BOOK REVIEW: Star Wars: Queen’s Shadow – E.K. Johnston

BOOK REVIEW: Star Wars: Queen’s Shadow – E.K. JohnstonTitle: Star Wars: Queen's Shadow by E.K. Johnston
Published by Disney Lucasfilm Press
Published: March 5th 2019
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 345
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

The end of her reign is just the beginning...

When Padmé Amidala steps down from her position as Queen of Naboo, she is ready to set aside her title and return to life outside of the spotlight. But to her surprise, the new queen asks Padmé to continue serving their people—this time in the Galactic Senate. Padmé is unsure about the new role but cannot turn down the request, especially since, thanks to her dearest friend—and decoy—Sabé, she can be in two places at once. So while Padmé plunges into politics, Sabé sets off on a mission dear to Padmé's heart.

On the glistening capital planet Coruscant, Padmé's new Senate colleagues regard her with curiosity—and with suspicion for her role in ousting the previous chancellor. Posing as a merchant on Tatooine, Sabé has fewer resources than she thought and fewer options than she needs.

Together with Padmé's loyal handmaidens, Padmé and Sabé must navigate treacherous politics, adapt to constantly changing landscapes, and forge a new identity beyond the queen's shadow.

I’ve fought evil, and it was easy: I shot it. It’s apathy I can’t stand.

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace came out twenty years ago this month. That blows my mind, because I still remember when the promotional material started appearing everywhere and then finally seeing the movie and falling head over heels in love with Queen Amidala/Padmé Naberrie. I loved her character, her gowns, her handmaidens, and the way she was able to navigate her day to day life disguised as a handmaiden while her decoy Sabé assumed the persona of Queen Amidala.

Back then, I wanted to know more about Padmé, where she came from, and who she was behind the scenes. Over the years, there were a few things that were sprinkled into the Star Wars novels but not enough to fully satiate what I was wanting to see. Then comes E.K. Johnston’s Queen’s Shadow and it’s everything I’ve wanted for twenty years. And I only want more.

Queen’s Shadow is a quiet Star Wars novel, going behind the scenes and to the front lines of Padmé’s reign as queen and her time as senator. We’re able to see the connections between Episode I to Episode III from her perspective in a quietly tense, masterful way. You won’t see big battles on planets or in space, but you will get to see the heart and soul behind one of Star Wars’ most interesting characters. We also get to know Padmé’s handmaidens, and I was especially happy to see Sabé in this book.

I can’t really describe how I felt while reading this book, except that it was a good feeling and full of nostalgia. I was twelve when Episode I came out, and I was obsessed with Padmé’s costuming and character. I doodled her everywhere, I bought the dolls so I could marvel at the costumes in person and display them on my shelves (I still have them, too!). All I wanted was more of her from the movies and the extended universe, and it wasn’t until twenty years later that this wish was fulfilled. Queen’s Shadow is easily one of my favorite Star Wars novels of all time.

BOOK REVIEW: The Light Brigade, by Kameron Hurley

BOOK REVIEW: The Light Brigade, by Kameron HurleyTitle: The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley
Published by Saga Press
Published: March 19th 2019
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 356
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

From the Hugo Award­­–winning author of The Stars Are Legion comes a brand-new science fiction thriller about a futuristic war during which soldiers are broken down into light in order to get them to the front lines on Mars.

They said the war would turn us into light. I wanted to be counted among the heroes who gave us this better world.

The Light Brigade: it’s what soldiers fighting the war against Mars call the ones who come back…different. Grunts in the corporate corps get busted down into light to travel to and from interplanetary battlefronts. Everyone is changed by what the corps must do in order to break them down into light. Those who survive learn to stick to the mission brief—no matter what actually happens during combat.

Dietz, a fresh recruit in the infantry, begins to experience combat drops that don’t sync up with the platoon’s. And Dietz’s bad drops tell a story of the war that’s not at all what the corporate brass want the soldiers to think is going on.

Is Dietz really experiencing the war differently, or is it combat madness? Trying to untangle memory from mission brief and survive with sanity intact, Dietz is ready to become a hero—or maybe a villain; in war it’s hard to tell the difference.

A worthy successor to classic stories like Downbelow Station, Starship Troopers, and The Forever War, The Light Brigade is award-winning author Kameron Hurley’s gritty time-bending take on the future of war.

When Kameron Hurley’s The Stars are Legion came out in 2017, I devoured it and recommended it to everyone who ever asked me for a recommendation. I since then have bought everything Hurley has written (a lot of it is still on the TBR) and preordered The Light Brigade as soon as I could.

Dietz is a non-citizen in a corporate-driven future in which citizenship is highly valued. When her home city is destroyed by a separatist Mars, Dietz signs up to join the military in order to have her revenge. Dietz discovers that the military has designed their own tech for travel — it involves breaking oneself down into particles of light and beaming from one zone to another. Of course the process isn’t perfect, and results in a lot of body horror and what it means to be contained in a physical body. Sometimes military sci-fi seems inaccessible to me because I’m not entirely too familiar with weapons and a whole lot of military protocol, but Hurley makes it easy, and that’s a difficult job to do. I felt like I could imagine myself being in Dietz’s place the whole time, struggling through her decisions and actions and rejoicing when she found shreds of hope.

The Light Brigade is everything I hoped for and more. It seriously exceeded my expectations and has already landed on my top ten reads of the year. Hurley harkens back to classic military sci-fi flavors while making it simultaneously, terrifically modern. Hurley doesn’t hold back on her examinations of capitalism, what would happen if corporations went beyond “being human” in the eyes of the law, war, sanity, time; and Hurley does this with so much passion and emotion that made it difficult to put the book down. I had to keep reading because I wanted to see where she’d take this.

It’s a sharp, dazzling sci-fi masterpiece that deserves a place on your shelf. It’s a little bit Haldeman, a little bit PKD, and a little bit Heinlein, but Hurley takes it to the next level. So pick it up, and The Stars Are Legion if you haven’t read that yet either.

BOOK REVIEW: Stay Up with Hugo Best, by Erin Somers

BOOK REVIEW: Stay Up with Hugo Best, by Erin SomersTitle: Stay Up with Hugo Best by Erin Somers
Published by Scribner
Published: April 2nd 2019
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 272
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

An incredibly timely, terrifically witty and moving debut about a young writer's assistant on a late night comedy show and what transpires when she accepts an invitation from its enigmatic host to spend a long weekend at his mansion in Connecticut.

June Bloom is a broke, cynical twenty-nine-year-old writer's assistant on the late-night comedy show, Stay Up with Hugo Best. Hugo Best is in his sixties, a beloved icon of TV and humor, and a notorious womanizer. After he unexpectedly retires and a party is held for his now unemployed staff, June ends up at a dive bar for an open-mic night and prepares for the sad return to the anonymous comedian lifestyle. What she’s not prepared for is a run-in with Hugo at that dive bar. Nor for the invitation that swiftly follows: Hugo asks June to come to his mansion in Greenwich for the long Memorial Day weekend. “No funny business,” he insists.

June, in need of a job and money, confident she can handle herself, but secretly harboring the remains of a childhood crush on the charming older comedian and former role model, accepts. The exact terms of the visit are never spelled out, but June is realistic and clear-eyed enough to guess. Even so, as the weekend unfolds and the enigmatic Hugo gradually reveals himself, their dynamic proves to be much more complicated and less predictable than she expected.

At once hilarious and poignant, brilliantly incisive and terrifically propulsive, Stay Up with Hugo Best is an incredibly timely exploration of sexual politics in the #MeToo age, and the unforgettable story of one young woman’s poignant stumbling into adulthood.

June Bloom, a twenty-nine year old writing assistant for a late night comedy show called “Stay Up with Hugo Best,” finds herself unemployed after Hugo Best suddenly announces his retirement from late-night television. Stay Up with Hugo Best is a wry look into late night television that is a little reminiscent of NBC’s 30 Rock’s flavor in the sense that it gives you that behind-the-scenes glimpse into the aftermath of what happens once a popular late-night comedy show ends.

As a suddenly-unemployed almost thirty year old, June has to figure out what she wants to do and where she’s going now that her current career trajectory has come to a halt. Hugo Best has to reconcile his past, present, and future, scandals and all. Their two lines entangle more once Hugo invites June to spend some time with him at his mansion.

The lines entangle more the closer Hugo and June become, and it’s a timely look at the #metoo movement as June struggles to balance what she wants and she believes in while observing the men in her life and Hugo’s life take what they want with essentially no consequences.

Over the four days she spends with him, June realizes the realities behind the fame she had obsessed over and the costs of such extravagance, and once she leaves, she’s neither fully satisfied or sure where her life will go next, but the weekend at Hugo Best’s mansion certainly signaled a shift in her perception.

Although all of the characters were unlikable at times, Somers’ debut novel is a sly look into our obsessions with fame, television, and the sordid details behind the scenes. I felt June was a little too passive for the career she wanted to be in, but in a way it works for this sort of novel. Overall, Last Night with Hugo Best is a solid debut novel and worth checking out if you enjoy late-night television and behind-the-scenes glimpses into famous lives.

Thank you to Scribner for sending me a complimentary copy to review! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: The Raven Tower, by Ann Leckie

BOOK REVIEW: The Raven Tower, by Ann LeckieTitle: The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie
Published by Orbit
Published: February 26th 2019
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 416
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

Gods meddle in the fates of men, men play with the fates of gods, and a pretender must be cast down from the throne in this breathtaking first fantasy novel from Ann Leckie, New York Times bestselling author and winner of the Hugo, Nebula, and Arthur C. Clarke Awards.

For centuries, the kingdom of Iraden has been protected by the god known as the Raven. He watches over his territory from atop a tower in the powerful port of Vastai. His will is enacted through the Raven's Lease, a human ruler chosen by the god himself. His magic is sustained via the blood sacrifice that every Lease must offer. And under the Raven's watch, the city flourishes.

But the power of the Raven is weakening. A usurper has claimed the throne. The kingdom borders are tested by invaders who long for the prosperity that Vastai boasts. And they have made their own alliances with other gods.

It is into this unrest that the warrior Eolo--aide to Mawat, the true Lease--arrives. And in seeking to help Mawat reclaim his city, Eolo discovers that the Raven's Tower holds a secret. Its foundations conceal a dark history that has been waiting to reveal itself...and to set in motion a chain of events that could destroy Iraden forever.

Give me all, and I mean all, of the unconventional narrators in fantasy and science fiction, please. I read this right after finishing Marlon James’s Black Leopard, Red Wolf, and these two books will always be paired with each other in my mind. Each are different from what’s often expected out of fantasy, and both of these are game changers on what I personally will expect from fantasy from now on.

Ann Leckie’s The Raven Tower is told from the perspective of a god who resides in stone and who has lived in their particular stone for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years. The Raven Tower takes some time to unfold, as the god in the rock spends their time thinking about everything in the grand scope of everything from the beginning of time. It had a very Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead approach to a Hamlet-like fantasy, and I loved that. I’m the kind of reader who loves that sort of thing. Give me the perspective of someone not directly involved in the action of the story.

Because the god is a rock, The Strength and Patience of the Hill, the narrative is exploratory, and you must be patient, because patience pays off in the end, like a rock rolling downhill and gaining momentum. The final quarter of the book is unputdownable and made my patience in letting the narrator tell Eolo his story, this story they have heard, well worth it in the end.

If you’re ready for something new in your fantasy, something for your mind to chew on and think about, and something a little philosophical about what it means to be involved in a story and what it means to be a god, pick this up. It’s already one of my favorite reads of 2019.

Thank you to Orbit Books for sending me a complimentary finished copy of this book to read! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: Hollywood’s Eve, by Lili Anolik

BOOK REVIEW: Hollywood’s Eve, by Lili AnolikTitle: Hollywood's Eve: Eve Babitz and the Secret History of L.A. by Lili Anolik
Published by Scribner
Published: January 8th 2019
Genres: Biography
Pages: 288
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

Los Angeles in the 1960s and 70s was the pop culture capital of the world—a movie factory, a music factory, a dream factory. Eve Babitz was the ultimate factory girl, a pure product of LA.

The goddaughter of Igor Stravinsky and a graduate of Hollywood High, Babitz posed in 1963, at age twenty, playing chess with the French artist Marcel Duchamp. She was naked; he was not. The photograph, cheesecake with a Dadaist twist, made her an instant icon of art and sex. Babitz spent the rest of the decade rocking and rolling on the Sunset Strip, honing her notoriety. There were the album covers she designed: for Buffalo Springfield and the Byrds, to name but a few. There were the men she seduced: Jim Morrison, Ed Ruscha, Harrison Ford, to name but a very few.

Then, at nearly thirty, her It girl days numbered, Babitz was discovered—as a writer—by Joan Didion. She would go on to produce seven books, usually billed as novels or short story collections, always autobiographies and confessionals. Under-known and under-read during her career, she’s since experienced a breakthrough. Now in her mid-seventies, she’s on the cusp of literary stardom and recognition as an essential—as the essential—LA writer. Her prose achieves that American ideal: art that stays loose, maintains its cool, and is so sheerly enjoyable as to be mistaken for simple entertainment.

For Babitz, life was slow days, fast company until a freak fire in the 90s turned her into a recluse, living in a condo in West Hollywood, where Lili Anolik tracked her down in 2012. Anolik’s elegant and provocative new book is equal parts biography and detective story. It is also on dangerously intimate terms with its subject: artist, writer, muse, and one-woman zeitgeist, Eve Babitz.

It seems like two summers ago, everyone on Bookstagram and on book Twitter was talking about Eve Babitz. The more I read about her from the people I followed, the more I wanted to know who she was through her writing. I purchased Sex & Rage in the fall of 2017 (and, shamefully, still haven’t read it), and I bought Eve’s Hollywood this past fall at Strand Bookstore in New York City while I was there visiting a friend. I read Eve’s Hollywood from the end of November to December last year, and I simultaneously wanted to devour that book in a day and savor it over all time. I finally understood why everyone was talking about Eve Babitz (again).

Babitz is an enigma. She’ll make you fall in love with her Los Angeles, and she’ll make you fall in love with her, all while keeping you at an arm’s length so you can’t help but want to listen to everything she has to say. Lili Anolik’s fascination with Eve Babitz, her life, and writing, turned into a Vanity Fair article that was later expanded into Hollywood’s Eve. I read Anolik’s Hollywood’s Eve in a single sitting. I picked it up, read a few chapters, and did what I had to do for the day quickly so that I could spend the rest of my afternoon completely engrossed in Anolik’s discovery, research, and eventual personal connection with Babitz.

I really enjoyed Anolik’s emulation of Babitz’s style, mixing in personal experience with the subject at hand. I find for certain biographies, this style works well, because a writer is able to add in personal anecdotes about people and places that would seem out of place in a more “formal” biography. I learned a lot about Hollywood in the 60s and 70s through Eve’s Hollywood and Hollywood’s Eve that I’ve not really seen or read discussed anywhere else — like the bits about the Didions and Harrison Ford. Sometimes for me, who has only recently begun to dive into the behind-the-scenes stories of a Hollywood that’s gone, it’s a little jaw-dropping to see so many well-known faces know having those connections back then. That knowledge adds so much depth to the writing and film I’ll consume from that point forward, you know?

Eve Babitz is not often likeable, but she is an incredible observer and writer. I thoroughly enjoyed the small part Anolik included that contrasted Eve with her sister Mirandi because it added so much more understanding to Eve as a person. Over the years I’ve read a lot more about and by “difficult” women, women who sometimes behave in ways that men do and the men are praised for it (or have their actions conveniently brushed aside) while the women are villainized or shamed for it? And why? Because they’re women? I’m still confronting that within myself and realizing the best thing I can do is listen, absorb, and pay attention. And maybe be more like Babitz myself.

Thank you to Scribner for sending me a copy of Hollywood’s Eve to review! All opinions are my own.