Book Review: Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link


Author: Kelly Link
Title: Stranger Things Happen
Publication Info: Small Beer Press (2001)
Summary/Review:

Kelly Link’s collection of short stories take place at various locations around the world, most with a young woman as protagonist.  The tales, for the most part, are grounded in reality but contain elements of fantasy, fairy tale, or horror as if each story is haunted by something outside of reality.  Some stories are better than others but I didn’t find any of them particularly satisfying, if that’s even something one can ask of fiction.  Still Link has a vivid imagination and as this was her first story collection it could be worth checking out her more recent fiction.

One thing I do need to do is make a note about where I find out of books I add to be reading list.  While I didn’t particularly enjoy this book, I am glad I read it, and I really wonder what inspired me to put on my TBR list in the first place.

Recommended books:

Rating: **1/2

Book Review: Thrawn Ascendancy: Greater Good by Timothy Zahn


Author: Timothy Zahn
Title: Thrawn Ascendancy: Greater Good
Narrator: Marc Thompson
Publication Info: Penguin Audio, 2021 
Summary/Review:

Picking up from Chaos Rising, Thrawn and his crew are cleaning up from the the last great threat to the Chiss Ascendancy.  But a new threat appears in the form of the Agbui who work as kind of conmen to infiltrate Chiss society and gin up conflict among the ruling families with hopes of provoking a civil war. Caregiver Thalias, sky-walker Che’ri, Admiral Ar’alani, and of course, Thrawn return for this middle novel of the trilogy.  But we also spend a lot of time with Captain Lakinda, an ambitious young officer from a minor family hoping to gain prestige for herself and her family.  Since Thrawn is inept at dealing with family infighting and politics, a lot depends on her loyalty to her family or the Chiss.  We also spend a lot of time with Haplif, the smarmy Agbui spy and his marks.

After reading so many Thrawn novels, I finally made the connection that Thrawn is a lot like Sherlock Holmes.  He sees things that others cannot see and then explains it to the point of view characters.  I like that this novel builds the world of the Chaos with seemingly a whole galaxy of planets and alien races seperate from the rest of the Star Wars universe (who it easy to forget are engaged in the Clone Wars at the same time as this novel).  However, it does get a bit confusing keeping all the characters and the families, planets, races, et al straight, but I’m not the most attentive audiobook listener. Nevertheless, this is a fun and engaging story.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: The Life of Captain Marvel by Margaret Stohl, Carlos Pacheco


Author: Margaret Stohl
Title: The Life of Captain Marvel
Illustrator: Carlos Pacheco
Publication Info: Marvel,  February 19, 2019
Summary/Review:

After reading Kraven’s Last Hunt, I decided to check out another book in the Marvel Selects series. The material in this collection isn’t actually all that old, only dating to 2018.  It tells Captain Marvel’s origin story framed within a story of Carol Danvers taking a break from the Avengers to visit her family at their summer home in Maine.  (Did you know that Carol is from the Boston area, they didn’t say that in the movie?)  With flashbacks to her childhood and confrontations with her mother and brother, Carol learns secrets about her parents and the origins of her powers.  As origin stories go, it’s pretty well done.

Rating: ***

Book Review: Love by Toni Morrison


Author: Toni Morrison
TitleLove
Narrator: Toni Morrison
Publication Info: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group Summary/Review:

I previously reviewed Love on LibraryThing in 2006.

This novel is about two women who were once close but now hate one another but nevertheless share a large house due to a conflict over inheritance of the property.  Heed and Christine both had a relationship with Bill Cosey, the owner of a successful beach resort for Black vacationers from the 1930s to the 1980s.  The nonlinear narrative skips back and forth between past and present to explore Cosey’s relationship with Heed and Christine and several other women, each of whom seem to be poisoned by his moral failings.

The novel explores several issues including family, resentment, reconciliation, and love. Over 60 years, the Civil Rights Movement has a negative effect on a resort that enjoyed its greatest success under Jim Crow.  This novel also has one of the most surprising twists that was still unsettling even though this is the second time I’ve read the book and knew it was coming. Morrison’s writing and plotting is excellent and I love that this novel ends with redemption.

Rating: ****

Book Review: The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek


Around the World for a Good Book selection for Austria

Author: Elfriede Jelinek
Title: The Piano Teacher
Translator: Joachim Neugroschel
Publication Info: Grove Atlantic, 2009 [originally published in 1983]
Summary/Review:

Erika Kohut is a woman in her mid-thirties who teaches piano at the prestigious Vienna Conservatory.  She lives with her controlling mother in a very taught and unhealthy relationship. Erika rebels in various including buying clothing she never wears, self-harm, and deliberately injuring strangers.  Over the course of the novel she also explores her repressed sexuality by going to pornographic movies, peep shows, and practicing voyeurism.

Walter Klemmer, a student over a decade younger than Erika, begins to show her attention. Their desire grows and when they finally acknowledge it, Erika requests a sadomasochistic relationship. Walter, who is an arrogant prick, really justs wants to have sex with an older woman and move on.  Things go horribly, horribly wrong.

I saw this book described as “erotic” but there’s absolutely nothing sexy about it.  In fact, it is quite repulsive.  Jelinek seems to revel in using the most unpleasant description possible for the human condition and the human body.  It just gets worse and worse and I really struggled to finish this book.  I’ve also seen the book described as “satire,” but it reads to me as nothing more than caustic misanthropy.

Rating: **

Book Review: Spider-Man: Kraven’s Last Hunt by J. M. DeMatteis, Mike Zeck


Author: J. M. DeMatteis
Title: Spider-Man: Kraven’s Last Hunt
Penciler: Mike Zeck
Editor: Jeff Youngquist
Publication Info: Marvel Universe, February 3, 2021
Summary/Review:

This graphic novel collects a classic Spider-Man storyline where the villain Kraven the Hunter decides to take the ultimate revenge.  Kraven buries Spider-Man alive while then becoming the Spider-Man to humiliate him with the public.  Meanwhile, Vermin rises from the New York sewers to attack the populace.

The better part of the story is told with narration boxes showing the internal monologues of Spider-Man, Kraven, and Vermin.  It is an interesting technique as what is on their minds often doesn’t match what’s happening in the illustration.  It does give a depth to their characterization, although I think it also gets overused.

Apparently this book ties together artwork from the 60s, 70s, and 80s, although it all looks like one cohesive storyline and art style, so I’m a bit confused about that.  Anyhow, if you’re like me and didn’t read comics much growing up, this collection is a good introduction to one of Marvel’s most famous stories.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Chaos Rising by Timothy Zahn


Author: Timothy Zahn
Title: Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy: Chaos Rising
Narrator: Marc Thompson
Publication Info: Random House Audio (2020)
Summary/Review:
Favorite Passages:
Recommended books:

Timothy Zahn introduced Grand Admiral Thrawn as the Imperial antagonist to the New Republic in his 1990s trilogy of Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command.  A more recent trilogy gives us a Thrawn origin story of sorts as he is found by the Empire, presumably in exile, and then rising up the ranks of the Imperial navy in Thrawn, Alliances, and Treason. Chaos Rising begins a new trilogy of books that go even further back in Thrawn’s life to his rise in the military of his own people, the Chiss Ascendancy.

The novel tells two intertwined stories.  The main narrative set in the “present day” deals with a new threat to the Chiss Ascendancy. Thrawn is tasked with rooting out the new enemy.  His tactical genius is impeccable but Thrawn is not skilled in dealing with the internal politics of the isolationist Ascendancy and the infighting among and within its Nine Ruling Families.

Thrawn’s ventures into the mysterious region of space called the Chaos bring him in touch with the old Republic during the Clone Wars.  In fact, a scene from Thrawn: Alliances is retold from a different perspective. Chiss ships navigate space with the help of force-sensitive girls who are known in the Chiss language as “sky-walkers” (a funny coincidence). This novel introduces former sky-walker, Thalias, now an adult, becomes the caregiver for the sky-walker on Thrawn’s ship.  Thrawn sees Thalias’ talent and their collaboration on the mission is a central part of the story.

Chapters entitled “memories” tell the story of the early days in the military of Thrawn and his mentor Ar’alani.  Both stories tie together in a captivating adventure and thriller, and Thrawn remains one of the most interesting characters in the Star Wars universe.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed by Eric H. Cline


Author: Eric H. Cline
Title: 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed
Publication Info: Princeton University Press, 2014
Summary/Review:

The Late Bronze Age civilizations of the eastern Mediterranean met with a catastrophic collapse in the 12th century B.C.E. Historians commonly attribute this to an invasion of people called the “Sea People” overwhelming Egypt’s military in 1177 B.C.E. In Cline’s evaluation of the evidence, the Sea People may have actually been refugees of war, natural disasters, and/or a climate crisis.  Evidence exists for a cluster of earthquakes, droughts, and internal rebellions at the time before the arrival of the Sea People.  The combination of the multiple catastrophes could have lead to the collapse.

The book is sprawling in both time in place as Cline sums up several centuries of history leading up to the collapse of several civilizations including the Greeks, Myceneans, Minoans, Hittites, Assyrians, Cypriots, Canaanites, and Egyptians. Along the way Cline explores the historic origins of the famed stories of Exodus and the Trojan War.  Cline is good at explaining what we can learn from written records and archaeological finds, and how both of these have to be interpreted.  He’s also good at noting that there typically isn’t enough evidence to know what happened precisely and how historians develop theories based on the facts we know.

Other interesting facts I learned from this book:

  • Hatshepsut, who ruled as Pharaoh upon the death of her husband, wore a Pharaonic false beard and men’s clothing and was addressed as “His Majesty.”
  • Kings of different nations who were not related used kinship terms like “father” and “son” when addressing one another, creating an artificial family relationship.
  • a new type of glue was invented for archaeologists recovering copper ingots from the Uluburun shipwreck to allow them to bring the artifacts up in one piece.

Recommended books:

Rating: ***

Book Review: The Last Command by Timothy Zahn


Author: Timothy Zahn
Title: The Last Command
Narrator: Marc Thompson
Publication Info: Random House Audio (2012) [Originally published April 1, 1993]
Summary/Review:

The finale of “The Thrawn Trilogy” is an exciting culmination of the shaky New Republic’s stand against the cunning plans of Grand Admiral Thrawn to reestablish the Empire.  It’s great to have Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, Lando, Artoo, and Threepio all working together.  Then there are wild cards like Mara Jade, a tentative ally who is sworn to kill Luke for her former master Palpatine, and the mad Jedi clone C’baoth who believes that he rules the Empire instead of Thrawn.  The book could be trimmed of some of the excessively talk parts, and I could do without all the subplots involving Talon Karrde and other smugglers, but it is a satisfying conclusion.

I still think this books could be the inspiration for movies set after the destruction of the Second Death Star.  They would have to be animated movies, because of the age and deaths of the cast members.  But I think you could make a good story with elements such as Thrawn, Mara Jade,  and the Noghri.  Things would have to be adjusted to fit into the Sequel Trilogy, such as Leia giving birth to one child instead of twins.  I’d also dispense with C’baoth and anything to do with cloning since clones were already central to the Prequels and Rise of Skywalker.  But there’s a good kernel here for a fun film trilogy or maybe a Disney+ series.

Rating: ***

Book Review: Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando 2021 by Seth Kubersky


Author: Seth Kubersky
Title: Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando 2021
Publication Info: Unofficial Guides (2021),
Summary/Review:

My family is planning our first visit to Universal Orlando later this year.  Since the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World proved useful in the past.  Visiting a theme park these days is like planning a military offensive.  These guides are helpful in cutting through the overwhelming options with strong opinions and tips for making the best of one’s time in the park.  On the downside, almost all of the content of the guidebook is also available for free on the Touring Plans so there isn’t much value add to the book other than having all the information at your fingertips when you’re out of wifi range or your battery is running low.

Rating: ***