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Review: Allies

Allies
Allies by Christie Golden

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So, I have a confession: series books {a.k.a. a book like Star Wars Fate of the Jedi: Allies by Christie Golden} are my guilty pleasure. I don’t read as many as I used to and I don’t read as many series as I used to, but my love of “Star Wars” knows no bounds and so therefore, I gobble up any and everything related to that long ago and far away galaxy.

It’s been a while since a “Star Wars” EU series has captured my attention like Fate of the Jedi. I’ll admit that I missed some of the Yuzhan Vong hoopla (I have always believed that aliens belong in the Star Trek ‘verse, not SW), but when I found out that the end of the series featured a showdown between Solo twins, Jacen and Jaina, I quickly got up to speed. Because not only am I sucker for Star Wars, but I am a huge sap for Han and Leia’s kids, and Luke & Mara’s son, Ben. Which is probably another reason why I am so digging FOTJ.

The premise of the series is interesting and different from other EU works. Instead of being worshipped like a demigod by the powers in charge, Luke Skywalker has been banished, cut off from the Jedi Temple and the universe at large by dictator–er, leader–of the Galatica Alliance, Admiral Natasi Daala. (Yeah, she’s a chick and she’s ex-Imperial. This ain’t your mama’s Star Wars.)

The series begins with Luke and Ben leaving Coruscant, deciding to travel the galaxy together, while being forced to leave behind their family, including Leia, Han, Jaina, and Jacen’s illegitimate daughter, Amelia. (Babies out of wedlock? What would George say?) But, I digress, for many of these events happened during the whole Yuzhan Vong series.

Let me get back to Star Wars: FOTJ Allies. This book finds Ben and Luke in the soup, forced to ally with Sith (Yeah, those Sith.) and find and destroy an ancient creature that someway, somehow is causing Jedi the galaxy over to go crazy. Not a little bit crazy either, but batshit, I-think-the-moon-just-winked-at-me crazy. Meanwhile, Daala is warring with the Jedi in a pissing contest for control that would make Palpatine proud. This of course means, Han and Leia are alternately Prime Suspects No. 1 and 2 for anything that appears to go against the GA, appears to aid the Jedi or might involve Luke getting illicit help from his former students.

But where FOTJ and Allies in particular really shine, is in the illustration of the relationships. Gone are the semi-uncomfortable realization that you once kissed your sister, replaced with complex emotions. These characters grieve and struggle to find meaning in a galaxy that constantly disappoints and amazes them, just as we all do. While Han and Leia deal every day with the fact that both of their sons met early deaths, Jaina must also deal with being the last surviving Solo offspring, the Sword of the Jedi, and oh yeah, the fiancee of the GA’s top military leader. She must also contend with the fact that her Jedi ways and her boyfriend’s ex-Imperial leanings don’t always mesh and may end up costing her love in the name of family loyalty.

And then there’s Luke. Another confession for you: He’s my favorite original Star Wars character. I love Han and I love Han-and-Leia, but I have always had a special place in my heart for Luke, an orphaned farm boy on a distant planet dreaming of something more. And for the most part I have been quite pleased with how the EU has treated young Skywalker, especially Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire series, which is still the shining achievement in established trilogy EU (in my opinion).

And I loved Luke and Mara Jade together. I loved it when they had a son and I loved it when they named him Ben. I thought it was even more interesting when this son, while he was just a toddler, but already strong in the Force, eschewed his father’s and his family’s legacy, afraid of what wielding such power might mean. What an interesting place to put our hero, looking at his own child who wants nothing to do with the family business.

Luckily, Ben came around and he is now quite the Force user. But along the way, he lost his mother and Luke lost a wife. And this is something that Allies brings to the fore so very well. In a twist I won’t reveal, Mara comes back to help both her boys and it’s Luke reaction to seeing her again that resonated deeply with this particular reader. The knowledge that Mara is gone, but can never really be dead (because she is now one with the Force) is at once the greatest gift and the harshest cruelty.

Perhaps the best part is that Allies set up a hell of an ending that has left me eager to get my hands on the next book in the series, Vortex. I’ve had some luck recently reading series of books that have made me anxious to read the next and that is such a gift as a reader, and so enviable as a writer. I for one am immensely glad that the Star Wars EU is still alive and well. And that all of our intrepid heroes still are too.

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PW’s Best Children’s Books 2010

Mockingjay and Incarceron are named two of Publisher’s Weekly’s best books of 2010! Viva YA!

PW’s Best Children’s Books 2010.

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A busy summer reading YA

I’ve spent quite a bit of time this summer reading some exceptional YA. Most notably, Mockingjay (of course) which I will write a separate review for soon. However, I also just finished Incarceron by Catherine Fisher and Fade, the second book in the Wake series by Lisa McMann. And here’s what I loved about each of these stories: a strong female protagonist.

While each main character is different in their personality traits and quirks, what unites them all is an undeniable strength. Whether it’s Katniss in Mockingjay, Jane in Fade or Claudia in Incarceron, each young woman shows that she has the ability to fight for what she believes in, take life as it comes and even find love, all while not compromising her beliefs. And while taking action.

And this is what separates these young woman from certain other literary heroines who are popular right now. (I’ll give you a hint, starts with a “B,” ends with “Ella.) None of these girls sits by and waits for things to happen. Even when it’s painful, uncomfortable or downright scary, each of them will take risks to either protect those they love, make a stand or sometimes both.

These characters and themes are a great segue to a panel I attended this weekend at the Boston Book Festival in Copley Square. A YA-centric panel, entitled “What’s hot and what’s not in YA Fiction,” the author’s on the panel were Noni Carter (Good Fortune), Kathryn Lasky (The Guardians of Ga’Hoole), Francisco Stork (Marcelo and the Real World) and Kristin Cashore (Graceling, Fire). Each writer, as varied in their careers and styles as one could imagine, offered interesting insights into the world of Young Adult Fiction.

While none of them felt particularly qualified to classify what was hot or not in the genre, all the authors agreed that Young Adult books have common themes: who am I? What am I doing here? How can I make a difference? The YA novels with these basic questions at their center and engaging characters are often the most beloved. They also spoke of trends in YA and as Kathryn Lasky said, “A writer can’t write toward a trend.” Later, Kristin Cashore explained that while getting Graceling published, her agent explained the process. As Kristin realized she’d be proofing the book about ten times before it actually went to print, she asked, “I’m going to be so sick of this book when this is over, aren’t I?” And the agent said, “Yes, so you better love it.” If you write toward a trend, there’s no guarantee it’s what you love to write and chances are you’ll hate it before the process has even really begun.

I think with most YA literature, adults and young readers alike have that immediate reaction — love or hate. It isn’t often you meet a young reader who’s nonchalant about a book they’ve just read or are reading. For the most part, those “whatever” books, don’t often get dog-eared after the first chapter. Why? Because we love it. Or we hate it. But the books we keep talking about, The Hunger Games and The Book Thiefs of the world are the books we love. The books that pose the fundamental questions of who am I and why am I here?

And though I have yet to read a book that answers those questions succinctly, I have enjoyed many nights reading about characters struggling to find answers, just as I am.

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Book Review – Catching Fire, Book 2 of “The Hunger Games”

I just finished reading this book and wrote a quick review on GoodReads (which is an awesome site and everyone should join). I hope you’ll enjoy reading it and you should totally pick up both “The Hunger Games” and “Catching Fire” by Suzanne Collins.

My Review of “Catching Fire” on GoodReads.com

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Goodbye books, hello HAL

Megan E. Sullivan, author

Megan E. Sullivan, author

Can a School Library Be Replaced by E-Readers? Apparently, it Can

From Mashable.com

I don’t like this, I’m just gonna say it. I don’t think flesh-n-bone book should be replaced by e-readers or iphones or computer screens. Is the Internet a great way to share stories and information? Absolutely. Is the digital age redefining the way we read books? Definitely. Is it cheaper to publish digitally than on paper? Of course.

But more will be lost if we migrate away from the tangible book than the occasional papercut.

Books as a medium have been around for centuries. Since Guttenberg invented the printing press, humans the world over have been sharing their stories, committing them not just to memory, but to paper. The printing press enabled us to not only copy works faster, but to make multiple copies at once, allowing sharing across cultures as never before. And a few extra books meant a tragedy like the burning of Rome or the loss of Alexandria could be avoided.

My fear with a digital library isn’t that I’ll miss the smell of books (although, I would). It’s that despite the redundancies and back-ups and failsafes in place, there’s still a chance an errant keystroke could erase a large part of our history. Imagine losing a work like Romeo & Juliet … imagine the cultural impact of never knowing a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Now, this may be an overexaggeration, true. People are not going to all of a sudden purchase e-readers (Kindles and the like) and then have a bonfire to burn their books (at least, I hope not). We probably have a good hundred years before paper and paperboard books are completely phased out.

Even so, isn’t that a little sad? I don’t know about you, but there’s something comforting and tangible about picking up a book and cracking open the spine for the first time. I don’t want children to think getting a new story is as easy as a keystroke. As an author, I respect the work that goes into a novel, respect that when I read those 400+ pages it’s because someone sat and sweated it out over a keyboard. Something tells me that kind of appreciation just doesn’t resonate with a digital version.

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