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Bite-Sized Book Reviews: HEIR TO THE EMPIRE, THIS ONE SUMMER, and CONFESSIONS OF A SHOPAHOLIC

Books, Comics and MangaKristina PinoComment

I don't think the three books I'm looking at this time around could be any different from each other, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Star Wars: Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn

It was a long time coming, but I've finally started reading the Thrawn trilogy! This book takes place five years after the events of the last Star Wars film (at the time of writing, that's Episode VI) when Leia is pregnant with her and Solo's twins, and Luke is trying to figure out how to become a better and stronger Jedi so he can lead and teach others. We meet a few new characters, including the kick-butt Mara Jade and the super strategist Grand Admiral Thrawn, from whom this book trilogy gets its name. I guess I should also clarify this book is classified as non-canon now.

Thrawn is hell-bent on destroying the New Republic with the goal of restoring the Empire to glory. It's well-paced and fun to read, and the author really has a great sense of the characters. If you enjoyed the movies, you should have no problems diving into these and actually seeing the scenes play out in your head.

Being the first of a trilogy of books, it should be obvious that Thrawn is no chump. The danger he poses to the main characters feels real and bears a lot of weight because you know their problems aren't over with the first book. Very exciting, because we know that they're going to pull some fab narrow escapes and fancy maneuvers to get out of each scrape. And that's one of the things I love most about Star Wars.

This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki

This graphic novel was gifted to me by my fellow Rioter and Panelteer Brenna, who got me as her gift exchange recipient person. I pretty much started and finished it on the very day it was delivered to my door.

Rose and Windy are pals who see each other every summer at this beach-side cottage getaway along with their families. They're 15 in this story, which makes them a little too old for some things they always enjoyed doing, but too young for some of the teen-age/new adult/parental drama that's going on. The book has this quiet sort of atmosphere to it - it's hard to explain, I just felt "quiet" reading it. It isn't colorful and the panels are hand-drawn and everything has this awesome mix of manga-like toning and brush strokes like an ink painting.

There is and there isn't an over-arching plot: there's stuff going on, but the focus is more inward, more on the two main characters and how they're dealing with all the stuff going on around them than the events themselves. And of course, how they help each other deal. The book touches upon some of the bigger issues that plague teens at their age, like sex and gender, as well as the different kinds of relationships they may have with their parents.

Great book about growing up, and gorgeous presentation by First Second and everyone who participated in its design.

Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella

I picked this up at my village library because, more than anything else, I was surprised to see it there. Being in Japan, and out in the countryside, a lot of the books in the English language section are either cook books, picture books, children's fiction, some middle grade and young adult, and a good chunk of classics. I didn't expect to see fiction about a stylish London girl who is up to her eyeballs in debt because she can't resist shopping despite being a financial journalist and really knowing better. It seemed fun and random enough that I grabbed it.

I've seen the movie adaptation once, a long time ago, and I was surprised to find that the book was much kinder to the protagonist. At least, my vague memory of the film is I spent a lot of time cringing and feeling really embarrassed for her, but I liked this book version much better. Rebecca is quite silly and easily distracted most of the time, but I enjoyed her internal monologues and day-dreaming. Fine little fluff, easy to read, had some laughs.

Don't jump into this expecting anything deep or some complicated plot - it's a fun read and things just kind of happen. The entire thing is written in the present tense, which I'm not really used to. I mentioned before I picked this book up because it surprised me to see it at my local library, but there's more: I also grabbed it because I like to drop wild card books that I normally wouldn't into my reading pile now and again. Variety is the spice of life, right? Anyway, am glad I picked this one.

Audiobook Review: THE MARTIAN

BooksKristina PinoComment
"Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first men to walk on the surface of Mars. Now, he's sure he'll be the first man to die there.
It started with the dust storm that holed his suit and nearly killed him, and that forced his crew to leave him behind, sure he was already dead. Now he's stranded millions of miles from the nearest human being, with no way to even signal Earth that he's alive--and even if he could get word out, his food would be gone years before a rescue mission could arrive. Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to get him first.
But Mark isn't ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills--and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit--he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. But will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?"
Listen to a bestseller for $7.49 at audible.com!

This book had been on my radar since around when it was released in February of this year because it had some great buzz going for it. Then the audiobook edition was nominated for an Audie Award and I just had to listen to the whole thing after I heard the sample.

R.C. Bray was a perfect choice as the narrator. The overall tone of Watney's log entries can get pretty sarcastic despite the desperate circumstances, and Bray conveyed that tone brilliantly. He also demonstrated some fantastic range, really bringing out the drama in Watney's story as it came up, and distinguishing the voices of the side characters well.

The events in this story are strung together with humor and wit - I never thought I'd be laughing so often in moments of suspense - and I think that getting Watney's perspective in the form of log entries (like books that read like diaries) made it even more suspenseful. Of course, the log entries alternate with Earth-based narrative, which only really served to increase the level of suspense even more.

The last big thing I should mention is I listened to this book after having read Commander Chris Hadfield's

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth (discussed in Book Club). Having learned about life outside Earth and the science involved as a result of my experiences reading his book, watching his videos, and all that good stuff, I feel that I appreciated the credibility of this book more than I would have otherwise. It's clear that the author did his research and wrote a story about things that can't happen (yet) in the context of current technology.

I can't recommend this book for kids, but I think teens and adults alike would love this, even if they aren't big science fiction readers. Granted, some younger readers may not get some references to older sitcoms mentioned in the story, but it wouldn't make a difference in their overall enjoyment. I think it's really just there to date its readers (ahh!).

If you're subscribed to Audible, check it out there (read: join by using my banner earlier in this post), or buy it in print at your preferred bookshop.

The Martian

The Martian

Buy The Martian by Andy Weir in Hardcover for the low price of 15.36.

Friday Things: 01/27 - Mondays of Star Wars, French lit in NYC, and a border collie

LinksKristina PinoComment

[Oh hey, another Monday Edition. I really need to get on the ball, here.]

On Books and Comics:

If you were an X-Files fan back in the day, you might be interested in an upcoming science-fiction novel series being co-written by Gillian Anderson.

Paper sculptures, book art, that kind of thing, usually rocks. But this one featuring Smaug is just glorious.

"Around 15,000 people turned out in the cold Saturday in Riga, Latvia, to form a two-kilometer-long chain of book lovers. The occasion was the transfer of books from the old National Library to the newly-built National Library across the river." So cool.

March 4th. Photo book. Find Momo. Border collie. Be there.

If creating engaging graphic novels about scientists and different parts of history were to become trendy, I wouldn't be upset one bit. 

I recently had a look at Disney Kingdoms: Seekers of the Weird #1, and enjoyed it. Here's a preview of issue #2.

(via BookRiot) Any romantic ideas you might have about where The Little Prince was written are now dashed, because the truth is, it was written in New York.

(via MyBookishWays) Horror fans, check out the ballots for the Bram Stoker Awards.

 

On Movies:

Looks like we can expect to see Leia, Luke, and Han in future Star Wars films.

I'm not gonna lie... the latest look at Maleficent gave me chills.

 

 

Other:

Do you want to take pictures of snowflakes? Here's how. 

I joined GoodReads! I'm debating adding a widget to the sidebar, but we'll see how things go in the coming weeks. Apart from my own profile, I also made a page for the Les Literables Book Club. Check them out!

[See you next weekend!]

 

 

Thoughts on: 'The Courtship of Princess Leia' by Dave Wolverton

BooksKristina Pino2 Comments
Though I've always called myself a Star Wars fan, and have generally kept track of some of the happenings in the expanded universe, I've never actually, until now, picked up a book or comic that continues telling stories in this universe I so enjoy. Part of the reason why is because there were just so many different Star Wars books to choose from that I had no idea where to start. It wasn't until I saw this article on TOR by Emily Asher-Perrin that I finally turned my attention to this little problem and decided it was time to fix it.

After checking out Emily's list and asking around, The Courtship of Princess Leia won out as the definitive must-read, and I dug in. I'm not framing this as a review, though... just putting some thoughts down before I move on to the next thing.

I can't pin down exactly what it was about the writing that didn't totally "do it" for me. The story just sucked me in hardcore, and I was with these characters all the way, but just something was kind of bugging me throughout. My current hypothesis is it's just the language of the genre, and I haven't read enough sci-fi to fully appreciate it. It didn't stop me though, and it won't keep me from reading more Star Wars books.

The story itself is just so bizarre and unabashed, that once it was all said and done, I couldn't really imagine things going a different way between Han and Leia. It's one of those things where, I already knew that they stay together and have kids and continue having adventures, but it never occurred to me that they'd have such a wild ride leading up to their wedding. And why wouldn't they? Their characters simply demand it, and their personalities were set to clash at some point. Some bits were predictable, but none of that is the author's fault, since I already knew some "spoilers" about the continuing adventures of various characters.

I liked all the main characters in this book, and now I'm especially interested in reading more of Luke's adventures as a Jedi. I'm about 99% sure that it doesn't exist, but I'm still intensely interested in reading more about Yoda as well, something I mentioned in a previous article already. The next Star Wars-related book I'll be reading is Heir to the Empire (Thrawn Trilogy book 1). I'm looking forward to it!

Traversing Barsoom: On 'A Princess of Mars'

BooksKristina PinoComment

One of the weirdest, yet most charming aspects about reading books about Barsoom, which were written way before our parents, and maybe grandparents were born (1912), is wading through the words long-lost from general usage while trying to forget what we know about Mars today and letting Edgar Rice Burroughs illustrate what life there might be like. It's got all the stuff that we see in out-of-this-world stories... space princesses, super advanced technology, the lone Earthman who we can relate to, and plenty of action packed in with the romance.

Under all of that though, the stories of Barsoom feel like an epic so far. You know, like Lord of the Rings. It takes us through the story nice and easy, explaining everything going on with the main character along the way, and romanticizing anything and everything. While this is something that kind of brought me to a snooze with J.R.R. Tolkien (sorry, it might have just been the time of my life I tried reading those books), I could barely put down A Princess of Mars. Thankfully for me, I received that book along with the rest of the story in one big bundle as a Kindle gift, so I don't have to wait long before I can pick up the next chapter, The Gods of Mars.

One of the reasons why I became interested in reading the Barsoom novels is because I enjoyed Disney's adaptation and then heard they were books that'd been written just after the turn of the century. I thought that was the coolest, and then I found out even more -- Edgar Rice Burroughs was also responsible for the story of Tarzan (also adapted by Disney), which was also gifted to me for the Kindle in the same fashion as the Barsoom series.

Because I'd seen the movie, I already had an idea of what would be happening in the books. Knowing what would eventually happen didn't make the reading any less exciting, though. Burroughs doesn't take your breath away with his diction (he likes using the word "extreme," I noticed), but I found myself wanting to know more and more about Barsoom and what was going to happen to John Carter next.

Where Disney adapted the obviously comical spin to his situation, Burroughs wrote Carter as a bit of an Anthropologist - someone who is learning about a whole new culture (in this case, an entire planet) by immersing himself into it. The tragic situations were much more tragic in the context of his character being the one Earthman who was inexplicably teleported to faraway Mars, and more so at the end of the novel when he found himself right back where he started (on Earth), with no way back into the arms of his one love. The funny situations were made hilarious because the story is narrated by John Carter himself, and as fellow humans, we can share his feelings on the bizarre instances.

Despite Carter describing the denizens of Mars as a barbaric people, especially the "Green Men" he spent months with in the beginning, he still manages to humanize them. We, the readers, are kept in check by the consistent reminders in Carter's diction about the ferocity and savageness of those beings, coupled with the steady flow of Barsoomian concepts and words that he learns along the way. For me, as an Anthropologist, it's exciting to read novels that do world-building while giving us a human perspective on a completely strange people.

I chose to write more of a "reaction" than a "review" of A Princess of Mars, because this novel was written so long ago, many of the concepts the author had about Mars (reflected in the novel) are false, and because story-telling was different then than it is now. I couldn't possibly sit here and write a review straight-faced for works that, for all intents and purposes, have withstood the "test of time."

If you're the kind of person who enjoys taking it easy (the story-telling isn't fast paced at all), reading about one man's struggle to survive on a dying planet, fighting his way into the arms of his true love and then read what happens after the "happily ever after," the Barsoom novels might be for you. You can't really judge the events of the book by the film if you've seen it, though -- I get the feeling that Disney's John Carter merged the first two books into that one film, because there are some concepts and events that happened therein which didn't occur in A Princess of Mars. More on this, of course, after I've read the next novel.

[image of the book cover via Iceberg INK, where you can find another great review of this novel]