Saturday, December 30, 2017

Sunday Post #226

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimba the Caffeinated Book Reviewer
Stacking the Shelves is hosted by Tynga's Reviews
It's Monday! What Are You Reading is hosted by Book Date 
Snow! And lots of it. It's totally a winter wonderland over here- everything is white and the trees are covered. It's actually beautiful if you don't have to go out in it. Cold too. We're supposed to get into the negative wind chills over the weekend. Just in time for New Year's!! I don't have any real plans for the new year other than maybe watching movies and relaxing? After a very hectic Christmas season that is sounding good to me right now.  Are you doing anything fun for the new year?  

I finished the Hunger Games last week (thanks Shannon!!!) and loved it. And I binged Travelers S2 this week. I'm loving that show, and S2 has been fantastic.   

Last week I re- reviewed The Girls in the Garden. This week I'll be taking a look at Star Man's Son, an older SF book, just in time for the start of Vintage SciFi Month. All through January I'll be reviewing a mix of new and older SF- seems like a fun way to start the year.       

The Girls in the GardenStar man's son




Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Girls In The Garden

The Girls in the Garden

The Girls in the Garden starts out with a party and a girl in a coma. Pip and Grace are brought to the Victoria Park development to live after their father goes into a hospital for his mental illness. Their mother is a bit distracted and they make friends with the other kids in the complex- there's a mix of upscale and more modest homes and they all back onto a communal garden area, complete with a rose garden and paths and even an enclosed "secret" garden. It sounds like a wonderful place for kids to hang out- but one night after a summer party in the park Grace is found unconscious- and there are signs of an assault.

The story is told from the point of view of Pip, her mother Clare, and Adele who lives across the park. Clare deals with being a single mom while Adele has a beautiful home, three daughters that she homeschools, and a husband who is popular with the kids- perhaps too popular with some of them. Grace is hospitalized after the incident and while Clare and Pip try to hold it together, and figure out what happened, it's Adele who starts digging into the secrets and lies that permeate the community, even as the police are doing the same thing. I loved switching from Pip's perspective to Adele's- both had fascinating personalities and such a different perspective on things, and both were equally compelling.

This story explores the question of how well do you really know someone- your kids, a husband or wife, family? Adele realizes over time that in some ways she doesn't know her kids at all- even though they live together, the kids have their own world in the park and it's a little scary to realize that in real life there's a lot of things we don't know about the people closest to us. To me that was the message of the book- how much do you really know? And does it matter? Here it clearly matters as we slowly learn more about what happened that summer night.

There are some chilling moments towards the end where we discover things that tie everything together, and I enjoyed trying to figure out what happened. Each revelation was a peek into a society centered around the park, where kids grow up too fast and parents don't realize it, where clues and links to past events provide a context to what happened. The only real complaint I have is the explanation at the end seemed a little bit contrived, perhaps a smidgen unrealistic considering how young the kids are, but overall this was a fantastic read that explores family and kids and what happens when it all goes wrong. One of my favorite reads of the year. 

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Star Wars: Why I Hate The Newer Movies

Image result for star wars the last jedi

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is here and there's been a little controversy over some of the story elements, as well as a disconnect between mostly positive critical reviews and a decidedly more mixed fan response. I wasn't a fan of the movie and was very disappointed with some of their story choices, and looking back to the previous film I had many of the same issues. So I thought I would repost this updated version of things I think they should have or could have done. 

This is by nature an opinion piece, as everyone has their own likes and dislikes. I'm just going to share what I would have liked to have seen. And as always, let me know what you think! 

The Force Awakens frankly baffled me because I thought it was very derivative of the first Star Wars movie. I was expecting them to break some new ground while still capturing that Star Wars feel- which admittedly may be harder than it sounds. So what would I have done differently? Well you have the original actors reprising their roles thirty years later, while introducing the new generation. A tough balancing act? I think Rey is a worthy addition and has lots of potential. I was looking forward to her training with Luke Skywalker, which we got precious little of in The Last Jedi, since he was written as a bitter man just wanting to die. Such a far cry from the victor in Return of the Jedi, which had a hopeful, positive message. And I think that's the biggest failing of the new films for me- the treatment of Luke Skywalker. 

The saga has always been about him- he alone redeemed Darth Vader and thus ensured the defeat of the Emperor. Would it be too much to ask to show him thirty years later in a more positive light? Sure there would have been setbacks along the way, disappointments in his personal journey, but like Mark Hamill himself said- Jedi don't give up. I just think they took the wrong approach with him. I would have liked to see a Jedi master at the height of his powers, saddened perhaps by certain failures, but not the emotional wreck we were given in the Last Jedi. And then they kill him off! I feel like we never get to see what Luke truly became, what thirty years of being the last Jedi in the galaxy meant to him, and for the new Republic. Such a wasted opportunity. 

The rest of this post is going to be my general thoughts on where they could have gone with the new trilogy. Where I think they should have gone. For me, the end of Return of the Jedi means that the rebel alliance had won- the Emperor was defeated. So thirty years later you have a fledgling New Republic, trying to extend its rule over a galaxy riven by war. There would still be Imperial remnants, former governors and warlords in command of perhaps substantial elements of the star fleet. I imagine the seat of government would be on Coruscant- after all that's where the levers of power are, including the Imperial palace and the Jedi temple. So Coruscant should have been where Leia and Han were.

Let me explain. After winning the war against the Empire, it makes sense that Leia would be on the most important planet in the galaxy. After everything they've fought for, Coruscant is the prize. As a war hero and the face of the Rebellion it just makes sense for Leia to be there, involved in the New Republic. I can see her frustrated with politics and having enemies (as portrayed in the new Star Wars novel Bloodlines) and one neat thing about that book is- what would happen if people knew she was the daughter of Darth Vader? Also I think Han would be with her. He was a general in the Alliance after all. Why would he leave after victory? To resume smuggling?? That's just silly. Instead we got a Resistance (not a rebellion!) and a First Order (not an Empire!) in pretty much the same status quo arrangement- the First Order ascendant and the Resistance on the run. Did the victory in Return of the Jedi mean nothing? And Han and Leia split up for unspecified reasons? Han is a smuggler at seventy- ish years old?

Why Coruscant? Well that leads to Luke. You can still have Luke looking for the first Jedi temple or training new Force sensitives. But consider this. The Emperor and (presumably) Darth Vader were based on Coruscant and had residences there. If you were Luke and wanted to explore the Jedi origins (and keep in mind he's a VERY new Jedi), wouldn't you explore the Jedi temple where Yoda and all of them hung out? And even more intriguing- what knowledge could be found in the Emperor's domicile? Or Vader's?  Imagine the dark forces Luke would encounter if he explored those chambers. Would he have to destroy a Sith shrine, and would he be tempted by it? Would there be clues there that the Jedi had a dark secret perhaps- introducing a situation where you make the Sith somewhat sympathetic? Then Luke has to deal with this secret and somehow reconcile that with the teachings of Yoda and Obi- Wan.

Luke redeemed Vader. He was willing to give his life to save his father, and Vader sacrificed himself to save Luke. Imagine the emotional moment you could have with Luke entering Vader's chambers for the first time. What would he discover there? Sure it's been thirty years, but you could use a flashback to show what happened the first time he entered. Maybe there's so much lore there (or in the Jedi temple) that he's still researching it after all this time, or still walling off something so dangerous he doesn't dare unleash it.

The other thing about the new trilogy is the lack of distinctive planets. Jakku looks just like Tatooine without Jawas and the planet that the Resistance is on in the Force Awakens was- well we don't see any of it. We see a landing strip and the inside of a building. The planet Crait looks just like Hoth except it's got salt instead of snow. We don't see very much of it either. Remember how Hoth and Dagobah were a big part of the movies they were in? That should be the model. 

What happened to C3PO and Artoo? They are in many ways the heart and soul of the original trilogy- they're comic relief but they're also absolutely essential to the plot. They should be the glue that connects the new cast with the old guard. "This R2 unit has been around for a while, but he's got it where it counts," Leia or even Han could tell Rey as they pass the droid to her. Sort of like passing the torch. BB-8 is cute but he replaced Artoo essentially and that connection was missed.

Han's a Corellian- maybe we get to see Corellia or another Inner Rim world. Maybe he has to schmooze his contacts in the underworld, and we can see the famous shipyards where starships are built. Show us new stuff! He could have given Rey the Falcon- again passing the torch- not have her find it sitting in a junkyard somewhere. What's Lando doing? He should have a role somewhere- and probably still has a foot in the scoundrel world. It sounds like I'm focusing on the old cast- and I am- but Rey is going to take center stage and you build that here with new stuff- not rehashed plots.

So that's what I would do. Something along those lines. Instead of introducing lame new characters (Snoke?) deal with the legacy of Vader and his master. Luke, Leia and Han are the big leagues now- they're gonna be on Coruscant. They're movers and shakers. Take us new places, like Corellia, places that matter because our heroes are in the big leagues now- they don't always have to be on some dump in the middle of nowhere. Let's SEE the galaxy. A Star Wars movie should feel like nothing we've ever seen- not a reimagining of earlier episodes.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Top Ten Books I am Looking Forward to In 2018


 Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Each week a new Top Ten list will be posted. Everyone is welcome to join. Link back to The Broke and the Bookish so everyone can check out other bloggers' lists. It's a fun way to get to know fellow bloggers.

This week is Top Ten Books I'm looking forward to in the new year- 2018. I already have a lot so this one shouldn't be too tough. 2017 was a great reading year for me and I expect 2018 will be much the same. So let's take a look at what's on my radar- at this time- for the new year.    

This Fallen Prey (Casey Duncan #3)

Artificial Condition (The Murderbot Diaries, #2)

Rogue Protocol (The Murderbot Diaries, #3)

Image result

Before Mars (Planetfall, #3) 

Tiny Infinities

The Extinction Trials (The Extinction Trials, #1)

Record of a Spaceborn Few (Wayfarers, #3)

People Like Us

Into the Fire: Vatta's Peace: Book 2 by [Moon, Elizabeth]

Tuesday Tagline #71

Illusions of Fate

The only fate that matters is the one you choose   

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Sunday Post #225

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimba the Caffeinated Book Reviewer
Stacking the Shelves is hosted by Tynga's Reviews
It's Monday! What Are You Reading is hosted by Book Date 
Well it's almost Christmas! Is everyone ready? I am - mostly. It came up fast this year. I'll be out of town for a few days visiting family so I might not be around to return comments, but I'll be back the day after Christmas. I hope everyone has a great holiday and has a wonderful time with family, friends or just hanging out at home. 

I'm still reading the Hunger Games and loving them (just finished book 2). Nice to rejuvenate my reading a bit as the other stuff on my TBR wasn't working for me. Other than that I saw the new Star Wars movie and sadly I was disappointed. I'm going to post something next week detailing my problems with the new trilogy, so it will be a discussion post of sorts. Feel free to chime in!  

Last week I re- reviewed Eight Hundred Grapes, and this week will be The Girls in the Garden.       

Catching Fire (The Hunger Games, #2)Eight Hundred GrapesThe Girls in the Garden

Song of the week 



What Alice KnewMockingjay (The Hunger Games, #3)

Travelers S2 is coming to Netflix on Dec. 26. Merry Christmas! Since I don't see the new trailer on Youtube I included the first season one. 

In light of the fact that I couldn't stand The Last Jedi here are some of my fave moments from the original three 

And Mark here about says it all. 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Eight Hundred Grapes

Eight Hundred Grapes

Eight Hundred grapes is a story about the choices we make in life. Georgia Ford is an attorney who is about to get married- but when she learns her fiance has a secret she heads home to Sonoma County and her parents' house. Her dad is a winemaker with a small vineyard, and she has come home to get her thoughts together. But she soon finds that not everything is rosy at home, and that some of her family have secrets of their own.

I liked this book a lot. Georgia and her brothers, Finn and Bobby, grew up around the vineyard- their dad practices biodynamic winemaking. Sonoma County and the nearby Napa Valley are presented in a convincing way- the vineyards, with early morning fog and then the sun burning it off, the wine culture of the area- are a highlight of the book. Finn and Bobby have their own issues, and the reader- and Georgia- soon learn everyone is a mess! Georgia has to decide if she wants to go ahead with her wedding, and their subsequent planned move to London. As she learns more about her fiance Ben, and the secrets he's been keeping, she realizes that there may be no right or wrong choices- there are just different paths, and of course it's not always clear which one is best.

The family dynamics are fun, and I can see this as a fun movie (and it has been optioned, so maybe we'll get a chance to see it). Georgia has a hard time deciding what she wants, but when she finds her father's way of life threatened  that adds another complication to her thoughts. And of course Ben shows up, making things even more fun. The story plays out over a few days at the family home, and I really enjoyed getting to know the family members and their spouses. Choices are made and there are laughs along with the tears- and I did enjoy the humor, as well as a few twists that happened that kept the pace flowing. This was a good story about second chances, choices and the consequences of decisions- and about family too. Oh, and wine! A great go along with a fire and a glass of wine, if you're so inclined.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Image result for the last jedi

Star Wars The Last Jedi is an ambitious film that seems to want to subvert some of the Star Wars tropes we've grown used to, and entirely upend others. The idea of a "chosen one," the Jedi as a force for good, the mentor training the new apprentice- these and more are all looked at. Does it work? Well, it certainly breaks new ground to an extent, but for me the callbacks and nostalgia are  a bit too much. There's not enough new here to really take this forward, and the movie is way too long (I think a good half hour could have been shaved off). The biggest problem I have, though, is the way the Luke Skywalker arc is handled- I'll get into that below. If I had to sum up my reaction in one word, though, it would be- disappointing. 

Spoilers for the movie. 

Lucasfilm had an opportunity here to take this franchise forward, with new characters taking over from the Big Three- Luke, Leia, and Han. At the same time they could show fans what the Big Three are like thirty years after Return of the Jedi. So many possibilities! And while the introduction of more diversity into the cast is a welcome addition, in my view they badly bobbled the existing characters. Luke wasn't even in The Force Awakens until the last minute, Leia had nothing to do and Han was a grouchy old smuggler rather than Leia's ally and a hero of the Republic. Now Luke and Leia are left, and we finally get to see what a Jedi master looks like thirty years later. Well, it turns out he's... rather grouchy and bitter. 

Jaded by his failure with Ben Solo, Luke has retreated to an island on Ahch-To to basically retire. Yes, another galactic war is raging, his sister is in the middle of it, and Luke is just hanging out. The problem I have with this is that the Luke at the end of Return of the Jedi was triumphant, having defeated both Darth Vader and the Emperor, and it stands to reason that there would be setbacks as he tries to resurrect the Jedi. Sure Ben Solo is a pretty big setback, but for him to retreat and turn on the Force doesn't ring true. I don't buy it as a character arc, and judging from Mark Hamill's comments in various interviews, he had trouble with it too. So whatever my other problems with this film, the primary issue for me is the way Luke is handled. Everything bad flows from that. 

I'm just going to share my likes and dislikes below, and I'd love to know what you think. 

The portrayal of Luke. Wait, didn't I just say I disliked that? Well, yeah, but I'm talking about Mark Hamill's performace here. I thought he did well, and he had a nice redemption moment at the end. That scene where he withstood sustained Imperial (er, First Order) fire and then shrugged it off- there were cheers in the audience. 

Vice Admiral Holdo (played by Laura Dern). I wasn't crazy about her at first, but she won me over by the end. 

Ahch-To. The water planet where Luke too refuge, and the site of the first Jedi temple. I loved the location and the remote nature of it, and the sense that it had a Dark Side place, just like Dagobah did.  

Chewbacca and the Porg's flying through the caverns under Crait, when they drew the TIE fighters away. Fun scene and one of the few that made me feel like I was in a classic SW movie. 

Rey and Kylo fighting together. This was the signature lightsaber battle of the movie, as they took on the red- garbed Imperial guards, and I loved seeing them work together. Pretty good battle too. 


The portrayal of Luke. Yes I'm having it both ways with this one. This is the heart of my problem with the new trilogy as a whole. I want to see Luke at the height of his powers, interacting with Han and Leia, as part of the Republic, not as a jaded hermit on some island somewhere. As much as I loved Ahch-To, Luke should be out in the galaxy- doing things. 

Artoo Detoo was again criminally under-used. He hardly has any scenes, and BB-8 has totally taken over his role. 

BB-8 irritates me at this point. 

Poe Dameron has potential but he's too one- note. Same with General Hux. Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleeson are talented actors- I mean, watch Ex Machina and you can see them act. They just don't have good material to work with. 

Leia floating through space, protected by the Force. I thought that scene was so bad. 

Finn and Rose. Their storyline seemed entirely unnecessary (not to mention boring as all get out) and was part of the reason for the bloated run time. 

Snoke. Is that a stupid name, by the way, or what? He was so over the top and he's certainly no Emperor. And he got killed, we never found out who or what he was, so he was pretty much useless? 

Luke dying. First Han, now Luke. You know we never got to see those two interact, so Return of the Jedi was it. Wouldn't it have been nice to see them share a laugh, or the old banter?  

The battle of Crait was too much like Hoth. 

The movie's too damn long- did I mention that??

Yoda looked terrible. Why can't they ever capture him as well as they did in The Empire Strikes Back?

Kylo Ren- boy Snoke wasn't kidding when he told Kylo he was no Vader, just a kid with a helmet. Kylo is as whiny, petulant and lame as he was in The Force Awakens. Thank goodness he ditched the lame helmet, at least. 

 So there you have my largely negative feelings towards The First Jedi. I would love to enjoy these movies but they're just going in an entirely different direction and seem so derivative. Where are the new ideas? Why couldn't we have the Big Three be together, at least somewhat, and do meaningful things? And although we got to see Luke Skywalker show a few fancy moves, he didn't get a chance to really kick ass as a Jedi master, and then to kill him off? To me that's a failure.