Posts Tagged ‘book review’

Reading Star Wars novels has long been a guilty pleasure of mine; they are fun, and they feed the Geek. And Lost Stars was delicious!  Sure it’s marketed as a YA novel, but there is a lot of great Star Wars goodness throughout.

For fans that know Episodes 4, 5 and 6 well, you will enjoy the weaving this story does between established events in the movies. The characters are placed in pivotal roles on the Death Star, Hoth, and Darth Vader’s lead Star Destroyer, the Executor.

Two young folks, Thane Kyrell and Ciena Ree, from an Outer Rim world meet Moff Tarkin when he visits their planet. Coming from different social classes, their friendship is frowned upon. As the years pass, their bond deepens and they develop a mutual love of flying. Knowing nothing but loyalty to the Empire they both strive to enter the Imperial Academy, and are accepted.

Over the years, Thane and Ciena realize the Empire had become twisted and corrupt. Where Thane expresses his willingness to leave the Empire, Ciena holds tightly to her oath.

“…this isn’t about whether we’ve kept faith with the Empire. It’s about whether the Empire has kept faith with us.” – Thane to Ciena

After witnessing the destruction of an entire planet from an open hanger bay on the Death Star, and the enslavement of entire species, Thane’s disillusionment with the Empire evolves into disdain. Some may call it the Force, others pure chance, but Thane and Captain Wedge Antilles cross paths. And just like that Thane finds himself flying for the Rebellion.

Even on opposing sides, Thane and Ciena can’t seem to sever their bond. What will happen when they find themselves in direct combat?

A great read for a Star Wars fan!

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A new challenge for the year has been met: A book set in the future. Ender’s Game was first released as a short story the year I was born, 1977. Author Orson Scott Card then reworked the story into a novel which was published in 1985, winning both the Nebula Award and Hugo Award for best novel. In 2013 it was adapted to the silver screen.

Set in Earth’s future, after a second thwarted invasion by an insectoid species called “buggers”, humanity is desperate to find the next military hero to lead the fleet against the possibility of a third invasion. The Battle School has been established to train children in the art of war, with the belief that children can learn and adapt faster, and have a greater capacity for innovative thought. Andrew “Ender” Wiggin is one of these cadets. At the young age of 6 Ender quickly rises to the top of his class; Colonel Hyrum Graff pushing him harder than any other cadet, isolating him.

At the age of 10, Ender graduates from Battle School to Command School. He learns when to be ruthless and hard, and when to be lenient and to listen – he becomes a good commander, the best commander humanity has ever seen.

While the main players of this novel are children, it is far from a YA story. Ender’s Game is straight up classic military science fiction, and it is enthralling. I didn’t do this novel justice with this brief synapses,  but I didn’t want to give too much of the story away.

If you love strategy games, you will enjoy this read.

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Released in late April, Paul S Kemp’s Lords of the Sith is one of the newest installments in the Star Wars canon. Find it hard to keep track of what is now canon? I do too, but I have found this Star Wars wiki to be a great resource. This novel takes place about 5 years after Anakin Skywalker’s fall to the Dark Side.

Emperor Palpatine, the secret Sith Lord, and his apprentice, Darth Vader, are heading to Ryloth, the Twi’lek homeworld, where a group of freedom fighters has become more than a pesky annoyance to the Empire. When Cham, the Twi’lek leader of the dissidents, learns of their imminent arrival, he formulates a plan that would cripple the oppressive Empire. Meanwhile, the emperor senses the impending confrontation as a disturbance in the Force and uses it to test his apprentice’s abilities, and his loyalties.

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A female Twi'lek

Kemp has truly captured the inner struggles that Darth Vader is going through; his memories of childhood and of Padmé trouble him. We are given our first look into the tension that grows between Master and Apprentice. And we see how truly terrifying and powerful these Sith Lords are to the galaxy. As readers, we have born witness to their strengths through the movies, but now we see how word will begin to spread of Darth Vader, and how far the Emperor will go to keep his power a secret.

Pain fed his hate, and hate fed his strength. Once, as a Jedi, he had meditated to find peace. Now he meditated to sharpen the edges of his anger.

Plus there’s lots of great Force fighting!

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For years, author Steve Berry has produced exciting thrillers filled with international espionage,  high – stakes intrigue, fast-paced action sequences, and deadly political maneuverings centered around poignant moments throughout history. Berry’s reoccurring hero, Cotton Malone, is a retired Justice Department agent who finds himself drawn back into the intelligence game as a freelancer. His newest novel, The Patriot Threat, is the next great installment in this series.

I would be hard pressed to name another author who can turn a debate over the legitimacy of the United States Constitution’s 16th Amendment, which pertains to income taxes, into a deadly race to uncover damning documentation that could bring both the U.S. and Chinese governments to ruins. Cotton Malone and his team must retrieve stolen documents and unravel a century old mystery while dodging bullets.

I had the great opportunity to ask Steve Berry a few questions.

RS: You published your debut novel, The Amber Room, in 2003 after 12 years of rejections. It would have been so easy to just let the story go and focus solely on your highly successful legal career. But instead you pushed through the disappointments until Ballantine Books finally said yes. Where did you find the strength to overcome any self-doubt that must have crept over you?

Steve Berry: It was the little voice that all writers have in their head, the one that nags at us everyday and only quiets when we write.  That voice kept me going.  It still keeps me going to this day.  I used to think I was a little crazy.  But I’ve learned that every single writer in the world has that same little voice, and its command is short and sweet.  Just sit down and write.

RS: Your first few novels were standalone stories, then in 2006 the first Cotton Malone novel, The Templar Legacy, was released. How long had the character of Harold Earl “Cotton” Malone been developing in the back of your mind before you found a place for him?

Steve Berry: Once the publisher and I decided that a series character was the way we wanted to head, I began to conceive just such a character.  But he changed.  I actually wrote 30,000 words of The Templar Legacy, the novel where Cotton is born, before a new version of him came to me.  I was in Copenhagen, in Hojbro Plads, a busy square, having dinner when he appeared in my brain.  I realized that Cotton had to be retired from the Justice Department, now living in Copenhagen, running on old bookshop —- right where I was sitting.  So I went back home, tossed out the 30,000 words, and started over, creating the Cotton Malone that now exists.

RS: The Patriot Threat, your 10th full length Cotton Malone novel, has just been released; congratulations on a great series! Each installment is a standalone thriller, but every successive book reveals more of Malone’s character and history. Have you had this guy all figured out from the beginning?  Or does he develop with each new adventure?

Steve Berry: He’s definitely a work in progress.  Each book explores some new facet of Cotton, and that’s intentional on my part.  I want him to grow, develop, and change.  And he has.  The Cotton Malone from The Templar Legacy is a different person from the Malone in The Patriot Threat.  I think that’s a good thing.  Characters should evolve, otherwise a series could rapidly become stale.

RS: Your personal interest in historic events is directly reflected in your work — this is what drew me to your books to begin with. Do you feel that capturing the spirit and legend of these events presents an added level of literary responsibility, over and above creating a great thriller? Because, in essence, you are writing both a historical fiction and a thriller all in one book. How much time do you schedule for research when you sign on for a new novel?

Steve Berry: I learned early on that a lot of people are learning their history from novels like mine.  That’s not necessarily a good thing since a novel, by definition, is not real.  That’s why I try and keep my stories about 90% accurate to reality, tripping up only that 10% for entertainment value since, after all, that’s my main goal — to entertain the reader.  I also place a writers note in the back of each book that I spend a lot of time developing.  There I explain what’s real and what’s not, so there’ll be no misunderstandings.  That note reflects the research that goes into each story.  For me that’s an 18 month process with each novel.  Research consumes the lion’s share of my time.  But it’s important, and it’s even more important to get it right.

You can find all of Steve Berry’s novels on Amazon.

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The next item on my reading challenge has been completed: A book that became a movie. Gillian Flynn’s novel Dark Places has been turned into movie staring Charlie Theron, but I can’t find a release date.

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I first read Gillian Flynn’s third novel, Gone Girl (published in 2012), last year as a book club read and found it quite an exciting, and twisted, mystery. When we were looking for an audio book to listen to for a VERY long road trip, we found that Dark Places was available on Audible and decided it sounded interesting. We chose wisely. What a great story!

Seven year old Libby survived the brutal killing of her mother and two older sisters; her older brother, Ben, was charged with the murders and has served 24 years in prison without ever saying a word in his defense. For years Libby was passed around from relative to relative, never really learning how to function in life. As a 31 year old, she has depleted a charity trust-fund that had been set up from donations by strangers from across the country that felt bad for poor little Libby. Faced with having to get a job, but possessing no skills, she finds a way to make some money off her tragic story…and uncovers the truth about what happened on that horrible night so long ago.

Gillian Flynn has created a tragically flawed character in Libby that both makes you want to shake her and hug her. It is easy to understand why she is the way she is: detached, socially immature and in denial.  But there are times that cannot be rationalized away, when she is irresponsible, aggressive and steals stuff. She steals all the time…salt and pepper shakers, used lipstick, just random stuff for absolutely no reason.

The novel jumps back and forth from present day to events that happened in the past, as well as changing character points of view; each chapter is clearly labeled when and who, but this switching can be difficult for some readers. I happen to enjoy this style as opposed to a more linear approach.

I would definitely say that I enjoy Gillian’s writing style, and would absolutely recommend this book to all of you. She is dark and witty and has revived my interest in mysteries.

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Another challenge on the list accomplished for the year: a graphicnovel

I’ve been a fan of the X-Men movies, but had never really kept up with the stories taking place through the comic books over the decades. The powerful telepath, Jean Grey, has long been my favorite member of the X-Men, and the story of her transformation into Phoenix was devastating. When I discovered that X-Men issues 129-137 covered this story arc and had been compiled into a single graphic novel I was excited!

In 2006 Marvel released the movie The Last Stand which depicted the rise and fall of Phoenix. The comics, which ran from January through September of 1980, explored these same events but followed quite a different series of events. The movie was very emotional, depicting a heartbroken Wolverine being the last one able to stop Phoenix, a resurrected Jean Grey, from destroying the world. In the comics, Phoenix is even more powerful, and evil, than the movie depicted. And although members of the X-Men had opportunities to destroy her on two separate occasions, they could not bring themselves to do it. In the end it was Jean that fought through the entity of Phoenix to end it herself.

Over the years, Marvel has told and retold the stories of the X-Men. I enjoyed seeing the story of Phoenix in its original telling. The comics are from 1980 and might feel a little dated, like that Aunt that still says “cool beans,” but you love her anyway. And I learned some information about the comic book X-Men that I didn’t know: Hank (Beast) had left the X-Men to join the Avengers, Jean Greg’s superhero name was Marvel Girl, Wolverine didn’t have the power of super-healing and he was short, and Professor X was kind of a jerk.

Reading this series definitely has left me wanting to read more.

I picked this book with absolutely no regard for my 2015 Reading Challenge; sometimes I just need a Star Wars adventure. But as it turns out, I actually did achieve one of the challenges: A book by an author you’ve never read before.

The expanded Star Wars universe is chronicled by either BBY (Before the Battle of Yavin) and ABY (After the Battle of Yavin). The Battle of Yavin was depicted in the movie Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope; Yavin being the planet where the Rebel’s hidden base. This is deemed Year Zero. The Star Wars: The Old Republic: Deceived takes place in the year 3653 BBY.

In the world of the Old Republic, the Empire trains Sith warriors in an academy on the planet Korriban much like the Jedi Academy located on Corusant. While many of the Jedi Masters are off world, attending peace negotiations with a Sith delegation, the Empire attacks Corusant. Lead by the Sith lord Darth Malgus, the Jedi Temple is destroyed, killing all of the remaining Masters, Knights and Padawans.

When Jedi Knight Aryn Leneer feels the death of Jedi Master Even Zallow, she know the peace negotiations had been a farce and leaves the delegation. Driven by hatred and a thirst for revenge, she risks everything her Master had taught her when she returns to Corusant in search of the Sith that killed him.

Aryn is hot headed and impulsive, and as such she is battling herself as much as the Sith that murdered Master Zallow. She walks a fine line between the Light side and the Dark side of the force, and must make an ultimate decision what she will do. Her character is strong willed and flawed, which makes her relatable.

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