Book Review – Star Wars: Padawan

Hello there! Today I’m reviewing Padawan by Kiersten White, the most recent addition to the canon Star Wars books published by Disney.

Obi-Wan Kenobi struggles with his place in the Force as a young Padawan in this coming-of-age adventure!

Obi-Wan Kenobi really wants to be a good Padawan. The best Padawan, even. But that’s feeling more and more impossible with his new master, Qui-Gon Jinn. All of Obi-Wan’s friends are off training to be real Jedi, getting mission experience, while he’s still on Coruscant, practicing his forms and sitting in silent contemplation. Ever since Qui-Gon’s former master, Dooku, left the Order, it feels like Qui-Gon has been too busy trying to connect with the Force or arguing with the Jedi Council to properly train his Padawan.

When Obi-Wan finally convinces Qui-Gon to take him on a mission to a remote planet once explored by an ancient Jedi, his master doesn’t show up the morning they are to leave—so Obi-Wan impulsively takes off by himself. Upon arriving on the mysterious, lush planet, he encounters a group of teenagers with no adult supervision—and who all seem to have some connection to the Force. Free from the constraints of the Order, Obi-Wan joins them in their daring adventures, but the Padawan side of him keeps questioning the teens’ strange relationship to the Force, and to the verdant planet around them, and what all of it might mean to his future. Obi-Wan will test the limits of his relationship to the Jedi and to the Force in this exciting, yet soulful exploration of one of Star Wars’ most enduring heroes.

This book had some huge shoes to fill because I loved the Jedi Apprentice series as a child. So, the replacement of those stories with something new was always going to be a hard sell for me given the nostalgia factor of that series. However, I was pleasantly surprised by this book and enjoyed it quite a bit more than I anticipated.

Overall, it was a fun coming-of-age story for Obi-Wan. I was surprised at first by how anxious and afraid of failure this portrayal made him, but it worked really well for his age at the time and the scenario he experienced over the course of the story. He struggled to find his place within the Jedi order and overcompensated for his fear of failure by sticking rigidly to rules and trying to control everything. This unexpected adventure helped him learn to be present in the moment and trust in the force. There were interesting parallels between him and Anakin, and I could definitely see how some of Kenobi’s personality in the future could be rooted in the lessons he learned from his experiences in this story.

I really loved the setting for the story, as well. The ecosystem of the planet was fascinating and worked really well as a metaphor for the balance necessary for nature to thrive and the threat that uncontrolled human consumption has on that balance. Other relevant and timely themes were also explored in the story, including the potentially harmful effects of reliance upon tradition despite evidence to the contrary and the destructive nature of fear, greed, and lust for power. I also really liked the queer rep in the book and thought it was incorporated in a way that was perfect for these characters and their unique situation.

There was only one thing I wish this book had more of: Qui-Gon. He’s in a few scenes, and there was a ton of Obi-Wan contemplating the rocky start to his relationship with his master. However, Qui-Gon was missing from most of the book. I’m not gonna lie. I was a bit disappointed that the two of them didn’t go on this adventure together, but I’m not sure it would have worked out the same way or had the necessary impact on Obi-Wan if they had been together. So, I get why he was absent, but now I really want another story of the two of them together.

In conclusion, this was a fun coming-of-age romp where Obi-Wan had to find the balance within himself to overcome his fear of failing at the Jedi path. It had an interesting setting and compelling themes, but it didn’t quite give me everything I wanted from an Obi-Wan padawan story. Therefore, I rate this book 4 out of 5 stars.

ARC Mini Review – My Mechanical Romance

Hello, everyone! Today I’m reviewing My Mechanical Romance by Alexene Farol Follmuth, which is a YA Romance that will be released on Tuesday. I didn’t plan to review this one until its release day, but I flew through it much quicker than expected. So, I figured…why not?

Opposites attract in this battle-robot-building YA romance from the NYT best-selling author of The Atlas Six.

Bel would rather die than think about the future. College apps? You’re funny. Extracurriculars? Not a chance. But when she accidentally reveals a talent for engineering at school, she’s basically forced into joining the robotics club. Even worse? All the boys ignore Bel—and Neelam, the only other girl on the team, doesn’t seem to like her either.
 
Enter Mateo Luna, captain of the club, who recognizes Bel as a potential asset—until they start butting heads. Bel doesn’t care about Nationals, while Teo cares too much. But as the nights of after-school work grow longer and longer, Bel and Teo realize they’ve made more than just a combat-ready robot for the championship: they’ve made each other and the team better. Because girls do belong in STEM.
 
In her YA debut, Alexene Farol Follmuth, author of The Atlas Six (under the penname Olivie Blake), explores both the challenges girls of color face in STEM and the vulnerability of first love with unfailing wit and honesty. With an adorable, opposites-attract romance at its center and lines that beg to be read aloud, My Mechanical Romance is swoonworthy perfection.

***Thank you to NetGalley and Holiday House Publishing for a copy of the book. My review contains my honest thoughts about my reading experience.***

This was a cute, quick YA read. I finished it in less than a day (mostly in one sitting) because I didn’t really want to put it down. The writing was very contemporary with lots of fun pop culture references, which I enjoyed. I was honestly a bit surprised by how complex the characters and themes were in this book. Through the POVs of the two main characters, it tackled the effects of divorce on children, the hardships faced by girls and people of color in STEM, how others’ expectations can shape who we think we should be, and the negative effects that high-stress academic environments can have on children, among other issues. Both of the main characters kept me engaged with the story, and I liked that the story came from a combination of their two very opposite POVs. However, my favorite character was Dash, the funny, friendly best friend who needs to be protected at all costs. These types of secondary characters are often my favorites, and while reading, I found myself really wanting a book with that type of character as the star. So, if anyone has any recommendations, let me know! Although I enjoyed the depth and personal growth of Bel and Teo and think the messages in this book are important and well-delivered, I couldn’t help but feel like their romance was a little lackluster. It didn’t begin until pretty late in the book, and I didn’t find there to be a ton of nail-biting build up to it either. The relationship felt like it took a back seat as the catalyst to the characters’ personal journeys, which was fine but just wasn’t what I expected from a book with romance in the title. Overall, this was an enjoyable YA novel with powerful themes and an important message about the importance of working hard to make your life what you want it to be regardless of others’ expectations. I enjoyed it quite a bit despite my reservations about the romance element. Therefore, I rate it 4 out of 5 stars.

ARC Review – If You Change Your Mind

Hello, everyone! Today I am reviewing If You Change Your Mind by Robby Weber. This was another ARC that I’ve been looking forward to a lot but just didn’t get to read before the publication date. On the bright side, that means it is out now, and you should go buy it if you are looking for a gay summer romcom!

In this hilarious and heartfelt debut novel, an aspiring screenwriter learns sometimes love has its own script.

Harry wants nothing more than to write Hollywood screenplays. He knows the first step toward achieving that goal is winning a screenwriting competition that will seal his admission into the college of his dreams, so he’s determined to spend his summer free of distractions—also known as boys—and finish his script. After last year, Harry is certain love only exists in the movies anyway.
 
But then the cause of his first heartbreak, Grant, returns with a secret that could change everything—not to mention, there’s a new boy in town, Logan, who is so charming and sweet, he’s making Harry question everything he knows about romance. As he tries to keep his emotions in check and stick to his perfect plan for the future, Harry’s about to learn that life doesn’t always follow a script.

***Thank you to NetGalley and Inkyard Press for the copy of the book. My review contains my honest thoughts about my reading experience.***

This was a wonderful ode to the romcom with delightful summer vibes. In general, the book felt like a relaxing day at the beach. It had its emotional and tense moments, which definitely had me in my feelings, but it was all so easy to read and felt familiar and comfortable. I also just really like books with writing and bookish themes. This book had both with the main character being a writer (of screenplays) and a bookstore employee. I liked the inclusion of Harry’s screenplay and thought it provided an interesting window into his psyche. However, I think it would have worked better if it had been included in fewer, longer interludes and wasn’t after every chapter. It just made the story feel too choppy and got annoying at certain points where I just wanted to read the next part of the main narrative.

Harry was such a great protagonist. He was a bit of a mess, but let’s be honest. Weren’t we all as teenagers? Or if we’re being REALLY honest… aren’t we all still a bit of a mess? Maybe I’m just speaking for myself, but I definitely found it to be relatable. lol. I think the author did a great job of using the character of Harry to tap into that quintessential teenage (and human) struggle of trying to figure out your path in life. Harry starts out his journey like a bulldozer intent on sticking to his master plan no matter what gets in his way, but he learns an important life lesson: there’s more than one path to reaching one’s dreams, and the path you choose to take can make all the difference. He also learned the significance of being present in one’s life and enjoying the things and people right in front of you.

The love interests and other characters were all great too. Grant had tons of charisma, and Logan was just absolutely adorable. I also really loved Foster and wish the author had played up the character and the relationship between him and Harry a bit more. I liked that Harry had three very different guys who were into him because it kept things from feeling like the run of the mill love triangle. However, Foster got so much less time compared to the other two that it did feel a little like he was the fourth wheel in an otherwise super passionate threesome (Important Note: This story doesn’t have polyamory or threesomes, but I wouldn’t have been mad if it did. lol.). Harry’s relationship with his best friend was also a highlight for me. I loved how close they were, but their relationship also added lots of drama to the story while putting Harry in a tight spot that I definitely didn’t envy. I didn’t agree with his choice, but I can understand why he made it. I just kept waiting for it all to blow up in his face. I do think his friend got over the situation a bit too fast, but it also illustrated how conflict can be resolved through honest, open communication. So, I can live with it.

Overall, this was a fantastic romcom and the perfect summer read. The characters were relatable, and I just really enjoyed seeing Harry grow over the course of the story. Therefore, I rate this book 4 out of 5 stars.

Book Review – The Darkness Outside Us

Author: Eliot Schrefer

Publication Date: June 1, 2021

Length: 416 pages

Read Date(s): June 4, 2021 – June 8, 2021

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Goodreads Synopsis

Two boys, alone in space.

After the first settler on Titan trips her distress signal, neither remaining country on Earth can afford to scramble a rescue of its own, and so two sworn enemies are installed in the same spaceship.

Ambrose wakes up on the Coordinated Endeavor, with no memory of a launch. There’s more that doesn’t add up: Evidence indicates strangers have been on board, the ship’s operating system is voiced by his mother, and his handsome, brooding shipmate has barricaded himself away. But nothing will stop Ambrose from making his mission succeed—not when he’s rescuing his own sister.

In order to survive the ship’s secrets, Ambrose and Kodiak will need to work together and learn to trust one another… especially once they discover what they are truly up against. Love might be the only way to survive.

My Review

I honestly don’t think I can put into words how much I loved this book, but I’m going to give it my best shot. Reviewing this book is even more complicated by not being able to talk about anything that happens in it without ruining the reading experience. It is truly a book best read without any spoilers because experiencing the plot for the first time was a total mindf*ck. I thought I knew what this book was about going into it, but I was completely unprepared for what actually happened.

The book started out exactly as described in the synopsis. However, right away I could tell something was not quite right because of the strange formatting and early hints. The book does not have chapters, but it has multiple parts that vary in length. The first part is the longest, and it is a slow burn mystery coupled with an exploration of the relationship between the two boys. The pace of the rest of the book increases significantly after the first part, and I was so thrown by the end of the first section that I had to put the book down for a bit before continuing. The ending of the book felt a bit rushed, but I also loved how the story ended. I just wished there was more of it.

One of the main themes of this book is the importance of intimacy to feel human. This story does an excellent job of exploring this idea because it strips everything down to only two people surrounded by infinite nothingness. Seeing the progression of the relationship between Kodiak and Ambrose was a beautiful reminder of how important connection to other people is for our sanity. It was also an excellent example of how people who are very different can come together and find understanding even if they are raised to be enemies. One of my favorite quotes from the book highlights this theme of intimacy very well:

Intimacy is the only shield against insanity. Intimacy, not knowledge. Intimacy, not power.

The Darkness Outside Us, page 142

Existential crisis and the necessity of meaning in one’s life is also a major component of this novel. The story explores the effect on an individual’s psyche whenever they lose their main purpose in life. It also examines how people raised in two different cultures can respond to this loss in distinct ways. Overall, the narrative is filled with existential dread. If you don’t have at least one existential crisis while reading this book, then you aren’t human. 😉 It just does such a great job of reducing the complex human experience down to its barest essentials and making you question whether there truly is a reason for all of it.

That was how life on Earth worked, too. People did a lot of tasks and tried to keep death as far away as possible.

The Darkness Outside Us, page 236

This book has become my top read so far of 2021. The story was so unexpectedly profound in its relationship-building, philosophy, and plot twists that I’m left thinking about it days after finishing it. I could say so much more, but that would ruin the book. So, go read it instead! I rate this book 5 out of 5 stars and cannot recommend it enough, especially for lovers of science fiction.

Have you read The Darkness Outside Us? What did you think? Let me know in the comments, but do your best to avoid spoilers.