Thursday, May 30, 2013

Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Book: Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith by Matthew Stover

Description: The turning point for the entire Star Wars saga is at hand. . . .

As combat escalates across the galaxy, the stage is set for an explosive endgame: Obi-Wan undertakes a perilous mission to destroy the dreaded Separatist military leader, General Grievous. Supreme Chancellor Palpatine continues to strip away constitutional liberties in the name of security while influencing public opinion to turn against the Jedi. And a conflicted Anakin fears that his secret love, Senator Padmé Amidala, will die. Tormented by unspeakable visions, Anakin edges closer to the brink of a galaxy-shaping decision. It remains only for Darth Sidious to strike the final staggering blow against the Republic–and to ordain a fearsome new Sith Lord: Darth Vader.

Based on the screenplay of the final film in George Lucas’s epic saga, bestselling Star Wars author Matthew Stover’s novel crackles with action, captures the iconic characters in all their complexity, and brings a space opera masterpiece full circle in stunning style. (from

My Thoughts: I will not lie, Matthew Stover's Revenge of the Sith is one of my favorite novels of all time.

I'm sure you're skeptical. It is, after all, a Star Wars novel, and the novelization of a movie to boot. However, Stover is a truly masterful writer, and his novelization is a significant improvement to the movie by the same title.

Revenge of the Sith is probably one of the best-written novels I have ever read. Stover uses words and sentence and paragraph structure incredibly well to convey ideas and feelings. Reading this book, I always know that Stover crafted his use of words very carefully.

This book is essentially a tragedy: it is, after all, *spoiler* the story of the downfall of the Jedi Order and the Republic, as well as the story of Anakin's final steps into the Dark Side. It is not all darkness, however; it is also the story of brave Jedi knights, striving to do what is right in a world that seems full of wrong, and of how the Empire is ultimately defeated. *end spoiler* I think that this aspect of the Star Wars universe--the good vs. evil aspect, the fact that people fight against evil despite impossible odds and still win--is why I love Star Wars so much.

Each section begins with creepy but thought-provoking statements about darkness and light (not entirely Biblical). Stover clearly makes this story about both the individuals and the broader struggle of evil vs. good, making the book feel truly epic. He tries to help us understand each major character, and I found it well-done; it even made me almost like, or at least understand, Anakin, who is probably one of my least favorite characters of all time (precisely because he normally comes across as so flat, irritating, and whiny).

Revenge of the Sith is also a huge improvement over the movie of the same title (in fact, every time I read this book I have a strong desire afterwards to watch the movie. Every time that I do, I am very disappointed). Part of this is simply because Stover had more room to work with, since he was writing a novel, and it is easier to explain and create sympathy with characters when you can portray their thoughts and feelings through words rather than through conversations and close-ups. Stover also, however, added scenes (approved by George Lucas) that helped make many characters' actions much more understandable as well as that created both a mood and an environment that the action was taking place in. Anakin's turn to the dark side becomes more understandable, for instance, even as it also becomes clear that his reasons were all wrong. He spent some well-used words creating the mood of the Republic at the time: exhausted by the war, struggling to deal with the horrors, unsure of what it meant for them or how they should live their lives. It strengthened the story quite a bit. Finally, Stover expanded on the character of Chancellor Palpatine/Darth Sidious, making him a thoroughly creepy and in-control villain. He shows how Palpatine has been planning for this moment for years and years, and he comes across as incredibly painstaking, intelligent, manipulative, and all-across evil.

If anyone is wondering or concerned, the Force isn't a huge aspect of this book. There are some descriptions of how individual Jedis interact differently with the Force (which are fascinating for any Star Wars people), but the Force is otherwise little mentioned, and does not come across as something anti-Christian. The focus of the book is the characters and their struggle against evil. BUT this is the only Stover book set in the Star Wars universe that I can whole-heartedly recommend, from a Christian viewpoint.

Highly recommended!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Northanger Abbey

Book: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Description: A wonderfully entertaining coming-of-age story, Northanger Abbey is often referred to as Jane Austen’s “Gothic parody.” Decrepit castles, locked rooms, mysterious chests, cryptic notes, and tyrannical fathers give the story an uncanny air, but one with a decidedly satirical twist.

The story’s unlikely heroine is Catherine Morland, a remarkably innocent seventeen-year-old woman from a country parsonage. While spending a few weeks in Bath with a family friend, Catherine meets and falls in love with Henry Tilney, who invites her to visit his family estate, Northanger Abbey. Once there, Catherine, a great reader of Gothic thrillers, lets the shadowy atmosphere of the old mansion fill her mind with terrible suspicions. What is the mystery surrounding the death of Henry’s mother? Is the family concealing a terrible secret within the elegant rooms of the Abbey? Can she trust Henry, or is he part of an evil conspiracy? (from

My Thoughts: I incredibly enjoyed reading Northanger Abbey. It was satirical and hilarious, and often had me laughing out loud. Austen is a fantastic satirist of literary cliches as well as human nature. Even though I have never read a Gothic novel, I recognized many of the cliches that she satirized because they are still in use today. So much for new and modern ideas, eh? 

I must say that I love satirical, sarcastic books, which Northanger Abbey definitely is! Austen's satirical characters may not have been as great and memorable as characters in some of her other books, but there were still plenty (such as the General--he was my favorite annoying character by far in this novel). I also really love socially awkward scenes, and there were some great ones.

Catherine was a good main character. She grew a lot through the book, and I liked her. I saw a lot of myself in her. Mr. Tilney came across as almost too perfect: he behaved honorably through the entire book, and had a great sense of humor to boot (perhaps he was a bit too cutting?).

Perhaps what I thought was the most important message of Northanger Abbey is that what we read shapes us: who we are, the friends we make and the people we like, what we think about, how we view the world. Catherine's choice of melodramatic novels to read means that she is always seeing tragic and murderous plots and romantic events, when the reality is quite different. What we spend our time doing and the intellectual (or not intellectual) products that we consume--whether it is reading, watching TV, playing computer games, or anything else--shapes who we are. That is why it is so important, as Christians and as human beings, to think very carefully about what we do with our time. How is it affecting us? What does it make us think about?

A fun read, but with plenty of deeper meaning if a discerning reader looks closely. Recommended!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

C. S. Lewis quote

"It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones."

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Secret Garden

Book: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Description: When orphaned Mary Lennox, lonely and sad, comes to live at her uncle's great house on the Yorkshire moors, she finds it full of secrets. At night, she hears the sound of crying down one of the long corridors. Outside, she meets Dickon, a magical boy who can charm and talk to animals. Then, one day, with the help of a friendly robin, Mary discovers the most mysterious wonder of all -- a secret garden, walled and locked, which has been completely forgotten for years and years. Is everything in the garden dead, or can Mary bring it back to life? (from

My Thoughts: The Secret Garden is a cute story. It contained absolutely beautiful descriptions of the moor and the garden. (reading this really made me want to go outside!!) The other aspect of this book that I enjoyed was the characters: all of them seemed real and flawed. I enjoyed watching all of them change for the better. 

Unfortunately, The Secret Garden also contained a lot about "Magic." Until almost the end of the book, Magic seemed like it could just represent God and His presence all around us and in everyone, and it was a beautiful concept. It reminds me of the Quaker idea of the inner light, or the presence of God in every person. By the end, however, it was clear that Magic was the life force in everyone and the power of positive thinking, which I find more troubling and more idolatrous (not helped by the implicit message that Nature is pure, perfect, and unsullied by human brokenness).

Yes, being outside can really change someone's life, maybe make them a better person--but only through God and as His creation. Nature by itself can cure no ills.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Crown Duel

Book: Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith

Description: Young Countess Meliara swears to her dying father that she and her brother will defend their people from the growing greed of the king. That promise leads them into a war for which they are ill-prepared, which threatens the very people they are trying to protect. But war is simple compared to what follows in peacetime. Meliara is summoned to live at the royal palace, where friends and enemies look alike, and intrigue fills the dance halls and the drawing rooms. If she is to survive, Meliara must learn a whole new way of fighting--with wits and words and secret alliances.

In war, at least, she knew in whom she could trust. Now she can trust no one. (from

My Thoughts: I love this book! Mel is such a realistic character--she really allows her emotions to cloud her actions and judgements, but she's also very aware of this (especially as the story continues) and tries not to allow this to happen. She's also very plucky and brave--and not endlessly winning at sword fights and things despite having only been training since two weeks ago. The physical aspects of her adventures, and her parts in them, are very realistic in that sense (without going into the nasty details of the few fights).

The other characters are not as well-drawn. Vidanric struck me as too perfect--he always knows what's going on and is always in control of the situation, with very few exceptions. This was less true of other characters, although many of them are much less developed than Mel was and seem a bit flat. Vidanric is also entertainingly sarcastic, if you like that sort of thing (which I, obviously, do). Rereading Crown Duel recently, he strikes me as what many girls or women may see as a "perfect" man, which was fun a few years ago and a bit less so now.

Crown Duel is a very fun adventure/romance story and a nice quick read.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


Sorry about the long silence! I've been with family pretty much all of last week, and since I didn't
think to plan ahead... I'm sure all of you can imagine how little time to myself I had, and unfortunately no time at all to post any reviews. No worries, we'll be back on schedule tomorrow with a new review!

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Physicists

Book: The Physicists by Friedrich Dürrenmatt

Description: The world’s greatest physicist, Johann Wilhelm Möbius, is in a madhouse, haunted by recurring visions of King Solomon. He is kept company by two other equally deluded scientists: one who thinks he is Einstein, another who believes he is Newton. It soon becomes evident, however, that these three are not as harmlessly lunatic as they appear. Are they, in fact, really mad? Or are they playing some murderous game, with the world as the stake? For Möbius has uncovered the mystery of the universe—and therefore the key to its destruction—and Einstein and Newton are vying for this secret that would enable them to rule the earth. (from

My Thoughts: I will admit right now that I disliked this play, and am not recommending it. I did, however, think that it was interesting as it essentially portrays the modern worldview in its most pessimistic form and drawn to some of its logical conclusions, and as such it allows for interesting contrasts. And that is why I chose to write about it here today.

The play begins with a murder, and there is another a bit later. No one ever judges this as wrong, not once--everyone accepts that these men can murder these other people simply for their convenience (which is why both murders ultimately happened. One occurred so that one of the physicists would not be distracted from his "important" work, for instance). There is simply no sense of morality at all. The one character who consistently attempts to do the right thing (at least in some aspects of his life) is foiled by utter coincidence, and the play ends in helplessness and despair. With a living God in control of everything, I know that life isn't like this!!

Coincidence is a huge aspect of the plot. Coincidence is always negative, ruining the plans of anyone good (but seemingly no one trying to destroy the world... Because that is how the play ends, with a completely insane person about to take over the world). Dürrenmatt even wrote about this play that "The more human beings proceed by plan the more effectively they may be hit by accident." Admittedly Christianity is ultimately against humans making plans unless the plan has been given to them by God ("Many are the plans in a person's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails." Proverbs 19:21), but it also does not have this awful idea that coincidences/accidents are going to destroy every plan we ever make and that the world is doomed to misery and failure.

Thursday, May 2, 2013


Book: Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Description: One choice can transform you—or it can destroy you. But every choice has consequences, and as unrest surges in the factions all around her, Tris Prior must continue trying to save those she loves—and herself—while grappling with haunting questions of grief and forgiveness, identity and loyalty, politics and love.

Tris's initiation day should have been marked by celebration and victory with her chosen faction; instead, the day ended with unspeakable horrors. War now looms as conflict between the factions and their ideologies grows. And in times of war, sides must be chosen, secrets will emerge, and choices will become even more irrevocable—and even more powerful. Transformed by her own decisions but also by haunting grief and guilt, radical new discoveries, and shifting relationships, Tris must fully embrace her Divergence, even if she does not know what she may lose by doing so. (from

My Thoughts: Insurgent was just as good as Divergent!! It was a bit darker--Tris struggles with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) because of everything that happened to her in Divergent, and for me this was the most believable and interesting part of the book. She underwent a beautiful journey of recovery, where she discovered that she wanted to live, what was truly important to her, and more about herself. Tris also handled her struggles very well, overall--there was little truly stupid behavior on her part, and by the end of the book she was back to doing what was right, despite the consequences to her.

Unfortunately, Four was pretty stupid for large chunks of this book--luckily not willfully stupid, he really did think he was doing the right thing. He just hadn't thought it through as much as he thought he had. I found him rather frustrating for most of the book.

Another fun, interesting book with a great cliff-hanger ending--I can't wait for the third book, Allegiant, to come out in October!! 

Personal Note: Since reading Divergent and Insurgent, I've read a bit more about Veronica Roth, and I really like what I've seen. She's a Christian--quietly, but obviously quite publicly--and I think this worldview shines through in both what she writes and her public persona. I've really enjoyed reading through her blog (