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William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back by Ian Doescher

William Shakespeare's The Empire Striketh Back (William Shakespeare's Star Wars, #2)Premise: The Rebellion seems to be gaining strength ever since Luke Skywalker destroyed the Death Star, but the base on Hoth is discovered by the Empire, so they must find refuge elsewhere. The rebels scatter and the Empire continues their pursuit of crushing the opposition. Luke seeks one of the last living Jedi in order to take up the mantle himself. It is in a remote swamp that Luke begins his Jedi training with the Jedi master Yoda.

Han, Leia, and crew go to Han’s scoundrel friend Lando for protection, but the Empire’s reach is long and they are found in the Cloud City and captured. Han is given over to the bounty hunter Boba Fett and the rest are held as bait for Luke to rescue. Will Luke come to the rescue or will new revelations destroy any hope the Rebellion had for victory?

Themes: In The Empire Striketh Back, we begin to see the feelings between Leia and Han blossom through their tumultuous interactions. The romance builds as their feelings are laid bare for the reader but held close to themselves until they can no longer contain their feelings. But it isn’t until Han’s life is forfeit that Leia expresses her true feelings to him.

People can change, including the biggest scoundrels, but sometimes they fall into their old ways. When Han Solo falls in with the Rebellion, he does his best to put his past life as a rogue and a smuggler behind him. It manages to catch up to him when he trusts Lando Calrissian to protect him and his friends. Lando’s betrayal only enforces Han’s lifestyle choices, but perhaps at that point it is too late.

Temptation and confronting fears play a large role in The Empire Striketh Back. Luke faces his fears first in the swamps of Dagobah when tested by Yoda in becoming a Jedi. Luke learns the dangers of giving in to the dark side, but he learns the true temptation of the dark side when confronted by Darth Vader with the truth of his father.

Pros: Doescher continues showing his fine grasp of Shakespearean language in The Empire Striketh Back while making some interesting character choices through their dialogue. The choices that stand out are with making Boba Fett speak in prose instead of iambic pentameter to show his lower class and with Yoda speaking in haiku to show his different speaking style. Doescher infuses more emotion into Empire than he did with Star Wars, done so with a lot of monologue asides that aren’t really in the movie but I felt actually added to the story. This is especially true for Leia and Han but includes other characters like Lando of which we don’t get as much character development. The author also makes sure to include important lines, like Han’s famous response to Leia professing her love for him: “I know.”

Cons: I did catch a handful of times where the meter dropped or added an extra beat, which isn’t necessarily unheard of in Shakespeare’s work. Probably the most famous instance of this is “to be or not to be, that is the question” with its extra beat. My Shakespeare isn’t nearly as refined as it probably should be, but I know that he used this to express extra emphasis and emotion. Whether or not Doescher did this for the same reason, I’m unsure. I do know that it made my reading of Empire more difficult. While I appreciate the need to give each character their own representation, I didn’t think giving the Wampa a voice was entirely necessary. I also liked the space battle sequence in Verily, A New Hope better than how the battle was executed on Hoth. It felt more epic while keeping within the restraints of a play. Also, making the AT-ATs into characters just seemed silly.

Recommendations: One of the things I like most about The Empire Striketh Back is that Doescher manages to continue with the humor necessary to make something like this work while capturing the more tragic ending of the movie with Han being frozen in carbonite. Doescher makes more artistic choices in The Empire Striketh Back than he did with Star Wars, and they mostly pay off except for a couple I didn’t care for (see Wampa and AT-ATs). Still, The Empire Striketh Back continues the Star Wars trilogy in strong fashion, and in some ways mirrors the movies by being superior to Verily, A New Hope in that it is infused with more emotion, more peril, and more humanity. If you liked William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, don’t stop there or else you’ll miss out. While you can appreciate the book wearing a scholarly Shakespeare hat, keep in mind that these are supposed to be fun.

Ian Doescher’s website
William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back on Goodreads
Buy William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back on Amazon
Download William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back for your Kindle
I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on June 16, 2014 in Humor, Science Fiction

 

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William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, a New Hope by Ian Doescher

William Shakespeare's Star Wars: Verily, a New HopePremise: A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away there was a civil war happening between rebel fighters desperately trying to overthrow the reign of the evil galactic empire. Plans for the magnificent and terrible Death Star have been stolen with the hopes of getting them into the hands of the rebel leaders to destroy this menacing weapon.

Wielding the power of the Force, Darth Vader shows his immense power to destroy while Obi-Wan Kenobi is summoned to find the next Jedi knight. That knight might just be in the form of the boy Luke Skywalker.

The fighting comes to a head as opposing forces strike against each other in a battle for control. And all of this is done…in iambic pentameter.

Themes: Politics reign supreme in Star Wars as each player pushes and pulls others to engage the outcome they each desire. Whether it is subtle like the workings of R2D2 or overt like the powerful Darth Vader, each has their wishes and their part in this story.

Luke has a huge desire for adventure as he wishes to travel, see the galaxy, and to escape the drudgery of his uncle’s moisture farm. Meeting Old Ben Kenobi and two droids changes his life and gives him exactly what he wishes for, but at a great cost.

Pros: William Shakespeare’s Star Wars definitely reads like a Shakespearean play, down to the monologue asides and narrative descriptions of space battles. Everything is written expertly in iambic pentameter, lending to the feel of being written by Shakespeare himself. Star Wars reads humorously, especially the dialogue between C3PO and R2D2. Star Wars buffs should enjoy Doescher’s interpretation, especially since he does such a good job of telling the entire story in such short order without missing a beat. The cheeky illustrations also helped get me into the feel of the story.

Cons: Some readers might find the rhythm hard to capture, to which I might suggest reading aloud. Others might simply feel the iambic pentameter tiresome and get bored too quickly, especially if they’re not exactly fans of Shakespeare. The one thing I found difficult was reading R2D2’s beeps and boops in rhythm. The space battles aren’t exactly easy to do without on screen special effects, so forcing readers to use their imagination could be a stretch for some. My guess is most reading a book like this won’t have that problem.

Recommendations: William Shakespeare’s Star Wars can be appreciated at different levels, whether you’re a beginner or expert of all things Star Wars or Shakespeare. Doescher does such a good job telling the story it actually helped me catch a couple things I missed in my years of watching Star Wars. Reading this book also makes me want to pick up my complete volume of Shakespeare’s plays and read a few with a new appreciation for the art. Go get a copy whether you want something light to read or want to better appreciate the worlds of Star Wars or Shakespeare or both…verily.

Ian Doescher’s website
William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, a New Hope on Goodreads
Buy William Shakespeare’s Star Wars on Amazon
Download William Shakespeare’s Star Wars for your Kindle
I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2014 in Humor, Science Fiction

 

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Nick and Tesla’s Robot Army Rampage by Bob Pflugfelder & Steve Hockensmith

Nick and Tesla's Robot Army Rampage: A Mystery with Hoverbots, Bristle Bots, and Other Robots You Can Build YourselfPremise: In this second book in the series, Twin siblings Nick and Tesla have been sent to live with their Uncle Newt while their parents are in Uzbekistan where they claim to be researching soybean irrigation. In the small town of Half Moon Bay, Nick and Tesla learn about a string of robberies plaguing the sleepy community. Once again putting their scientific knowledge to work, they decide to help one of their friends by attempting to solve the mystery themselves.

Uncle Newt is smitten by Hiroko Sakurai, a former colleague of his from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory who also happens to have purchased the Wonder Hut where Nick and Tesla purchase electronics and other scientific doodads for their experiments. She is in the process of cleaning it up when a series of break-ins begin, including at the comic shop, Hero Worship, Incorporated, owned by their friend Silas’ family. A rare comic that could help save Silas’ family from a mound of debt has gone missing.

With the help of some ingenious robots and quick thinking, Nick and Tesla go to task on helping their friends and the town by tracking down the thief. They will just have to watch out for the strange robots that are also popping up around town.

Themes: Robot Army Rampage, as with the previous book, exemplifies the loyalty between siblings and with their friends. As Silas’ shop is in jeopardy, Nick and Tesla do their best to track down the thief of the Stupefying #6 comic book. Nick and Tesla also do their best to protect their uncle, even if it means endangering his relationship with Dr. Sakurai.

Nick and Tesla does a good job of showing that even when it appears that kids are up to no good, they might have more noble reasons for what they do. Even their friend DeMarco, who is always getting into trouble, is loyal to his best friend Silas. And the hijinks that occur because of Nick and Tesla’s investigation are because they care about their friends, family, and the town of Half Moon Bay.

Also: more science!

Pros: Robot Army Rampage has some even cooler projects than High Voltage Danger Lab, especially if you’re into robots. The instructions for building are straightforward for building simple robots, including part numbers that you might need to buy at an electronics store. The dialogue is funny and the tone lighthearted, perfect for kids and fun for adults. With most of the same characters from the previous book, Robot Army Rampage stays consistent by developing each of the characters deeply enough for the reader to care about them and enjoy the story.

Cons: The robot projects will probably require some assembly help from an adult, and will definitely require money to buy parts like batteries, motors, and LED lights. Contains mild peril from exploding robots.

Recommendations: Nick and Tesla’s Robot Army Rampage is a load of fun, but kids will probably enjoy it even more than adults. If it weren’t for a little deeper background setting from the first book, anybody could pick this one up and jump right into the action without needing to read High Voltage Danger Lab. As each book contains science projects that correspond to story elements, you probably won’t want to skip it anyway. I think Robot Army Rampage is even better than the first, especially with these projects. They are fun for electronics buffs and for piquing kids’ interest in science, but most of all this is just a fun story.

Nick and Tesla
Bob Pflugfelder’s website
Steve Hockensmith’s website
Nick and Tesla’s Robot Army Rampage on Goodreads
Buy Nick and Tesla’s Robot Army Rampage on Amazon
Download Nick and Tesla’s Robot Army Rampage for your Kindle
I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on February 5, 2014 in Childrens, Mystery

 

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The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley

The Emperor's BladesPremise: The kingdom of Annur is thrown into chaos when emperor Sanlitun is murdered, but his children will soon discover that it is a much deeper conspiracy than the normal power struggle. Sanlitun’s sons Kaden and Valyn have both been gone for eight years while the princess Adare has been with her father up until the day he is killed.

Valyn has been training with the elite fighting force known as the Kettral, training to fly one of their namesake giant birds to protect the kingdom from the worst of enemies. As several attempts are made on his life during the training, Valyn begins to suspect there is more danger around him than the normal training everyone else is experiencing. Valyn learns of his father’s death and is determined to reach his brother to warn him before it’s too late. Adare has been raised to Minister of Finance by her father’s decree, but with the kingdom in turmoil she is battling a religious sect who might be the ones responsible for Salitun’s death. And Kaden, the heir to the throne, has been secluded with monks dedicated to the Blank God. It is there that Kaden must learn the vaniate, an ancient ritual used to protect the kingdom from ancient enemies.

With the kingdom at stake and the Malkeenian line threatened, Adare, Valyn, and Kaden must uncover the conspiracy against their lives to protect Annur from foes from every side. There could even be a bigger threat thought long extinct that could have greater consequences than just their lives, but also the lives of everyone in Annur and beyond.

Themes: Family and legacy are at stake as Sanlitun is murdered and the lives of his children are threatened. With his children gone, there would be no heir to the throne of Annur and the kingdom could fall into chaos with no apparent leader to take control.

With many gods and religions in this world, there are many angles taken at religions in The Emperor’s Blades. Faith and devotion are seen at different levels between different religions and even between followers of the same religion.

The Emperor’s Blades also manages to examine what it means to inherit wealth and power compared to those who are born outside of it. It shares a glimpse of what it means to hold power responsibly and of those who would be less responsible with it. It also shows the machinations behind the scenes of people in power and others who would attempt to overthrow them.

Pros: The Emperor’s Blades has some incredible characters. When you don’t care about the characters and one of them dies, you won’t care about them dying. But when you care about all the characters, you want the protagonists to win and it is gut-wrenching when they lose. And those terrible characters become that much more insidious when they do those terrible things to the people you care about. All of this is to say: The Emperor’s Blades has great characters. At first I thought the magic system was too slowly revealed, until I realized I hadn’t even begun to learn what magic there really was in this story.

Cons: Because there are some mean people in The Emperor’s Blades, there is some intense stuff in it. There are some scenes that were hard to handle, containing gore and torture that caused me to put the book down a couple times. It has some sexual talk and innuendo you might find in war stories. And The Emperor’s Blades is full of profanity, although much of it is fantastical swearing using made up words or phrases to the gods in this world, such as “‘Kent-kissing” and “‘Shael take it.”

Recommendations: The Emperor’s Blades felt like it started slow, but as it picked up steam and never let up all the way through the end I realized just how big of a story was being told. In fact, I never wanted it to end, and as soon as it did I was ready for the next book to begin. With action, adventure, politics, religion, assassins, and fantasy elements that felt like they could even exist in this world, Brian Staveley is a name to watch in fantasy. With The Emperor’s Blades, he knows just what buttons to push with his characters and when to push them, but he’ll leave you wanting more. If you like fantasy, The Emperor’s Blades is not one to miss.

Brian Staveley’s website
The Emperor’s Blades on Goodreads
Buy The Emperor’s Blades on Amazon
Download The Emperor’s Blades for your Kindle
I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on January 19, 2014 in Fantasy

 

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Heartwood by Freya Robertson

Heartwood (Elemental Wars, #1)Premise: As the people of Anguis celebrate the Veriditas, the ceremonies involved around the holy Arbor proceed even though it seems to be withering more than ever. During the Congressus, there is a surprise attack on the city of Heartwood by mysterious water warriors who lay waste to the city and many of Heartwood’s holy knights. They are repelled, but paid with many losses.

After all of this happens, a cache of lost documents reveals more about the religion and about the Arbor than the people have ever known, and it may change everything they believe. With this new information, the knights form groups to search for and activate the nodes of energy scattered throughout the land, while one group must follow the water warriors to retrieve the stolen Pectoris, the heart of the Arbor.

As the leaves begin falling from the damaged holy tree, the very life of the land is tied to the success or failure of these quests. And there are those besides the water warriors who would see their parties fail, including perhaps one of their own.

Themes: Faith is one of the main themes in Heartwood, as people have worshiped the holy Arbor for centuries, until the time when ancient documents are uncovered that negate everything the people of Anguis have believed. These documents put life as they know it into a new frame of reference, including their origins and the origins of the water people. The Arbor is still tied to what they know, just not in the way they have believed.

Unity between people of different backgrounds and geographical origins, but also between the people and the environment, are given a new perspective as they are united on a single quest to save the land. Generalizations about people from certain places are also questioned when members of these parties don’t conform to the stereotypes of their people.

Family loyalty and friendship are put to the test as character origins are uncovered, new abilities are learned, and romances begin. Dolosus learns who his real father is, but how will it effect his loyalties to everything he has known?

Pros: A few of the characters were interesting and conflicted enough to keep me engaged and there was enough stuff going on that I wanted to see how everything wrapped up (if at all). The story begins as a typical epic fantasy and dives right into the quests for the different parties. There is a lot to chew on to keep readers engaged. At least one of the main character deaths felt noble and not pointless, even if it basically adds a deus ex machina element to the story.

Cons: Heartwood has too many characters and I kept losing track of who is who and what they were doing. Because there are so many characters, some of them lack personality and I found myself not caring if some of them succeeded anyway. There were so many story arcs that I had a hard time telling who was supposed to be the real main protagonist until the very end. There was way too much telling instead of showing in Heartwood, with the omniscient narrator telling us what characters think instead of having them act accordingly. On top of everything, I could’ve done without the raping and torture scenes. The idea that questioning faith isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but to label those who hold to their faith unswervingly as out of touch or outright ignorant is in itself dismissing faith as an ideal. The entire premise of the book is based on this idea that faith can be trumped by random ancient documents that just happen to appear out of nowhere at the most opportune of times explaining exactly how to save the world.

Recommendations: Too much telling instead of showing for too many characters on too many quests made Heartwood hard to follow, hard to swallow, and lacking in the kind of depth that makes good epic fantasy excellent. Characters are everything and Heartwood relied too much upon archetypes to make me care about these characters. The idea is good and with some major changes this had the potential to be much better. There were also too many instances where things occur that just happen to advance the story in favor of the “good guys”. For a first epic fantasy it is a nice ambitious effort that falls a bit flat, especially to dedicate 566 pages of your life to. And there is nothing wrong with believing in something with only faith as your guide.

Freya Robertson’s website
Heartwood on Goodreads
Buy Heartwood on Amazon
I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2013 in Fantasy

 

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Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab by Bob Pflugfelder & Steve Hockensmith

Nick and Tesla's High-Voltage Danger Lab: A Mystery with Electromagnets, Burglar Alarms, and Other Gadgets You Can Build YourselfPremise: Twin siblings Nick and Tesla are sent to live with their Uncle Newt for the summer while their parents study soybean irrigation in Uzbekistan. When they arrive in Half Moon Bay they discover it’s a pretty boring place, but their uncle is far from boring. In his basement is a science lab where he performs various experiments. The incredible thing is that he tells his niece and nephew to have a ball in the lab (with several safety caveats) while he is away. Their time in Half Moon Bay is about to get interesting.

The siblings go outside to test their soda bottle rocket made from materials laying around the lab, but when it rips the necklace from Tesla’s neck as it launches things go awry. This wouldn’t be a problem if the necklace wasn’t one of the special necklaces their parents gave each child right before they were sent to live with Newt. Now they must venture onto the property of the abandoned house next door in order to find the necklace, but there are remodelers there with very large dogs who want them to stay off the property at all costs.

Nick and Tesla craft various devices to attempt to retrieve their rocket and necklace, and in the process uncover a nefarious plot in the quiet town. Along the way the siblings make new friends, learn more about their quirky uncle, and find there is more in the abandoned house than just remodelers. Nick and Tesla are also left questioning if their parents are really studying soy beans in Uzbekistan.

Themes: Nick and Tesla think they have a grasp on who their parents are, but when the siblings are sent away for the summer so their parents can do research they learn there is so much more about their parents that they don’t know. They begin to wonder if their parents really are studying soybeans or if they are even scientists.

Nick and Tesla discover there are mysteries about the house next door, its inhabitants, and its past that fall on them to solve.

Summer vacation takes on a different spin when it is spent at a strange uncle’s house. Nick and Tesla get to learn more about their Uncle Newt and his unusual inventions. With his inexperience in caring for kids and making his lab available for them to use helps to give the siblings insight into the kind of person he is.

Also: science!

Pros: Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab was way more fun than I was expecting. The science experiments not only introduce some cool concepts, but they fit right in with the storyline. The characters are unique and the story has the perfect tone for kids to be reading: lighthearted and fun. I like that Pflugfelder and Hockensmith didn’t try to add too many characters, but each one is well developed within this first book. Nick and Tesla is a complete fast-paced story, but it also leaves the reader wanting more in additional books.

Cons: One of the experiments might be a little dangerous dealing with air pressure that will probably require some adult supervision. Also, the concept of kidnapping might be a difficult concept for younger kids to grasp, especially the threats made against these kids. Contains some mild peril and the riding of small bikes down the middle of city streets in the dark.

Recommendations: Not only is this a fun read for kids and adults, it offers several science experiments kids can do with parents, including instructions and materials needed. I’m really looking forward to the next book in the series to find out more about these kids and their secretive family. I am also excited about having more science experiments to do with my kids when they are old enough to read these books. Pflugfelder and Hockensmith have introduced a neat series combining science concepts and experiments with good, lighthearted fiction. Nick and Tesla is educational and fun.

Nick and Tesla
Bob Pflugfelder’s website
Steve Hockensmith’s website
Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab: A Mystery with Electromagnets, Burglar Alarms, and Other Gadgets You Can Build Yourself on Goodreads
Buy Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab on Amazon
Download Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab for your Kindle
I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on November 17, 2013 in Childrens, Mystery

 

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Boxers/Saints by Gene Luen Yang

Boxers (Boxers & Saints)Saints (Boxers & Saints)Premise: Little Bao is a Chinese peasant tired of the Western missionaries that are infiltrating their country and corrupting it with their religion and ideals. The Westerners are also converting some of the Chinese people to their religion and gaining protection from the Chinese government. Bao creates a rebellion, energized through the visions of Chinese gods, that turns out to be incredibly successful, storming through the countryside and gaining strength as they fight for Chinese values.

At the same time, a young Chinese girl is taken in by some of the missionaries in a search for identity and acceptance. She is the fourth girl of the family but the only one to live, so instead of giving her a real name, her family names her Four-Girl, four being a Chinese homonym for death. It is with the missionaries that she finds love and a forgiveness she dreams for, including a new life with a real name: Vibiana. She faces the Chinese rebellion with an unexpected decision of faith, one inspired by a great Christian follower from the past.

In this two volume series, we see that there are multiple sides to every conflict. When stories intersect, the greatest of decisions are made, and the smallest influence can make all the difference in the world.

Themes: Religion is all over both Boxers and Saints, especially in the way each perspective comes across to the other. Bao sees the Christian missionaries and the Chinese who convert as devils by their corruption and abuse of villagers, while Vibiana converts to become a “devil”, finding the forgiveness and acceptance she was actually seeking all along. When given both perspectives, we can see that it is the individuals who are corrupt or good, not necessarily the religion itself.

With each protagonist being the hero of their own story, perspective becomes key as both Bao and Vibiana experience the conflict with their own histories. How they see people is colored by their past, and when those beliefs are really challenged they learn what true strength, bravery, and compassion are really about.

Pros: Visually, these two books are stunning, with drab browns and grays highlighting the contrasting stunning colors of the Chinese rebels in Boxers and the illuminated gold of the ghosts in Saints. These stories give some perspective on opposing viewpoints that can cause the reader to consider how they judge others. It also emphasizes the damage of war on a country and the terrible things that can be justified on any side of conflict. I liked the way the character stories intersect and come full circle as you read both books, especially mirroring each other in juxtaposition for mercy and compassion for others in the end.

Cons: Compared to Boxers, Saints is a little short. The missionaries come off as unlikeable and evil, even in their own book. The protagonist in Saints has motives that seem genuinely naive for her interest in the Christian faith, though it is hard to believe the missionaries wouldn’t have made it clearer the truths of their religion earlier on in their studies. The connection between Bao and Vibiana seemed a little too open-ended at the end of Boxers, making up for it a little by the decisions they both make in Saints. Most importantly, it’s hard to imagine reading one of these without the other. I’m not sure why these are even offered for purchase separately.

Recommendations: The Boxers & Saints duology infuses an air of fantasy into an historical account of the Boxer Rebellion as we get both perspectives of the rebels in Boxers and the Chinese Christians in Saints. While both of these volumes are interesting on their own, the most impact is made when they are put together as contrasting stories, giving the reader more to consider about worldview and religious beliefs, especially in the context of war. Boxers and Saints are insightful stories that can expand how we perceive the beliefs of others, including for someone with a strong grounding in their own beliefs. If you are going to consider a purchase, make sure you get both books, perhaps in the boxed set.

Gene Luen Yang’s website
Boxers & Saints Boxed Set on Goodreads
Buy the Boxers & Saints Boxed Set on Amazon
Download Boxers & Saints for your Kindle
I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on September 10, 2013 in Graphic Novel, Historical Fiction

 

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