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bloodline book christmas tree star wars

I am, as regular readers may know, a Star Wars fan. I say that cautiously, since I can’t even aspire to the highest levels of fandom in the Lucasfilm universe. (I thoroughly enjoyed The Last Jedi, by the way. I thought a few lines did not quite land, but I loved being back in that galaxy with a band of rebels old and new.)

I watch the original three films at least once a year. I quote them all the time: “Never tell me the odds!” And I’ve dressed up twice as Princess Leia: once in my teens for a midnight movie, once much more recently. (When my friend Nate turned 30 a few years ago, we all turned out in character to mark the occasion.)

Until this fall, though, I’d never read a Star Wars novel.

Why not? Call it confusion, or intimidation: there are dozens of novels, set in every conceivable niche of the Star Wars timeline and galaxy. Where to start? Add to that the thorny question of what’s considered “canon”: I’m not qualified to even touch that one.

But there’s a darker reason: my own literary snobbery.

Although I’m a lifelong bookworm with two literature degrees, I usually insist I’m not a book snob: I believe people should read what they love, be it a Pulitzer winner or the latest bestseller. But I secretly thought Star Wars novels had to be just cardboard imitations of the movies I loved.

Enter Claudia Gray’s novel Leia: Princess of Alderaan, which follows the young Leia as she takes a survival course and flies around the galaxy on missions of both humanitarian aid and espionage. It’s smart, fast-paced and full of the series’ signature wry humor. (Bonus: it introduces Amilyn Holdo, who appears as Vice Admiral Holdo in most of my favorite scenes in The Last Jedi.)

After devouring Princess of Alderaan, I picked up Bloodline (above), Gray’s 2016 novel recounting Leia’s political career in the New Republic (post-Return of the Jedi). I might have loved that one even more: Leia the senator is even more brave and badass (and a little wiser) than Leia the teenage rebel.

I doubt I’ll be diving into the whole Star Wars backlist any time soon. But it’s been a deep pleasure to read more of Leia’s story–and a reminder that, as Yoda says, sometimes we must unlearn what we have learned.

Have you read any Star Wars novels? Any recommendations for me?

Most of this column originally appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers, where I’m part of the book review team.

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clue film cast

The hubs and I recently watched Clue, for the first time in a while. We quote it incessantly (“Flames on the side of my face!” “Well, to make a long story short…” “Too late!”) but it had been several years since we’d enjoyed it in full. If you love the board game, the ’80s or ridiculously campy humor, I highly recommend it.

Afterward, I mentioned a trend I’ve noticed recently: Most of our favorite movies involve a lot of yelling.

I don’t mean my favorite movies (You’ve Got Mail, The Sound of Music) or his favorite movies (Schindler’s List, Field of Dreams). I mean our favorite movies: the ones we love to watch together. The ones we quote on a daily or weekly basis. The ones that make up a substantial part of our vernacular, along with a few beloved TV shows: Friends, Castle and Modern Family, which also frequently get loud.

A partial list: The Emperor’s New Groove. (“Yay! I’m a llama again!”) Pirates of the Caribbean. (“Why is the rum gone?!”) Monty Python and the Holy Grail. (“I don’t know that!”) The Princess Bride. (“Inconceivable!”) The original Star Wars films, both for the battle scenes and C-3PO’s incessant cries of “We’re doomed!” And, of course, anything and everything involving the Muppets. Even White Christmas, thanks to Danny Kaye, has its fair share of shouting. Honorable mentions include The Money Pit, Singin’ in the Rain (Cosmo Brown!) and the old Pink Panther films starring Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau.

Some of it’s a function of the genres we watch together. Adventure and comedy films inevitably involve a fair bit of noise: explosions, shouting matches, attempts to save the world – or just the day – gone horribly wrong. (The Muppets’ adventures tend to include all of the above.) There’s also a lot of winking at the camera: whether the characters overtly break the fourth wall (or smash right through it, in the case of the Muppets), the audience is almost always in on the joke.

I can’t forget the nostalgia factor, of course – we’ve loved and quoted a lot of these movies, especially New Groove, Pirates and Clue, since our college days. And honestly, a lot of times it’s pure escapism. I usually don’t have a socially acceptable reason to scream at the top of my lungs, but it cracks me up when my favorite characters do it: “They don’t KNOW we know they know we know!”

I love a sweet romantic comedy or a beautifully shot epic saga as much as the next viewer. My husband is partial to dark psychological thrillers, which, frankly, creep me out. But if we’re on the couch together, you can usually find us watching something funny. And cracking up when things get loud.

Do you notice any oddball themes in your favorite movies?

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bloodline book christmas tree star wars

The first half of December is always a contradiction in terms: the routine of daily life marches on, laced with twinkly festivity and all the holiday prep. As ever, the reading helps keep me (relatively) sane.

Here’s the latest book roundup:

And the Rest is History, Jodi Taylor
I love Taylor’s series about the wacky, tea-loving time-traveling historians of St. Mary’s Institute in England. This eighth book is full of heartbreak: Max, the narrator/heroine, her husband Leon and their colleagues are in for it, several times. But it’s also witty, fast-paced and entertaining, like the whole series. Smart, fun escapist reading.

Light the Dark: Writers on Creativity, Inspiration, and the Artistic Process, ed. Joe Fassler
I savored this collection of essays by 46 writers, riffing on lines or passages that have shaped their creative lives. Thoughtful, honest, nourishing perspectives as varied as their authors. Recommended by Lindsey, who especially loved Elizabeth Gilbert’s essay (so did I). Other favorites: Claire Messud, Azar Nafisi, Angela Flournoy, Sherman Alexie.

Fifty Million Rising: The New Generation of Working Women Transforming the Muslim World, Saadia Zahidi
Muslim women are going to work in greater numbers than ever, and they are revolutionizing their homes, families and societies. Zahidi delves into the cultural, social and economic patterns that are shifting across the Muslim world. Packed with statistics, but I really enjoyed the stories of women (many, but not all, millennials) who are blazing a path for themselves. (Serendipity: Zahidi is an alumna of my workplace.) To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 30).

Star Wars: Bloodline, Claudia Gray
I enjoyed Gray’s new novel about the teenage Princess Leia learning to be a badass. I loved this novel, set before The Force Awakens, even more. It features Leia as a senator in the New Republic: she’s a little jaded, but brave and committed as ever, and hungry for a bit of adventure – which she gets in spades. I relished both the new characters and the appearances by familiar faces (Han Solo and C-3PO).

The Red Garden, Alice Hoffman
Hoffman’s stories weave magic seamlessly into the everyday (or simply point out what’s already there). This collection follows the town of Blackwell, Mass., and the intertwined lives of its families over three centuries. It’s a little uneven, but still enchanting.

Party Girls Die in Pearls, Plum Sykes
Ursula Flowerbutton has high hopes for her first week as a student at Oxford – but they don’t include the murder of a posh classmate. However, Ursula (a budding journalist) and her new American friend Nancy are on the case. A smart, fun, frothy, totally ’80s romp through Oxford. Perfect weekend reading.

H is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald
A longtime obsession with birds of prey led Macdonald to acquire a goshawk named Mabel, around the time her father died. She struggles mightily with grief and emptiness while learning to fly her hawk. Luminous, heartbreaking and strange: full of sorrow and magic. I didn’t care much for the exploration of T.H. White’s journey with goshawks, but loved Macdonald’s own story. Bought last year at bookbook in Greenwich Village. Recommended by my friend Jess at Great New Books.

Reading People: How Seeing the World Through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything, Anne Bogel
Anne is a longtime blogging friend of mine; we finally met in person last fall in NYC. She’s also a whip-smart personality geek, and her first book explores various personality frameworks. The big takeaway: know thyself – and be willing to question your own assumptions. Thoughtful and informative. (Anne sent me an ARC – it came out in September.)

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

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book culture bookstore interior yellow flowers

November was a full month, as they all are lately. I’ve been squeezing in the good books wherever I can. Here’s my latest roundup:

Leaping: Revelations and Epiphanies, Brian Doyle
I love Doyle’s work (as I have said before) and enjoyed this collection of slim, bright, often funny, always lyrical, heartfelt essays. He writes about children (his and others), the aftermath of 9/11, faith, grief, birds and a thousand other everyday moments of grace.

The Secret Lives of Introverts: Inside Our Hidden World, Jenn Granneman
As an introvert who sometimes relishes the way I’m wired and sometimes struggles to own it, I enjoyed this straightforward nonfiction look at various facets of introvert life: calling, career, friendships, relationships. Not a lot of brand-new information (Susan Cain’s Quiet is my gold standard for introversion insight), but practical, wise and sometimes funny. Found at the wonderful Three Lives in NYC.

Into the Bright Unknown, Rae Carson
Lee Westfall and her fellow gold prospectors have founded their own town in Gold Rush California. But the shady actions of a San Francisco businessman prompt them to travel there and see if they can take him down. I’ve loved Carson’s trilogy about Lee (who has a magical ability to sense gold). This book wasn’t my favorite, but I wanted to see how her story ended. Bought at Book Culture in NYC (pictured above) last month.

Anne of Windy Poplars, L.M. Montgomery
I often turn back to Windy Poplars in the autumn; it’s one of the most underrated Anne books. I’ve been lingering in Anne’s adventures in Summerside, watching her take walks with little Elizabeth, befriend the widows (really, the entire town) and write letters in her tower room. So lovely and comforting: Anne is always good company.

Next Year in Havana, Chanel Cleeton
Cuban-American writer Marisol Ferrera grew up on her grandmother Elisa’s stories of Havana, where her family enjoyed a privileged life prior to Castro’s takeover. When her grandmother dies, Marisol travels back to Cuba to spread Elisa’s ashes and investigate a few family secrets. A lush dual-narrative story of Cuba then and now; I thought the plot wrapped up too neatly, but I loved both Elisa and Marisol. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 6).

Scones and Scoundrels, Molly MacRae
MacRae’s second Highland Bookshop mystery finds the town of Inversgail (and its bookshop, Yon Bonnie Books) preparing to welcome back Daphne Wood, an eccentric writer and environmentalist who grew up there. Once Daphne arrives, she puts nearly everyone off with her rude and abrupt manner – and then the murders start happening. A solid cozy mystery (with plenty of scones). To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 2).

Leia: Princess of Alderaan, Claudia Gray
I’d never read a Star Wars novel before, though I love the original films and I adore Leia Organa. I thoroughly enjoyed this story of the teenaged Leia serving as a senator-in-training, taking a pathfinding class and learning about her parents’ mysterious work against the Empire. Smart, fast-paced and full of heart. Made me even more excited for The Last Jedi.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

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millennium falcon interior empire strikes back

Recently, the hubs and I saw Rogue One, which was fantastic and heartbreaking. It made me laugh and cry, like The Force Awakens and the original Star Wars trilogy. (We won’t talk about episodes I-III.)

In fact, we loved it so much that we went straight home and watched A New Hope, sitting on the couch with takeout from our favorite Indian restaurant. (This was New Year’s weekend and yes, we do know how to party.)

Watching those two films meant, of course, that we also had to watch The Empire Strikes Back (my personal favorite) and Return of the Jedi. We haven’t rewatched The Force Awakens yet, but I’d like to.

I love so many things about these movies – including the snappy dialogue, the ingenious technological devices, the frequent flashes of wry humor and the way R2-D2 always saves the day. But this time, I noticed something about when, and why, they made me cry.

There are moments in all three original films (and also in Rogue One) when a small, motley crew of rebels, who have usually gathered hastily from across the galaxy in response to a distress call or a preemptive strike by the Empire, must decide to go into battle. It usually looks like a fool’s errand: what chance do a few fighters have against the Empire’s sleek, massive fleet? Or, as a pilot says to Leia in The Empire Strikes Back, “Two fighters against a star destroyer?”

The Rebel forces often seem scruffy and disorganized next to the Empire’s sharp lines of identically clad soldiers, and they know: bravery is no guarantee of success. Sometimes they’re receiving their marching orders when they are already under attack. But they always choose to face down the enemy, and they choose to do it together.

None of these moments are climactic in themselves: they happen before Luke makes the kill shot to destroy the Death Star, before the Millennium Falcon and her crew escape the Cloud City, before the final showdowns (there are several) in Return of the Jedi. They are the small decisive moments before the big battle scenes, when the rebels look each other in the eye and say: let’s do this. Together.

They know the stakes; they know they might not make it out alive. Some of them don’t; the death toll in all four movies struck me forcibly this time around. But they are willing to fight for the cause of freedom and justice, and they will walk into the mouth of hell itself – or fly straight toward Darth Vader’s ship – beside one another.

As C-3PO helpfully points out more than once, the deck is often stacked against them: the odds of successfully navigating an asteroid field, for example, “are approximately 3,720 to 1!” But Han Solo and the rest aren’t interested in the odds: they’re going in. Together. And it makes me cry every time.

(Image via Google)

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