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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-05-28 15:54
Star Wars: The Force Awakens, by Alan Dean Foster
The Force Awakens (Star Wars) - Alan Dean Foster

This is the first book adaptation of a film that I've read and the first I've ever wanted to. There are of course many Star Wars novels, none of which I've read. I wondered what sort of money-grabbing, hastily edited crap I might be delving into. Though in the opening pages there was some awkward language or editing, on the whole those issues didn't persist, and the book gave me what I wanted, which was a sort of "behind the scenes" look at the story, moments we see on actors' faces translated into words, "missing scenes," etc. I got just as emotional reading particular scenes as when I watch the movie and at the same time was interested by some changes or details explained (I believe the adaptation was based on the shooting script).

 

Some film versus book differences of note:

 

Unkar Plutt isn't just a jerk, he's kind of a creeper, too. There's a missing scene where he shows up on Takodana for Rey, and Chewie rips his arm(s) off! In addition, Rey comes much closer to selling BB-8 than she appears to in the movie. There it seems her conscience gets the better of her; in the book, she counters Plutt's offer of 50 portions with 100. When he immediately accepts, that's when she decides not to sell the droid; it's like she can't bear to let him have something he so obviously wants.

 

I'm a bit confused by the timeline of some things in the films, so it was helpful to learn, for instance, that when Kylo Ren removes his mask when Han directs him to, we discover it's the first time Han's seen his son "grown."

 

There's a whole lot more on Kylo Ren's thoughts and his interactions with Snoke. In the film he comes off as moody and prone to anger. This is actually atypical of him, according to the book. He's all about control and lack of emotion. He even says that revenge is "an adolescent concession to personal vanity," which is interesting given his focus in The Last Jedi.

 

The book also provides context that I was unclear on, such as the fact that the Republic still exists, but there's typical political infighting in the Senate; most believe Leia is blowing things out of proportion concerning the First Order. In addition, there are more details about the First Order, storm troopers, and how that system-destroying weapon works.

 

There's more than that, so if you're a Star Wars fan (aren't you?!), it's worth checking out. I've already started the next one (by a different author).

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review 2018-03-31 17:49
The Animators, by Karla Rae Whitaker
The Animators - Kayla Rae Whitaker

The Animators struck a deep chord with me on two levels: as an artist and as best friend to a fellow artist. If you are either, you'll likely love this novel as I did.

 

Funny and engaging from the first page, The Animators starts with our narrator, Sharon, in college, where she meets the charismatic Mel Vaught. Both are aspiring animators who are into the same shit and share an aesthetic; both come from poor, rural southern U.S. backgrounds. Many of us in the arts could identify that time when we learn we're not actually outsiders, that others share our interests; college tends to be a place where we find our tribe.

 

But this is not a novel about being a college arts student. The narrative quickly brings us to a present where Sharon and Mel have made a successful indie animated feature that centers on Mel's life. They live together in New York City. Mel drinks and does a lot of drugs; she's the life of the party. Sharon...is not. She spends a lot of time and emotions angsting over her latest romantic interest, of which there are many.

 

Tension develops between the two, much of it, from Sharon's perspective, owing to Mel's lifestyle. There's a blowout, followed by a shocking, life-altering health crisis for one of them. It's a reset that leads them on a path to mining Sharon's childhood for their next project. This raises very real questions artists face about using their lives in their art in ways that may hurt loved ones. I wasn't quite satisfied by the resolution to this issue, but I appreciated its being seriously considered.

 

This book excels at depicting partnerships between women, their working lives as artists, and craft. The prose is engaging, the characters vivid, and there are some heartbreaking and harrowing moments. Even if you're not an artist or friends with one, I can't imagine Whitaker's (first!) novel not winning you over from page one.

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review 2018-03-01 22:48
The Book of Joan, by Lidia Yuknavitch
The Book of Joan: A Novel - Lidia Yuknavitch

More a novel of ideas than a "yarn," The Book of Joan's characters exist primarily as symbols, vehicles for ideology. This quality brought to mind older modes of storytelling, such as ancient Greek and Roman epics, fairy tales, and didactic poems. Everything is heightened--the language, the stakes, the characters. At first I highlighted many passages, dazzled by the prose, but the lyric language reached a critical mass about a third of the way through, and I became distracted by linguistic tics such as the overuse of "wrong" as an adjective. It could also be hard to read some of the graphically violent passages.

 

Nevertheless, I applaud this novel's ingenuity, its reworking of Joan of Arc's story and interesting notions regarding gender and sex.

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review 2017-04-16 16:50
The River at Night, by Erica Ferencik
The River at Night - Erica Ferencik

A compulsively readable survival thriller ala Deliverance and The Descent that is begging to be adapted into a show or film. It features a group of friends in their late 30s, all women, who don't regularly see one another in their day to day lives but who take periodic, adventurous vacations away from it all. On this vacation their fearless leader, Pia, has arranged for them to raft a river in Maine, one that is virtually "undiscovered," according to their young, male guide. Read "undiscovered" as in the middle of nowhere, no cell phone coverage, and no help nearby. You see where this is going.

 

Disaster strikes during the trip, and the group is forced to make tough decisions and survive a dangerous situation that only gets more dangerous. The strain heightens tensions and reveals cracks in the group, and everyone loses their shit in a way specific to each character. Our narrator is Winifred (Win or Wini), clearly the least brave of her friends, a woman who's recently lost her husband (divorce/separation) and younger, deaf brother. She's lonely, at sea in her life but without the impetus to make changes and be happier.

 

All the women bring their own baggage, but it's Pia's need to be "off the grid," be authentic, whatever that means, that brings them to the river. Besides Win's relatable narration, the adventure, and some very cool descriptions of their environment, the book's refusal to say, simply, that nature is better and civilization is corrupt is a favorite aspect of the story.

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review 2017-02-05 17:54
American Housewife, by Helen Ellis
American Housewife: Stories - Helen Ellis

My first thoroughly enjoyable read of the year. Despite never having been a housewife (or wife, period) myself, I felt like this short story collection's ideal audience. There are plenty of films and books that cover similar ground--the details, drudgery, absurdity, and even darkness of being a housewife--but Ellis manages to make the content fresh through voice and form.

 

All the stories made me laugh out loud or grin sardonically, from the first, brief portrait of a modern housewife, to the email exchange between two passive aggressive--and then just aggressive--ladies occupying the same building (my favorite), to the Dumpster Diving with the Stars reality show. Some stories, like the first, are flash fiction and read like prose poems to me. Others are fuller, like the ending story about contemporary novel writing in the age of sponsorship and social media. In that story and others, the horror of aspects of our culture becomes real.

 

Satisfying and sharp-tongued (without looking down on its characters), this collection completely won me over from the start.

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