Posted in Blog Posts, Read Me, Week of Love

The Princess Bride, by William Goldman: a Novel review

Synopsis:

From the back cover:

“As Florin and Gilder teeter on the verge of war, the reluctant Princess Buttercup is devastated by the loss of her true love, kidnapped by a mercenary and his henchmen, rescued by a pirate, forced to marry Prince Humperdinck, and rescued once again by the very crew who absconded with her in the first place. In the course of this dazzling adventure, she’ll meet Vizzini- the criminal philosopher who’ll so anything for a bag of gold; Fezzik- the gentle giant; Inigo- the Spaniard whose steel thirsts for revenge; and Count Rugen-the evil mastermind behind it all.  Foiling all their plans and jumping into their stories is Westley, Princess Buttercup’s one true love and a very good friend of a very dangerous pirate.”

General Information:

-Genre: Romantic Fantasy Action

-Author: William Goldman

-Number of Pages:

-Main Characters: Westley, Buttercup, Humperdinck, The Six-Fingered Man, Vicinni, Fessik, Iniego Montoya

-Where to Read: support local booksellers (many can order items that may not be in stock) or look for it at your local library!

-Page of Reference in RP1: 38

Review (contains spoilers):

I read this book long after I had first seen the movie.  In fact I didn’t realize it was a book until many, many years after my introduction to the film.

I enjoyed the book overall, though I do enjoy the film more.  It seems to do better in a format with visuals more than in novel form.  But that isn’t to say that the book isn’t down right hilarious and I do appreciate the addition of the short story Buttercup’s Baby that is at the end of the novel.

The characters are about the same as they are in the movie, fleshed out and realistic.  Yet there is a beautiful film of fantasy woven throughout the whole thing.  The descriptions of the world are comprehensive yet not overly dry or longwinded as they are in some other fantasy novels (I’m looking at you Outlander).  The action is vibrant and the story is relatable…even though we don’t live in a medival time period with a stunning farm boy fighting his way across the high seas to rescue us.

A wonderful read that I highly recommend particularly to people who enjoy stories of action, intrique, wit and true love.

Review:

Rating: 4 out of 5.
Posted in Blog Posts, Read Me, Week of Love

The Tempest, by Shakespeare: a Play review

Synopsis:

A ship is caught in a terrible storm and is soon shipwrecked upon an island.  The mysterious storm was caused by the sorcery Prospero and the spirit Ariel in retaliation for the usurpation of Prospero’s title not a dozen years before.

When the survivors become stranded it is apparent that the usurpers Antonio and Alonso are amongst those on board.  prospero decides to reverse what has been done to him by those who have survived the shipwreck…by encouraging a relationship between his beloved daughter, miranda, and Ferdinand (one of the survivors).

Will Prospero be successful in his quest? Will Miranda and Ferdinand fall in love?  Or will everything be upset by the comedic trio of a Jester, a drunken butler and the enslaved monster Caliban?

General Information:

-Genre: Comedy, Romantic Comedy

-Author: Shakespeare

-Number of Words: 16,633 words (about 65-75 pages in modern print)

-Characters: Prospero, Miranda, Ariel, Caliban, Alonso, Sebastian, Antonio, Ferdinand, Gonzalo, Adrian, Francisco, Trinculo, Stephano, Juno, Ceres, Iris, Master, Mariners, Boatswain, Nymphs, Reapers

-Where to Read: support local booksellers (many can order items that may not be in stock) or look for it at your local library!

-Page of Reference in RP1: 350

Review (contains spoilers):

So apparently Halliday was kind of a jokester when it comes to his little game in RP1…since there are two Shakespeare plays mentioned in the book.  This is one of my least favorites in regard to his comedies.

I’ve seen it performed several times and was even in the show as the spirit Ariel for a few shows at a local theatre, but I just don’t find it as funny as many, many of the other comedies that Shakespeare wrote.  It is pretty straight forward overall.

The most fun in my opinion is the Masque in Act 4 where everyone gets to dress incredibly and very outside of their classes and just have a jovial time.  It is one of the few moments within Shakespeare where a show has not only the single large spectacle but has two exceptionally large ones!  The beginning shipwreck and then my favorite…the Masque which is full of dancing and gives the creatives working on the show the chance to actually show what they can do with their skills.

Overall, it’s a fun show that I recommend more as a visual play than sitting and reading it.  There is so much going on that it is sometimes hard to follow on the page. Especially when you are dealing with the comic relief trio…

Review:

Rating: 4 out of 5.
Posted in Blog Posts, LOTR, Read Me

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, by JRR Tolkien: a Book Review

Synopsis:

“One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In ancient times the Rings of Power were crafted by the Elven-smiths, and Sauron, the Dark Lord, forged the One Ring, filling it with his own power so that he could rule all others. But the One Ring was taken from him, and though he sought it throughout Middle-earth, it remained lost to him. After many ages it fell into the hands of Bilbo Baggins, as told in The Hobbit. In a sleepy village in the Shire, young Frodo Baggins finds himself faced with an immense task, as his elderly cousin Bilbo entrusts the Ring to his care. Frodo must leave his home and make a perilous journey across Middle-earth to the Cracks of Doom, there to destroy the Ring and foil the Dark Lord in his evil purpose.”

-lifted from the back cover synopsis

General Information:

-Genre: Epic Fantasy

-Author: JRR Tolkien

-Number of Pages: 423

-Main Characters: Bilbo Baggins, Frodo Baggins, Samwise Gamgee, Merry , Pippin Took, Gandalf the Wizard, Strider, Gimli, Legolas, Boromir

-Where to Read: support local booksellers (many can order items that may not be in stock) or look for it at your local library!

-Page of Reference in RP1/RP2: 62/

Review (contains spoilers):

I have a love-hate relationship with this book. Honestly I have a love-hate relationship with a lot of adult epic fantasy books…and classics…and this is both.  Maybe I have too much baggage associated with it to truly enjoy the story anymore, even the older I get.

But that aside this is a solid story.  Essential Tolkien.  Long winded, overly detailed and with quite a bit of superfluous and frankly unnecessary details (why do you need a whole chapter of “begots”…do we really need to know who your great-to-the-millionth grandfather was… I mean unless you’re Aragorn it doesn’t really matter…does it?).

Other than that the character and world building is what so many authors aspire to today.  It has truly transcended the ages. So many new authors I do love were heavily influenced by these books… yet this is one of the few times that I really do think the visuals in the films captured the true essence of the story in a much better way than the actual books did…shoot me if you want.

Review:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Posted in Blog Posts, LOTR, Read Me

The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien: a Book Review

Synopsis:

Bilbo Baggins, of the Bag’s End Bagginses, is minding his own business when Gandalf the Grey comes to visit.  As a flustered Bilbo invites Gandalf to tea the plotting wizard marks his door with a symbol: “Burglar wants a good job, plenty of excitement and reasonable reward”.

Soon 13 dwarfs arrive at the house talking of their treasure hunting endeavor and crashing on Bilbo’s obligatory hospitality.  As the night wears on Gandalf pulls out a map and arranges the job on Bilbo’s (fairly) stunned behalf to help break the bad luck of the number 13. 

The goal: find the secret passage to the Lonely Mountian, send their thief in to assess and steal what he can, then go and kill Smaug the Dragon to steal the rest of the riches that he hoards in his lair.

After nearly missing the start of the journey Bilbo is off with the dwarfs on an epic adventure of danger, intrigue, treasure and, most of all, more excitement than any Hobbit could imagine in even their wildest dreams.

General Information:

-Genre: Epic Fantasy

-Author: JRR Tolkien

-Number of Pages: 310

-Main Characters: Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf, Thorin Oakenshield, Gloin, Oin, Ori, Nori, Dori, Dwalin, Balin, Kili, Fili, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Smaug

-Where to Read: support local booksellers (many can order items that may not be in stock) or look for it at your local library!

-Page of Reference in RP1/RP2: 62/

Review (contains spoilers):

I have such very fond memories of this book, unlike the other books in the Lord of the Rings.  My dad used to read this, chapter by chapter, to my brother and I as a bedtime story.  Re-reading this book was just a delight.

This story was full of action and adventure…not nearly as much description of the world as his other books.  Tolkien was absolutely on his game with this one. 

I think this is a great book to share with your kids.  It has some violence and some slightly scary parts with attacks by orcs and of course the dragon. But overall, it’s a wonderful way to introduce your children into the fantasy genre.  Even though I didn’t go on to enjoy other epic adult fantasy…or the rest of the Lord of the Rings books… it did solidify my love of fantasy as a genre.

Review:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
Posted in Blog Posts, Read Me

Kurt Vonnegut…Indiana Legend

Kurt Vonnegut.  The man, the myth, the legend.  At least in Indiana.

When I was younger I read a large number of his novels including his iconic Slaughterhouse-Five, which was partially based on his own experiences in Germany during World War II. But even being raised in the Indianapolis, Indiana area I have been terribly remiss as to understand and learn about this incredible writer.

I grew up just north of Indianapolis in a city a about 20 miles from The Kurt Vonnegut Museum.  I studied WWII history here, read many of his novels including his banned novels (because I had amazing teachers), and even have walked around or hung out in many of his old stomping grounds but never really knew more than he lived here too.  So here we go:

Kurt Vonnegut Jr. was born in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1922.  He was the youngest of three children born to a German family that immigrated to the Midwest in the mid-1800s.  They settled here in Indianapolis, eventually opening a hardware company that closed in the 1960s having run for over 100 years.

As a child his family went through many hardships including the closing of his mother’s family’s brewery during prohibition, the great depression, and general economic problems due to various issues.  His father was quite absent throughout his life (though he was in the house and present physically) and his mother was noted as being caustic and abusive.

He attended schools in Indianapolis throughout his early life.  Both his elementary and high school are still in operation in the city, with the high school holding the title of oldest public high school in Indianapolis.  It was in these later years that he truly began to develop his writing skills becoming co-editor of the school paper.  He graduated from high school and went on to attend Cornell University in Ithaca, NY majoring in biochemistry.

Though his major was not in any of the writing or humanities disciplines he continued to work and show passion in the subjects beating out others for a spot on the Cornell paper eventually rising to editor.  He was a proficient writer with a wicked sense of humor.  His career on at the Cornell Daily Sun was most well recognized by a piece he wrote denouncing the US stepping into WWII and preaching pacifism.

Unfortunately for Vonnegut the US did enter the war in late 1941.  He had been a member of the ROTC while at college though he lost his place when he dropped out of school during the winter of 1943.  Instead of just waiting to be drafted (members of the ROTC during the time could wave their conscription during this war) he instead signed up to be a member of the Army.  He was sent to basic training and eventually made his way back to Indiana while studying mechanical engineering.

During this time his mother committed suicide, which Vonnegut found out about the day after it’s occurrence while on leave for Mother’s Day.

Eventually he was sent to Germany to fight.  The Battle of the Bulge was the cap to his military career.  His division was placed on this quiet front because of their inexperience and instead of a simple assignment they were instead overrun. Over 500 of the soldiers on the front were killed and over 6000 were captured by German forces, Vonnegut amongst them.

He was sent with many others to Dresden Prison Camp where he was forced to live in a slaughterhouse turned prisoner holding cell.  It was here that he lived for two months before the city was bombed. Vonnegut and some of his fellow POWs hid in a meat locker to survive the bombing.  They eventually emerged and were set to assist with the excavation of the city.

Eventually he was brought back to the states.  He received a Purple Heart for his service and was discharged, returning to Indianapolis.

It was then that he married his high school sweetheart and the pair relocated to Chicago, Illinois to attend the University of Chicago majoring in Anthropology and Russian Literature respectively.  It was here that their first child.  The Vonnegut’s both left the university at different times, neither receiving a degree.

Throughout this part of his life Vonnegut held a variety of different jobs from a reporter at the City News Bureau in Chicago to a publicist for General Electric eventually becoming the prolific writer that we know him as today.

He published his first short piece in 1950 and then another later the same year.  In 1952 his first novel was published.  Player Piano drew inspiration from his work at GE. 

As his family grew (he and his wife had three of their own children and three adopted children) he worked on his second novel as well as published various short stories and even opened a car dealership with a partner.

His novels had no similar plots of theming which is unique to Vonnegut, while his writing style is distinct.  One only needs to be familiar with his style to be handed an unknown novel and know it belongs to Vonnegut.  Most of his work seemed to be set in a science-fiction or dystopian like set of worlds and it wasn’t until his “second” novel that he worked on in the early 1950s was finally published that he seemed to truly hit his artistic stride.

Cat’s Cradle became one of his most well-known novels. Second only to Slaughterhouse-Five (which drew inspiration from his experience during the Dresden bombing and his time in the war).  Due to the themes in Slaughterhouse-Five he became a major member of the anti-war movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

He taught briefly at Harvard, City College in NYC, and lectured at various events.

During this time his first marriage fell apart.  The subsequent divorce left him reeling and was followed closely by his eldest son’s mental breakdown which sent his ever-lurking depression and shellshock (now known as PTSD) spiraling. He would fight with this mental illness and subsequent suicide attempts throughout the rest of his life.  He even noted that smoking (which he had done since he was 12 or 14) was a “classy way to commit suicide” even going so far as joking in an interview a year or so before his death that he should sue the company of the cigarettes he smoked because they lied.  The packaging stated that cigarettes could cause death and yet they didn’t kill him. 

He at least held his good sense of humor till the end.

His second marriage came with an adopted daughter. And it was throughout this marriage that his popularity resurfaced.

At the time of his death in 2007 he had published 14 full novels (with several becoming best sellers), 3 short story collections, 5 plays and 5 non-fiction pieces along with a plethora of different articles, newspaper and magazine pieces, and even had a book of uncompleted works published posthumously. The film adaptation of Slaughterhouse-Five was created in 1972 was praised by Vonnegut.  He called it “flawless” which is high praise from anyone, especially the author himself.

Posthumously Vonnegut was inducted into the Science-Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame and even had an asteroid named after him.

And…for our intents and purposes…had Wade’s main mode of transportation named after him.  If you want to know more about my views of why check out the article linked below.

[The Vonnegut article]

Posted in Blog Posts, Read Me

Coraline, by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by P. Craig Russel: a Graphic Novel Review

Synopsis:

When young Coraline and her parents move into a new apartment she starts to explore the surrounding area and visits the neighbors.  Everyone seems nice but Coraline soon becomes bored, even more so when it rains so hard that she isn’t able to go outside.

While exploring her own house she finds a door that leads to no where having been bricked up to turn the sprawling manor house into individual units.  When she is awoken in the middle of the night to find the door not only open, but no longer bricked up, she enters the hall to find herself in a house similar to her own only better.

More and better toys, food she likes better, and better neighbors.  With another mother and another father…just like hers but not really. 

What will Coraline do when she is asked to stay by the Other Mother?  And is the house…the better house…all that it seems?

General Information:

-Genre: Dark Fantasy Graphic Novel

-Author/Illustrator: Neil Gaiman with illustrations by P. Craig Russel

-Number of Pages: 192

-Main Characters: Coraline, Mother, Father, The Other Mother

-Where to Read: Look for it at your local booksellers (often they can order items that are not in stock), or check for it at your local library (like I did!)

-Page of Reference in RPO: 62

Review (contains spoilers):

Beautifully illustrated and rendered, this graphic novel edition of Gaiman’s classic Coraline is absolutely lovely.  The story is not lost in the art.  And while the story is quite dark (suitable for older children but younger children may be bothered by some of the imagery) the illustrations are anything but gory or overly graphic.

My first experience with Coraline was with the movie adaptation done by Laika film studio.  You can see my review of it here:

I was pleased to find that the story hadn’t been changed much.

This graphic novel form of the story is so wonderfully done that it makes an excellent edition to the novella.  It not only enhances the story but makes it accessible to more people.

I love that more and more novels and novellas are being turned into graphic novels. There are many people who struggle to read novels for various reasons and having graphic novels or audiobooks of these makes them more accessible.

And this one shows how art and story telling can go hand in hand.

The illustrations capture the essence of the book.  Sweet and not startling.  Just creepy enough to be on the dark side of fantasy but not too graphic…as the story is intended for children.  Coraline is an inquisitive child who is learning that her parents don’t always have time to keep her entertained.  They seem unattentive from her point of view.  Yet she grows to realize that they love her deeply and that she loves them too.

She learns to use her kindness to help others and save the future from the Other Mother. Her cunning and her quick wit keep the story interesting and charming.

Overall an enjoyable read and a lovely graphic novel.

Review:

Rating: 4 out of 5.
Posted in Blog Posts, Read Me

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, by Stephen King: a Novella Review

Synopsis:

Around a year after their parents’ divorce, nine-year-old Trisha and fourteen-year-old Pete are in the custody of their mother.  She tries to keep her kids entertained with family trips on the weekend.  But Pete is far from happy about the situation and this often ends in total blowups between himself and his mother.  Arguments that Trisha is getting annoyed hearing over and over again.

As they head out on one of their family trips, this time a hike on a six mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail, the argument between Pete and his mother continue.  Trisha is beyond annoyed.  As she tries to get her mother’s attention so she can get everyone to stop so she can go to the bathroom neither her mother nor her brother hear her.  In a bout of childhood irritation, she decides to just step off the path to relieve herself.  How far ahead could they really get?

As she returns in the direction, she remembers the trail is in, Trisha soon realizes that she may be in serious trouble.  The path is no where to be seen.  As she tries to figure out where she should be going the day drags on and she has to resign herself to the fact that not only is she terribly lost but she may have to spend the night outside in the woods.

With only her Walkman for company Trisha is lost.  As she tries to make her way back to civilization, she turns to her favorite Red Sox player, Tom Gordon, for company and strength.  As the days wear on though she cannot shake the feeling she is being watched.  Will Trisha make it home?  Or will It get her deep in the heart of the New England wilds?

General Information:

-Genre: Psychological Horror, Survival

-Author: Stephen King

-Number of Pages: 224

-Where to Read: check at your local bookseller (they can often order items that are not in stock), find it on audiobook, or check out your local library for a copy

-Page of Reference in RPO: 62

Review (contains spoilers):

A quick read, especially when it comes to the works of Stephen King.  I wouldn’t consider it horror by any means though it is labeled as such.  I decided to also categorize it as a survival story as it seems to fit more with several of the novels I’ve read in the last year that are in that genre (surviving plane crashes or blizzards, being lost a sea, etc.)

The story follows that of a little girl who gets lost in the woods.  A seemingly common thing when someone steps off the path especially along the larger and more dangerous stretches of trails like that in the Pacific Northwest or, in this case, the Appalachian wilderness.  The most frustrating part is that it was all preventable if only her mother had paid more attention to her daughter while hiking an unfamiliar trail with a moderate to difficult rating.

The story seems a bit unbelievable for more modern times, as the young girl (aged 9) has a skill set that isn’t taught often anymore.  She knows some foods that are safe and scvangable in the New England wilds.  Some of this was taught in school and others were taught by her mother.  Now it seems that we would only learn these items if our children participated in something like Boy or Girl Scouts or showed a genuine interest in the great outdoors.  Most families today don’t even go hiking on the weekends, let alone teach general survival skills to their children.

Overall, the story is good.  One of a young child, lost in the woods and struggling to survive.  She makes choices, some good and some bad, that even adults often cannot when stuck in similar situations.  But she is a child and therefore some of the things she chooses to do seem more adult and mature that what a typical nine-year-old (even in the 1980s) would chose to do.

Or perhaps I’m just looking at things through a modern lens where we don’t have this knowledge.  Our schools are different.  Our parents work too hard and don’t often have the time to teach their children any of this information (or even know these things themselves).

Frankly the premise of a nine-year-old knowing a lot of this information is kind of out there.  It may have been more convincing if the girl and her brother were closer in age (say her brother being 16 instead of 14 and she herself being 14 instead of 9) where she and her brother may have been exposed to scouting, family camping trips, general exploration and even her own interests.  But for a young child whose only real obsession is that of the Red Sox this just feels contrived.

King does, however, capture the eerie and creepy feeling of a mind who is going slightly feral.  Between the starvation (as she doesn’t know a lot but enough to not die) and being sick, sunstroke and the general fear of being alone and lost, King does touch on how your mind can play tricks on you in this context.  And while I wouldn’t categorize this as horror, the idea that our brains can go into a survival mode turning what would be considered by the rational mind as normal such as animal activity and death, claw marks on trees from bears and general trouble in the woods into something completely sinister and slightly paranormal is disconcerting.

A decent story but nothing that I would commend King on.  If you enjoy survival stories you will enjoy this.

Review:

Rating: 3 out of 5.