Book Reviews: July 2019

July was hot and I read three books:

  • Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

  • A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

  • Dark Disciple by Christie Golden

Minor spoilers are in the Dark Disciple review.

LINCOLN IN THE BARDO BY GEORGE SAUNDERS

Lincoln in the Bardo mixes truth - President Lincoln’s son, Willie, died at the beginning of the Civil War - with the supernatural. Upon Willie’s death, the President visits his son’s grave and is unknowingly watched by ghosts all night long.

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I had some mixed feelings on this after reading it and I saw a lot of mixed reviews, too. Saunders is brilliant, the writing was stunning, and the characters memorable. Even so, it did drag a bit because it reads like a play and certain sections I had to force my way through. The book takes place in one night but it took me a couple weeks to finish.

Each ghost had one single thing they fixated on. One was obsessed with his pickle factory. Another ghost only stayed long enough to confess his infidelity to his wife and then - poof - his conscience was clear and he moved on. That’s why I can agree it’s a good book, because Saunders created an entire person’s history from just a few lines, and he did that dozens of times. The Reverend’s struggle to understand why he was in the bardo made him the most compelling character to me. (If you read it and start to get confused by all the names, it might help to remember that the Reverend, Hans Vollman, and Roger Bevins III are the three main ghosts.) Each story got me thinking about birth, death, and everything in between. If I was stuck in purgatory, what event would my soul fixate on? Missed opportunities?

At first I thought that it could’ve easily been about any other father/son duo out there and didn’t necessarily need to be about President Lincoln and Willie, but at the end the history and fantasy elements all tied together nicely.

These were my favorite lines:

“The tide ran out but never ran in, said Susanna Briggs.

The stones rolled downhill but never rolled back up, said Cynthia Hoynton.

You never in your life was given enough, said Miranda Debb.”

-and-

“...creeks running and popping beneath us as we lurched over groaning bridges of freshcut timber…”

-and since it was set in the Civil War, the references to slavery were particularly powerful-

“And yet, still: I had my moments. My free, uninterrupted, discretionary moments.

Strange, though: it is the memory of those moments that bothers me the most.

The thought, specifically, that other men enjoyed whole lifetimes comprised of such moments.”

Overall Lincoln in the Bardo is well worth the read; it’s nice to dig into something different every once in awhile.

Rating: 3.5/5 (Rounded to 3 on Goodreads)


A MAN CALLED OVE BY FREDRIK BACKMAN

Ove is a bitter old man, the kind of person no one wants as a neighbor. When a new family moves in, Ove finds himself pulled into their lives.

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Honestly there’s not much to say about this book. It’s cute, it’s easy to read, it hits you right in the feels, and I teared up a little bit at the ending. It’s just a pleasant, happy read. Sometimes that’s all you need, right? Ove’s grumpiness seemed a bit forced at times when it was obvious by his actions that he was a big softie, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying it.

Summer will be over soon but it would be a perfect beach read for anyone lucky enough to still have a vacation coming up. Unless you’re looking for a book that will put you in a bad mood, I don’t see how you can go wrong with this one.

Rating: 4/5

DARK DISCIPLE BY CHRISTIE GOLDEN

Dark Disciple takes place before Episode III. Created from unused Clone Wars scripts, it follows Jedi Master Quinlan Vos and bounty hunter Asajj Ventress as they team up to take down Count Dooku. The journey changes them both in ways they never saw coming.

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In my other Star Wars reviews I’ve made it clear that I like Disney taking over Star Wars. I enjoy all the new movies, minus a few (okay, many) weird scenes in The Last Jedi (the Luke/Rey/Kylo scenes are the best in that movie). That Vader scene in Rogue One makes me cry tears of joy and I love the new Vader comics that I’ve read. And let’s be real, there were so many authors and books in the EU that everyone had their own idea of canon. I’m happy there can be an “official” Star Wars story that’s easier for fans to learn. (Darth Plagueis is the only EU novel that remains canon in my mind, and it will until Disney replaces it.)

Dark Disciple is the fourth novel I’ve read in the new Star Wars canon, and it’s my favorite by far. (I did love the Vader appearances in Thrawn: Alliances but I think Zahn likes his own character best so Vader seemed a little off there.) Dark Disciple is simply everything that a Star Wars book should be: established characters felt exactly like themselves, new/less well-known characters were developed perfectly, the pacing worked, and it gave me that sense of Star Wars-y wonderment.

*moment of silence for The Sleeper, that scene broke my heart*

I had two issues with this book but they were minor enough that I still rated it 4.5. The first was Ventress in the last ⅓ of the book; it focused a little bit too much on her love for Vos so she seemed less badass. But I liked her ending overall. Secondly, I was happy that the book didn’t rely too much on previous Clone Wars story lines and just referred to Ventress’ relationship with the characters in passing, like Obi-Wan. The issue I had was that Ahsoka wasn’t mentioned at all. It was like she never existed as a common person they all knew and so that felt wrong.

This is truly Star Wars media at its best. I highly, highly recommend for people who have watched Clone Wars and anyone interested in Star Wars novels.

Rating: 4.5/5 (Rounded to 5 on Goodreads)

Book Reviews: June 2019

I finally got back into the swing of reading in June, thanks to having nothing on my calendar! May was weirdly busy so it was nice to be able to just get some stuff off my to-do list and chill in the evenings.

Very minor spoilers are in the reviews below.

My eight June books were:

  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

  • The Chronicles of Narnia #1-7 by C.S. Lewis


DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? BY PHILIP K. DICK

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is a classic in the sci-fi world. Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter, is on the hunt for androids - who look just like humans - that are determined to survive.

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Androids is always on those “must read sci-fi” lists, which is why I picked it up, but somehow I’ve managed to avoid spoilers so I went into it with no expectations. (I also watched Blade Runner for the very first time after reading it, so the movie never spoiled it for me either.) I think this is the type of book that was mind-blowing years ago but after watching shows like West World and Altered Carbon first, I’ve become a bit immune to the human/robot thing.

The part where it seems like the androids might have captured Deckard (at the police station) was my favorite part. It was the most tense action sequence in a book meant to be more thought-provoking.

There were a lot of threads that seemed to be left hanging - or not so much hanging, but I expected to go deeper into them. The emotion changing machines, Mercerism, and fake animals were all the focus at some point but then it would jump to the next thing and I felt slightly unsatisfied. By the end I was a bit confused on whether that empathy test was any good, but that’s okay because it seems like I was supposed to feel that way.

Once I finished it, I realized I adore the title. It’s kinda brilliant how well it sums up the themes. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? might be my favorite book title of all time. I recommend for all the sci-fi lovers of the world.

Rating: 3/5


THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA (#1-7) BY C.S. LEWIS

I’ve read all the Narnia books several times before, but it’s been years and I wanted to get into something mindless and entertaining. The books in my set are all about 200 pages; each one took me a day or so to get through depending on my mood.

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I prefer reading these in chronological order, not publishing order, because that’s how I read them the first time I went through the series. The numbers I reference will be chronological.

Narnia used to be one of my favorite series. I still love it, and I respect the Christian themes Lewis incorporated into these novels but I prefer books #3-6 now because he’s wayyyyy more subtle about religion than he is in #1, #2, and #7. As a kid, I didn’t really notice it as much but as an adult it’s a bit heavy handed to read; #1 is creation, #2 is Jesus and the resurrection, and #7 is end times and Armageddon. The middle four are just adventures with Aslan popping up here and there so you get more of the fantasy and less preaching. Narnia truly is a gem in children’s fantasy literature, so it’s probably unfair of me to even say this because Christianity is the overarching theme and Narnia wouldn’t be the same without it.

A quick note about each one is below.

#1) The Magician’s Nephew is the Narnia creation story, and I like the backstory of the Witch and the wardrobe. You even learn about the lantern here. Uncle Andrew is a giant dick.

#2) The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe is the most well-known of the series but it’s not my personal favorite. The chapters when all four kids first enter Narnia are absolutely wonderful, though.

#3) The Horse and His Boy is my favorite in the series as far as plot goes; I love the runaway story and Aravis but I was turned off by how Lewis represented the Calormen. Hwin is the real MVP.

#4) Prince Caspian has all four Pevensie children back again, and I kinda prefer this part of their adventure. They’re legends and slowly start to act like it and Caspian is tied with Lucy for my favorite human character. (Bringing up West World again…I did NOT realize that Ben Barnes was Caspian until I looked up clips from the movie after this re-read. He’s so hot as Caspian but Logan sucks.)

#5) The Voyage of the Dawn Treader has a million little adventures in one story, making this one the most fun to read. Reepicheep and Eustace bonding makes me smile.

#6) The Silver Chair has Puddleglum and he might be my favorite Narnian character of all. Bism and the Underworld are pretty fascinating, too. Maybe we’ll get to see more of that if we ever get a Narnia TV series.

#7) The Last Battle is the worst book in the series, in my opinion. At least there’s a unicorn.

Overall this series is lovely, it’s a classic for a reason. But I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up two things I’d noticed reading as an adult.

First off, the Calormen. Their whole portrayal is pretty racist. In the entire series there are only two “good” Calormen - Aravis and the soldier in #7. They’re the dark, devil-worshipping bad guys. The Calormen wiki page says that the name probably came from the Latin word “calor” for heat and they live in the desert so I’ll give Lewis a pass there. (Instead of them just being a letter off from “colormen.”) But name aside, it’s bad. In #7, the main group of characters literally use black face to disguise themselves.

Secondly, I have issues with how Susan ended up. Apparently kids were worried about Susan and Lewis wrote letters back in the day telling them she would (likely) eventually reach Narnia heaven on her own, but let’s focus on what’s actually in book #7. I don’t have a problem with her being excluded IF the only reason had been her pretending Narnia wasn’t real. She did that, and was rude to her siblings about it. Okay, that’s fine. She’s in denial, so she doesn’t get to visit. BUT! BUT! All her siblings and the other non-Narnian humans also look down on her because she’s interested in “nylons and lipstick and invitations.” Is this some mild slut shaming from Lewis? Vanity is not a great thing, but Susan sounds like a completely normal teenager to me. She’s one of the four great heroes of Narnia and she was an adult there - so why can’t she enjoy adult things in England too? And after all that, HER ENTIRE FAMILY DIES IN A TRAIN CRASH AND SHE’S ALL ALONE IN THE WORLD! But fake Aslan somehow makes it to Narnia heaven, so apparently everything is fine.

Honestly I think the above things simply come from the fact that they were written by a white, religious man in the 1950’s. At least this is a sign society is (slowly) progressing. I hate book #7, but the other six are lovely, cleverly written stories that will stand the test of time.

Ratings: 4, 4, 3.5, 5, 5, 5, and 1 star respectively.

Book Reviews: May 2019

This is the second month of 2019 where I only read one book. (!!!!!) I spent ten days traveling in Virginia and a Parks & Rec rewatch took up my free time when I was home.

My one May book was:

  • A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole

A PRINCESS IN THEORY BY ALYSSA COLE

A Princess in Theory is a modern day romance that follows Naledi Smith, a grad student and waitress, as she struggles to balance her job with her desire to grow in her career. Unbeknownst to her, her new coworker is actually Prince Thabiso - and they have a history that she doesn’t remember.

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I don’t read many romance novels. This one was put on my radar several months back when I was listening to a podcast and the host was raving about it, plus I’m trying to make sure I read plenty of books by POC authors this year. I was curious about the last time that I read a true romance novel, so I went back through my Goodreads. All I could find for the past two years were Eleanor & Park, Crazy Rich Asians, and Outlander. (Ironically, all of those I rated 2.5 or 3 and rounded to 3 on Goodreads if needed. That appears to be the highest rating I give romance.)

Even though it’s not my usual genre, I did enjoy it. It’s basically The Princess Diaries meets Wakanda. It’s also pretty contemporary, with phrases like “his eggplant emoji” sprinkled throughout. The main thing that kept me from rating too highly was that I could sense every plot point from five chapters away, but I liked Ledi’s character enough that I didn’t mind too much. She was the reason this romance worked for me.

Thabiso was a bit unlikeable at first, but that quickly changed and he turned into The Perfect Man. I was fine with that, because it quickly became clear that Ledi’s personal growth was the focus. The best moments were Ledi opening up to Thabiso, setting boundaries with Portia, and shutting down Brian who was the actual worst.

I recommend A Princess in Theory for those who enjoy contemporary romance. Since I’m more of a fantasy/scifi girl, this is the type of story I prefer to just see the movie of instead. Netflix, please pick this up.

Rating: 3/5

Book Reviews: April 2019

I’ve only got two books to discuss for April since a lot of my mental energy went to the first half of GOT Season 8. (I’ll share my thoughts on that later…maybe…) I’ve also been in one of those “I don’t even know what I want to read” moods for about two months now, so at the beginning of April I did an Insta story asking for recommendations. I’m on the library waitlist for all of those so hopefully that gets me fully back in reading mode.

Both of the following reviews are a bit spoiler-y, but nothing that should ruin the book for you.

  • I Can’t Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race, and Other Reasons I've Put My Faith in Beyoncé by Michael Arceneaux

  • Lost Stars by Claudia Gray


I CAN’T DATE JESUS BY MICHAEL ARCENEAUX

I Can’t Date Jesus is a collection of essays by Arceneaux that describe his journey as a gay black man and his relationship with family, other men, and the religion he grew up in. The title is originally what grabbed my attention.

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I am neither gay, a man, or black, so much of this book I couldn’t understand personally. But that’s why I’m glad I read it, because Arceneaux was very open with his experiences.

My favorite part was the beginning where he focused on his relationship with religion. I grew up Baptist, not Catholic, but I found myself nodding along with a lot of it. Honestly the only thing that kept this from being a 5 star read was that all of the dating stories got a bit redundant. In the 40-80% section of the book, each story seemed a lot like the one before and I started to lose track of names. Each chapter was still pretty funny overall.

Arceneaux did get political at times, but not often, and I didn’t mind at all because I share his more liberal beliefs. I also really appreciated his honesty about his relationship with his parents; even if you have the most wonderful parents in the universe there are still going to be moments of strife that are hard to talk about. Arceneaux didn’t hold back, and the end of the book focused a lot on their current relationship (and their reaction to his coming out) and it had a positive tone that I found encouraging.

Now to share some quotes:

“How can you be obedient to dogma you’ve found oppressive? How can you cling to tradition and exalt a vision of God that minimizes you and expects you to suppress what is innate to you? Is it not an exercise in futility to place your faith in a belief system that doesn’t completely believe in you?” (Arceneaux is, of course, referring to being gay, but as a woman who grew up constantly hearing “the man is the head of the house/women can’t speak in church/women must be modest so they don’t tempt men” this really resonated with me. Just to be clear - I’ve mentioned this in reviews before - but I no longer relate to the denomination I grew up in.)

“It sounds like you’re waiting to die to live. You can have a bit of heaven now before life here ends.” (Said by Arceneaux to his mom.)

“When I rejected the religion I was raised in, I struggled, because I didn’t formulate any other belief system. That is no longer the case. I do believe in a God, but more than anything, I believe in me.”

Rating: 3.5/5 (Rounded to 3 on Goodreads)



LOST STARS BY CLAUDIA GRAY

Lost Stars follows Ciena and Thane, two Imperial recruits, as they finish their training and begin serving the Empire.

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This is only my third novel in the new Star Wars canon, the first two being the Thrawn books. I’m used to Star Wars media that focuses on the core characters, but I enjoyed being introduced to totally new people and planets in Lost Stars.

My main complaint about this book was that it relied too heavily on the events of the original Star Wars trilogy. So many chapters were just a rehash of the OT movies with a slightly different perspective from Ciena and Thane, but at least characters such as Luke and Leia were only mentioned in passing. Vader was also mentioned which I liked, he was mysterious and properly evil here. One minor dislike was that there were a lot of phrases that felt out of place: “hang out,” “badass,” “dumb-ass,” etc. It just doesn’t feel very Star Wars-y when those words are used. Also, is “tenday” suddenly a way the SW universe measures time?

The strongest parts of the book were about the Imperial Academy training and how Ciena and Thane survived after the Battle of Endor. I liked Thane’s evolution the best, from his time in the academy to his Rebel recruitment to becoming a genuine believer in his new cause. After Endor, I had some sympathy for Ciena (who stayed with the Empire throughout the book) because her worldview from this earlier quote had been shaken:

“Nobody ever knows the whole truth. That’s why promises mean something. Otherwise they’d be too easy, don’t you see? We look forward to the unknown future and promise to be faithful no matter what comes.”

I didn’t have too much sympathy, because she should have figured out sooner what the Empire was, but her progression helped show how so many people could have supported Palpatine. I was rooting for her and Thane to have a happy ending, and Gray did leave room for a follow-up novel so maybe we’ll see what happens to the couple. I’d happily read the sequel.

Rating: 3.5/5 (Rounded to 3 on Goodreads)