• The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum
• ebook: 386 pages
• Publisher: Dorchester, 2011 (first published in 1993)
• ISBN: 1428516212
• Genre: Horror/True Crime/Torture Porn
• Recommended For: Fans of movies like Hostel, Saw, and other icky movies.
Quick Review: Earns a 32 %, or 1.6 stars out of 5. Check out my rubric for my detailed assessment. The Girl Next Door Rubric
I didn’t like it AT ALL, but if you don’t mind the torture of a kid by kids and parents, have at it!
How I Got Here: I’m on a quest for a legitimate book scare. I’ve been looking for a truly scary book for some time and this one is regularly recommended. So, I bought the ebook on Amazon (wish I hadn’t).
The Book: Goodreads’ Synopsis
A teenage girl is held captive and brutally tortured by neighborhood children. Based on a true story, this shocking novel reveals the depravity of which we are all capable.
My Analysis and Critique:
Ugh. Why didn’t I read the synopsis and think about my reading/viewing tastes BEFORE I read this one? It’s my fault really.
I like horror of the supernatural variety, or the dystopian variety, not the “let’s watch the 12-year-old narrator get a hard-on as he watches the 14-year-old girl get stripped naked and tortured in his best friend’s basement by his best friends and best friends’ mom.”
This was awful.
It’s time for some concessions though. It wasn’t written awfully. Ketchum seems to be a good writer. And when he describes childhood, it’s pretty dead-on. At times, I felt like I was reading my all-time favorite childhood story It. But…
I don’t watch movies like Hostel or Saw. In my opinion, they’re just a step away from watching Faces of Death (remember those flicks? yuck.). So, I really didn’t dig watching a young girl getting tortured by her foster family, with all of the neighborhood kids, her disabled little sister, and OUR NARRATOR watching eagerly.
And, I really don’t like stories with unlikeable narrators. I didn’t even like everyone’s favorite The Graduate because I thought Dustin Hoffman’s character was lame. But, then again, at least Hoffman’s character wasn’t getting off to the torture of a young girl.
Plus, the narrator’s actions didn’t always make sense to me. He first introduced the two boys next door disparagingly as an “asshole” and a “retard”, but then he goes on to call them his closest friends. And he continues to refer to them as such, but stands by them as they touch, mutilate, and rape a girl whom he made friends with at the beginning of the book. This doesn’t make sense to me as a critical reader. Never mind the fact that it’s atrocious.
Ketchum knew that what he was writing was awful, and tried to make excuses in his “Author’s Note” . Basically, he says “it could’ve been much worse. I left out a lot of the bad stuff.” Don’t make excuses. It is what it is, and you recreated it in your fiction pretty well. It doesn’t mean that I have to like it though.
If you don’t mind this kind of stuff, go for it. It is written pretty well, despite the problems I had with the narrator’s characterization. I don’t want to read anything like it again. I don’t want my friends and family to read it either. Maybe it’s me, but this book seems good for nothing but a short (or long, if you’re especially sensitive) depression. I don’t want to know. I don’t need to see it. I know that I’m surrounded by sickos in this world, and I’ll pass on the details until I have to deal with it in real life. Ideally, never. Obviously.
• Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon
• Paperback: 752 pages
• Publisher: Delta, 2001 (first published 1992)
• ISBN: 0385335970
• Genre: Historical Fiction/Romance/Science Fiction
• Recommended For: Anyone interested in history, particularly Scottish/British history; anyone interested in a good love story.
Quick Review: Earns an 88 %, or 4.4 stars out of 5. Check out my rubric for my detailed assessment. Dragonfly in Amber Rubric
Overall, I definitely recommend this series to readers interested in romance and history. I definitely enjoyed it, and am looking forward to reading the next book in the series, Voyager.
How I Got Here: I read the first book of the Gabaldon’s series, Outlander, last fall, and was ready to continue the story of Jaime and Claire.
The Book: Goodreads’ Synopsis
With her now-classic novel Outlander, Diana Gabaldon introduced two unforgettable characters — Claire Randall and Jamie Fraser—delighting readers with a story of adventure and love that spanned two centuries. Now Gabaldon returns to that extraordinary time and place in this vivid, powerful follow-up to Outlander….
For twenty years Claire Randall has kept her secrets. But now she is returning with her grown daughter to Scotland’s majestic mist-shrouded hills. Here Claire plans to reveal a truth as stunning as the events that gave it birth: about the mystery of an ancient circle of standing stones … about a love that transcends the boundaries of time … and about James Fraser, a Scottish warrior whose gallantry once drew a young Claire from the security of her century to the dangers of his….
Now a legacy of blood and desire will test her beautiful copper-haired daughter, Brianna, as Claire’s spellbinding journey of self-discovery continues in the intrigue-ridden Paris court of Charles Stuart … in a race to thwart a doomed Highlands uprising … and in a desperate fight to save both the child and the man she loves….
My Analysis and Critique:
I have to say, I think I prefer Dragonfly in Amber over Outlander, the first in Gabaldon’s romantic, time-traveling, highlander historical fiction series. I think it offered more in the way of pulling me in.
Dragonfly in Amber begins with our heroine Claire Randall/Fraser in 1968, telling her time-travelling story to her daughter Brianna and their friend Roger Wakefield. Claire’s story begins right where Outlander left off, and right away, the reader knows that it will end with the death of Claire’s beloved Jamie. The story travels from Claire and Jamie’s time in France in the court of Louis XV, to the Fraser lands of Lallybroch, to the battles of the Jacobite Uprising all over Scotland. The reader learns a lot of history, sees a lot of Scotland, and meets a lot of characters. A LOT of characters.
Which is one of the only gripes I have with this book. While all of the characters that Gabaldon writes are very true and realistic, there are just SO MANY. I had trouble telling the difference between many of them and discerning which were truly important and which weren’t. Sometimes, I found that I wasn’t really paying attention to parts of the plot because I didn’t know that it and the characters involved were really important. It was just SO MUCH. Yet, I have a sinking feeling that, like with my readings of George R.R. Martin, my lack of attention to certain characters and scenes might come back to haunt me when they reappear in later books. And, I WILL be reading the later books, as I really do care about the main characters.
I REALLY care for the romance of Jamie and Claire. Sure, Jaime is very swoon-worthy with his long red hair and exclamations of “You are mine!”, but what I think really gets me, and why I think I prefer this book over the first book in the series, is the reality of their relationship. Unlike Outlander, this book is not full of bodice-ripping passion and romps in the woods. Well, there is some of that, but mainly this book conveys the deep sense of companionship between Jaime and Claire. They are a true married couple, very much in love and very much devoted to each other, and they love and fight like any true couple. Theirs is a comfortable relationship (well as comfortable as it can be, considering they’re in the midst of a rebellion), and I relished the scenes of quiet strength in their relationship. They might be my favorite literary couple of all time just for being so very real.
In addition, I am very grateful to this book for stirring my interest in Scottish and English history. Countless times during my reading, I took to Google to do a bit of research on James II, Bonnie Prince Charlie, Scottish Clans, and the court of Louis XV. Anytime a book pushes me to learn, I am pretty stoked. So, major bonus points to Gabaldon for the history lesson!
Overall, I do highly recommend this series to readers interested in romance and history. I definitely enjoyed it, and am looking forward to reading the next book in the series, Voyager.
• The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
• Paperback: 216 pages
• Publisher: Pocket, 1991 (first published in 1979)
• ISBN: 0671746065
• Genre: Science Fiction/Humor/Classics
• Recommended For: Anyone who has even the slightest sense of silly humor.
Quick Review: Earns a 98 %, or 4.8 stars out of 5. Check out my rubric for my detailed assessment. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Rubric
This review might work for you, it might not. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (and, assumedly, the rest of the books in the series) is a book you either get or you don’t. I got it, absolutely, 5-star-loved it, and it seems that the majority of other Goodreads readers got it and loved it as well. But, be warned, this is an insane, very silly book in the way of Monty Python. I highly recommend it.
How I Got Here: One of the first computer games that my dad ever bought me was The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a text-based game with zero graphics. The content of the game came straight from the novel, and I absolutely loved it (although it was a really hard game for someone who had never read the book). I loved the zaniness, the humor, and the characters. I bought the book for my husband some years ago, he loved it, and for some reason, I still hadn’t read it until this year. 22 years later after playing the game! By the way, apparently the video game is now available online! Check it out here!
The Book: Goodreads’ Synopsis
Seconds before the Earth is demolished to make way for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is plucked off the planet by his friend Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised edition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy who, for the last fifteen years, has been posing as an out-of-work actor.
Together this dynamic pair begin a journey through space aided by quotes from The Hitchhiker’s Guide (“A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have”) and a galaxy-full of fellow travelers: Zaphod Beeblebrox–the two-headed, three-armed ex-hippie and totally out-to-lunch president of the galaxy; Trillian, Zaphod’s girlfriend (formally Tricia McMillan), whom Arthur tried to pick up at a cocktail party once upon a time zone; Marvin, a paranoid, brilliant, and chronically depressed robot; Veet Voojagig, a former graduate student who is obsessed with the disappearance of all the ballpoint pens he bought over the years.
Where are these pens? Why are we born? Why do we die? Why do we spend so much time between wearing digital watches? For all the answers stick your thumb to the stars. And don’t forget to bring a towel!
My Analysis and Critique:
This review might be biased. Biased in the way that I LOVE silly humor, especially silly English humor, and this book is chock-full of it. I also love science fiction, so this book was a match made in heaven for me. With that said, if you don’t dig silly English humor, you might not like this book. Although, I still find that hard to believe.
I love the plot of the story, full of all of its twists and turns and lunacy. I love the characters, both major, but especially minor. The humorous tone is awesome and I rarely read without a smile or an out and out “HA!” exclamation. The science fiction in the novel is equally good, and there were moments when I read about devices thinking that’s just like an I-pod! or The Hitchhiker’s Guide is an E-Reader!. This is one of my favorite aspects of science fiction, the amazing ability of science fiction writers to imagine up the actual future. It happens in Bradbury and Orwell, and it turns out that Adams had the same uncanny ability.
Really, all there is to say, is that I loved this book. Instead of going on in my praise, I’ll just provide the opening lines of the book, which truly reflect the spirit and tone of the novel. If you are intrigued and amused by this excerpt, chances are you’ll love what the rest of the novel offers.
Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.
This planet has–or rather had–a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.
And then, one Thursday, nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change, a girl sitting on her own in a small cafe in Rickmansworth suddenly realized what it was that had gone wrong all this time, and she finally knew how the world could be made a good and happy place. This time it was right, it would work, and no one would have to get nailed to anything.
Sadly, however, before she could get to a phone to tell anyone about it, a terrible, stupid catastrophe occurred, and the idea was lost for ever.
This is not her story.
• Empire of the Sun by J.G. Ballard
• Hardcover: 279 pages
• Publisher: Simon and Schuster, 1984
• ISBN: 0671530518
• Genre: Historical Fiction
• Recommended For: Readers interested in World War II, particularly the war in the Pacific. Anyone interested in viewing war through the eyes of a child.
Quick Review: Earns an 88 %, or 4.4 stars out of 5. Check out my rubric for my detailed assessment. Empire of the Sun Rubric
An important novel, Empire of the Sun provides insight to what it’s like to experience war through the eyes of a child, and gives readers an excuse to educate themselves on the war in the Pacific during WWII.
How I Got Here: Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun has always been a favorite film, and I have been meaning to read the book for years. One of the tasks in The Seasonal Reading Challenge required reading one of the “Best War Novels”, so I jumped at the opportunity to cross this one off my TBR list.
The Book: Goodreads’ Synopsis
The classic, award-winning novel, made famous by Steven Spielberg’s film, tells of a young boy’s struggle to survive World War II in China.
Jim is separated from his parents in a world at war. To survive, he must find a strength greater than all the events that surround him.
Shanghai, 1941 — a city aflame from the fateful torch of Pearl Harbor. In streets full of chaos and corpses, a young British boy searches in vain for his parents. Imprisoned in a Japanese concentration camp, he is witness to the fierce white flash of Nagasaki, as the bomb bellows the end of the war…and the dawn of a blighted world.
Ballard’s enduring novel of war and deprivation, internment camps and death marches, and starvation and survival is an honest coming-of-age tale set in a world thrown utterly out of joint.
My Analysis and Critique:
Empire of the Sun is an important book, both as a historical work and as an example of a child’s experience in war. Immediately when I started to read it, I thought that it is a work that should be taught in school, right alongside The Diary of Anne Frank, as it provides insight into the World War II Pacific experience. Yet, it would be a pretty hard read for youth readers, as, at times, it was a pretty hard read for me. Certain parts of the plot were hard to follow, and this is why Empire of the Sun doesn’t earn 5 stars with me. This is also why I could say what I never say: the movie was better than the book in a few ways.
-Imagery and setting: WWII Shanghai came to life via Ballard’s writing. The descriptions of the city, the people, and the experiences were very vivid, and most often were shocking. I saw the city before Pearl Harbor, when the Japanese occupied Shanghai, but allowed the residents to live and work pretty much as they always had before. Yet, this city is already a wasteland of poverty and death:
Refugees from the towns and villages around Shanghai were pouring into the city. Wooden carts and rickshaws crowded Amherst Avenue, each loaded with a peasant family’s entire possessions. Adults and children bent under the bales strapped to their backs, forcing the wheels with their hands. Rickshaw coolies hauled at their shafts, chanting and spitting, veins as thick as fingers clenched into the meat of their swollen calves. Petty clerks pushed bicycles loaded with mattresses, charcoal stoves and sacks of rice. A legless beggar, his thorax strapped into a huge leather shoe, swung himself along the road through the maze of wheels, a wooden dumbbell in each hand. He spat and swiped at the Packard when Yang tried to force him out of the car’s way, and then vanished among the wheels and pedicabs and rickshaws, confident in his kingdom of saliva and dust. (12)
This is the world Jim, the protagonist, grows up in, and once Pearl Harbor is attacked, the city spirals into mass confusion, and Jim is caught up in the middle of it, surrounded by violence and death. As Jim moves from war-torn Shanghai to an internment camp, Ballard expertly illustrates what it was truly like, through the eyes of a child.
-Characterization: Jim is a sad, strange boy dealing with his world turned upside down and inside out. Early in the novel, he is reading Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, and it’s immediately clear that his experiences will be very Alice-like. Ballard’s Jim is a very needy boy–he is starving for attention from his parents, and once he is separated from them, he is starving for attention from any and all adults around him. Jim is also a survivor–he does whatever it takes to get through his experiences, whether it means cozying up to the Japanese enemy, offering up whatever he has or could get to the morally-corrupt adults, or manipulating whatever system is in place so that he can get what he needs the most.
All of Ballard’s minor characters come to life via his descriptions and dialogue. Jim encounters a variety of people during his war experience: Chinese street thugs, Japanese soldiers and officers, British elite trying to cope with their new limited circumstances, and American con artists, to name a few. Everyone he sees and encounters comes are realistic and true.
-The Book as History Lesson: I learned so much from this book, and what it didn’t tell me, I sought out via my husband (a history buff) or the internet. This is my favorite kind of book, the kind that drives me to seek knowledge. I feel now that I understand quite a bit more about the war in the Pacific, and what it was like to experience the war in Shanghai. Most likely, I will seek further information on this area and period of history because of my reading of this book. This is one of the greatest achievements of any book: the ability to spur on the reader to seek more.
What Didn’t Work:
-Plot Development/Writing Style: So maybe I’m not a good reader, or I just didn’t get a few of the scenes, but at times the plot just doesn’t make sense. For example, young Jim thinks he’s responsible for starting the war after watching a Japanese cruiser fire upon a British ship in the Bund river. I know, from having watched the movie, that the Japanese ship is making use of a signal lamp and that Jim, having some childish fun, uses his own lamp to signal back to the ship. Right after this, the ship fires upon the British, causing Jamie to think he might’ve mistakenly signaled something that caused the Japanese aggression. Yet, in the book, all I see is Jamie banging on the window while he watches the Japanese signaling, the Japanese firing on the Brits, and then, while battle ensues, Jim sits on the bed thinking he started the whole thing:
Jim watched them somberly. He realized that he himself had probably started the war, with his confused semaphores from the window that the Japanese officers in the motor launch had misinterpreted. (28)
So, apparently the Jim’s lamp signaling happened, I just never saw it.
This kind of reader confusion happens a couple of times in the book, and I blame Ballard’s awesome use of imagery. His descriptions are so good that somehow they actually hide the plot. Sometimes, I couldn’t tell what was real and what wasn’t, what was happening and what was simply in Jim’s head. My husband thinks this confusion might be intentional on Ballard’s part, to truly illustrate the confusion of a child in war. This could most likely be the case, but it’s somewhat hard on the reader.
This is one of the most rarest of occasions, as I’m going to say that in a lot of ways I preferred the movie over the book. Of course, the movie doesn’t quite bring to life the characters, particularly Jamie, as well as the book, and I didn’t get all of the cultural and historical background that I got in the book. Yet, as a story, for me, it worked better. I wasn’t confused by plot that was made ambiguous by creative narrative styles and imagery, and I preferred the ending. The movie did cut out a good chunk of Jim’s post-war experience, which I was fascinated by, but still, as a story, I preferred it. I really can’t believe I’m saying that–I never say that. But, I definitely recommend the book alongside the movie for a very educational and moving experience.
• When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris
• Audio: 9 cds
• Publisher: Hatchette Audio, 2008
• ISBN: 1600241824
• Genre: Humor; Memoir; Essay
• Recommended For: Anyone who’s looking for a good laugh and finds humor in both the mundane and quirky of everyday life.
Quick Review: I highly recommend Sedaris’ writing to anyone–either this collection, or any of his other books. They are all relatable and hilarious, and force the reader to appreciate the absurdity of life’s minutia.
How I Got Here: I’ve been reading about one Sedaris collection per year for the last three years; thus, this is the third Sedaris book I’ve read. I’ve enjoyed each and every book I’ve read by Sedaris, and so, when I was looking for an audiobook to listen to in the car, and this was available at the library, it was a no-brainer.
The Book: Goodreads’ Synopsis
Once again, David Sedaris brings together a collection of essays so uproariously funny and profoundly moving that his legions of fans will fall for him once more. He tests the limits of love when Hugh lances a boil from his backside, and pushes the boundaries of laziness when, finding the water shut off in his house in Normandy, he looks to the water in a vase of fresh cut flowers to fill the coffee machine. From armoring the windows with LP covers to protect the house from neurotic songbirds to the awkwardness of having a lozenge fall from your mouth into the lap of a sleeping fellow passenger on a plane, David Sedaris uses life’s most bizarre moments to reach new heights in understanding love and fear, family and strangers. Culminating in a brilliantly funny (and never before published) account of his venture to Tokyo in order to quit smoking, David Sedaris’s sixth essay collection will be avidly anticipated.
My Analysis and Critique:
I love Sedaris’ work and I loved this example of his work. While others might complain that this one is more tame, less focused, or just “not as good as his other stuff,” I found everything that I expect and am looking for in a collection of Sedaris essays (stories). There were moments of hilarity, the grotesque, and morose reflection–staples of Sedaris’ writing. His style is meandering (in a good way), often beginning with a quirky scene at the beginning of an essay, and then moving into the meat of his story, which finally culminates into some sort of reflection on an aspect of his present or past life. I enjoy equally my moments of connection with his stories, as well as the moments of “Whaaat?!” that occur every so often.
This was the first time that I have listened to Sedaris reading his own words, and I have to say, it is the best way to go. While I was somewhat annoyed by the book’s few live recordings of Sedaris reading to an audience (All of the pauses he took while the audience bursts out in laughter made me frustrated. “You guys are interrupting my story!”), I appreciated hearing his voice and getting to listen to his comic timing.
Here are my favorite stories from the collection:
“It’s Catching”: This story revolves around germaphobes, and gives some more insight into my favorite of Sedaris’s sisters, Lisa (she’s quite a character). It also introduces us to Maw Hamrick, the mother of Hugh (Sedaris’ longtime partner), and her unfortunate past experience with a worm living in her leg. Sedaris reflects:
If I was a child and saw something creeping out of a hole in my mother’s leg, I would march to the nearest orphanage and put myself up for adoption. I would burn all pictures of her, destroy anything she had ever given me, and start all over because that is simply disgusting. A dad can be crawling with parasites and somehow it’s OK, but on a mom, or any woman, really, it’s unforgivable. (5)
“The Understudy”: The most popular kind of Sedaris story–a childhood story that tells of the time when Sedaris and his sisters were left with a hillbilly babysitter named Mrs. Peacock, while their parents were vacationing for a week. During the kids’ week from hell, they hold “daily crisis meetings” in the woods behind their house, and record Mrs. Peacock’s offenses in a notebook:
“Can’t speak English,” I wrote in the complaint book. “Can’t go two minutes without using the word ‘damn.’ Can’t cook worth a
The last part was not quite true, but it wouldn’t have hurt her to expand her repertoire. Sloppy joe, sloppy joe, sloppy joe, held over our heads as if it were steak. Nobody ate unless they earned it, which meant fetching her drinks, brushing her hair, driving the monkey paw into her shoulders until she moaned. Mealtime came and went—her too full of Coke and potato chips until one of us dared to mention it. “If y’all was hungry, why didn’t you say nothing? I’m not a mind reader, you know. Not a psychic or some damn thing.” (26)
“What I Learned”: Sedaris discusses his experiences at Princeton as an undergraduate, and the expectations that go along with attending an Ivy League school. Of course, it’s told by Sedaris, so it’s not at all what you’d expect from that synopsis. To stifle his father’s enthusiasm about his son attending Princeton, Sedaris announces to his parents that he will be majoring in patricide. In this way, the story is a bit absurd, as Sedaris describes his parents’ enthusiasm at this major: “Killed by a Princeton graduate! […] And my own son, no less.” The fun irony is that Sedaris truly lives up to this announcement: he kills his father (and entire family) via the publication of his revealing, humorous essays.
“That’s Amore”: A wonderful character sketch of Helen, Sedaris’ neighbor in New York, who was truly an awful woman. Yet, somehow, Sedaris writes of Helen with love. She’s petty, gossipy, racist, hateful, and oh-so-real. Yet, who Helen was cannot really be contained in a short synopsis: you’ve gotta read this one!
“Solution to Saturday’s Puzzle”: A short vignette describing the awkwardness of getting stuck next to an asshole on a long flight. A woman seated next to Sedaris asks him if he would swap seats with her husband so that the spouses can sit together, Sedaris declines, and then it becomes passive-aggressively ugly.
“Old Faithful”: A story about the growth and eventual lancing of a cyst on Sedaris’ backside sounds pretty disgusting, right? However, this is a wonderful story that ends up illustrating the perks of being in a comfortable, somewhat predictable, long relationship with someone you love.
“The Smoking Section”: My favorite of the essays here, and it’s a long one at 83 pages. This one chronicles Sedaris’ smoking addiction and his journey in quitting the habit. It illustrates his history with smoking, his decision to quit, and the aftereffects of quitting. Sedaris ends up moving to Japan with Hugh, after reading that it helps to change one’s entire environment to give up an addiction, and then shares his adventures in the foreign country while dealing with all the stages of quitting. I found this essay both insightful and inspiring, and I appreciated the peek into the life of an American in Japan. And, since I forgot to mention it, it’s also VERY FUNNY.
I highly recommend Sedaris’ writing to anyone–either this collection, or any of his other books. They are all relatable and hilarious, and force the reader to appreciate the absurdity of life’s minutia.
As I stated yesterday, July was full of reading! And I’m pretty proud to say (although, it really shines a light on the fact that I didn’t do much else) that the following books were all read last week. Whoo! I love it when I get on a reading roll! Of course, I think I put on a few pounds last week too…sitting around and reading isn’t exactly great for the figure. But, here’s what I read last week.
J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography by Humphrey Carpenter
This was an excellent authorized biography of the man who created hobbits! It questioned how Tolkien, such an Everyman, could write the greatest, most imaginative books of fantasy. The book related his early years (orphaned at a young age), school years, and professional years. It also included snippets of letters that shed some light on what it really was like for Tolkien to write those books while balancing a full life. No sordid detatils about Tolkien could be found in the book (if there really were any sordid details to his life story), but it was full of opportunities to make connections between his life experiences and the events and characters of his famous novels. A few of these included:
-Tolkien was bitten by a tarantula as a little child. Could perhaps relate to why spiders play such a menacing and terrifying role in his books.
-Tolkien was often caught stealing mushrooms from a local farmer who would then chase him off. This is particularly similar to Farmer Maggot’s role in Frodo’s young life.
-Tolkien had to make use of carrier pigeons during WWI, similar to the many birds used in his books for message-relaying.
These and many more interesting connections can be made through the reading of Carpenter’s book, which I highly recommend.
Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld
This is the follow-up novel to Westerfeld’s Leviathan, which I reviewed yesterday. I began by listening to the audiobook, which was read by the wonderful Alan Cumming, and finished with the hardcover version. This steampunk novel continues the story in Istanbul (not Constantinople), where Deren/Dylan (the female protagonist who is disguised as a boy) learns more about Clanker machines. It should be noted that in Leviathan, Alek learns about the Darwinist “beasties”. In Istanbul, Deren and Alek help a radical group in overthrowing the Sultan, while hiding from and sometimes battling the German occupiers.
This book was really fun because it felt like an Indiana Jones movie, full of intrigue, exotic locations, and spicy characters. I almost think that I liked this book better than the first in the series. I should also mention that the book is full of fabulous illustrations which really help the machines, beasts, and locations come to life. I definitely recommend this book and series.
Good Omens by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman
Laugh-out-loud-funny book! I love British humor, and this is full of it in a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy sort of way. It really makes me want to pick up some more Pratchett, as I know that his Discworld series combines humor and fantasy as well.
Certain parts of the book were really funny and enjoyable for me:
-all of the scenes revolving around “Them,” a group of kids who is led by the child Anti-Christ, were really great as they really captured the joys of childhood.
-The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are characters in the novel, and they all ride motorcycles. At one point, they meet up at a biker hangout where some human bikers decide to join up with them, the real Hell’s Angels. As they ride together, the tagalong bikers decide that they need new names to fit in with their new posse (Death, War, Pestilence/Pollution, and Famine). They came up with names like “Treading in Dogshit”, “Things Not Working Properly Even When You’ve Given Them a Good Thumping”, “Embarassing Personal Problems”, and “Grievous Bodily Harm”. Really silly stuff that I love!
I also came to realize why Supernatural is such an awesome show, and why I love it. It is directly inspired by this book and other Gaiman works! Supernatural even includes Crowley, the demon who is a main character in this novel. Gaga for Supernatural, it was easy for me to fall in love with this book.
Y: The Last Man–Vol. 1-3 by Brian K. Vaughan
This is a really good idea for a dystopian graphic novel. One day, all of the men simply die, for unknown reasons, except one. The very goofy Yorick, a 20-something guy, who has to hide his male identity throughout the series so that the women won’t tear him apart. He keeps with him a male monkey, which is also an anomaly, being the only male animal alive. During these first three volumes, a group of women, modeling themselves after the mythological Amazons, hunt him down to rid the world of the last man. So, Yorick sets out on a journey with two other women to find answers on why he is still alive when all of the other men are dead. It’s all very engaging and interesting.
However, I do have to point out that the behavior of women in this series is slightly troubling. While I am very good with suspension of disbelief and I enjoy irony, it bugs me how badly behaved the women are in this world. It’s hard to explain, but I don’t think that I’m the only one who was bothered by it. It’s a little over the top.
But, I did enjoy it, and I will keep reading the series. I recommend it for fans of dystopia and graphic novels.
Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
I read this for the first time when I was eight or nine, and I have to say that Hatchet is much better than I remembered. I couldn’t put it down after I started it, and I read it in a span of two hours. So good!
If you haven’t read it, you’ve just got to. I enjoyed how the marooned Brian had to learn how to use his senses to survive, and how he had to trouble-shoot fire-building, shelter-making, hunting with a bow and arrow, and trapping fish. He started out with only the clothes on his back, and a hatchet that his mom had given him as a gift (it strapped onto his belt). After almost two months on his own in the wild, Brian is completely self-sufficient. While in the woods, he has to deal with the dangers of bears, wolves, moose, mosquitos, and a skunk (which blinded him for a few hours). This was an amazing story, and I hope to share this book with my students this year. READ IT!
The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien
Much like Hatchet, this was a re-read that was much better than I remembered. Yet, while the first half of the book was much more enjoyable for me on this second go-round, I still prefer the second half, which chronicles the further journey of the Ring with Frodo, Sam, and Gollum. Such a creepy segment of the book! And so much character development!
However, Treebeard is my favorite character in this book, and second only to Tom Bombadil in the entire series.
In case you can’t tell, I highly recommend this book and series if you haven’t read it. A true classic!
So, this concludes my July reading. Now, I’m going to sign off here, pick up my copy of The Return of the King, and get ready for tonight’s drinkalong to Peter Jackson’s film version of The Two Towers. I’m ready to be snarky with the rest of the PtBiB crew. Happy Friday!