Friday, January 25, 2013


by Timothy Zahn.

Shortly after the destruction of the Death Star at Yavin, Han Solo hears about a job with a payoff so spectacular it would not only allow him to settle his debt to Jabba the Hutt but also set him and Chewbacca up for a very comfortable retirement. The trouble is that it's a job that calls for a number of highly specialized skills that neither Han nor Chewie possess. So Han sets about putting together a team of specialists.

Star Wars meets Ocean's Eleven: how can you go wrong with that concept? When it's written by the man who launched the Star Wars Expanded Universe novels twenty years ago, you can't go wrong, really. I haven't been keeping up with the EU at all, but Zahn makes it pretty easy to follow the threads that tie into other novels that I haven't read.

Among all the online rumors and speculation about the upcoming Star Wars movies, a number of people have pointed out that the producers of such sequels could do a lot worse than to look to Timothy Zahn's novels for inspiration, and I have to concur. It's not likely they will, but we can dream, right?

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Sister Queens

By Julia Fox. The subtitle says it all: The Noble, Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile.

Katherine and Juana were both daughters of the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella. Katherine became a Queen Consort as the first wife of King Henry VIII of England, but failed to give him the male heir he required and became embroiled in divorce proceedings that shook the foundations of the Catholic Church. Her sister Juana, like their mother before her, was Queen of Castile in her own right, but faced terrible opposition and power grabs from her husband, her father, and finally her own son, all of whose efforts succeeded in naming her for posterity as Juana the Mad.

English history is a favorite subject of mine, and though the Tudor period isn't my preferred time to read about, I've managed to pick up quite a bit about Katherine of Aragon: how she was married to Prince Arthur before he died young, how her parents' reluctance to pay her dowry complicated her life while she was waiting to marry Arthur's brother Henry, how she sewed her husband's shirts with her own hands even after he took up with Anne Boleyn. Up to now, though, I don't think I could have told you more about her sister than the derogatory nickname she has carried through the centuries. I heard of Juana la Loca at some point during my high school Spanish classes lo, these many moons ago, but I don't think I knew that she was the daughter of Isabella, the sister of Katherine, or the mother of the Emperor Charles who played an influential part in Katherine's fight to preserve her marriage.

I certainly had no reason up to now to doubt that Juana was genuinely deranged; what I'd heard was the stories about how she refused to allow her late husband's body to be buried, keeping his corpse nearby. I don't think I ever heard about the background of Spanish and European politics that made it extremely convenient for the men in her life to make out that she was too unbalanced to rule, even though people who interacted with her throughout her long enforced seclusion were apparently able to hold perfectly normal, rational conversations with her.

Very informative book. I'll have to look up the author's previous work on Jane Boleyn, the sister-in-law who denounced Anne.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

reading challenge

The library where I work is sponsoring a 100-book challenge, with some little prizes and a recognition dinner for the winners at the end of the year. According to Shelfari, which helpfully provides a running total for me, I topped out at 82 for this past year, which is not too shabby. I'll probably give it a try. If I count graphic novels, which I don't normally log at Shelfari, I can probably make it.

Fans on our Facebook page have scoffed, "Only 100?" I have a feeling we may end up with more winners than the assistant director was counting on when she proposed this program.