Star Wars: Light of the Jedi (The High Republic) – A Book Review

I must admit that I wasn’t that excited to hear about “The High Republic” campaign. This new Star Wars onslaught is set 200 years before the prequels and explores the Star Wars galaxy at a time when the Jedi were at their most powerful and the Republic was at its most efficient. I call it an onslaught because “The High Republic” includes novels, young adult novels, children’s books, comic books, talk shows, video games, and presumably a Disney+ event.

Personally, I enjoy moving forwards in terms of story, not backwards. I thought it was a mistake to do a “pre-prequel” storyline across so many mediums.

Frankly, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I checked Star Wars: Light Of the Jedi out from my local library. Within the first twenty-five pages, I returned it and then bought a copy of my own. That’s how much it instantly captured my interest. Before I got anywhere close to finishing it, I wanted it on my bookshelves.

The premise involves a catastrophe regarding hyperspace that scientifically (in Star Wars’ reality) shouldn’t have happened. The book first executes the disaster, then explores the aftermath of the disaster, and then sets the stage for the ramifications of the disaster.

Furthermore, it introduces a whole new batch of Jedi and dives deeply into both the characters and their connection to the Force. The author, Charles Soule, presents a new philosophical take on the Force that I found both groundbreaking and riveting. I won’t spoil it too much, but he details how each Jedi interprets and uses the force differently, both in everyday life and in battle. These nuances were such thoughtful, fresh perspectives on the Force–it truly fascinated me.

I also consider the format of the book a real victory. It begins as a countdown of sorts and then reverses that format and introduces a build-up. It also alternates chapters between several different characters as they deal with the disaster and then the fallout of the disaster. Each chapter was relatively short, which made a fast paced plot move even more quickly.

The characterization proved engrossing, the storyline captured my interest, the structure and format of the book made reading it a pleasure, and the hints at things to come piqued my curiosity, which guaranteed my return for book two.

Despite my initial doubts, The Light Of the Jedi should be considered an unmitigated success. I highly recommend it to any and all Star Wars fans.

The Turn Of the Screw By Henry James – A Book Review

Pictured above is my actual copy of The Turn Of the Screw by Henry James. I bought it in the early 1990s at my local Walmart when they had a 2 for $1 special going on. Yes, even in high school, I loved books and read them for the pure joy of it.

This book has sat on my shelves decade after decade ever since. Finally, after watching The Haunting Of Bly Manor, a show supposedly based on The Turn Of the Screw, I decided to read the source material.

I have to tell you, even though this is a short read, I found it to be quite a chore. Henry James, like so many others of his era, delivered complex sentence that, while carefully constructed, tended to take a while to say anything. That fact, coupled with very little actual information being conveyed by the narrator, proved frustrating.

In fact, I found the premise of this novel rather unbelievable in that no governess would write in such a complicated, intricate manner. This style of writing seemed very specific to authors such as Henry James from that particular moment in time. The idea that a governess would write so similarly bothered me. Or, perhaps I’m wrong. Maybe all governesses wrote like world-renowned authors.

I also felt bothered by the fact that, by book’s end, we have no solid answers as to what exactly took place in The Turn Of the Screw. I’ve read some of the analyses regarding this novel, and I think they are all being quite gracious to Henry James.

Is it a ghost story? Is it a psychological story? Is it a story about induced hallucinations? Take your pick. All could be argued.

I must comment on one specific thing about the governess, though. Her infatuation with ten-year-old Miles troubled me to no end. Perhaps it was just me, but I picked up on some overt sexual overtones in The Turn Of the Screw. For example, the governess commented that, at one point, she kissed Miles. That was it. Not on the head. Not on the cheek. Just kissed. She also often described him as beautiful, charming, and perfect. She frequently held him, alone, when it was just the two of them. This coupled with the fact that the ten-year-old Miles spoke as though he was twenty-five, alarmed me. Remember, the governess is the narrator, so all information is flowing through her, including the depiction of Miles. By the book’s end, I was fairly sure our narrator was the story’s true villain. Maybe this is too modern of a reading … or maybe this kind of thing has always existed and it’s now more recognizable, even in books over a century old.

While I recognize that Henry James has been studied across the world for a very long time by some of our brightest minds, I honestly cannot claim to have enjoyed The Turn Of the Screw.

A Promised Land by Barack Obama – A Book Review

Though this 701 page book took me a very long time to read, I appreciated every minute of it. A Promised Land confirmed everything I already knew I admired about President Barack Obama–he’s intelligent, thoughtful, honest, studious, and devoted to his wife, his children, the American people, and democracy in general.

A Promised Land offers ample access into the grueling day-to-day affairs of a campaign trail, the difficulties in achieving even the smallest of things in government, and the highlights of President Obama’s first four years in office. After reading this book, I will never look at politics or the office of the president the same.

However, the most fascinating aspect of the book is the simple insight into Barack Obama as a human being. He reveals himself not just as the President Of the United States, but also as a husband, a father, a son, a brother, a neighbor, a friend, and a man. He doesn’t claim to be perfect, nor does he pretend to be. Though he certainly spent time discussing his victories, he also admitted his defeats and the mistakes that led to them.

This kind of authenticity really spoke to me. Granted, I understand Barack Obama wrote this very book about Barack Obama, so there is obviously the potential for cherry picking and sugar coating. But it didn’t strike me as either. To me, A Promised Land felt very candid.

As you know, A Promised Land initially intended to be a single volume. However, because President Obama is articulate, verbose, and a talented writer, he needed to split his two terms as president into two volumes.

This first volume obviously tackles his first four years in office–both how he got there and what he did during that time. However, it also subtly acknowledges those moments that, now in hindsight, led to Donald Trump’s presidency, the division within the Republican Party, and the schism attempting to rip America apart.

I won’t lie to you–this is not an easy read. It goes into great detail concerning the complexities of politics, the nuances of the presidency, and the intricacies of the geopolitical landscape. However, it’s a very informative read, and a rather rewarding one at that.

Regardless of your feelings about President Obama, if nothing else, I recommend A Promised Land simply to offer insight into what it means to be president.

Dune by Frank Herbert – A Book Review

I’m ashamed to admit that I’d never read Dune. With the new movie on the way, I figured I better rectify that omission. Believe it or not, I started reading Dune in early October and only just finished it in late December. So, did I like it? More importantly, do I recommend it?

To answer the first question, yes, I did like it. I liked that it took its time building a world, a culture, an entire existence within many, many pages. I liked that it proved a fully immersive experience, created very real characters, and allowed the story to unfold at a thorough pace. I liked that Frank Herbert developed a new language, a synthesized religion, and a unique ecology specific to the planet in which Dune occurs. I liked Dune’s intelligence, daringness, and ingenuity.

That being said, I’m in no hurry to read the subsequent additions to the plight. I’m an impatient reader. I want to read as many books as possible, and so I often naturally gravitate to smaller, faster reads. I can’t remember the last time I spent three months reading a single book.

Even so, I do recommend Dune. It is one of the few books out there that actually make you feel as though you’ve fully lived the characters’ lives. It is epic in every sense of the word, and, most impressively, it predates such sci-fi stalwarts as Star Trek and Star Wars. I can’t imagine Dune was quite like anything else at the time it was published, and though it’s obviously been often imitated, it still struck me as completely unique. To read Dune is to find yourself in an utterly familiar yet astoundingly innovative world.

Though it’s a tremendous time investment, I’m glad I finally read Dune.

By the way, the afterward by Herbert’s son, Brian, proved to be my favorite part of the entire book.

The Kind Worth Killing By Peter Swanson – A Book Review

A friend recommended this book to me after I requested a fast, action-packed read. The Kind Worth Killing did not disappoint.

The story is centered around Ted and Lily, two strangers who meet in an airport bar. During conversation, Ted reveals he’d like to kill his cheating wife, and Lily is more than happy to assist.

From there, things get very complex as their pasts become interwoven with the present. The author, Peter Swanson, also alternates perspectives from Ted to Lily with each chapter. As the book progresses, however, new perspectives enter the fray, which offers fresh insights into the overall story.

Swanson absolutely knows how to write a fast-paced story. The chapters are short, the plot races forward, and the dialogue flows smoothly. The twists and turns were very entertaining, and the book as a whole proved quite fun.

My only complaints are that the characters tended to sound the same to me. The men all seemed to have the same voice, as did the women. Their plots and circumstances set them apart, but their voices did not. None of their personalities were unique.

I also found the very last two pages of the book unnecessary. A revelation occurs that is executed in a manner inconsistent with the rest of the style, and this revelation really serves no purpose other than to suggest a sequel. As it stands, those last two pages usurp an otherwise satisfying ending.

This is a slight grievance, however. Overall, the book thrilled me for several days as I truly enjoyed it. If you’re looking for an exciting mystery or thriller, I recommend The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson.

Click the image to view the author’s latest book at Amazon.com.

The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie – A Book Review

A good friend recommended The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd, and though it’s been in publication for almost 100 years, I’ve never read it. In fact, I’ve never read a single Agatha Christie book.

I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed it! I’m often not a fan of mysteries because I feel that they usually don’t lay the serious groundwork needed to provide the reader with actual clues, but Christie more than satisfied me in that regard. She gave all of the characters a possible motive for the murder, and had them all in the vicinity of the murder near the time of death. Her details were quite meticulous. Furthermore, finding the answer to the mystery was quite possible. 

On that note, I also appreciated that Christie wrote quite a bit of this book using dialogue. She provided only the most necessary of description, which made for a very quick read. Many of her clues were revealed through characters talking to one another, which proved a pleasant experience. 

My only complaint is that the detective, Hercule Poirot, seemed to be an almost secondary character. Because he was not the narrator, we only got to know Poirot in a limited way. This was necessary due to the structure and narrative style of the book, but I’m curious to know if all of Poirot’s books feature someone else as the narrator.

I’ll find out soon enough! I am absolutely excited to read more Agatha Christie. She writes my kind of mystery books. 

Storm Front by Jim Butcher – A Book Review

A friend recommended this initial book of The Dresden Files. It’s called Storm Front, and it’s the first time we meet Harry Dresden, a Chicago private investigator and practicing wizard. 

Yes, you read that right.

I appreciated that Storm Front is a wonderful blend of genre. It often reads like hard-boiled detective noir, full of all the cliches and tropes you would expect. But then it blends in high fantasy with magical rods, demon trolls, and dark magic. I also liked that it moved at a very fast pace and proved pretty easy to follow.

That being said, I’m not sure I’ll revisit Harry Dresden. I found the dialogue a little too predictable, the writing technique felt a little too familiar, and the detective aspect never quite connected with me.

However, I know a lot of very smart people who love this series, so I may have to give the second book a try and assume that they get better and better as they progress. 

I’m Thinking Of Ending Things by Iain Reid – A Book Review

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I heard Netflix planned to make this novel into a movie, so I thought I’d give it a read first. Interestingly enough, I reviewed another book by Iain Reid, Foe, exactly one year ago today.

I’m Thinking Of Ending Things is Reid’s debut novel. It’s written from the perspective of a young woman who is visiting her boyfriend’s parents for the first time. Most of the book is spent with them conversing in a car as they travel to the boyfriend’s childhood home far into the countryside. The narrator tells us that Jake is incredibly intelligent and generally a nice guy, but she’s thinking of ending things with him. They eventually reach the parents, things become very strange, and then the plot quickens to a frantic pace.

I can’t pretend that I particularly enjoyed this book. It is primarily dialogue and internal monologue, with lots of philosophizing. I found it very slow in the beginning, and while the book ends with quite a bit of suspense, the conclusion dissatisfied.

It’s difficult for me to critically discuss this book without spoiling some major revelations, so I’ll simply have to say that I never found the premise all that engaging, the big twist fell flat for me, and I generally found it far too in love with its own dialogue.

Obviously, I’m in the minority. Netflix and Charlie Kaufman found it worthy of their time, though Kaufman’s interest in the book shouldn’t be surprising considering his other work.

I’m afraid I don’t recommend you read I’m Thinking Of Ending Things, but I found Foe quite interesting if you’d like to give Reid a try.

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes – A Book Review

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Though this book is aimed at young readers in terms of sentence complexity, the plot and themes of Ghost Boys are so important that I believe adults would benefit from reading it as well.

Ghost Boys is about a young black boy named Jerome who is shot and killed by a white police officer. The aftermath of his murder involves Jerome’s family, his best friend, the police officer, the police officer’s family, and the multitude of young black men and boys who previously died under similar circumstances.

However, the book does not progress in a linear fashion. It alternates between when Jerome was alive and when he’s not. By using this method, Jewell Parker Rhodes builds suspense and keeps the reader enthralled.

I think Ghost Boys is an excellent book for introducing young readers to the very real racism that still plagues our country to this day. It offers a glimpse into the racist murders of black children dating back decades, even centuries, and it does not shy away from pointing out that murders motivated by racism have yet to end.

Ghost Boys delves deeply into the fact that real change cannot occur without acknowledging racism and the horrors that it perpetuates. Yet it does so through simple paragraphs and a very fast pace.

Jerome’s death is vividly described, but it does not cross the line. Young readers need to understand the awful implications of gun violence. I think Rhodes does a fine job of respecting young people enough to avoid pulling punches without drifting into the overtly gratuitous.

Ghost Boys is the kind of book that can foster change. I encourage you to read it, allow your middle or high school child to read it, and then discuss it together afterwards.

The Giver Of Stars by Jojo Moyes – A Book Review

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A friend recommended this book and–if I’m honest–I didn’t think it would suit my tastes. However, I’m pleased to announce that I loved it.

I’m not sure why I was initially hesitant. It features a group of librarians–some of my favorite people–delivering books–some of my favorite things–to citizens living in the Kentucky mountains during the Great Depression.

I’ll admit that it starts off a little slowly, but that is purposeful as the author is establishing characters in order to display their tremendous growth throughout the novel. Consequently, by the time this book is over, you’ll feel as though you’ve lived these characters’ lives alongside them. It’s an incredible experience.

The author has a solid grip on providing just enough description, the perfect amount of dialogue, excellent pacing, captivating subplots, and–like I said–enthralling characterization. It’s a pleasure to read.

While it’s true that the book became a little melodramatic in the last third, I was far too invested to find such theatrics off-putting. In fact, The Giver Of Stars touched me so deeply that it managed to entice a tear or two from my old, cynical eyes.

The Giver Of Stars creates characters that will feel as real to you as your best friend enduring numerous hardships all in the service of giving people access to books. How can any book lover resist that premise?