Queen’s Shadow by E.K. Johnston, narrated by Catherine Taber

Written by the #1 New York Times best-selling author of Ahsoka!

When Padmé Naberrie, “Queen Amidala” of Naboo, steps down from her position, she is asked by the newly-elected queen to become Naboo’s representative in the Galactic Senate. Padmé is unsure about taking on the new role, but cannot turn down the request to serve her people. Together with her most loyal handmaidens, Padmé must figure out how to navigate the treacherous waters of politics and forge a new identity beyond the queen’s shadow.

I bought a hardcover copy at Celebration Chicago last year and I downloaded the audiobook, because Catherine Taber (the voice of Padmé on The Clone Wars) narrates. I read along as I listened.

I loved this book. This might not be a book for every Star Wars fan because it is way more political than the novels we’re used to. There aren’t any big battle scenes and no lightsaber fights, but if you love Padmé, then this is a book to read/listen to.

So I loved this book for many reasons. The friendships between Padmé and the handmaids were great. It was wonderful to see what their strengths were and what their interests were outside of their duties.

The transition from being queen to becoming a senator and navigating the different political arenas was so well done. I especially like seeing Padmé learn how she had to change her demeanor, make allies, and learn how to shed the negative image people had about her. She had to get out of the shadow of what she did to Chancellor Vellorum as queen.

I loved the inclusion of the press articles because image is everything in the public eye.
Besides character image I loved the descriptions of her clothing. Practical armor hidden in style.

Minor spoilers below, but not really if you know a lot about Star Wars.

Continue reading

Star Wars: Alphabet Squadron by Alexander Freed

250197_600

The first novel in a new trilogy starring veteran New Republic pilots!

On the brink of victory in a brutal war, five New Republic pilots transform from hunted to hunters in this epic Star Wars adventure. Set after Return of the Jedi, Alphabet Squadron follows a unique team, each flying a different class of starfighter as they struggle to end their war once and for all.

The Emperor is dead. His final weapon has been destroyed. The Imperial Army is in disarray. In the aftermath, Yrica Quell is just one of thousands of defectors from her former cause living in a deserters’ shantytown–until she is selected to join Alphabet Squadron.

Cobbled together from an eclectic assortment of pilots and starfighters, the five members of Alphabet are tasked by New Republic general Hera Syndulla herself. Like Yrica, each is a talented pilot struggling to find their place in a changing galaxy. Their mission: to track down and destroy the mysterious Shadow Wing, a lethal force of TIE fighters exacting bloody, reckless vengeance in the twilight of their reign.

The newly formed unit embodies the heart and soul of the Rebellion: ragtag, resourceful, scrappy, and emboldened by their most audacious victory in decades. But going from underdog rebels to celebrated heroes isn’t as easy as it seems, and their inner demons threaten them as much as their enemies among the stars. The wayward warriors of Alphabet Squadron will have to learn to fly together if they want to protect the new era of peace they’ve fought so hard to achieve.

Part of a Marvel and Del Rey crossover event, Alphabet Squadron is the counterpart to Marvel’s TIE Fighter miniseries, which follows the exploits of Shadow Wing as they scheme to thwart the New Republic.

I got this paperback as a giveaway at a New York Comic Con panel.

This Alphabet Squadron Trilogy is Disney’s version of the excellent X-Wing Series by Michael A. Stackpole and Aaron Allston.

Alphabet Squadron is a long book because there is a lot of set up. Everyone, with the exception of Hera Syndulla, is a new character. It took me awhile to get into it because I had a hard time keeping the characters straight at first. I could have used a dramatis personae.

Overall I really did enjoy this novel. The slow development of the characters and the progression of them learning to get along were well done, as was the PTSD. This was a darker story than I remember the X-Wing series being.

I really liked the inclusion of Hera Syndulla in the novel, but since this was published a year after the series finale of Rebels, where is her son Jacen? There was no mention of him at all and at this point in the timeline he would be a young boy. Maybe Freed was not allowed by Lucasfilm to mention Jacen Syndulla? Maybe Jacen will be mentioned in the sequel? If I ever get to see Alexander Freed at a convention or book signing I am going to ask this.

The descriptions of the final space battle were really well done. I did not have any trouble comprehending the action taking place. I often find it hard to concentrate on battle scenes, but not this time.

Apparently there are tie in Marvel comics to this series, but unless I can borrow those from the library I am just going to stick to reading the novels.

4 out of 5 Squadrons.

Favorite Quotes:

Page 235: “Because when innocents die in war, there should be a point to it.”…”Because if you can’t even begin to explain what good you’re doing by fighting, you’re fighting on the wrong side.”

Page 424: She wished she were a better creature. That her metamorphosis would soon be complete, and that she could emerge as something bright and wondrous, shedding the atrocities of her life.
For now, however, she was what she was.
She readied herself for slaughter.

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

The Mayan god of death sends a young woman on a harrowing, life-changing journey in this dark, one-of-a-kind fairy tale inspired by Mexican folklore.

The Jazz Age is in full swing, but Casiopea Tun is too busy cleaning the floors of her wealthy grandfather’s house to listen to any fast tunes. Nevertheless, she dreams of a life far from her dusty small town in southern Mexico. A life she can call her own.

Yet this new life seems as distant as the stars, until the day she finds a curious wooden box in her grandfather’s room. She opens it—and accidentally frees the spirit of the Mayan god of death, who requests her help in recovering his throne from his treacherous brother. Failure will mean Casiopea’s demise, but success could make her dreams come true.

In the company of the strangely alluring god and armed with her wits, Casiopea begins an adventure that will take her on a cross-country odyssey from the jungles of Yucatán to the bright lights of Mexico City—and deep into the darkness of the Mayan underworld.

I got this ARC from NYCC 2019 when I bought a mystery box from Penguin Random House.

I am very unfamiliar with the Mayan gods, folktales and myths and I feel like I learned a lot from this story (even though Moreno-Garcia said in the glossary that this is a work of fantasy and not anthropological text.)

I loved this story and that it’s a stand alone novel.

I loved the slow burn love story between Casiopea and Hun-Kamé. I loved the final message that love is the strongest magic and it transforms. The ending is perfect. Lessons were learned and characters transformed.

The dynamics between all the characters were well done. The reader roots for Casiopea and has hatred for her cousin Martin, who’s a bully. Yet, Martin is not one dimensional antagonist and you get to see where his jealousy comes from.

The 1920’s imagery (the fashions) was so pretty and it would be great to see this as a miniseries.

The pacing was a little slow about 3/4 of the way through and I did put it down for a few days but that’s a tiny criticism. Otherwise it’s a beautiful, magical, and modern fairytale.

4 out of 5 Jade Necklaces.

Romeo and Juliet: A Novel by David Hewson, narrated by Richard Armitage

33151884

Exclusively written for Audible, only available in audio

“I think Romeo and Juliet is the greatest, most tragic love story ever told. What David Hewson did with this script is so exciting to me. I really love the fact that he followed avenues that Shakespeare suggested but didn’t necessarily detail in depth. If you want to immerse yourself in a warm bath of Garganega and the heat of Verona and hear a brilliant story about a young woman who is challenging the restraints of her time, listen to this audiobook, which has romance, poetry, politics, and humor to spare.”(Narrator Richard Armitage)

It’s a story you think you know: the age-old tale of “star-cross’d lovers”; two families at war; a romance, so pure and absolute, fated for a tragic end. It’s a story so thoroughly embedded in our culture, and so frequently retold. Yet, nothing captures the spark, the possibility, and the surprise of Shakespeare’s work quite like this….

In Romeo and Juliet: A Novel, author David Hewson reworks and expands on the classic story so that it becomes something richer, something new and entirely its own. Much more than a simple love story, it is a brilliant examination of young versus old, hope against despair, and, for Juliet, the search for individual identity at a time when women were regarded as little more than chattel.

An original production commissioned by Audible, Romeo and Juliet: A Novel marks the second pairing of David Hewson and actor Richard Armitage, whose previous partnership resulted in Audible’s 2014 Audiobook of the Year, Hamlet, Prince of Denmark: A Novel. Hewson’s talent for writing for audio is undeniable, and he finds his perfect vocal foil in Armitage, an actor of immense range and absorbing intensity. Together, they bring you a familiar story told in a surprising way – with an ending you might not expect.

Bonus: Audiobook includes an afterword written and narrated by David Hewson.

I am not a big fan of Romeo and Juliet. I got this audiobook because Richard Armitage is the narrator. Since Valentine’s Day is in February I made this my V-month listen.

It took a while for me to get into the story because I am not a fan of this classic tale, but once I did get into it I really enjoyed it.

Something I learned in the Author’s Note at the end is that Shakespeare didn’t come up with the story originally . The tale of Romeo and Juliet already existed in the form of a few Italian romances that were an inspiration for Shakespeare. I liked this new take on the story. I really loved the time setting and the little hints thrown in about the Renaissance, like Da Vinci. I also really liked the modern, intelligent and independent version of Juliet in this new version.

I had forgotten how many famous lines came from R&J. It was much easier to understand in novel form. The prose is very pretty.

Richard’s narration is excellent. He has a great range of different voices for the characters, and his voice is just downright sexy. Oh my goodness gracious, the wedding night scene. With the honey and that verse…that was steamy. *Unfolds a fan.*

In the end I’m glad I pushed through and gave this a chance. It turned out to be a version of Romeo and Juliet that I enjoyed.

Overall: 3 out of 5 Poisons
Performance: 5 out of 5 Poisons
Story: 4 out of 5 Poisons

Some of my favorite quotes:

Chapter 9: A husband betrayed was a cuckold. A woman treated the same way was a wife.

Chapter 31: Rash acts may spur rash consequences.

Chapter 49: The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.

 

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

48248121._SX318_.jpg

The Color Purple is a classic. With over a million copies sold in the UK alone, it is hailed as one of the all-time ‘greats’ of literature, inspiring generations of readers.

Set in the deep American South between the wars, it is the tale of Celie, a young black girl born into poverty and segregation. Raped repeatedly by the man she calls ‘father’, she has two children taken away from her, is separated from her beloved sister Nettie and is trapped into an ugly marriage. But then she meets the glamorous Shug Avery, singer and magic-maker – a woman who has taken charge of her own destiny. Gradually, Celie discovers the power and joy of her own spirit, freeing her from her past and reuniting her with those she loves.

To expand my library beyond my usual go-to genres, two years ago I started dedicating October to horror novels. This year I am adding to that expansion during Black History month. I started with The Color Purple. Friends have been recommending the movie to me and I wanted to listen to the audiobook first.

The Color Purple is a true American classic novel. It has heart and beauty but also does not shy away from the ugly truth of abuse and violence. I loved the discussions about religion, philosophy, history, culture, race and classism. It really makes you think and consider those issues.

I loved the letters between Celie and Nettie. Those were some of my favorite parts. All the relationships between the characters were well developed, but the one between Celie and Nettie was so bitter sweet. My heart would ache for them.

One thing I was confused about though was

Continue reading

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

250197_600

Vincent is a bartender at the Hotel Caiette, a five-star hotel on the northernmost tip of Vancouver Island. On the night she meets Jonathan Alkaitis, a hooded figure scrawls a message on the lobby’s glass wall: “Why don’t you swallow broken glass.” Leon Prevant, a shipping executive for Neptune-Avradimis, reads the words and orders a drink to calm down. Alkaitis, the owner of the hotel and a wealthy investment manager, arrives too late to read the threat, never knowing it was intended for him. He leaves Vincent a hundred dollar tip along with his business card, and a year later they are living together as husband and wife.

High above Manhattan, a greater crime is committed: Alkaitis is running an international Ponzi scheme, moving imaginary sums of money through clients’ accounts. He holds the life savings of an artist named Olivia Collins, the fortunes of a Saudi prince and his extended family, and countless retirement funds, including Leon Prevant’s. The collapse of the financial empire is as swift as it is devastating, obliterating fortunes and lives, while Vincent walks away into the night. Until, years later, she steps aboard a Neptune-Avramidis vessel, the Neptune Cumberland, and disappears from the ship between ports of call.

In this captivating story of crisis and survival, Emily St. John Mandel takes readers through often hidden landscapes: campgrounds for the near-homeless, underground electronica clubs, the business of international shipping, service in luxury hotels, and life in a federal prison. Rife with unexpected beauty, The Glass Hotel is a captivating portrait of greed and guilt, love and delusion, ghosts and unintended consequences, and the infinite ways we search for meaning in our lives.

 

I got this ARC at a give away during NYCC ’19.

I’m really glad I listened to the audiobook of Station Eleven right before reading this ARC because there are some Easter eggs. (Though it’s not a requirement to read Station Eleven before.) It’s almost a parallel universe in a way. I loved that the story played with alternate realities. I imaging an AU of my life all the time. I also liked the elements of ghosts or being haunted by the past (depending on the reader’s views).

I really like Mandel’s style of writing. The Glass Hotel goes back and forth in time and between different POVs. It does it really well. The pacing and the way details unfold is seamless. It made it a real page turner.

I loved the multi-POVs from everyone: the criminals in the Ponzi scheme and the victims of the scheme, and seeing how they all are connected to each other. The characters are interesting and well develop without boggling the book with too much detail.

I also have many favorite quotes that I related to, but I feel that is opening a whole other discussion and I’m going to keep this review just a review.

So here is one quote that made me chuckle:
Page 94 – “You cannot be both an unwashed bohemian and Cary Grant.”

This is so me and all the imaginary discussions I have:
Page 285 – “It turned out that never having that conversation with Vincent meant that he was somehow condemned to always have that conversation with Vincent.”

Yes, I know I am supposed to check the ARC with he final print before quoting, but these are just too good not to share.

4.5  out of 5  Investments. 

The Weight of a Piano by Chris Cander

87490C78-69C2-48A9-B44B-6F79A4993828

In 1962, in the Soviet Union, eight-year-old Katya is bequeathed what will become the love of her life: a Blüthner piano, on which she discovers an enriching passion for music. Yet after she marries, her husband insists the family emigrate to America–and loses her piano in the process.

In 2012, in Bakersfield, California, twenty-six-year-old Clara Lundy is burdened by the last gift her father gave her before he and her mother died in a terrible house fire: a Blüthner upright she has never learned to play. Now a talented and independent auto mechanic, Clara’s career is put on hold when she breaks her hand trying to move the piano, and in sudden frustration she decides to sell it. Only in discovering the identity of the buyer–and the secret history of her piano–will Clara be set free to live the life of her choosing.

I got this title at Book Con 2019. Penguin Random House/Knopf had a “blind date with a book” giveaway. They had the books wrapped in different color paper depending on these genres: fiction, non-fiction, mystery, true crime, or historical fiction.

I chose historical fiction and got an old ARC for The Weight of a Piano by Chris Cander. It was published in January 2019. Even though it was given away as historical fiction I wouldn’t place it in that category. Life in the USSR was not the main focus. Most of the story takes place in California in the 1980s, 90s and present day.

That’s just my opinion. Otherwise, I really enjoyed it. The story was sad but ends with hope. I really like the way it began and ended, like bookends.

immaculatecheapaztecant-small

Continue reading