Star Wars: Razor’s Edge and Rebel Rising

rebel risingI have to admit that I haven’t historically been a big reader of Star Wars tie-ins, despite loving the movies. But I’ve read several I liked recently, starting with EK Johnston’s Ahsoka.

Martha Wells’ Razor’s Edge has the advantage of being written by an author whose books I really, really like, and of being about Leia (my favorite character). I was initially slightly disoriented because for some reason I thought this took place after the end of the original trilogy. It’s actually between New Hope and Empire Strikes Back. It’s a relatively standalone adventure, featuring space pirates plus some fun banter between Han and Leia.

I really liked the way Wells shades in Leia’s competence–she’s shown to be a great negotiator and diplomat–but also her vulnerability–she feels incredibly responsible for the survivors of Alderaan. It’s a Leia that fits the movies while also giving an added sense of interority to the quippy Princess. This is enjoyable, although I didn’t feel that it ever reached the emotional depths of Wells’ strongest character work (Tremaiiiiine). At the same time, Razor’s Edge is a solid and thoughtful look at echoes from Leia’s past as well as her growing competence and strength.

While Razor’s Edge was published as an adult book, Beth Revis’s recent Rebel Rising is being published and marketed as YA. Telling Jyn Erso’s backstory, interspersed with scenes from Wobani, it goes a long way towards making her a slightly more coherent character than Rogue One was able to achieve.

This Jyn is shattered by the loss of her parents and then by subsequent loss after loss after loss. It’s grim, but we really do come to see the reason of her lack of hope. And we also see her talents as well as the training that made her one of Saw’s best fighters.

Saw himself emerges as a complex figure, and the book does a nice job of showing how his distrust and paranoia grow over Jyn’s years with him. I can’t say the male/female ratio is better than in Rogue One, but we do see a bit more of Lyra’s importance to her daughter, which is nice. (I still long for the AU where Lyra’s the scientist the Empire wants.)

There are a few inconsistencies that bothered me a bit, and the story felt long in places. Despite those quibbles, Rebel Rising is a solid YA that gives us better insight into Jyn and her motivations and background.

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April 2017 round up

Well, I read so many books and talked about almost none of them. Also, it is May 16. Here we are.

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by Shannon and Dean Hale: I love the Squirrel Girl comics, and I enjoyed this middle grade chapter book about Doreen Green. I will say, though, that I didn’t find the story worked quite as well when translated to words instead of comics. I’m not sure exactly why this is, except maybe that part of Squirrel Girl’s charm is her very normal appearance (except for the tail) and that visual shortcut isn’t possible in a chapter book.

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders: So, I had a really erroneous notion of what this book was going to be, and I struggled with the gap between my expectation and the book as it is. I mean, the idea that one character is in a SF book and the other is in a fantasy book is neat, but in the end the themes and love story didn’t feel super new. I feel a bit churlish for not loving it as much as others did–and I do think it’s very well written from a craft perspective.

Alone Atop the Hill by Alice Dunnigan: Kate recommended this one when I asked about biographies of women of color–and I’m glad she did. Alice Dunnigan was the first Black woman to be a Capitol Hill reporter and this book excerpts her biography in a way that gives us a sense of what she had to struggle with to make that possible.

Piecing Me Together by RenĂ©e Watson: I loved this one so, so much and wanted to write a whole post about it, but I’m not sure when I’ll get to it. So for now, I’ll just say that just like This Side of Home, Watson’s second YA book is incredibly thoughtful and complex, and so strong on character and relationships. I appreciated how layered it is in terms of the different intersections of identity shown.

Keeping Hope Alive by Dr. Hawa Abdi: The memoir of a female doctor in Somalia, who semi-accidentally became a leader of a whole community. The story sometimes jumps unexpectedly, but it’s clearly personal and vivid, so I didn’t mind that here. It’s an interesting look at how to keep going in the face of really horrifying situations.

Elizabeth’s Women by Tracey Borman: This had been on my TBR list literally for years, so I finally checked it out. I liked it, generally speaking, though somehow the men just kept creeping back in. (#misandryalert) But Borman is a good historian and a decent writer and the idea of looking at Elizabeth’s life through her many complicated relationships with other women is a great lens to examine an already much-examined subject.

The Buccaneers’ Code by Caroline Carlson (audiobook): Third in the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates trilogy. This one had been on my to-read list since it came out and I finally used an e-audiobook as a way to get through it. Which makes it sound like I didn’t like it–I did enjoy it quite a bit, though I think that at least for an adult listener, the pacing was a bit slow and the characterization a bit uneven.

Savage Beauty by Nancy Milford: Weirdly, reading this biography of Edna St. Vincent Millay made it much easier for me to understand what Amy Gary was trying to do with In the Great Green Room: the brilliant woman with a troubled love life and a sister who outlived her, and who the author had unique access to. The fact remains that Milford has the sensitivity and contextual ability to succeed where Gary doesn’t. While this left me feeling more sad about Millay than anything else, I do think it’s worth reading if you’re interested in her or her era.

Iris and the Tiger by Leanne Hall: reviewed here!

The Copper Gauntlet by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare: Book 2 in a planned…six book series, I believe? On the one hand, it’s really not doing anything incredibly new, but it does have just enough interest in the conflict and the characters to keep me interested while I’m reading it.

Beacon at Alexandria by Gillian Bradshaw (reread): It had been a bit since I revisited any of Bradshaw’s work and now I’m kind of wanting to do some focused rereading of her books. I think this one is probably still my favorite–or at least very close–mostly because Charis is such a great character. The degree to which this is kind of three separate books in one is pretty fascinating to me, though.

Seal Up the Thunder by Erin Noteboom: So, I love Erin Bow’s prose books and she mentioned on Twitter that she had a poetry collection–which I knew and had forgotten! I ordered it promptly and really liked it. The poems are sly, witty, and warm, treating their Biblical themes with respect and affection. My favorites were “oh the gates” and “Resurrection” (which I’d already read but which worked even better for me in context). If religious poetry can be too sentimental for you, this is a great antidote.

The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz: Historical fantasy loosely inspired by real French historical figures. I really liked this one–maybe more than I expected to–and found that it was a deep and thoughtful look at different marginalized experiences. It was also a more emotional read than I expected, so all in all, I can really understand why this one has received so much acclaim.

Miss Ellicott’s School for the Magically Minded by Sage Blackwood: This is a very delightful book about fighting the patriarchy and hatred, also a dragon. I really liked the main character, and the interactions between the older and younger generations was fascinating. Plus, I hope I mentioned the dragon? I will say that I don’t think the tone of the cover art particularly fits the book, which is both more serious and richer than the kids on an adventure suggests.

Bandette v. 3: House of the Green Mask: Bandette! I do really like this series, though I’m starting to feel the desire for a slightly more resolved arc. However, the art and storyline, plus the low key romance is keeping me invested in this one.

In Darkling Wood by Emma Carroll: There’s been an interesting mini-trend recently of middle grade books that hearken back to WWI in some way. (Hilary McKay’s Binny Bewitched is one, and I swear I thought of another one but of course didn’t write it down!) In Darkling Wood is quite sad–sadder than I was expecting, even once I figured out some of what was going on. The historical bits are pretty unrelenting, which made me perhaps not enjoy this one, or believe in the current-day resolution as much as I wanted to.

Lumberjanes v. 6: Sink or Swim: FRIENDSHIP TO THE MAX–no but really, one of the things I loved about this one is the way it shows that you can mess up and still have friends at the end of the day. Also, there are some Revelations about the world that are exciting! I’ve heard the next arc is fantastic & I can’t waiiiiiit.

Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett (reread): My least favorite Tiffany Aching, BUT even my least favorite is still pretty marvelous.

The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi: Scalzi is a fluffy sci-fi writer–the kind I reach for when I want something that will entertain while taking almost no brain power. This is a fun little conceit and I may well read the rest of the series when it comes out. (I don’t feel like I need to over-praise Scalzi, because he gets plenty already.)

The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander (reread): I hadn’t reread any of the Prydain books in a really long time, and I thought it would be a nice time to do that. I do really like The Book of Three, which is funnier and fresher, and also much, much shorter than I remembered. However, the treatment of Gurgi seems like the worst kind of paternalistic racism, so that’s…not great.

Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie (reread): Leckie is so good at building up emotion over the course of the three books so that by this one she doesn’t even have to say it, just telegraph it and let us fill in the rest. And the part when [spoiler redacted] asks if they can be a Cousin & the answer is just too much. I’m going to have to lie down just thinking about it.

The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner (reread): The number of lines that have second or even third layers to them on rereading is truly impressive–even more so when you know those were built in after the fact! (THICK AS THIEVES COMES OUT NEXT WEEK!)

 

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May 2017 releases

Well, first of all there are two new releases this month that I’m so much more excited about than all the rest that they get their own section.
The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein (Code Name Verity prequel! Out now! Go read it!)

Thick as Thieves by Megan Whalen Turner (May 16th! Fifth Attolia book!)

 

And now, the other (I’m sure very excellent) books that I’m looking forward to:

How to Make a Wish by Ashley Herring Blake

Crossing Ebenezer Creek by Tonya Bolden

Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis

I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo

Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham

Always and Forever Lara Jean by Jenny Han

Say No to the Bro by Kat Helgeson

Tremontaine by Ellen Kushner, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Racheline Maltese, Paul Witcover, Joel Derfner, Malinda Lo, Patty Bryant

The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy

York by Laura Ruby

Girl Out of Water by Laura Silverman

Clayton Bird Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia

The Emperor’s Riddle by Kat Zhang

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“It is all of ours and they are part of me”: The Pearl Thief, growing up, and loss

I’ve been wanting to write about Elizabeth Wein’s The Pearl Thief for months now; I read it early and it blew me away. Perhaps not surprisingly, given my deep love for all of Wein’s books, but the particular ways I loved it did surprise me. In fact, it’s a book that meant so much to me that I can’t quite write a proper review of it.

However, I do want to talk about one of the strands that’s really struck with me since I first read The Pearl Thief: the sense of loss and transience that weaves through the emotional heart of the plot. The plot is set in motion after the death of Julie’s grandfather, the Earl of Strathfearn. The estate at Strathfearn, which is almost as much home as Craig Castle, is going to become a school, due to the debts her grandfather left behind. But Julie and her mother and grandmother will have one last summer at Strathfearn, preparing to leave it.

The awareness of change and all the ambivalence Julie feels about it pervades so much of the story. This Julie is not yet the Julie of Code Name Verity, though she is recognizably herself (marvelous and heartbreaking). She’s younger and less assured in many ways, clinging to the past and memories of childhood, while also longing so badly to be grown up.

And yet even this isn’t entirely accurate. She misses the past, she mourns her grandfather and the loss of Strathfearn. But she’s also furious with him for the loss of it. She wants to be seen as grown up (see her meeting with Francis Dunbar, amongst other things). But she also isn’t entirely sure what kind of grown up she wants to be. Both the past and the future feel treacherous.

Summer stories, by their very definition, are almost always about brief moments. Bound on either side by the school year, their end is always implied even at the start. As Julie herself says, “I didn’t want the summer to begin. I didn’t want it to end.” But because they’re less structured, less formally bound, they’re also a chance for surprising things to happen. They can be a time of emotional intensity. (Another great example of this is Jillian and Mariko Tamaki’s award-winning graphic novel, This One Summer.)

In this case, the feeling of both beginning and ending is tied to the fact that this is the last summer. I was reminded in some ways of I Capture the Castle while reading The Pearl Thief, because of the shared deep ambivalence about growing up, but also because of the loss or threatened loss of the beloved place.

On the one hand, it’s easy to look at the Murray-Beaufort-Stuart family, or indeed the Mortmains, and wonder why we should care about privileged people losing part of their privilege. On the other hand, that sense of exile, of losing the place that has shaped you just when you need it the most, is something I certainly recognize from my own life. It’s a theme that can resonate deeply with teen readers as they grapple with their own identity.

And indeed, it’s partly through this loss that Julie, the young granddaughter of the Earl of Strathfearn becomes Julie, becomes Queenie. As we see Julie come to terms with her losses, her past, and her future, we see her truly growing up. We see her learn that everything and everyone that’s been part of us is with us always.

(Please note that I took all quotes from an early copy and they may not match the final version exactly!)

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Iris and the Tiger by Leanne Hall

I actually can’t remember exactly how I ended up with Iris and the Tiger on my to-read bookshelf. I’m not sure, in fact, that I know anyone else who’s read it. And that’s a pity, because it’s a delightful book: a marvelous little surreal fantasy that I enjoyed very much and highly recommend.

Iris Chen-Taylor has been sent by her parents from her home in Australia to her great-aunt’s house in Spain. Sadly, their motives are not pure: they are hoping to convince her aunt to leave Iris her house once and for all. So Iris is supposed to be agreeable and charm Aunt Urusla. But when she arrives at Bosque de Nubes, all her expectations are turned upside down and things take several dramatic turns.

Despite her parents’ machinations, Iris is a sympathetic character, who quickly becomes attached to the house, her aunt, and her new friend Jordi. She’s certainly conflicted, but Hall does a nice job of making her struggle believable while also reassuring young readers that things will probably turn out okay.

I also absolutely loved the descriptions of the house and its environs–Hall really has a gift for showing the magical and conveying Iris’s wonder and the enchanting and terrifying aspects of Basque de Nubes. Although I saw a comp to Elizabeth Goudge’s Little White Horse–and that does make sense–I also thought of Lucy Boston’s Green Knowe series, which I think is slightly closer in the real sense of danger pervading the book.

Finally, I’ll mention that Iris’s dad is from Hong Kong and that Iris deals with some casual racism in very realistic ways (I believe Hall is herself Asian-Australian). It’s nice to see a book with both a wonderful sense of magic and adventure, and a more diverse cast. All in all, this is just a lovely middle grade fantasy/mystery. And now I want to check out Hall’s backlist, as she’s apparently written a couple of YA in Australia!

Book source: public library

Book information: 2016; middle grade fantasy

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Booklist: Marvelous houses of kidlit

After reading Leanne Hall’s lovely Iris and the Tiger, I thought it would be fun to come up with a list of other books featuring great houses–the kind that are so clear and vivid that they seem almost like characters in their own right. Do you have a favorite to add?

Green Knowe from the series by Lucy Boston

Greenglass House from the book by Kate Milford

Howl’s Moving Castle from the series by Diana Wynne Jones

Moonacre Manor from the Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge (all of Elizabeth Goudge’s houses, really!)

Perilous Gard from the book by Elizabeth Marie Pope

The house from Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

Castle Hangnail from the book by Ursula Vernon

The House of Dies Drear from the book by Virginia Hamilton

Juniper’s House from Wise Child by Monica Furlong

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Guest post for Women in SF&F Month

I’ve got a guest post up today for a great month-long series at the Fantasy Book Cafe about women in SFF. My post is about what I learned from six favorite authors who formed my sense of the genre. Do check out some of the other posts as well! They’re from a wide range of authors and critics.

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