through space; I felt adoration of the furry little Ewoks; I felt terror of Lord Vader. And this sparked a lifelong love and appreciation for what I consider to be one of the greatest cultural phenomenons of my lifetime.

I was in high school when the original trilogy was rereleased into theaters, and stood in line with hundreds of others to experience the magic of Star Wars on the big screen. I had watched all three films of the original trilogy dozens of times by then, and could nearly quote them word-for-word, but seeing them in that environment was like seeing them for the first time. I love the new additions to the universe (with, perhaps, the exception of Jar-Jar Binks. I mean, really? What were they thinking?), and mostly consider them valuable additions (if some of the acting is a little sub-par. But not Ewan MacGregor and Liam Neeson. And Jimmy Smits. They are the saving grace of the prequel trilogy, IMHO). And Rogue One? Stellar.

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So, all this to help you understand how excited I was when I heard about From A Certain Point of View, the anthology of forty short stories written to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the original Star Wars. I realize there are a plethora of Star Wars books written by many talented authors that add to the larger Star Wars universe; I haven’t read them all. In fact, I haven’t even read most of them. I read a select few years and years ago, and then James Luceno’s Catalyst when it came out because I wanted to know more about Galen Erso. But the premise of this newer foray into the Star Wars world intrigued me. An alternative telling of Star Wars: A New Hope from the POV of all the margin characters? Yes, please, I demand you take my money.

And it was so. very. cool.

Forty stories is a lot. That’s a lot of characters I didn’t even realize weren’t highlighted in the original movie. I mean, we get stories from characters like the band in the cantina on Tattoine, Jawas, Tuscan raiders, the R2 unit with the “bad motivator”, even characters like the officer who failed to shoot the escape pod that carried R2 and 3PO to Tattoine, and the “garbage monster” on the Death Star. Were the stories all great? No. There were a couple where, as I listened (to the audio book), I found my attention wandering (“Kloo Horn Caper”, I’m looking at you), but some of them were utterly fantastic. There were all written in the spirit of Star Wars, and absolutely add to the lore.

A few words about the stories I particularly liked:

  • “Master and Apprentice” – My heart literally skipped a beat when I heard the Master’s voice. I didn’t realize how much I missed Qui-Gon Jinn until I listened to this story. I always liked the dynamic between Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, and this was a lovely testament to that relationship.
  • “Added Muscle” – A cool and funny little ditty about Boba Fett and what he really thinks about serving as Jabba the Hutt’s hired thug.
  • “Born in the Storm” – OK. I never thought of a Stormtrooper as being funny, but this story literally had me laughing out loud in my car – you know, when you’re a double dork because you’re cracking up and there’s no one to hear you? Yeah, like that.
  • “There is Another” – Yoda is one of my favorite characters, and I really liked this glimpse into his life on Degobah – the heartbreaking loneliness he experiences in the wake of losing everyone he holds dear, and the tiny glimpse of hope he allows himself to feel at the possibility of training another young Skywalker.
  • “An Incident Report” – Bahaha – this is told from the POV of Admiral Motti, the dude Darth Vader Force-chokes in the staff meeting on the Death Star.
  • “Time of Death” – All the feels. Every single one of them. But it’s an Obi-Wan story, so also all the awesome.
  • “The Angle” – Lando, oh, Lando. You scoundrel.
  • “Palpatine” – This. Is. Bloody. Brilliant. In all honesty, probably a better listen than read, though.
  • “Whills” – This hilariously tells the tale of two historians arguing about how to chronicle a cultural phenomenon known as Star Wars.

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A few random thoughts about some of the other stories…

  • In the words of Sheldon Cooper, “Wheeaaaaaatooooooonnnnnnnn!” Yup, he got me. Right in the feels.
  • Pierce Brown should write more Star Wars stuff.
  • I will never look at Grand Moff Tarkin the same way again. But, seriously, it makes so much sense. How did I not know???
  • “Wookiee aggression.” Hahaha.
  • Owen Lars has small man syndrome.
  • Leia got the short end of the stick.
  • Jabba the Hutt was always gross.
  • Never, never assume that just because a character isn’t the star, they aren’t important.

If you’re a Star Wars fan in any capacity, take the time to read (or listen to) this. It’s definitely worth it. Personally, I’ll never watch Star Wars in the same way. And I sincerely hope they do one of these for Empire and Jedi‘s fortieth anniversaries, as well.

May the Force be with you. Always.

 

Top 10 YA Reads of 2017

Another year has gone by, dear readers. It hardly seems possible. Where did the time go? I think this means I’m getting old. BUT, that’s neither here nor there…

Inevitably, at the end of the year, this reader/writer looks back at what she wasted spent her time on the last twelve months. In retrospect, I feel pretty good about my year, all-in-all. I got a lot done, much of it fun. Here are some of the things I’m going to count as wins:

  • I spent an entire year in my position at the Library, and saw some awesome things happen there. Our team gained several new staff members, all with unique strengths and talents, and I feel very fortunate to be able to work with them on a daily basis. We implemented a lot of new programs, and introduced some non-traditional materials, and our patrons ❤ ed them. So that’s pretty cool.
  • I prevailed in the Great Reading Contest of 2017. I have to give props to my little sis, though, because she found/recommended some great books to me that I may not have otherwise come across. And I have a feeling that the GREAT READING CONTEST OF 2018 isn’t going to be so easy a win, because now she has her Competition Pants on.
  • I spent an entire year writing regularly, like, with goals and accountability partners and stuff. That was WAY new for me. I also tried not being a pantster, and did a little plotting. Because of this, I
  • Wrote a book. From scratch, start to finish. And it wasn’t even that hard. (Not to belittle the time and work authors put into their books – I mean, it’s really hard work. It was just not nearly as hard when I did the groundwork ahead of time.) It’s got me thinking that maybe the “planning” thing isn’t such a bad idea.

In addition to looking back over some goals met, I am also obliged to include the inevitable “Best of” year-end list. As most of you know, I read across a lot of genres, but particularly like to read YA. So this list in particular highlights my Top 10 YA Reads of 2017. Picking only ten books was SO hard. If I had no life, and no other responsibilities, I could have done a Top 30 list. But, alas, I am a grown-up, so you only get ten.

I don’t have any “official” criteria by which I judge books. But they have to hold my attention, and I have to care about the characters. I don’t like books with sucky characters. That’s just straight-up honesty.I don’t have any patience for whiny, helpless characters (most of the time female, which I also take exception to. Like, why can’t more people write strong, capable, ladies who can wear lipstick while twirling nun chucks?). I end up wanting them to die, and I’m fairly certain that’s not the intent of the author. So to make the list, the book had to have good characters.

I am one of those crazies who likes a complex plot. Linear simplistic plots are complete snoozefests, and tell me one of two things: 1) the author lacks imagination enough to carry off an interesting subplot, or 2) the author thinks his reader isn’t intelligent enough to follow multiple lines. Either way, simple = boring. Give me a broken/multiple timeline story with different narrators and POVs any day over something linear and sensible. So to make the list, the book had to have a complex plot.

Interesting settings are the cherry on top of sprinkle-laden whipped cream covering the hot fudge book sundae. An imaginary setting isn’t necessary, but I want to see something that makes the setting different. A book can take place in a completely conventional location – say, New York City – but be presented in a completely unique way, and that engages my own imagination. So to make the list, the book had to have an interesting setting (though this wasn’t a deal-breaker).

Without further ado, here they are, in numbered, but no particular order:

10 The Reader1. The Reader by Traci Chee – I put off reading this book for the longest time. Heaven only knows why. It was clever and beautiful, and about a Book that holds All The Power. And it has pirates. Lots of pirates. There’s mystery and murder and magic, and really, what more can you want? You can read my full review here.

10 The Girl at Midnight2. The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Gray – This book (well, this trilogy, really) was the sleeper of the year for me. I picked it up on a whim because, well, dragons, and read the whole trilogy in three days. The heroine is sassy and stabby and isn’t afraid to say exactly what she’s thinking. And did I mention there are dragons?

10 Caraval 3.Caraval by Stephanie Garber – Can we all just take a minute to appreciate a book about a magical, slightly murdery island that is a little reminiscent of a nightmarish Wonderland?

10 The Casquette Girls 4.The Casquette Girls by Alys Arden – I have so much love for this book (and its sequel, The Romeo Catchers). Vampires (but not sparkly ones, thank the godstars), ghosts, voodoo, and witchery set in New Orleans? With a double helping of red beans and rice, thank you very much. You can read my entire review of this book here.

10 Six of Crows 5.Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo – Riff-raff, street rat, I will buy that. Throw in some revenge, criminal masterminding, an enigmatic gang leader, and the most ballsy heist since Oceans 11, and you’ve got a great story.

10 Strange the Dreamer 6.Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor – Beautiful, beautiful blue monsters. And “Strange” isn’t an adjective. That is all.

10 A Study in Charlotte 7.A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro – A (in my opinion) brilliant new take on the Holmes/Watson dynamic, where Holmes is appropriately infuriating yet awesome, and Watson actually has some agency.

blog nevernight 8.Nevernight by Jay Kristoff – Murder wrapped in death wrapped in killing dipped in blood, with a smart- mouthed, cigarillo-smoking female antihero protagonist who has a license to kill. Jay Kristoff is basically a god. (Note: this is arguably not a YA title…)

10 The Dark Days Club 9.The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman – Proof that women can do anything – even hunt demons in a corset. Oh, and resist the patriarchy.

10 Lord of Shadows 10.Lord of Shadows by Cassandra Clare – Flawed characters with good intentions who keep secrets from one another in an effort to protect each other, but end up putting each other in more danger because of their stubbornness. Sassy, stabby Emma and scheming Julian. You can read my full review of this book here.

In reality, there were so many good books I read this year. Kudos to all of you authors out there who keep giving us amazing stories to read. I can’t wait to dive into 2018.

My next reads are:

Batman: Nightwalker by Marie Lu

The Speaker by Traci Chee

A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab

How’s that for an awesome lineup?!

Au revoir.

“This is a Book”

I’ve had this book sitting on the top of my TBR pile for months now, and I finally got to it. I’m so glad I did, because I loved it, and now I’m a little annoyed that I waited so long to read it. I will not make the same mistake with The Speaker.

I really liked the concept of this book. It takes the idea that books include *all the knowledge* and sprints away with it. But in this society, land, world people don’t know how to read, or even what writing is. It is not something that is taught, not something that is desired. Except by a very few. And these few control the fate of the realms.

In some ways the story is cliche – young girl loses parents and all she holds dear, and is forced to venture out into the big, wide, scary world alone, and learns she has a rare and secret superpower, which, of course, others want to take advantage of. But that’s where the “been there, done that” stops. Nin is not helpless, and she is not foolish; she is no damsel in distress. In fact, she becomes the hunter, the rescuer, and attempts to take her fate and her future into her own hands.

Along the way, she befriends a ship full of pirates (because what girl doesn’t need a handsome captain and scallywag crew on her side?) and rescues a boy whose greatest talent is murder (who happens to be a mute, by the by). So, really, nothing typical here.

This book had a couple of things I really liked:

  • This book is not for the faint of heart. It has multiple storylines, and multiple timelines, which I ❤ ❤ ❤ . The threads weave in and out of one another, sometimes knotting together, sometimes barely touching, but the end result is a beautiful, intricately crafted tapestry. I so appreciate authors who assume their readers are intelligent, and Traci Chee does not make things easy for her readers. She expects them to follow and keep up, and she tells the story unapologetically.
  • Many books which feature a disabled or special needs character (no matter what it is that makes them so), whether intentionally or not, portray that character as somewhat less than. When I understood that Archer couldn’t speak, I was nervous that he would be shown as more of a victim than anything, someone to be pitied. This was not the case. At all. Though it took him a little time to get his bearings, and to settle in with Nin, he was never a victim. It was almost as if he was just waiting for me, the reader, to understand him, before he revealed himself. (And perhaps this was Chee’s intention – for her readers to experience what Nin experienced with Archer.) Archer is strong, he is smart, he is kind, which makes his ability to kill someone with a flick of his wrist even more important.

I like it when books surprise me in a good way, and this one certainly did. There is mystery, there is love, there is danger, there is adventure, there is heartache – all ingredients for a great story.

Peace out, my friends.