Top 10 Favorite Books Read for the First Time in 2016

***Spoiler Warning

  1. Star Wars Volume 2: Showdown on the Smuggler’s Moon by Jason Aaron, Stuart Immonen, Simone Bianchi

This addition to the Star Wars canon is mainly valuable because of the beginning which provides insight into Obi-Wan Kenobi’s twenty years spent on Tatooine. What he did for nearly two decades has always been one of the Star Wars mysteries I found most compelling, a mystery that this addition to the Star Wars canon begins to answer . . .

  1. Beyond the Wall: Exploring George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire edited by James Lowder

I miss reading thought-provoking academic essays for college classes. Thus, it was a really enjoyable experience to read thought-provoking essays in an academic style focused on one of my all-time favorite book series. From Romanticism to the portrayal of PTSD, this book features an array of intriguing essays which challenge and further the ways in which one reads A Song of Ice and Fire.

  1. Wolverine: Old Man Logan by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven

As a fan of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe), I’ve wanted to read comics focused on these superheroes and super villains for a while now. But with such a sprawling, extensive history, I never knew where to begin. Wolverine: Old Man Logan provided the perfect opportunity to read a Marvel comic as it’s mostly a standalone story. The concept is thrilling and frightening, the artwork beautiful and haunting. I also really enjoyed seeing characters from the X-MEN and MCU franchises interact, something that can’t happen in the films because of the rights issues between Marvel and Fox. It’s a story worth telling, particularly for Wolverine, the consummate survivor. I can’t wait to see the story adapted via the film Logan in 2017 with Charles Xavier replacing Hawkeye’s role.

  1. New Sudden Fiction: Short-Short Stories from America and Beyond edited by Robert Shapard and James Thomas

It’s incredible how these authors communicate so much through so few words in their flash fiction pieces. The stories in this collection are very hit or miss, but the ones that hit resonate through really clever, powerful writing. I particularly recommend the following stories from this collection:

  • “Stolen Chocolates” by Ursula Hegi
  • “Escort” by Chuck Palahniuk
  • “Nap Time” by Tom Franklin
  • “The Rememberer” by Aimee Bender
  • “Reply All” by Robin Hemley
  • “Mud” by Geoffrey Forsyth
  • “Rosa Blanca” by Barry Gifford
  1. Star Wars Volume 1: Skywalker Strikes by Jason Aaron, John Cassaday, Laura Martin

“No, Luke, I am your father.”

It’s one of the most iconic lines in Star Wars, pop culture and cinematic history. But when did Darth Vader learn that Luke Skywalker was his son? The Emperor led him to believe Padme died on Mustafar which would mean she wasn’t able to give birth, but when the Emperor and Vader talk about “the son of Skywalker” in The Empire Strikes Back Vader doesn’t seem at all confused or surprised about Luke’s identity.

This is the story that answers this crucial question. Vader’s discovery emerges as he hunts the pilot responsible for destroying the Death Star, not realizing that the pilot is his son. It’s a fascinating tale that adds essential backstory to the Star Wars films.

  1. Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)

While the mystery case is not as strong as its predecessors in the Cormoran Strike series, the character development and writing excel. The story is not as strong for me because it’s immediately narrowed down to four suspects. One is eliminated very quickly, and Strike’s stepfather seems way too obvious to be the real culprit. That leaves only two viable suspects as opposed to the wider range of suspects in the previous books which lent more paranoia and mystery to the plot.

Regardless, Rowling’s writing is wondrous as ever. Adding in chapters from the killer’s perspective without knowing the killer’s identity until the end was also a brilliant move. Thanks to further backstory and character development, the Strike-Robin relationship and their individual identities feel more authentic than ever before. As much as I want the sequel to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I also really want the next book in this series!

  1. The Magician King by Lev Grossman

The Magician King begins more like a traditional fantasy novel and less like its predecessor The Magicians, an existential fantasy that heavily manipulates the genre’s conventions. Fortunately this changes when Quentin and Julia are torn away from Fillory and trapped on Earth. Here they struggle not just with returning to Fillory, but with how to reconcile their identities and complicated pasts with reality.

The story is structured well, alternating between the present viewed through Quentin’s perspective, and the past viewed through Julia’s perspective. Julia’s path to becoming a powerful magician and queen of Fillory mirrors Quentin’s path to becoming a powerful magician and king of Fillory in numerous and fascinating ways.  I love how the two stories parallel each other . . . until Julia’s rape which I have a major problem with. While Grossman’s intent seems like it’s largely to empower a survivor of sexual assault, the reader receives a very mixed message as her empowerment is somewhat rooted in the fact that she’s raped by a god. Ultimately it’s really problematic to convey that a survivor’s empowerment is attached to the identity of the rapist.

However, the book’s ending is smartly executed as it aligns so well with the tone of The Magicians. Quentin becomes a more confident, in control, badass magician and leader in this book. The tragic and needless death of Benedict and Quentin’s banishment from Fillory convey the steep prices that come with being more of a hero and leader. Quentin sacrificing his ability to travel to the Far Side so Julia can go instead is the most powerful of his actions. Quentin is partly to blame for Julia’s many struggles. His decision to stay behind in order for Julia to travel to the Far Side demonstrates his character growth, specifically that he’s learning how to put the needs of others before his own needs, and how to take responsibility for past wrongdoings. Yet, he’s still banished from Fillory. Despite all the sacrifices he’s made for Fillory, Quentin is the character forced to figure out life without Fillory. That’s the kind of injustice and disappointment I expect and relish based on the tone of The Magicians at the end of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader-esque adventure. Of course, Fillory does find Quentin again . . .

  1. The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman

Before reading the final installment of The Magicians trilogy, I wrote down nine loose ends/expectations I had for the book. Grossman succeeded at answering every single loose end and expectation. Part of me loves this as the author deftly addresses what I believe to be the most important lingering elements. It’s a satisfying conclusion that anticipates my desires as a reader. On the other hand, the ending seems almost too perfect. So much of this series is about the disappointing and tragic nature of life. Odd as it may sound, for this reason I thought a disappointing end would work best. I suppose Grossman reconciles these clashing ideas by expressing in the end that while life will inevitably be disappointing and tragic, it also provides many opportunities for self-discovery and finding one’s purpose. Quentin and Alice lost so much but ultimately they are able to create a new magical land that serves as a bridge between Fillory and Earth. This is a beautiful way of exemplifying that life is not about missed opportunities and the endless parades of disappointment and tragedy. Life is about figuring out and creating the things that are meaningful to you. Nice as that sounds, it’s still a bit too much of a perfect, neat, happy ending for my taste and considering the overall tone of the series.

Regardless, The Magician’s Land does a great job bringing Quentin’s story and character development full-circle, even revealing and incorporating his previously undetermined magical Discipline into teaching at Brakebills and more importantly saving Fillory. Some of the loose ends I most enjoyed seeing tied up were delivered via Rupert Chatwin’s diary where readers get a much better understanding of the Chatwins’ experiences in Fillory, what each Chatwin was really like, their relationships with Christopher Plover, and the first real insight we have into Umber.

  1. Star Wars: Bloodline by Claudia Gray

I love Star Wars: The Force Awakens but one of its flaws is the unclear political situation that led to the rise of the First Order, the necessity of the Resistance, and the vulnerability of the New Republic. Star Wars: Bloodline addresses this flaw by establishing the political context lacking in The Force Awakens, mirroring real-world, present day political situations in fascinating and disturbing ways. Most importantly, Star Wars: Bloodline puts readers into the mind of Leia Organa, written in a way that serves as a faithful and beautiful testament to Carrie Fisher’s dynamic and multi-faceted portrayal of Leia.

Further understanding where Leia is at emotionally, personally and professionally at this point in the Star Wars timeline enhances the way audiences view her character in The Force Awakens. I also like how much time in the book is devoted to reflecting on the tragedy of Alderaan’s destruction. This amends one flaw of the original film trilogy which is that Leia never really gets the time or space to fully grieve the death of her father and the destruction of her home world.

The two political parties so entrenched in their beliefs that they’re unwilling to see the other side’s point of view and thus no compromises or progress is made is all too familiar to our real-world, present-day political situation. Another echo of disturbing real-world dynamics are those in the New Republic who argue that the Empire wasn’t all that bad, and with a few adjustments could’ve been a quality system of government. These individuals paint the Empire as a misunderstood governing system with positive intentions that went awry even though it’s only been 24 years since the fall of the Empire and many of them lived through the Empire’s tyranny. This eerily reminds me of those who deny the Holocaust ever happened, or those who say similar things about Hitler and the Nazis. Seeing these eerie real-world dynamics mirrored so accurately in the Star Wars universe makes the unlikely, but fruitful relationship between Leia and Ransolm Casterfo quite refreshing. It’s those kinds of relationships that are necessary to overcoming the disturbing real-world dynamics presented in Claudia Gray’s extraordinary novel.

Very little is revealed about Luke Skywalker and Kylo Ren/Ben Solo. Leia and Han provide a few glimpses into the turbulent relationship with their son and how they’ve coped with it. But at this point all Leia and Han know for sure is that their son is training with Luke, and they rarely hear from either character. The galaxy-wide reveal that Darth Vader is the father of Luke and Leia does challenge many individuals’ perspectives of Luke and Leia’s legacies, and the fact this secret was withheld from Ben Solo does create further insight into the events that pushed him to the Dark Side and serving Supreme Leader Snoke. The more substantive answers to these mysteries will reveal themselves in Star Wars: Episode VIII and Star Wars: Episode IX.

Star Wars: Bloodline is the best non-movie addition to the Star Wars canon I’ve experienced since Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012.

  1. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, John Tiffany

The story probably could’ve been all about Harry and his kids eating breakfast and it would still be #1. That’s how much I love Harry Potter and rejoiced at the arrival of a new Harry Potter book. But in all seriousness, check out my 2 part blog post review of the play to understand why it takes the #1 spot.

Part 1 review: https://matthewrudoyblogfun.wordpress.com/2016/08/08/harry-potter-and-the-cursed-child-review-part-1/

Part 2 review: https://matthewrudoyblogfun.wordpress.com/2016/08/08/harry-potter-and-the-cursed-child-review-part-2/

 

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