Go Set A Watchman-Should You Read It?

Related imageGenre: Fiction

Rating: 3.5/5

This book is a rough stand-alone, to say the least, and there is a reason for that.

Harper Lee revised and revised with her editor to make To Kill A Mockingbird a contemporary masterpiece set in 1935 American South. There were interesting messages, plot twists, and connections implemented in that novel.

Go Set a Watchman was never meant to be published. It is Lee’s original draft of To Kill A Mockingbird, literally found stuffed in a drawer a few years before her death. Because Lee never intended for this draft to be published, she wanted to be left alone, not wanting all the hype of being a writer. She wrote what she intended to get the ideas across about various topics, such as racism, education, socioeconomic status, gender, justice, and courage. And then she was done writing. Because of the success of her first novel, publishers sought to buy out her first draft just to get something else out there. Wanting to get these people off her back, Lee signed off the draft to be published with no edits to the plot, an elderly woman taken advantage of for her marketing value.

Some people like to look at it as a sequel, but that is not what this book is. This is Scout and Atticus and other characters before they were redefined in the perspective of an eight-year-old girl. In this book, Atticus is not the God-like figure we see in Mockingbird, and might even be just a little bit racist. Scout is 26 and visiting from where she now lives in New York. We see some reminiscences of her past as a child and in high school, reflecting on how Maycomb is not what she once remembered, and the people are just as relentless in race as ever.

So here’s the big gist of what I have to suggest about this book. If you have not read To Kill A Mockingbird, then do not read this book. The value and merit of this novel really only come from making comparisons between this first draft and how things have changed over the course of the writing process to create To Kill A Mockingbird. That is where the value lies in reading this book, but otherwise it feels tedious and a bit all over the place.

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Star Wars: Phasma-Should You Read It?

Image result for phasma bookGenre: Science-fiction

Rating: 4/5

“Because it makes it clear that you can’t win against Phasma. Not you. Not anyone. No one will go as far as she will to survive” (338).

That quote, in essence, sums up Phasma’s character just right. Everything about Phasma, including all instances in this novel as well as her Marvel graphic novel, suggests that Phasma is a survivor. With this information, do not let the events in The Last Jedi fool you!

This story takes place both 34 ABY (present time of the novel) and roughly 24 ABY (the past events in the novel). In this novel we are introduces to Resistance spy, Vi, who gets captured by the red stormtrooper, Cardinal, aboard the Star Destroyer, Absolution. Cardinal, a man of high command and power who trains children in preparation to be transferred to Phasma’s training unit on the Finalizer, has brought Vi aboard without anyone else knowing. If someone found out what he was up to with his prisoner, there would be no mercy.

Cardinal knows that Vi has vital information about Phasma, information relating to Armitage Hux’s father, Brendol. When Vi can obviously tell that Cardinal has never actually interrogated anyone before, she gives him the amusement of Phasma’s story, learned from visiting Phasma’s home planet, Parnassos, where someone who was one close to Phasma still resides.

Vi tells what she learned about Phasma, a ruthless warrior of the Scyre, people who live off of what little there is in the jagged, rocky area, fighting with a rival clan, the Claws. One day, rule is handed over to Phasma and her brother, Keldo, but the two do not see eye-to-eye on everything. When Brendol Hux’s spaceship crash-lands on Parnassos, and his escape pod lands near the Claws, Phasma aims to help him find his ship, her ultimate goal to leave the forsaken planet behind.

FUN SPOILER STUFF

In their adventuring along the way to the crash site, Phasma’s people, Brendol, and his two stormtroopers, encounter beetles that seek any kind of moisture and if they get a hold of something living, the person basically turns into water. Interestingly enough, the death of Brendol Hux is later discovered to have been brought about by one of these freakish beetles…

The party also comes across more than one mining facility on the planet, later finding out that one of the facilities had a nuclear accident with inevitably destroyed the habitats of the planet in its entirety.

Phasma and Brendol also come across some hostile people, beings just aiming to get by in their known world, and when Phasma shows her true strength and ability to follow orders, Brendol finds that she may be a great addition to the First Order. This book is relatively hard to summarize given the events are somewhat in order and somewhat out of order as well as going back and forth from past to present. Even so, some of the facts that come to light about the characters and the First Order are very interesting.

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Back on the Absolution, Cardinal seeks proof that Phasma killed his leader, Brendol, and when he approaches Armitage Hux with the information he has found out, it is clear that Armitage and Phasma were in on Brendol’s death together, and nobody else in the First Order knows about it.

In the last chapter, we learn how Phasma got her chromium armor as well as when she got the beetle to ultimately kill Brendol. A year after joining the First Order, she is promoted to Captain. She heads back to her home planet of Parnassos, un-buries Brendol’s ship, what is believe to be the Emperor’s old Naboo Yacht, takes some of the chromium plating from the ship, heads to one of the mining facilities, and develops her own set of armor using the metal from Brendol’s downed ship…once belonging to the Emperor. WHOA! And she grabs a beetle to bring back with her. Little does she know that her once-friend, Siv, is still alive, living in one of the mining facilities, and has shared Phasma’s story with Vi. No matter what, Phasma will not allow anyone to live who know of her past or what she looks like underneath her armor.

 

Fireblood (Frostblood Saga #2)-Should You Read It?

Image result for firebloodGenre: Young Adult Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5

Fireblood is the second installment in the Frostblood Saga (trilogy). If the first book was great, this book is excellent! It took a chapter or two to get back into the characters and events after having read Frostblood nearly eight months previously, but once I got back into it, the events just continue to escalate, and the pacing of this book is fast, exciting, and gets the readers pumped for the final book in the saga, Nightblood.

SPOILERY REVIEW

Now that King Rasmus has been defeated and the Minax of the Frost Throne has been released on the people of Tempesia, Arcus aims to restore peace and order to his kingdom while courting Ruby at the same time. Many of the Tempesian citizens do not care for peace with Firebloods, and even more cannot stand the fact that Arcus is drawn to a Fireblood. His relationship with Ruby puts his life in danger, and when Ruby sees this, she joins a fellow Frieblood and travels to Sudesia to meet the Fireblood queen with the underlying motive of destroying the Fire Throne and capturing the Minax, for only a Minax can kill another Minax.

Joining Kai, Ruby meets the Fireblood queen, Nalani. At first, Queen Nalani has no place for one so loyal to Arcus, the Frost King, but when Ruby opts to take the trials to become a Fireblood master, that also means she must vow her loyalty to the Fireblood Queen. Kai has one week to train Ruby for the trials, and if she passes, he has a chance to take his third trial over again, something that is never permitted. He must pass the third trial to reclaim his place as a ruling prince over one of the islands.

The first trial involves escaping through a bunch of heavy wooden doors, each nearly twice as thick as the last, before the pooling lava, like a snake, slithers up to catch Ruby. When the lava stops, tada! Foreshadowing! The second trial inhibits control from a Fireblood. Ruby sits over a river of lava, nothing separating her from boiling heat except a block of ice. When she meets the time period, Kai helps her out, instigating a non-pass by the Fireblood Masters. With the influence of the queen’s husband, Prince Eiko, Ruby is deemed to pass and has but one last trial. While Kai is not permitted to tell about any of the trials, he shares his inability to pass the third trial, an execution order given by the queen. When Ruby fears that she must kill someone, the request of the trial is rather shocking.

Queen Nalani, finding that Ruby can manipulate lava, claims that Ruby is her long-lost niece, an heir to the Fire Throne. With an engagement to Kai and an announcement as the new heir, Arcus, having come to save Ruby, sees something more between Kai and Ruby, and is captured in his rage. Ruby aims to find a way to break her engagement, save Arcus, and defeat the Minax of the Fire Throne, but when the two Minax come together and release a God upon their world, there may be no way to stop the creatures of darkness from being released upon the citizens of both kingdoms.

This was even better that the first book, and the first book was amazing. The trials were intriguing and Ruby’s quest to find the book on how to defeat the Minax was likewise an interesting aspect to the plot. The introduction of a new potential love interest also built some good conflict both internal and external among the characters. The only thing about this book that was somewhat annoying, despite how good the plot twists were, was that all the major events were pretty predictable. There is almost too much foreshadowing to hint at Ruby’s royalty, at the engagement, and how things would pan out in the end. Despite this, still a fast and epic read, and if you have not picked this series up yet, I would highly suggest it for a young adult audience.

Illuminae (The Illuminae Files #1)-Should You Read It?

Related imageGenre: Young Adult Science Fiction/Action

Rating: 5/5

This book is an astounding work of art  from cover to cover. The craft of novel writing is redefined in this contemporary epistolary format, the entirety of the story being told through files, whether it be audio recordings, instant messages, e-mails, reports, or internal data. This gives multiple views of the events of the story, and the occasional imagery made out of words adds a visual effect that is breath-taking for the reader.

Scott Westerfeld (author of Uglies) claims that this book is “An exuberant mix of space opera, romance, zombies, hackers, and political thrills,” and how can one not want to read a book with that kind of combination?

Through the various collected files, this story starts off with refugees making their way onto some ships after their space colony, Kerenza VII, is attacked by BeiTech, a growing industry that has developed some kind of biochemical weapon originally meant to make one ill, but the mutation becomes lethal.

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The fleet consists of three ships, The Alexander, The Hypatia, and The Copernicus. Interestingly enough, the beginning of the book shows image files on each ship, giving its class, crew capacity, and other important information. This small fleet of ships, the Alexander Fleet, aims to escape a ship called The Lincoln, the BeiTech ship that attacked the colony. Low on staff, all ships aim to bring civilians into the enlisting ranks.

Aboard The Alexander is Ezra Mason, and aboard The Hypatia is Kady Grant, a couple who broke up soon before their colony was attacked. Finding the situation hard to bear, Ezra reaches out to Kady through e-mail, aiming to repair the damage to their relationship. In the meantime, Ezra is conscripted as a pilot to help defend against the ever-looming Lincoln. Kady, on the other hand, is learning how to be an ace hacker.

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When The Alexander‘s AI defense system, AIDEN, overrides the captain’s orders and destroys The Copernicus, it also aims to eliminate the escape pods that have launched from the craft, claiming that human life is the most important thing. Covering the destruction as an attack from The Lincoln, The Alexander crew keeps the refugees in quarantine, for there were reports from The Copernicus of a strange illness.

Kady, developing in her hacker skills, is able to pull files and find out what really happened to The Copernicus, where her mother was stationed. The illness, called Phobos, brings fear and rage to the people. Similar to the rage virus in 28 Days Later, this illness differs in that those with Phobos can still think and plan, but their thinking is consumed by terrible rage instigated by fear.

Aiming to be together again, Kady wants to save Ezra from The Alexander, the crew soon exposed to Phobos. When she makes it to the ship, the AI, AIDEN, seeks Kady’s help to do what she can to destroy The Lincoln that is in close pursuit, allow The Hypatia and the survivors time to escape, and eerily enough, begins to have human-like thought processing, in which an “error” occurs with that sort of thinking. The last portion of the book is told from logs received from AIDEN’s data core, and the relationship between Kady and AIDEN becomes a pact for survival.

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This was just an astounding and epic work of fiction. The combination of genre’s all placed into one make this a great book for all kinds of readers, and I would suggest it as a YES, you should read it, no matter your age or gender. It is an interesting concept that brings the human way of thinking into the possibilities of outer space and the norms of space colonizing and travelling by spacecraft in a way that shows us a glimpse of a future that may one day come to be, for that is how realistic this storytelling and master craftsmanship is.

Star Wars Highlight: Comics (Part 18)

There are many, many comics in the world of Star Wars. The ones I have here vary in era, art, publication date, publisher, and style, but they are all interesting releases both to the old Expanded Universe as well as the new canon. They are listed in order based on the Battle of Yavin. Just remember, this is a highlight on a small fraction of a larger whole.

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Darth Vader Dark Lord of the Sith: Imperial Machine (19 BBY)

Publisher: Marvel (6 Issues + “No Good Deed” Extra)

Writer: Charles Soule, Chris Eliopoulos (“No Good Deed”)

Artist(s): Giuseppe Camuncoli, Cam Smith, et. al.

This graphic novel takes place right where Revenge of the Sith leaves off, with Palpatine telling Vader that he is responsible for killing Padme in his rage. Vader then attack Palpatine in another fit of rage, but the master subdues the apprentice and tells him to a Sith Lord acquires his own lightsaber (by taking the lightsaber of a Jedi and adding the blood from their dead body to the mix to give it that lovely crimson glow). With the Jedi Purge, there are only so many Jedi left for Vader to choose from, making his quest a bit more of a challenge. Vader seeks information from an old Jedi base being guarded by clone troopers and learns of a Jedi who took the oath, but did not partake in anything else involving the Jedi, honing himself as a fighting machine. When Vader finds this Jedi, the two fight to the death, and Vader even brings down the innocent lives of those unfortunate enough to be near their fight. Upon his return, he is challenged by a Sith Inquisitor, yet another one of Palpatine’s ploys. Now Vader has seen the Inquisitorius, those who have reason to hunt and kill any remaining Jedi. The short at the end, “No Good Deed,” features Vader aiming to rest, and the fate of any who disrupt him in his quest to meditate.

Once again, the new Marvel line of comics astounds me with its masterful team of writers and artists. Soule brings us yet another masterful story about master and apprentice and how Vader, still relatively young and new to the power of the Dark Side, obtains his lightsaber and continues to grow in power. The introduction of the Sith Inquisitor (from Rebels) was a nice touch and I am hoping for more story about him as well in coming issues. Despite my sadness at the Darth Vader line of comics being discontinued (or ended?), this is a good one to take the place of the need to see more of Vader and his story.

 

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (0 BBY)

Publisher: Marvel (6 Issues + Special)

Writer: Jody Houser, Duane Swierczynski (Cassian & K-2SO Special)

Artist(s): Emilio Laiso, Paolo Villanelli, Rachelle Rosenberg, et. al.

This adaptation from the movie features Jyn Erso and her quest to save her father, the man who has designed the Death Star. When her mission turns into getting the plans for the Rebellion, Jyn and Cassian team up to take the first step in bringing the Empire down.  The neat thing about this adaptation is that it comes with “Cassian & K-2SO” Special #1, the story of how Cassian meets his soon to be droid friend while on a mission with two other Rebels. Aiming to reprogram an Imperial droid proves to be a challenge, but well worth it when a new friend is gained from the hardship of the mission.

Being an adaptation, there are a few things that need to be moved around ever so slightly to maintain the flow of the graphic novel. While the art is once again beautiful, thanks to the awesome teams Marvel has for its new line of Star Wars comics, it does not have quite the same feeling as a visual space battle with the sound effects that come with shooting and blowing things up. The Vader scene at the end was still beautiful, but not as heart-pounding as its visual counterpart. Overall, a great adaptation to review the story swiftly if one does not want to take the time to watch the whole movie again (but who wouldn’t?).

 

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Star Wars: The Screaming Citadel (0 ABY)

Publisher: Marvel (5 Issues)

Writer(s): Kieron Gillen and Jason Aaron

Artist(s): Salvador Larroca, Marco Checchetto, Andrea Broccardo, et. al.

This 5-issue compilation consists of “The Screaming Citadel Part I,” “Star Wars 31: The Screaming Citadel Part II,” “Doctor Aphra 7: The Screaming Citadel Part III,” “Star Wars 32: The Screaming Citadel Part IV,” and “Doctor Aphra 8: The Screaming Citadel Part V,” in that order. It is encouraged to not only have read the previous five volumes in the main Star Wars Arc, but to also have read the first volume of Doctor Aphra to get a good handle on the characters and events leading up to Luke and Aphra temporarily joining forces. Aphra, an archaeologist, has found an old Jedi artifact that contains the knowledge of a Jedi. Recognizing that Luke needs training, she offers to take him to The Citadel of Ktath’atn, where the Queen collects rare and unique lifeforms as slaves (and feeds off of Jedi essence, if a Jedi ever happens across her path). Aphra aims to exchange Luke for knowledge of opening the Jedi artifact. She double crosses Luke and the queen over and over again. When the brain controlling hive creatures that the  queen uses get both Luke and Han (who came with Sana and Leia to save Luke from Aphra’s plans), they must learn to trust Aphra to save everyone under the control of the hive creature. When Aphra shares the Jedi artifact and its contents with Luke, the Jedi finds that whatever resides within is no longer a Jedi, and its way is not the way Luke was meant to be taught. After defeating the queen, some citizens of the citadel come across her body, and what was once thought dead aims to seek revenge.

I absolutely loved this graphic novel. The whole art was intricately woven with the story-lines of Luke and Aphra, and the art is extremely aesthetically pleasing, especially that of the Queen and whatever her race it. This queen of the citadel was portrayed in a way that actually has me, as a reader, fear her. It was also interesting to bring Luke and Aphra together, developing an interesting relationship, and showing some potential major changes to Aphra as a person when she realizes a bit too late just how amazing Luke is. This volume has me itching for the next for both Star Wars and Doctor Aphra!

 

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Star Wars: Captain Phasma (34 ABY)

Publisher: Marvel (4 Issues)

Writer: Kelly Thompson

Artist(s): Marco Checchetto, Andres Mossa, et. al.

This story features what happens to Captain Phasma after she is placed in the trash compactor of the Starkiller Base by Hand and Finn. Phasma is a survivor, and she will do anything to put the blame on someone else to have lowered the shields of the base that let the rebels in. When one man deserts the base in its impending doom, Phasma has a TIE pilot bring her to tail the man, aiming to find him, accuse him of lowering the shields, and to kill him, leaving no witnesses, because Phasma is a survivor. When her tailing leads her to a desolate planet, she is reminded very much of her own home planet (something that is extremely evident after reading the Phasma novel). She has minor sympathies for the poeple of the planet, but only in reminiscence, because in the end, Phasma does whatever she needs to do to survive. When she confronts the escaped man, she tells him the same story she will be repeating to General Hux about the shields being released, but when the pilot with her overhears, Phasma must also shoot the young female TIE trooper. Nothing will ever get in the way of Phasma’s survival.

I really liked this graphic novel because I feel like Phasma is too down-played and needs more to develop her character. As a character who will do anything to survive, she is ruthless and rather frightening. Once again, Marvel’s creative team brings a beautiful work to life. I only wish this were one or two issues longer, maybe adding more to Phasma’s past as revealed in her novel, or maybe adding more to her relationship with the TIE pilot. Either way, it was still enough to get the vibe that it will take a lot to bring Phasma, the Scyre warrior, to her grave.

The Equals (The Ones #2)-Should You Read It?

Genre: Young Adult Near-future Fiction

Rating: 4/5

This is the second and final book in The Ones duology, preceded by the e-short, The Between

Now that the Ones have been moved to concentration camps around the country, Cody and Kai seek a way to bring true equality back, for Ones to not be discriminated against for the genetic engineering done to them before they were even born. While Cody aims to save James from the camp he is in, Kai introduces her to Edith, the leader of a group of Ones in hiding and the oldest One alive, the first One.

SPOILER SECTION

While Edith aims to sacrifice one or two lives for the greater good of many, Cody aims to convince Edith to send a team to save James. While saving James is her one desire, Edith and Kai aim to save all the Ones they can to make a statement to one of the Equality Movement leaders, Agent Norton. 

After saving a number of Ones from one camp, Cody finds out that James is dead. Unbelieving, she finds solace in Kai, too little too late. When Cody and Jame’s brother, Michael, make a plan to capture Agent Norton, they are successful, but Cody once again takes plans into her own hands. When it is revealed that James is alive, Cody makes a Pact with Agent Norton to free James and repeal the Equality Act that hinders the Ones.

When Cody finds out that Kai is actually Edith’s son, a number of events from his past begin to make sense to her, and a secret makes itself known. Edith has been doing genetic engineering in the mountains for a great amount of time, her goal to have the Once become the main population and to overthrow everyone else. Kai’s genetically engineered daughter, created from his DNA and not traditional means, is the first of a new generation of Ones, and perhaps the only.

When Cody and James realize what Edith is doing is just the same as the Equality Movement, she knows that the woman must be stopped, no matter the cost (although as few casualties as possible would be preferred). At the loss of someone important, Cody finally realizes that, no matter what, she is equal to James, equal to all as a human being.

I really enjoyed this series. Both the first and second book are very quick reads. While it feels like a lot is going on, the events go by so fast that there is barely time to process what just happened (albeit, that is not necessarily a bad thing!). When I asked at a signing, the author said there are no plans for another book in the series, but I can see potential if he ever changes his mind, and I would love to see what happens to the remaining characters and their society after they have diminished the Equality Movement and Edith’s plans. This was an excellent and fast-paced read that I would recommend to any young adult reader or person interested in how genetic engineering might change society. It is a book relevant to today’s sciences and shows potential scenarios that could come from the genetic engineering technology in our world today. An eye-opening must read!

To Kill A Mockingbird-Should You Read It?

Related image Genre: Historical Fiction

Rating: 4/5

Whether you read this book for high school, college, or have not had the chance to read it yet, this book is a major contribution to what we currently regard as the great American literary canon.

This book is taught to a number of grade levels from 8th-12th in a variety of ways. With my 8th grade class, we did a number of discussions, activities, and writing exercises for this book to demonstrate how Harper Lee shows how society views certain topics or aspects during that time period, as well as how she promotes social change through her novel. Being an educator, I want to show some of the higher thinking that my 8th graders have demonstrated for some of the various topics on this novel, and those will be listed as student samples in the comments. Students are expected to write a topic sentence about how Harper Lee promotes social change with the given topic an example from the novel and to write evidence and analysis to support that topic, a very formulaic way of writing which will help prepare students for ways of writing and thinking in high school and college.

So what is this novel about? If you write it before or haven’t read it yet brief summary might bring you back or leave you in to a book that has so many different things going on that it is a masterpiece. In this novel, the reader is dropped into the perspective of Scout Finch, a young girl who ages somewhat throughout the novel, beginning for she begins first grade and ending while she is still only eight or nine years old. Scout only knows her brother, Jem, her nanny (or cook), Calpurnia, and her father, Atticus in the ways that she learns about the world. Being taught at home to read and write by both Atticus and Calpurnia, the views on public versus private education are explicitly shown through the way Harper Lee constructs her novel.

Socioeconomic status is another major topic in the novel when it comes to families like the Finch’s, the Ewell’s, or the Cunningham’s, all white families of various stature. While the Ewell’s and the Cunningham’s are both poor, it is very evident that the mannerisms of the Cunningham’s make them regarded higher as people than that of the Ewell’s.

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In 1935, Maycomb, Alabama, is the generic southern city that one would think of when thinking of the South after the Civil War. Racism and gender roles play a big role Scout’s hometown. When her father, a lawyer, takes up defending a Black man, Tom Robinson, scout begins to understand a bit more about racism and how her father is an advocate of social change, breaking the stereotypes. This case, Tom Robinson versus Bob Ewell, is as simple as Black versus White, and the implications go only skin deep. Harper Lee shows how society views a number of topics and how many of these ideas intertwine, such as race and justice in the Maycomb society.

On a more fun and entertaining note of the novel, one of the more mysterious and interesting characters, Boo Radley, drives a number of strewn about the novel, including some of the very last and most epic chapters. This is a character still shrouded in mystery, who has one line in the entire novel, and yet such an important aspect to the novel, that things would not be the same if he was not Scout’s neighbor.

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This book is definitely worth the read and worth teaching to any grade level because there are a number of things in the novel that we talked about on a vast scale of cognitive thinking. Once again, see below (comments) for some of my eighth grade student samples (names withheld for privacy purposes) of how Harper Lee is promoting social change in the novel, something that is still extremely relevant to our society in the United States today.