Monday, June 27, 2016

Review: The Apple Throne (United States of Asgard #3) by Tessa Gratton

Title: The Apple Throne (United States of Asgard #3)
Author: Tessa Gratton
Publication Date: 12 March 2015
Rating: 4 Stars
There is only one person in the whole world who remembers the famous prophet Astrid Glyn: the berserker Soren Bearstar.

Ever since Astrid agreed to give up her life, her name, and even her prophetic dreams to become Idun the Young, the almost-goddess who protects the apples of immortality in a secret mountain orchard, she’s been forgotten by everyone. Everyone except Soren.

For the last two years he’s faithfully visited her every three months. Then one day he doesn’t come. Though forbidden to leave the orchard, Astrid defies the gods by escaping with a bastard son of Thor to find Soren. But ancient creatures are moving in the mountains beneath the country. They are desperate to leave the shadows and Astrid’s quest might be the key they need.

Not-quite-a-goddess, but no longer only a girl, Astrid must choose a path that will save herself and the people she loves without unraveling the ancient magic that holds the entire nine worlds together.

Welcome to the final chapter of the United States of Asgard
- Summary from Goodreads
The best thing about the United States of Asgard series is the world. It's ancient ideals combined with the modern world creates such interesting culture that just seems right. Like Harry Potter, each new book in USoA provides new insight and reveals new aspects of the world which makes it come to life whenever you read it.

The Apple Throne is the last book in the series. Despite each book having a new narrator and complete story, the series must be read in order to be understood. This novel is told from Astrid's POV and picks up right after she becomes Idun, but after a while it skips forward until after the events of Strange Maid. She has trouble adjusting to her new life being both goddess and girl, mortal life and immortal name. On her quest to find Soren she is learning to reconcile the juxtapositions in her life. This is completely Astrid's story. She's very different from the previous Beserker and Valkyrie narrators, but she's probably my favorite out of all three. While the others are physically strong, Astrid is strong without being a fighter. She's a good person who's trying to do what's right for the world, the people she loves, and herself.

Like the previous books in the series, there a road trip, romance, and prophecy. In The Lost Son, I felt like the writing style felt distant, but I didn't notice it in this book. I think it had more to do with me getting used to Gratton's style rather than it changing. It has the same slow, meandering style that the rest of the series has, sometimes it flows, other times it drags. There are plenty of familiar faces in this book, but Astrid's two main companions are new to the series (although they were introduced in the novella Gold Runner which I have not read). Soren isn't in the book as much as I would like, but the scenes he did have were great.

Over all, The Apple Throne is a strong addition to the United States of Asgard series and provides a great conclusion for our characters. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Review: Severance: Stories by Robert Olen Butler

Title: Severance: Stories
Author: Robert Olen Butler
Rating: 3.5 Stars

The human head is believed to remain in a state of consciousness for one and one-half minutes after decapitation. In a heightened state of emotion, people speak at the rate of 160 words per minute. Inspired by the intersection of these two seemingly unrelated concepts, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Olen Butler wrote sixty-two stories, each exactly 240 words in length, capturing the flow of thoughts and feelings that go through a person's mind after their head has been severed. The characters are both real and imaginedMedusa (beheaded by Perseus, 2000 BC), Anne Boleyn (beheaded at the behest of Henry VIII, 1536), a chicken (beheaded for Sunday dinner, Alabama, 1958), and the author (decapitated, on the job, 2008). Told with the intensity of a poet and the wit of a great storyteller, these final thoughts illuminate and crystallize more about the characters' own lives and the worlds they inhabit than many writers manage to convey in full-length biographies or novels. The stories, which have appeared in literary magazines across the country, are a delightful and intriguing creative feat from one of today's most inventive writers. - Summary from Goodreads

This short story collection contains sixty-two stories, all of which are exactly 240 words long. The stories are told from the point-of-view of famous figures from history, mythical characters, a random chicken, etc. all of whom were beheaded. These 240 word stories show the thoughts of these characters after their head has been severed from their body. Despite being short, there are lines that have more than one meaning in them which shows the economy of the writer. Stories that seem to be straight forward turn out to have undercurrents of the most disturbing scenes and subjects. Because the stories were so short, they were incredibly addicting and it was always exciting to see who lost their head next. 

Monday, June 20, 2016

Review: Star Wars: Bloodline by Claudia Gray

Title: Star Wars: Bloodline
Author: Claudia Gray
Publisher: LucasBooks
Publication Date: May 3, 2016
Rating: 5 STARS!!!

When the Rebellion defeated the Empire in the skies above Endor, Leia Organa believed it was the beginning to a lasting peace. But after decades of vicious infighting and partisan gridlock in the New Republic Senate, that hope seems like a distant memory.

Now a respected senator, Leia must grapple with the dangers that threaten to cripple the fledgling democracy — from both within and without. Underworld kingpins, treacherous politicians, and Imperial loyalists are sowing chaos in the galaxy. Desperate to take action, senators are calling for the election of a First Senator. It is their hope that this influential post will bring strong leadership to a divided galaxy.

As the daughter of Darth Vader, Leia faces with distrust the prospect of any one person holding such a powerful position — even when supporters suggest Leia herself for the job. But a new enemy may make this path Leia’s only option. For at the edges of the galaxy, a mysterious threat is growing… -
Summary from Goodreads

Let me just begin this review by saying that every Star Wars fan should read Bloodline.

Not only was the characterization of Leia fantastic, the politics of the time (5 years before Episode VII) were completely believable, interesting, and sounded a little too familiar. I was hooked from the first chapter, which rarely happens to me. As fans of the movie we only see the surface of everything that’s going on, Claudia Gray digs into the world and makes it work logically while giving it diversity and flavor. I will never stop being impressed. 

One of the most important things to me as a SW fan and a booklover is that I could hear the voices of beloved characters like Leia, Han, and C-3PO while reading. Not only did the author capture this, she helped to develop Leia’s character more by presenting a whole new story in which the stakes were both political and personal. We get to see inside her mind and understand the heartbreak of losing Alderaan, the tumultuous feelings she has towards Vader, the frustration she feels at being trapped in a political process that no longer works, and her determination to take action to get something done. This is the Leia we know and love and, with all the benefits that the novel form of storytelling has, we get to know her better than ever before. 

On a side note, with novels it’s so much easier to add in backstory and explanations of things that the movies should have addressed. For example, the fact that Leia and Han are married. THANK YOU! Obviously Bloodline also deals with much more than this small detail since it has the freedom and the time to, but their marriage was something that was not established in the new canon until now and I am thankful for it, no matter how small of a detail it may be. 

I was a bit surprised that the story followed more than just Leia’s POV and I thought I would get bored reading the “extra” characters’ chapters, but it was great seeing the universe through their eyes and learning more of their stories. I came to love the side characters like Greer, Joph, and Ransolm; it was amazing to watch each of them grow and change over the course of the novel. Especially the young Senator Ransolm Casterfo (who I imagine looks like Loki). I started off hating his guts and by the end of the book he was my favorite character, second only to Leia. Because he belongs to the political opposition he and Leia get off to a rocky start, made worse by the fact that he has a thing for collecting Imperil artifacts for fun. If you can’t imagine Leia’s horror, just imagine a WWII veteran meeting a young punk who collects Nazi memorabilia. It was like that. But over the course of the book Leia (and the reader) begins to understand his character, which is so interesting and layered! I would love to see a companion novel that focuses on Ransolm after the events of this book. There are brief cameos and occasional mentions of established SW characters besides Leia, but they aren’t used as a crutch. This makes the appearance/reference of said characters *cough* Han *cough* even more rewarding.

Bloodline managed to balance political games with high stakes action while also slowing down just long enough to delve deep into the minds and backstories of beloved characters, both old and new. It is a great novel by its own merit, but the fact that it is a great SW novel makes me love it even more. This has been my favorite book of the year. I literally loved every page. I hope the future is filled with many more Star Wars books written by Claudia Gray.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Review: Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott

Title: Ivanhoe
Author: Sir Walter Scott
Publication Year:1819 
IVANHOE (1819) was the first of Scott's novels to adopt a purely English subject and was also his first attempt to combine history and romance, which later influenced Victorian medievalism. Set at the time of the Norman Conquest, Ivanhoe returns from the Crusades to claim his inheritance and the love of Rowena and becomes involved in the struggle between Richard Coeur de Lion and his Norman brother John. The gripping narrative is structured by a series of conflicts: Saxon versus Norman, Christian versus Jew, men versus women, played out against Scott's unflinching moral realism. --Summary from Goodreads

Ivanhoe, like many classics I’ve read, is a combination of things I liked, things I didn’t like, and things I wish the author could have done differently. Instead of trying to work my thoughts out coherently into some kind of review, I decided just to make lists.

Good Things About Ivanhoe
  • It set in medieval times with knights and castles and ideas of chivalry. There are well known characters such as Prince John, Richard the Lionheart, Robin Hood and his merry men.
  • It is obvious that Scott did his research. The world is full of rich details and is definitely worth a read if you ever plan on writing about this era.
  • The story provides a good account of the class differences between the Normans and the Saxons as well as the persecution of Jewish people in England at the time. Also uses the history of the English language to illustrate the class differences between Saxon and Normans. The Normans brought over the idea of chivalry and knightly games, and yet Wilfred Ivanhoe, a Saxon, embodies the knightly ideal better than every Norman in the novel. It’s just great!
  • The female characters, Rowena and Rebbeca, are awesome. Rowen is a Saxon lady who is somehow related to Alfred the Great, which made her Saxon royalty. She is the ward of Sir Cedric who has treated her like a princess her entire life and, as a result, she is used to being in a position of power. The only time Cedric opposed her was when she fell in love with his son, but that didn’t matter much because she had already made up her mind and there was no way he was going to change it. Rowena is a lady who knows what she wants and won’t back down. Rebecca is a Jewish lady whose family is being persecuted for their faith. She is intelligent and calm and wise. She is always willing to help someone in need and will take action to see that the right thing is accomplished. Both ladies take action when the head of their household is being unjust and see that everything is dealt with honorably.
  • Urfried is old and mean and bitter, has a dark past, and a taste for revenge. She’s barely in it, but she is one of the most interesting characters in the book.
  • Beautiful relationship between a fool and his master. Seriously, it brought a tear to my eye.
Issues I Had With Ivanhoe
  • I could literally name off 10+ characters that had more page time than Ivanhoe. He’s one of the only characters that the reader never gets a look inside his mind. He’s the perfect embodiment of chivalry, nothing more.
  • It lacks focus because there are ton of characters that the story follows. I think its purpose was to focus on the time, not any specific character(s)… which I find annoying.
  • While it was painting a sympathetic picture of the Jewish characters and addressed the persecution they faced, Isaac still managed to be built out of stereotypes. That being said, I think it made his character similar to Cedric in many ways. Both of them followed the letter, not the spirit, of the law of their culture while their children embody everything that they are supposed to be.
  • It’s so LONG! And there’s so much dry description! And you keep waiting for Ivanhoe to do something, but he only has two moments of glory which are jousting scenes. (If you haven’t noticed, the lack of the “main character” really bothers me)
It’s an interesting books and I’m glad I read it, but if you’re just looking for a random classic to read this probably shouldn’t be the one you pick up. If you are interested in the time period or topics, are studying 19th century literature, or just have a ton of patience: go for it!