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.

Little List of Reviews #6

It’s been a while since I’ve done a little list of reviews! I tend to do this when I only have a few thoughts about a book, it didn’t excite me much, or a myriad of other reasons. Sometimes I also just like to get reviews done and get them off my to-do list! I also am the sort of person who sometimes prefers the shorter review. Give me thoughts, not the plot! These are all super backlist books for me because I’ve had them on my shelves forever.

Little List of Reviews #6Title: The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry
Published by Penguin Books
Published: January 26th 2010
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 278
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

"This debut novel weaves the kind of mannered fantasy that might result if Wes Anderson were to adapt Kafka." --The New Yorker

Reminiscent of imaginative fiction from Jorge Luis Borges to Jasper Fforde yet dazzlingly original, The Manual of Detection marks the debut of a prodigious young talent. Charles Unwin toils as a clerk at a huge, imperious detective agency located in an unnamed city always slick with rain. When Travis Sivart, the agency's most illustrious detective, is murdered, Unwin is suddenly promoted and must embark on an utterly bizarre quest for the missing investigator that leads him into the darkest corners of his soaking, somnolent city. What ensues is a noir fantasy of exquisite craftsmanship, as taut as it is mind- blowing, that draws readers into a dream world that will change what they think about how they think.

One of my professors used this book in one of her mysteries English courses and since I had already graduated, I really wanted to read it after she spoke about it with me over lunch. However, it sat on my shelves for almost three years until I finally picked it up in one of my “I’m going to choose some books I’ve been meaning to read since forever and actually sit down and read them” phases. (If you’re curious, I picked four and have since read three!) I appreciated this for what it does. I hesitate to call it magical realism because that’s Latin American in its roots, so it’s probably more along the lines of fabulism. The Manual of Detection plays with the mystery genre and all its tropes and twists them up and around. I enjoyed it while I was reading it and I read it in a day, but I ultimately found something weirdly lacking with it.

Little List of Reviews #6Title: The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff
Published: October 27th 2015
Genres: History, Non-Fiction
Pages: 498
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Work
Goodreads

Pulitzer Prize winner Stacy Schiff, author of the #1 bestseller Cleopatra, provides an electrifying, fresh view of the Salem witch trials.

The panic began early in 1692, over an exceptionally raw Massachusetts winter, when a minister's niece began to writhe and roar. It spread quickly, confounding the most educated men and prominent politicians in the colony. Neighbors accused neighbors, husbands accused wives, parents and children one another. It ended less than a year later, but not before nineteen men and women had been hanged and an elderly man crushed to death.

Speaking loudly and emphatically, adolescent girls stood at the center of the crisis. Along with suffrage and Prohibition, the Salem witch trials represent one of the few moments when women played the central role in American history. Drawing masterfully on the archives, Stacy Schiff introduces us to the strains on a Puritan adolescent's life and to the authorities whose delicate agendas were at risk. She illuminates the demands of a rigorous faith, the vulnerability of settlements adrift from the mother country, perched--at a politically tumultuous time--on the edge of what a visitor termed a "remote, rocky, barren, bushy, wild-woody wilderness." With devastating clarity, the textures and tension of colonial life emerge; hidden patterns subtly, startlingly detach themselves from the darkness. Schiff brings early American anxieties to the fore to align them brilliantly with our own. In an era of religious provocations, crowdsourcing, and invisible enemies, this enthralling story makes more sense than ever.

The Witches is Schiff's riveting account of a seminal episode, a primal American mystery unveiled--in crackling detail and lyrical prose--by one of our most acclaimed historians.

The Witches is one dense book, in content and in pages. I grabbed this off the ARC shelf at work forever ago because I enjoy reading about the Salem Witch Trials, but as usual life and other books got in the way. Now that I’m seriously weeding my shelves and my ARCs, I told myself I had to read this one now or let it go. I read the first few chapters and got sucked in to the bizarreness of it all, but it’s very dense and difficult to read at times from a technical standpoint because it almost expects you to have a solid knowledge of Puritan American history. I do find the parallels fascinating though because so much of it is still in practice today in regards to the treatment of women.

Little List of Reviews #6Title: The Girl from the Savoy by Hazel Gaynor
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks
Published: June 7th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 419
Format: eBook
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

Presenting a dazzling new historical novel … The Girl From The Savoy is as sparkling as champagne and as thrilling as the era itself.

Sometimes life gives you cotton stockings. Sometimes it gives you a Chanel gown …

Dolly Lane is a dreamer; a downtrodden maid who longs to dance on the London stage, but her life has been fractured by the Great War. Memories of the soldier she loved, of secret shame and profound loss, by turns pull her back and spur her on to make a better life.

When she finds employment as a chambermaid at London’s grandest hotel, The Savoy, Dolly takes a step closer to the glittering lives of the Bright Young Things who thrive on champagne, jazz and rebellion. Right now, she must exist on the fringes of power, wealth and glamor—she must remain invisible and unimportant.

But her fortunes take an unexpected turn when she responds to a struggling songwriter’s advertisement for a ‘muse’ and finds herself thrust into London’s exhilarating theatre scene and into the lives of celebrated actress, Loretta May, and her brother, Perry. Loretta and Perry may have the life Dolly aspires to, but they too are searching for something.

Now, at the precipice of the life she has and the one she longs for, the girl from The Savoy must make difficult choices: between two men; between two classes, between everything she knows and everything she dreams of. A brighter future is tantalizingly close—but can a girl like Dolly ever truly leave her past behind?

I love historical fiction, the Jazz Age, and Hazel Gaynor’s writing, but this story took a while to gain momentum and really pique my interest. I mostly read it on my phone in slow times while out of the house, so I took a little while longer to read this than I do other books. The voices were charming, life at the Savoy and in London were richly described, but the ways in which the characters intertwined with each other just seemed a bit too perfect.

BOOK REVIEW: One Day in December, by Josie Silver

BOOK REVIEW: One Day in December, by Josie SilverTitle: One Day in December by Josie Silver
Published by Broadway Books
Published: October 16th 2018
Genres: Fiction, Romance
Pages: 416
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

A Reese Witherspoon x Hello Sunshine Book Club Pick

“Get ready to be swept up in a whirlwind romance. It absolutely charmed me.” —Reese Witherspoon

“Josie Silver writes with a warmth so palpable her characters sneak their way into your heart and stay for a long time.”—Jill Santopolo, New York Times-bestselling author of The Light We Lost

Two people. Ten chances. One unforgettable love story.

Laurie is pretty sure love at first sight doesn't exist anywhere but the movies. But then, through a misted-up bus window one snowy December day, she sees a man who she knows instantly is the one. Their eyes meet, there's a moment of pure magic...and then her bus drives away.

Certain they're fated to find each other again, Laurie spends a year scanning every bus stop and cafe in London for him. But she doesn't find him, not when it matters anyway. Instead they "reunite" at a Christmas party, when her best friend Sarah giddily introduces her new boyfriend to Laurie. It's Jack, the man from the bus. It would be.

What follows for Laurie, Sarah and Jack is ten years of friendship, heartbreak, missed opportunities, roads not taken, and destinies reconsidered. One Day in December is a joyous, heartwarming and immensely moving love story to escape into and a reminder that fate takes inexplicable turns along the route to happiness.

Josie Silver’s One Day in December was the perfect, magical Christmas read I wanted. It reminded me a lot of the movie Love, Actually in its tone, but it was also new and fresh as well. One Day in December follows two friends, Laurie and Sarah, as they navigate life from the day Laurie sees Jack at the bus stop until the end of the book. A year after Laurie sees a man at the bus stop and has an immediate connection with him (and during that year doesn’t stop looking for him), Sarah brings that same exact man to a holiday party, and his name is Jack. Laurie and Jack recognize each other immediately, and over the course of almost a decade try to make the right choices in their own lives even though they are continually drawn to each other.

I loved how the story was told in alternating points of view of Laurie and Jack and that each of them felt well developed, growing and changing as time went on while each of them still had a deeply rooted, sometimes inexplicable, connection with each other. It was love at first sight, and both of them remained connected from that moment at the bus stop.

It’s a modern fairy tale, and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. I couldn’t put it down, and I can’t wait to read her next one!

BOOK REVIEW: City of Ghosts, by Victoria Schwab

BOOK REVIEW: City of Ghosts, by Victoria SchwabTitle: City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab
Series: Cassidy Blake #1
Published by Scholastic Press
Published: August 28th 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Middle Grade
Pages: 285
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

Cassidy Blake's parents are The Inspectres, a (somewhat inept) ghost-hunting team. But Cass herself can REALLY see ghosts. In fact, her best friend, Jacob, just happens to be one.

When The Inspectres head to ultra-haunted Edinburgh, Scotland, for their new TV show, Cass—and Jacob—come along. In Scotland, Cass is surrounded by ghosts, not all of them friendly. Then she meets Lara, a girl who can also see the dead. But Lara tells Cassidy that as an In-betweener, their job is to send ghosts permanently beyond the Veil. Cass isn't sure about her new mission, but she does know the sinister Red Raven haunting the city doesn't belong in her world. Cassidy's powers will draw her into an epic fight that stretches through the worlds of the living and the dead, in order to save herself.

It comes as no surprise to anyone that Victoria Schwab is one of my favorite writers of all time. Her Shades of Magic trilogy is one of my all-time favorite fantasy series, and her YA fantasies — The Monsters of Verity duology and the Archived series — are complex and SO GOOD. When she announced City of Ghosts, I immediately preordered it and couldn’t wait to have it in my hands.

City of Ghosts follows Cassidy Blake’s and her parents’ move to Edinburgh, Scotland, to begin filming a television show (The Inspectres) episode centered on the ghostly activities in old places within Edinburgh. Cassidy has a ghost-friend named Jacob and I loved their interactions, because there’s a lot of spooky in Jacob’s existence. I also want to know Jacob’s history. How did he die? Why did he decide to choose to save Cassidy?? I also enjoyed Cassidy’s friendship with Lara, and I hope to see that developed further in the future books in the series. I liked that Lara was a little bit of a foil for Cassidy in the sense that Lara is able to do some things that cause Cassidy to rethink her own abilities. I won’t spoil anything for you, though!

I read a few pages of this one night, and then I sat down and finished the rest of it in a single sitting. This is just the right amount of scary for younger readers and was just enough spooky for me. In fact, it reminded me a lot thematically and atmospherically of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book to the extent that I considered City of Ghosts to be a companion series of sorts! Both City of Ghosts and The Graveyard Book deal with thematic horror of growing up and facing the unknown as we “cross the border” between the innocence of childhood and the awareness and understanding of adulthood. It’s in those in-between times that we really come to know ourselves and what we’re capable of.

If you enjoy middle grade fantasy/horror and want to be chilled to the bone in similar ways after reading The Graveyard Book and Coraline, definitely pick this one up!