Book Review: Lost Stars by Claudia Gray

lost-stars-cover5stars

Let me just start by saying it’s been forever since I’ve read a Star Wars book, and that alone made this a fun book to read. I read a lot of the Young Jedi Knights books and other Kevin J. Anderson stuff back in the day, but I honestly can’t remember how long it’s been.

I’ve gotten to where I don’t mind a little romance in books – at least if it’s handled well and isn’t the focus of the plot – though I’ll admit I’m still usually pretty leery about YA romance. I’m one of those people who thinks Hunger Games would be better without all the Team Peeta/Team Gale nonsense. At least in Lost Stars, I expected it. I’d read enough reviews that I had a pretty good idea of what I was getting into, and I was willing to dive in anyway. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the romance aspect of the story was fairly low-key and handled really well, and I didn’t think it took away from the plot. If anything, it gave us a deeper look at the characters.

Those characters were also very well done. I can sometimes be leery about YA characters too because they’re often so angsty and overly dramatic. That’s not to say there wasn’t any angst and drama in this book, but Ciena, Thane, and the supporting characters were intelligent, resourceful, and tough (which is still what I love most about Hunger Games). I really loved the way each of their backgrounds/upbringings influenced their decisions and actions throughout the story.

Also, as a Mass Effect fan, I still can’t get over Thane’s name…

I’ll admit I pictured the characters being older than they were (maybe late 20s) because, at least in my experience, no actual 19-year-olds are this mature 😉 Their ages/actions definitely seemed more realistic in the latter parts of the story.

Being YA, it was pretty fast/easy reading, but the story didn’t suffer for it. I loved the glimpses we got of characters and events from the movies, and there was something about the dynamic I really loved. We had the girl sticking with the Empire and the guy joining the Rebel Alliance and trying to win her back, when I feel like it’s often the other way around. Seeing each of their unique perspectives was interesting too, because – for the majority of the time, anyway – they both thought their side was trying to do the right thing.

And the ending. Oh, the ending. Flawless. And very appropriate after everything that had happened. I liked how it tied in with the upcoming movie.

This isn’t the type of book I’d typically give 5 stars, but reading a Star Wars book was so refreshing after all these years and I can’t remember the last time I was this relaxed while reading. When you’re doing a read-for-review or beta reading, you have to pay close enough attention that you can’t completely relax. This was clearly a young adult book, but I’d recommend it to Star Wars fans of any age.

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Star Wars – Facebook

The Nerdy History of Yours Truly

This gif is an accurate representation of how I felt after seeing the new trailer
This gif is an accurate representation of how I felt after seeing the new trailer

I’d been trying to think of some material for a new blog post and realized I hadn’t offered my two cents on the new Star Wars trailer (well, I have, just not in written format where the masses can see it). Considering Star Wars is what got me writing in the first place, I figured the story was worth telling.

I can’t remember when exactly I really became aware of Star Wars. We used to play a game in PE when I was in elementary called “Star Wars Sock Wars” and it was basically dodgeball with balled-up socks. Each team had a “Jedi Knight” with a piece of PVC pipe that was supposed to be a lightsaber (or “livesaver/lightsaver” as I thought back then) and if someone got hit by a sock, you could go tag them and bring them back to “life.” So of course if your Jedi died, your team was kind of screwed and you immediately directed all your efforts toward killing the other team’s Jedi. Back in those days, I had no idea what a Jedi even was and always felt like the PE teacher treated us like we were supposed to know. I just played along. I knew “Dark Vader” was that big scary guy in the black armor with the weird mask, I’m pretty sure I’d heard of Luke Skywalker or could at least tell you he had something to do with Star Wars, and after awhile I knew who Yoda was because the people who had our dog as a puppy were calling her “Yoda” before she was adopted because of the way her ears stuck out.

Aww, I miss her 😦

Anyway, during the summer between 4th and 5th grade, my sister and I spent a lot of time at our friends’ house while our mom was working. Their sons were our age, and they had all the movies and had asked a couple times if we wanted to watch them. I was always kind of like, “Pssshhh no, are you kidding? Those are boy movies.” I have no idea where that mindset came from because I was never really raised like that. I played with the toys I wanted to play with, watched the shows I wanted to watch, etc. Eventually though, we were at their house one day and had gone to Walmart with them. One of them was a paper delivery boy so he had some extra money from doing the paper route, and he was like, “Okay you guys need lightsabers.” So he bought my sister and I each one of those plastic retractable lightsabers (I definitely still have mine somewhere…). Bear in mind that he was like 10 at this point too – talk about being determined to convert us! We went back to their house and I said “You know what, screw it” and we watched one of the movies. I cringe while saying we started with The Phantom Menace, but honestly it might have been for the best because it had cool special effects and stuff and I’m not sure if I would have appreciated the original trilogy as much at that point. And of course I was young enough that I couldn’t really comprehend the horrible acting. I just thought all the blasters and lightsabers and space battles and pod races were cool. And okay, the space battle and pod race are still cool…and Darth Maul ❤

So then we went home that day and were like, “Hey, we watched Star Wars today!” My parents really had no clue about the prequels (or prequel, I guess, being as TPM was the only one out at the time) but we went to the library and rented all the old movies and watched them for the first time. I remember being terrified of the jawas at first because I’ve always hated things with glowing eyes. So we saw all the old movies, and I don’t remember being weirded out by the crusty special effects at all. Let’s face it – for as old as those movies are, the special effects really are incredible (I personally think they’re better than some of the movies that came out later in the 80’s *cough* Terminator….). And if you watch the Empire of Dreams documentary, you really come to appreciate them even more because of how few resources the production teams had.

No, really – take 2 hours out of your life sometime and watch it. It tells the story of how the original trilogy was made, and it’s seriously insane. Everyone thought George Lucas was a crazy person, nothing was going right during production, and it ended up basically just being a disaster. It’s really fun to go watch the movies after seeing this and see how they all turned out. It’s pretty long, but SO worth it. The entire video is up on YouTube. I’m not sure what happened to the original, but this one below works just fine, even though all the text is randomly in Polish. Check it out

It really was kind of like flipping a switch. I saw the movies and I was like “Hey, you know what, this is pretty awesome!” and I started reading into it and checking out some of the books and basically fell in love with it in a day. Obviously it took me a few years to really understand the political backstory and stuff in the newer movies, but I got the gist of it.

We were at our friends’ house again later that summer and this was around the time Attack of the Clones was coming out so we got to go see that in the theater with them. Then when Revenge of the Sith came out, we got to go see that in the
theater too. I often find myself wishing I would have been alive in 1977 to go see the original movie because all the hype back then was absolutely unbelievable. The hype NOW is just so much fun. I hope this new movie lives up to it. I keep forgetting it’s still like 8 months away…

Everyone’s seen the new trailer right? It’s my goal in life to make sure everyone on the planet sees the new trailer. It has been insanely fun to watch all the different reaction videos and make fun of other people for doing the exact same thing I did when I watched it for the first time.

Source: http://epicstream.com/news/Star-Wars-The-Force-Awakens---Gwendoline-Christie-is-Captain-Phasma
Source: http://epicstream.com/news/Star-Wars-The-Force-Awakens—Gwendoline-Christie-is-Captain-Phasma

I’m one of those people who became hysterical at the end – what started out as a maniacal cackle turned into bawling for no reason, which in turn morphed into laughing-at-myself-for-crying. I still have no idea what the plot is going to be like, but just catching glimpses of what it all looks like is good enough for me at the moment. Also, I’m super excited because that awesome chrome stormtrooper at about 1:20? Yeah. That’s Gwendoline Christie. Aka Brienne of Tarth.

*screeches*

So there you have it. The idea of being able to create new worlds with awesome technology and alien races is what inspired me to start writing. Ziva actually started out as a small filler character I threw together for a couple of scenes in a Star Wars fanfic I was writing with some friends, and now look where she is.

ronancoverNEWIn other news, Ronan’s Goodreads page is up! The release is still a long way off (completion is still a long way off if I don’t kick it into gear here soon…) but it’s still there and available for adding to TBR lists. The finalized cover art and back blurb are also available for viewing, and I went ahead and added a few of the quotes I’ve been posting throughout the writing process. I’ve still been managing to Just Do It every day, but I’ve still been stuck in a little bit of a rut so progress has been slow. I ran into a couple of scenes I hadn’t planned very well for and thought I’d have to skip ahead to some other stuff, but just yesterday I had an epiphany about how to fix all my problems (don’t you just love those??) and should be able to start churning stuff out a little faster. That is, if I don’t continue getting distracted by everything under the sun.

Namely, Two Steps From Hell’s new album, Battlecry.

libraryDakiti and Nexus have also officially made it into circulation at my county library, so that’s really exciting. I stopped in to “visit” them the first day they’d been on the shelf and had to stand there feigning disinterest as I flipped through the pages (screeching in the library is generally frowned upon). They have their little call number and genre stickers and are currently being featured on the “new books” shelf right by the check-out desk. I stalk them on the library catalog’s website every so often, and they’ve been checked out at least once. In terms of subject matter, they’re listed under not only sci fi but also “life on other planets” and “space warfare,” which I think is pretty great. It would be great if I could get more local people to read them. Aside from people I know personally, I really haven’t directed my marketing toward anything or anyone in the area. Meanwhile, I’ve sold more Kindle copies of Dakiti in Germany than in the U.S. during the past month…

Today, I was also featured over at To Read Or Not To Read, and I was really pleased with how personalized the questions were. It’s awesome when bloggers invest a little time in the people they’re featuring. The interview went as follows:

1. You’re a long-time fan of science fiction. Who or what inspired you to become such a fan?

I was actually just reminiscing about this the other day thanks to the new trailer for Star Wars episode VII. I vividly remember the summer between 4th and 5th grade; my sister and I spent a lot of time at our friends’ house, and they persuaded us to watch Star Wars one day while we were there. We actually started with The Phantom Menace (I’ll pause and let Star Wars fans everywhere shudder), but it was enough to captivate my little 10-year-old self. The transformation basically happened overnight. I immediately went to watch the rest of the movies and started looking for other things that fit into the same space opera genre. Over the years, I’ve also fallen in love with the settings in Firefly/Serenity, Mass Effect, and Battlestar Galactica. Ever since I started publishing my own books, I’ve been trying to check out some older sci fi stories, as well as try sub genres other than space opera and space fantasy (e.g. cyberpunk). Star Wars was my first love though, and it’s what inspired me to start writing in the first place.

2. Please tell our readers about the Ziva Payvan series?

These books center around a group of characters who are all members of a superhuman race and work for the main law enforcement agency on their planet. I often tell people that the series combines the sci fi and spy thriller genres because it deals with assassins, conspiracies, and frame-ups but it’s set in a fictional galaxy. My main character, Ziva Payvan, is a spec ops lieutenant with the Haphezian Special Police who leads her team on covert missions and fights to expose the galaxy’s secrets, all while hiding a deadly secret of her own. She by no means thinks of herself as a hero (she refers to herself as a “problem solver” and believes good and evil are kind of relative to the situation) but she often gets the role of hero thrust upon her, which is something she’s not really a fan of. Books 1 and 2 — Dakiti and Nexus — are available in both Kindle and paperback formats through Amazon, and I’m currently about 75% done with the first draft of Book 3, Ronan.

3. What kind of struggles did you face when you created this world?

I think one of the toughest things about creating any fictional world (particularly in sci fi) is figuring out the necessary balance between “foreign” and “familiar.” Typically in sci fi, you’re either dealing with a futuristic or near-future Earth, a futuristic version of our galaxy, or a completely fictional universe with alien worlds. In the case of the former two, the world building is fairly easy from a cultural standpoint because you can base pretty much everything on our world’s current structure. In the case of the latter, you want to be able to make an alien culture unique and interesting, but at the same time you don’t want it to be wacky enough that it overwhelms readers. That’s the boat I find myself in. In the galaxy my story is set in, the central planets support a mostly-human population, while all the non-human races reside out in the Fringe Systems on the outer edges. I still try to give Ziva’s Haphezian culture unique aspects, and that’s a lot of fun, but because the galaxy is basically controlled by humans, I figure it’s okay to include some “familiar” concepts as well. But like I said, it’s hard to find a balance. Some readers have mentioned how happy they’ve been to not be bombarded by too much foreign culture. Others have said they thought there were a few too many familiar concepts that seemed unrealistic for an alien culture. I just have to remember that it’s impossible to please everyone. The world-building elements usually come to me fairly easily, but then I have to figure out how, where, and even IF I should use them.

4. What are some of Ziva’s strengths and weaknesses?

warriorI think one of her biggest strengths is exactly that: her strength. She’s strong in both a literal and more abstract sense. She’s tall, muscular, and physically fit, but she’s also capable of pushing herself mentally and staying focused in extremely stressful situations. When combined, these elements make her a force to be reckoned with and provide her with the tools she needs to do her job and survive on a day-to-day basis. She doesn’t want to let herself get attached to more people than necessary, but she’s extremely loyal and will do just about anything for the few people she is attached to. She’s smart and inventive, and although she doesn’t particularly like doing some of the things her job entails, she knows she’s still very good at them. On the flip side, she’s not exactly a — shall we say — nice person. She’s not very patient; she could sit and wait all day behind the scope of a sniper rifle, but she gets really impatient with other people if she thinks they’re incompetent or not contributing to whatever she’s doing. She’s obsessed enough with the idea of not getting attached to people that she lashes out in order to keep them from getting close to her. She’s also developed a nasty habit of lying to herself and keeping her real thoughts and feelings bottled up, and while that does allow her to do her job better, it also means she’s prone to blowing up and losing composure at inconvenient times. Overall, she’s an extremely enjoyable — albeit complex — character to write, and getting to show the different aspects of her personality has always been a lot of fun.

5. What are some of the things you do when you’re not writing?

I’m currently finishing up a 5th year of college and am on track to graduate in June, so I guess you could say school and homework are some of the things I do when I’m not writing (although I do my fair share of writing when I should be taking lecture notes…shhh, don’t tell my professors). I enjoy working out regularly and reading (sometimes even beta reading) other indie-published books. I also love to draw and play video games, but I’ve been devoting so much of my free time to writing lately that I haven’t had much time for my other hobbies.