Legends and Lattes

Reading for Writers: book reviews that take a look at how a book is written, and what we can learn from it.

Legends & Lattes took the twitterverse by storm and heralded, I suspect, a comeback for cosy fantasy. I, for one, am all prepared for the trend, and I think Legends & Lattes provided a wonderful kickoff.

Viv quits her job as a sword for hire and leaves her adventuring crew to start a new life in the city of Thune. She’s got a safe full of money, a good-luck macguffin and a big dream: to introduce Thune to the wonders of coffee. As she goes through the process of starting a small business and converting the citizens of Thune to coffee-drinkers, she starts to collect a new kind of crew. When rivals old and new start sniffing around Viv’s life, she has to figure out how to leave her old world behind for good, even if the high road has high consequences.

The World

We’re starting this review with world building, because I think that’s what made it stand out to so many readers in the first place.

The wider world of Legends & Lattes feels like your run-of-the-mill D&D setting. The genius isn’t in the magic systems, the patiently devised geography, the intricate politics that divide the area. The genius is in the coffee shop. Baldree took me somewhere I’d been thousands of times, then took me somewhere I’d never been. Not many books can do that.

The worldbuilding is undertaken mostly through tone. It’s a homey, comfortable novel that feels like the coffee shop of novels. If you want a good example of how tone and worldbuilding need to be cohesive, read this book. The tone is truly what helped to immerse me and make me feel like I was reading something different.

The Plot

The tag line on the front of the US cover reads, A book of high fantasy and low stakes, and that is exactly what we get. I think a lot of readers (myself included) found it refreshing to get a book with all the fantasy elements we love, but without life-or-death situations. I hope slice-of-life fantasies become more common, and between this and Psalm for the Wild Built by Becky Chambers, the bar is starting pretty high.

That being said, I didn’t love the plot. In some ways I found it a little…episodic, perhaps? Or thin on the ground? The overarching story was charming and fun, but I would have liked a little more tension overall. Not super-high stakes tension – maybe more of an emotional tension. The conflict that I thought would be the main conflict of the book was actually resolved around the mid-point, and I did like that. At the same time, I found it a bit difficult to buy in to how that particular conflict was resolved. So plot wise I’m a bit ambivalent, but I didn’t pick the book up for the plot. I picked it up for the spot-on vibes.

The Characters

The strength of the characters isn’t in their complexity, but rather in the fact that they fit well into their setting. I could see myself going to Viv’s coffee shop and buying a latte. I did have a little trouble in the beginning with distinguishing Viv and Tandri’s voices, in particular, and I wouldn’t exactly say they contain multitudes. But the character work is solid and well-rounded, and the slow-burn romance worked really well for me. I thought, just KISS ALREADY multiple times, and in the good way.

These do sort of feel like D&D campaign characters written really well, but once again: that’s the vibe of the thing.

Read Legends & Lattes if…

  • You want cozy coffee shop vibes
  • You want the D&D worldbuilding and a less intense story
  • You wish you were an orc ex-barbarian coffee shop owner

Avoid if…

  • You want all grimdark all the time
  • You want your fantasy a little more epic
  • You want a tight plot with lots of action

Review: Star Wars – Dark Disciple

You know how sometimes, when you read fanfiction, you get kind of annoyed because the story is focusing on two completely random characters whose hijinks will have zero impact on the overarching plot of the saga? Anyone? Just me?

That was Dark Disciple for me, in a nutshell. I’ve been sitting around for twenty minutes trying to figure out why it bothered me, and that goes a long way towards explaining it. Which is a shame, because the plot of Dark Disciple is just similar enough to the story of Anakin Skywalker’s fall that it provokes comparison – and let’s be honest, no story ever compares unfavorably to the Star Wars prequels.

Author: Christie Golden
Timeline: The first of the tie-ins. Between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. Set during The Clone Wars.
Publisher: LucasBooks, July 7, 2015
Summary: Based off unaired Clone Wars episodes, Dark Disciple chronicles the struggles of happy-go-lucky jedi, Quinlan Vos, as he attempts to do the most un-jedi thing possible – kill another being in cold blood. The Jedi Council is determined that Count Dooku should die, and sooner rather than later. Vos must team up with Dooku’s former acolyte, Asajj Ventress, who hates the Jedi nearly as much as she despises her old master. Together, they might be able to bring Dooku down – if their own darkness and desire doesn’t destroy them first.
How much of a Star Wars Nerd to I need to be to get this? Let’s be honest, if you’re looking at a review of a tie-in novel, you’re probably all the nerd you need to be. However, I started this book before watching any of the Clone Wars series, and it’s been a looooooong time since the prequels. I had no trouble following the story or getting into the world.


My first impressions of Dark Disciple were quite strong. First, that cover. Somebody get that cover artist a big, fat raise. That cover doesn’t scream badass, no. It comes up, it punches you in the face, it leaves you in the mud like a badass anything ought to do. I love that cover. Second, the audio. I listened to Dark Disciple via audible, since I have a subscription and my credits have racked up. The audio production was obviously put together with a lot of care, and at first I really enjoyed it (yes, only at first. We’ll get back to that).

The first half of the book seemed to make good on the promise of the cover and the back blurb.  The romance between Vos and Ventress didn’t really excite me – it’s not anything new, to be honest – but the action was exciting, they had something compelling to move them forward, and the edge that Vos walked, between Light and Dark, made for a tense read. It was hard for me not to compare this part of Dark Disciple to the prequels’ love story between Anakin and Padme. And I didn’t really hold back, if I’m honest. I felt that Christie Golden provided a much more compelling, entertaining and believable story of a man in love and in danger with the Dark Side.

Dark Disciple takes a major turn about halfway through, and things started to unravel from there for me. First off, the plot. It descended into convoluted territory, and featured such devices as, “lovers have the can we/can’t we argument ten thousand times rather than just MAKING A FREAKING DECISION and sticking to their guns;” and a personal favorite of mine, “I can’t tell you this Big Secret because that would resolve the plot of the book in ten pages and besides, this will give us more tension.” The sad part is, I think Dark Disciple would have had a lot more tension if we’d known the Big Secret before the very last chapter.

The second half was where the audio started to get on my nerves as well. Dark Disciple is narrated by Marc Thompson, and while he’s mostly spot on with his accents and imitations, at times he got…a little too into the performance. Dark Disciple is told in the third person, from a fairly close point of view; i.e., we should be right up inside the main characters’ minds, feeling what they’re feeling. All the same, not every sentence has to be tense with emotion. Sometimes I felt like Thompson wanted to convey every nuance of How Exciting! It was! For Vos to blow his nose! Um, no thanks. Also, the sound effects. They were mostly all right, but in the lengthier scenes, the sound effects were looped on repeat. Once I heard that, I could never unhear it.

My last issue with Dark Disciple is something I feel kind of bad for. And this should not be a reflection on Christie Golden – I have no idea how much input she had on the story, and I don’t have much experience writing tie-in fiction. However, as the novel had originally been planned as part of the Clone Wars series, I imagine her guidelines were pretty strict.

My problem is that I went into the book knowing the outcome of the main plot. I saw both Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, and I remember (ish) how they turned out. So even when I was having the most fun listening, a little voice kept whispering, as though millions of critics cried out in irritation and were suddenly silenced: “So what?” Everything that happened in the story would ultimately be pointless. Because the main characters of Star Wars are not Vos and Ventress, as much as they may enjoy their fifteen minutes of tie-in fame, the saga is not their saga, and the impact of their story will be light. At the same time, it set itself up for such epic proportions that it was hard for me as a reader not to expect grand things of it. And let’s be honest, Vos and Ventress make a much more kickass team than Anakin and, well, anybody. Oh well. At least he barely featured.

This series part of my grand plan to review the Star Wars tie in novels. At the moment I’m just doing the adult novels, and just the ones for the new canon. Questions, comments, polite rants and offers to join the Dark Side welcome.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Spoilers? Sorta.

I just wanted to jot down a couple of thoughts I had upon seeing Star Wars.  I saw it yesterday; yes, I know I’m late. But I wanted to say a couple of things about it.

I liked it. I didn’t necessarily expect to; it was, after all, made by the same man who redid Star Trek, and I wanted to burn my eyes out and bleach my brain after seeing that thing. But while J.J. Abrams did a lot of the same things for Star Wars (scenes full of fan service, for example), this one went down better with me. Why that might be is the subject for a different sort of argument, and I’m not sure I’ll ever have the energy for it.

Overall I greatly enjoyed the film. It took me back to when I first saw A New Hope on our twenty year-old television, sitting on my dad’s knee. Fun, excitement, eminently quotable lines. And the cast of The Force Awakens does an amazing job. I came to see Luke, Leia and Han again. I’ll come back to see Fin and Rey again.

One thing I will say about The Force Awakens is that, even as it was playing, my family and I noticed one or two or five thousand similarities to A New Hope. Yeah, it’s essentially the same film. The plot beats, even some of the scenes and scenery. So if you know the original films, nothing in there is going to blow your mind. Though this was apparent throughout, it didn’t bother me so much. Maybe because I was having a good time anyway, maybe because everything else about the film was stellar (no pun intended), maybe because I was just glad we didn’t get a repeat of the prequels.

I enjoyed the film to the extent that I want to get back into the Star Wars universe. And now that we’ve got a reboot, I’ve decided to read the new canon books. I never got into the old ones, because there was simply so much. But it’ll be a fun project for the blog – read, review, comment.

So I’ll be starting with The Dark Disciple, which Wookieepedia claims is the first (chronologically) of the new canon books. I’ll be listening to it on audio, then I’ll post my review.


Review: Fangirl

Note: I like in-depth reviews, from the writerly side of things, and I like positive reviews. Therefore my reviews are lengthy, full of spoilers, and only of books that I love.

The Spoiler-Free Version

I’m not sure what initially turned me off reading Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell. A few Goodreads reviews claimed that it was ‘disparaging’ towards people who wrote fanfiction, and suggested that they were immature (I found zero evidence of this in the book). But it didn’t hold much interest for me until a friend working at a geek bookstore tried to get me to buy Carry On. “It’s so good,” she gushed. “It’s about…well, it’s super meta.”

I didn’t feel like reading Carry On first. But I figured I’d try Fangirl, because hey, reading. I was very nicely surprised.

Reading Fangirl was an experience similar to eating comfort food. It was never the wrong time to read it, it went down easily, and it gave me the warm fuzzies. I expect I connected with it better than some people might do – I grew up in Colorado, which has that same midwest feel, a mix of farm and city.

Fangirl follows the story of Cath, a shut-in twin just starting college. Cath’s twin Wren has performed the twin equivalent of a we-should-see-other-people breakup, and Cath isn’t sure how to navigate the real world without her. More than that, she doesn’t really want to. She’s got a massive online following thanks to her fanfiction epic, and she’d happily spend all day churning out chapters for them. However, a fun cast of characters is determined to pull her into life at her Nebraskan college.

A lot of Fangirl is episodic, so if you want a tight, racing plot, this may not be the book for you. But the book is incredibly strong in terms of craft. The description and dialogue were perfect for me, and every sentence was compelling. The characters were mostly fun to be with, and well-rounded. I related to a lot of Cath’s experiences as well, and I appreciate that we can get a different side to college life than a focus on parties or academia.

I would recommend Fangirl overall, and especially to people looking for a light read, a slightly (but not too) nerdy story, and a male love interest that doesn’t make you want to claw your eyes out or shout, ‘abuse!’

The Spoiler Version (You’ve Been Warned)

The Characters

Having just finished Fangirl (literally, I closed the book and then started this review), I’m a little muddled in this territory. I can’t figure out whether some of them were a little too tropey, or one-sided, or just the right amount of each.

Cather was sympathetic and funny, flawed and fun to read about. She was, of course, the most developed character, as the book was written in a close third person. I loved how much I could relate to Cath – I’ve had a lot of the same mentalities as her, and I’ve had some of the same experiences as her. I loved how she dealt with the various crises presented by the book, as they showed a character with both good and bad traits. I do feel that the ending came a little too easily to her, but we’ll cover that in the plot.

Levi was really great as Boyfriend Material. I am so sick of seeing these bad boys sauntering around, acting like the whole world pissed in their Cheerios and like women – or at least, the women they’re interested in – should be pushed around like chess pieces in their sick mind games. But Levi supported Cath in everything, worked to enjoy her interests, and sometimes pushed her to do better. At times Levi was too good, but for me that’s forgivable as we saw the book through Cath’s eyes, and they spent most of their time together in their honeymoon period.

Reagan was the ultimate Cool Roommate. I enjoyed her strengths, her prickly support of Cath, her brashness. She’s the type of character that’s good in small doses, and Rowell knew how to use her.

Wren was the most problematic character for me, as oftentimes it seemed she entered Cath’s life just to present her with a problem for the book to solve. Wren’s troubles ended up being about Cath and not about Wren. For example, she made the choice to pick up contact with their mother, but the book doesn’t directly show how that affects her. Later on she goes overboard on the party and drinking wagon, but that seems more like a vehicle to getting Cath and their mother in the same room together, and not a way to develop Wren on her own arc. She even corrects herself with what seems like little influence from Cath, and re-enters Cath’s life to make everything shining and beautiful again shortly thereafter.


The Writing

…was fun. I felt it had the perfect balance of description, action and dialogue, never got confusing on one end or bogged down on another. And most of all, it was compelling. I almost missed my train stop both going to and coming from work because I couldn’t stand to put the book away. And in case I don’t give a compelling enough case, the tattooed Viking squashed in next to me on the train was reading over my shoulder.

The Plot

…wandered a bit, in my opinion. I don’t have to have a strong plot thread, but I thought that Wren’s trip to the hospital would be the climax of the story, and then the denouement took another hundred pages. There wasn’t much conflict after that, and what was there felt a little shouldered in.

In a way, I didn’t need a strong climax or a quick pace. But I also felt like the ending wrapped things up a little too neatly. Cath falls more and more behind on Carry On, yet manages to make up with her family, finish her finals, and get the story done with no repercussions. She has an ongoing struggle with her writing professor, Piper, and the short story she’s supposed to write, yet she bangs out her ten thousand words in the middle of all this stress, after hating and hating the assignment. Not only does she presumably get her A, but her short story is selected for publication in the university’s magazine, which is supposedly a big honor. I loved virtually every part of Cath’s writing struggles and victories, but this one was a little too much for me. I guess I like keeping my endings a little bit messy.

I hope that at least some people got to the end of this post, and that you enjoyed it. All in all, Fangirl is probably one of those books that appeals to a specific audience, but boy is that audience me. I’m not sure how much I’ll like Carry On by comparison, but I’ll only find out by reading it, right?