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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
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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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Tin Star by Cecil Castellucci

Tin StarPremise: Tula Bane is on her way to colonize the planet Beta Granade with the rest of the Children of Earth when she is beaten and left for dead by the group’s leader, Brother Blue, on the Yertina Feray space station. Here she is the only Human, considered a Minor Species in the galaxy. It is on this remote station where Tula makes her life scrounging and trading favors since word of her ship, the Prairie Rose, did not make it to its destination. She must learn the ways of other beings in order to survive.

When news comes that Brother Blue is still alive, she uses all the favors available to her to plot and plan for finding him and exacting her revenge. The station’s security chief, Captain Tournour, is there every step of the way keeping the peace and making sure nothing illegal goes unpunished. It is the unlikeliest of alien friendships that keeps her going daily.

But then a ship carrying three more Humans crashes on the station causing her to rethink her alliances. Through her relationships with these aliens and Humans, Tula learns all about love and friendship, and she has to decide what is really important for love and survival.

Themes: Friendship comes to the forefront, especially in Tula’s dealings with the alien Heckleck. They become best friends as the only person she trusts is the alien with no emotions. Tula’s connection with other Humans makes her question if they should be friends because of their close affinity or because she actually trusts them.

Tula’s experiences with death and loss, with her family continuing to the settlement without her, leave her open to failure. When she learns that the ship didn’t make it to its destination, her hope is crushed by her family’s death. And when she loses more people in her life Tula could very easily fall into despair, but there are others there to support her and lift her up.

When more Humans step into her life, Tula has ample opportunities for love to grow. She even toys with the thoughts of romantic relationships and tests them, with mixed results. But the biggest surprise comes at the most important crossroads of her life when everything is at stake.

Pros: Cecil Castellucci does some things very well in Tin Star, like making you care about the friendship between a sixteen-year-old girl and a bug-like alien. The characters have an interesting interplay in the setting on the space station, leaving me feeling the claustrophobia of being stuck together in a place and not being able to go anywhere. There are some great emotional moments in the book, one right at the beginning, one in the middle, and another at the end. It’s almost like Castellucci spaced them out evenly on purpose.

Cons: Even with the good character development, I felt like from the moment they step onto the page each Human is not to be trusted, which made it difficult to care about any of them. My biggest gripe is the abrupt ending to a book that seemed to rocket by me, and now I have to wait for the second half of the story.

Recommendations: Tin Star has its ups and downs, but there’s a lot packed into this fast-paced book. I would have preferred a 400 page full combined version with the second book so I didn’t have to wait for the rest of the story, but also because of the chopped off feeling at the end. I still think it’s a good commentary on love and loss, especially for people who live a solitary life. Tin Star will make you think about the people around you in a different light, but maybe only because some people are stranger than the aliens in the book.

Cecil Castellucci’s website
Tin Star on Goodreads
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I received a copy from the author to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on March 17, 2014 in Science Fiction, Young Adult

 

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Andrew’s Brain by E.L. Doctorow

Andrew's BrainPremise: Andrew is a brilliant cognitive scientist discussing the important events of his life with his therapist. As he talks about losing a child and a wife, Andrew wonders if he might be an agent of death.

In the back and forth narrative of Andrew’s Brain, we get an insight into what makes Andrew tick and the neuroses that inform his decisions. In order to cope with his losses, he floats from job to job, teaching high school and university classes, and working for the president of the United States who also used to be his roommate in college.

Themes: Loss and death is at the forefront of Andrew’s Brain. Andrew’s child dies from his first marriage, causing their separation. Andrew’s new young wife dies as a result of the 9/11 terror attacks. When he doesn’t know what to do with his new child, he takes the baby to his first wife, thereby losing everything in his life that he loves.

Andrew’s Brain also peers into human existence and consciousness as Andrew attempts to teach his students about how the human brain interprets information, and ultimately how human sentience works. In turn, the reader receives brief lessons in cognitive science.

Pros: Andrew’s Brain shows how people can react to loss in their grief in different ways. As Andrew loses children and wives through death and separation, he shares his feelings to his therapist. It’s probably the biggest redeeming quality of this book.

Cons: There is a lack of character development in Andrew’s Brain, including Andrew the protagonist. As Andrew talks about his life he looks upon most everyone else as beneath him, excusing his own behavior when he acts in much the same way. Andrew comes across as neurotic, and in contrast to the attempts to paint him as a genius he instead sounds mentally ill. Without naming him, this book also clearly speaks against a certain president during the 9/11 terror attacks, but it felt more like filler politicizing.

Recommendations: Andrew’s Brain comes across as self-righteous as it talks down to the reader in its self-indulgent philosophizing. With a few humorous moments and a serious look at loss and grief, this short book lacks compelling characters or a true conclusion. I haven’t read any other of Doctorow’s work, but unless you’re into existential intellectualizing through life, I doubt this would be the one to begin with as it doesn’t really go anywhere.

E.L. Doctorow’s website
Andrew’s Brain on Goodreads
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I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on January 27, 2014 in Fiction

 

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The Geek’s Guide to Dating by Eric Smith

The Geek's Guide to DatingPremise: Dating is hard enough these days with social media and mobile devices actually reducing our ability to have real in-person relationships. Geeks are stereotyped to be even less adept at social interactions. In The Geek’s Guide to Dating, Eric Smith has laid out tips and strategies for geeks to meet and interact with the opposite gender regardless of the end goal. But let’s be honest, the end goal is for Mario to find the Princess and live happily ever after.

Themes: Meeting people is a common challenge for people who spend much of their time watching movies, playing video games, and reading comic books. The Geek’s Guide to Dating takes this into account when trying to meet people either by using this as a strength or by suggesting new social settings to add to the arsenal when trying to meet someone of the opposite gender. You don’t have to give up being a geek in order to connect with people.

Navigating the phases of a romantic relationship can be tricky for anybody, but doing so in a field of geeky obsessions has the potential to be crippling for a relationship. In this guide there are suggestions to overcome obstacles and to emphasize the redeeming qualities that make a geek unique.

Pros: I was surprised how Eric Smith took my initial assumptions that this book was some sort of parody and almost immediately flipped them so I read this as an actual guide for people to foster real relationships. The Geek’s Guide to Dating is full of useful tips, from what clothes to get to enhance the wardrobe to how to navigate breakups. I like that in each section there are positive character traits to focus on as well as warnings that can damage a relationship now or in the future. Everything is very clearly laid out in chapters, sections, and sometimes even color-coded or assigned a key. The Geek’s Guide gives a clear walkthrough of different stages of relationships, from friendship to attraction, the sting of rejection, or into the dungeons of breakups. And everything is under an array of geek language and metaphors, most of which I understood but with a few splashes of things at a higher geek level than I have reached.

Cons: There are some instances where females might not be able to apply the given advice, but those are fairly few. I fear this might be a hangup for some women who assume it is only for men. It isn’t the case, but females might just need to stretch the analogies a little further to find the imparted wisdom for making a love connection. Geeks might also find instances where Smith encourages them to shed a little of their geekiness as potential obstacles for the opposite gender in order for them to get to know the real person. Some geeks might make the assumption that Smith is asking them not to be themselves.

Recommendations: The Geek’s Guide to Dating is a treasure trove of useful knowledge for enhancing most types of relationships, at least at a beginning level. After reading only one or two chapters of The Geek’s Guide to Dating, it dawned on me that this is actually a serious guide of dating advice for forming dating relationships disguised as humor. Eric Smith combines common sense with some practical tips to give much-needed advice not only to geeks but to everyone attempting to form a relationship with the opposite gender. Geeks will better understand the analogies, but everyone should be able to collect some wisdom from this fun gem of a dating guide, even those of us who are married but are always seeking to improve the connection with our significant other. However, consider this only the beginning and that deeper relationships require much more work than playing a video game.

Eric Smith’s website
The Geek’s Guide to Dating on Goodreads
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I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on December 31, 2013 in Nonfiction

 

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Like Mind by James T. Wood

Like MindPremise: Corey Tosh is a slacker in Portland, Oregon who gets by on just enough work to survive, making sure to put out minimal effort in everything he does. That is why he responds to a Craigslist ad looking for medical test subjects in exchange for fifty bucks. Of course things go terribly wrong when people begin following him and trying to kill him. But in the process he discovers he has an amazing new ability.

Thankfully, the cute redhead from the medical office is there to help him. Anka is the prettiest girl who has ever talked to him, but she’s not really a nurse. She works for the NSA. She also doesn’t really find Corey’s continual pop culture references to be incredibly endearing, at least not at first. But Corey’s understanding of women is about as obscure as his constant movie quotes are to Anka.

Now they must find the doctor who performed the experiment on Corey’s brain because whatever the doctor did is killing him. They also learn that, of all the people trying to kill or kidnap Corey, nobody can be trusted, not even Anka’s boss at the NSA.

Themes: How do you learn new things? Do you need to see them done first or do you work through trial and error? Corey is forced to learn new things instantly, and with it comes the shock of being able to do many new things without the understanding of why or how.

Meeting Anka not only makes Corey evaluate his own understanding of women, but it also makes him look at himself and his past romantic relationships, or lack thereof. Corey does some soul searching on why all his relationships failed and what part he played in making them fail. It also helps him to understand what it is that some women find attractive, especially when it comes to Anka.

Like Mind also touches on government conspiracies, international spying, and terrorism through intertwined plots that quickly spiral downward in a race for their lives. Corey and Anka discover that who they can trust might not be those they first expected.

Pros: Like Mind is laced with humor that helps to make an otherwise typical chased-by-the-governments-trying-to-kill-you story into something more unique and fun to read. This book is pretty short, so the pacing is quick and the character exchanges are crisp. And if you have never been to Portland, Oregon or driven up through Washington, Like Mind is spot on, giving references to local landmarks and places to see such as Powell’s Books, the hipster culture, even down to the terrible traffic on I-5 and I-84 (the Banfield). I’m glad I got most of the movie and television references because most of them add to the comedic tone of the story. The editing is actually very good, especially for a self-published book.

Cons: Some of the humor will be lost on many readers as obscure movie and television quotes are thrown out mercilessly. I am certain that few will get every pop culture reference in Like Mind and will perhaps even find themselves connecting with Anka more than Corey in her constant eyebrow raising at his lame jokes. With it being Anka’s first assignment her nervousness and questionable abilities make sense, but I figured her training would have made up for some of these things. The one thing I noticed most with the editing was some missing or misplaced comma usage. We don’t learn the protagonist’s name until the third chapter, which makes the front end seem clipped, like there is something missing. And being a short book might not be a positive for some readers.

Recommendations: Like Mind is a quick, fun romp through Portland, Oregon with a local slacker making light of a government trying to kill him. I thought of the television show Chuck as I read Like Mind, but instead of a database implanted into Corey’s brain it is the triggering of mirror neurons allowing him to imitate everything he sees. I only wish the story was a little longer with some more context into why Anka would be interested in someone like Corey in such a short period of time, even with the stressful things they go through together. Like Mind actually gave me some hope that not all self-published books are terrible. In fact, this one is actually pretty good.

James T. Wood’s website
Like Mind on Goodreads
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I received a copy from the author to write this honest review. We also used to be roommates.

 
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Posted by on August 4, 2013 in Fiction, Romance, Science Fiction

 

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Ganymede by Cherie Priest

Ganymede (The Clockwork Century, #4)Premise: After years of smuggling the blight gas used to make the drug sap, air pirate Andan Cly has decided to become a legitimate businessman. Unfortunately, the money paying for his first job comes from a sap dealer in Seattle. Luckily, this trip to New Orleans comes with a good amount of money, with Andan doubling up on pay by taking a job when he gets to his destination. His employer in New Orleans happens to be an ex-girlfriend and brothel madam Josephine Early.

Andan has no idea what kind of job he is getting himself into in New Orleans. He only knows that it will help cover the costs to retrofit his airship for legal shipping and it might give him a chance at closure in the relationship with Josephine that he never really got. When he arrives to pilot the ship, it turns out it isn’t an airship at all. He is to pilot a massive submersible from Lake Pontchartrain to the Gulf through enemy lines in order to use its weapons capabilities to swing the tides in the war, assuming he and his men can survive the trip.

Facing his past will be difficult with his future back in Seattle. This set of jobs might be the break he needs to make a good amount of money, get the necessary supplies for Seattle to expand, and settle down with his new flame with a new business. This is all assuming he doesn’t die in battle or by sinking the Ganymede to the bottom of the ocean.

Themes: Ganymede is a romance story between Andan Cly and the past love in Josephine Early and present and future love in Briar Wilkes. We get to see Andan and Josephine work out their problems of the past, but also get to see how those problems and resolutions might affect their future relationships.

Letting go of the past is a major theme in Ganymede not just for Andan and his relationship with Josephine, but also as Andan makes the attempt to get out of the life of piracy shipping drugs and into the legitimate business of setting up Seattle as a shipping hub.

Ganymede also attempts to bring the issue of discrimination to light through Josephine. She is a mixed race prostitute but has connections which come in handy in a New Orleans bordered by Confederate states with a penchant for racism. One of her prostitutes also has a secret that we see an issue in modern discrimination topics.

Pros: With some thoughtful character development, Ganymede gives the reader not only some great character interactions, but it also elaborates on some familiar characters from previous books in the series in Andan Cly, Briar Wilkes, Mercy Lynch, Ranger Korman, and more. Josephine Early stands out as a strong female protagonist who is not only successful in spite of her circumstances, but also who is a leader of the common people. Something Cherie Priest does well is creating multiple settings in the same novel that help define each other through contrast.

Cons: As the third full novel in the series, the plot for Ganymede was thinner than Boneshaker or Dreadnought. Especially at the main climax of the entire story, things felt like they just fell into place and nothing was really going to go wrong. Perhaps it was a failure to create tension, but I got the sense that no one was really in danger. In fact, it almost felt like the last few chapters were just lopped off the end. The primary climax seemed more like a minor one, leaving me with a desire for the stakes to be raised but left hanging.

Recommendations: My recommendation for Ganymede is that you at least read Boneshaker first, if not Boneshaker and Dreadnought. Ganymede creates some depth to characters from those previous novels, but that background will probably be helpful. The character development is very well executed for the main characters, even compared to the previous books, which is good because this book is more of a romance than the more action-packed predecessors. While thin on plot compared to its predecessors, Ganymede narrows the focus on a couple of the characters in the Clockwork Century series while bringing back some familiar faces in the periphery.

Cherie Priest’s website
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Posted by on March 3, 2013 in Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Science Fiction

 

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Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles by Ron Currie Jr.

Flimsy Little Plastic MiraclesPremise: Ron Currie is an author truly in love. The biggest problem is the woman he loves, Emma, may or may not return the sentiment, at least not in the way he thinks he wants. At Emma’s request, Ron banishes himself to a Caribbean island to write this book, that happens to be about Emma, and also to grieve the loss of his father to cancer.

Ron’s grief over the loss of his father and of Emma leads him to self-destructive behavior: getting into fights, drinking himself into oblivion, engaging in a physical relationship with another woman, and eventually faking his own death. The ramifications of his choices come piling on when he has to face the reality of the living and the people he has hurt along the way.

Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles pulls back the curtain of a mind obsessed with a woman and deeply entrenched in the reality of the world’s problems. What happens when the reality created in our own minds leaks into that of others? And then what happens when the truth is revealed and this false reality is unfulfilled?

Themes: Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles is about obsession over a woman who will not fully have a man. Ron’s love for Emma is made clear to her, but she remains aloof. Even though she cares for him in some way, her inability to give herself fully to him keeps them apart.

This is also a story about love, for Ron’s obsession is based around his ability to only love one woman, Emma, even when he is with other women. His willingness to banish himself to an island is evidence of his love for her in spite of it being unrequited.

Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles shows us how people cope with loss. When Ron’s father is dying of cancer, and he eventually dies, Ron takes us through those last days of his father’s life and the aftermath of what happens when someone is gone from our life. The grief also comes out in his relationship with Emma, as he plunges into a self-destructive tailspin on a Caribbean island.

Pros: I found the narrative of Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles interesting, being first person and journal-like and feeling deeply intimate in the author’s mind. It clips along pretty fast, and jumps from topic to topic in a way that highlights the thought processes of a neurotic mind. The characters are key in making this story believable, especially considering the meta of wondering if this is really an autobiographical story.

Cons: Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles is so packed full of profanity, sex, and moral depravity that made it difficult to read. The thought process was hard to follow at times, going from talking about his dying father to robots becoming self-aware and taking over the world. The neuroses of Ron Currie (character or author?) only speak to a lacking in a life seeking meaning and happiness in the wrong places. The main character comes off as egotistical and pretentious.

Recommendations: Even with a great amount of profanity and sex, my biggest problem with Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles is that Mr. Currie seems to equate reality with truth, and sets up philosophical arguments that are flimsy straw men. In spite of these things, Ron Currie, Jr. touches on some topics that are difficult to talk about but real: coping with death of loved ones and the loss of romantic love. I have a feeling anyone who reads Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles will have strong feelings of either liking or disliking it, but I think everyone who does read it will encounter a story that causes them to think about their own lives.

Ron Currie, Jr.’s website
Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles on Goodreads
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I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on February 7, 2013 in Fiction, Romance

 

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