Archive for September, 2012

30
Sep
12

Scootsa1000’s #CBR4 Review 44: The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King

Another super quick review from the huge pile of finished books on my desk…

A few weeks ago, while reading TylerDFC’s review of The Night Circus, I was reminded of how much I love Stephen King’s criminally overlooked The Eyes of the Dragon.  I’ve read this book a few times, first in high school, then again while I was waiting for the last few Dark Tower books to come out (I went through a phase while I was waiting…I read everything I could get my hands on that had a tie to the Dark Tower universe…Insomnia, Salems’ Lot, Rose Madder, short stories, etc.).  I just finished reading it for the third time, and it holds up just as well as ever.

What I love most about this book is that it was written specifically for his young (at the time) daughter, Naomi (who also features as a heroic character in the story).  Naomi King had complained to her father that he had written all of these famous books, but that she hadn’t been allowed to read any of them yet.  And so her dad wrote her this book — a bit of a derivation from his normal writing, this story is a fantasy-based fairy tale.

The Eyes of the Dragon tells the tale of King Roland of Delain, his beautiful young wife Sasha, his two sons Peter and Thomas, and his evil magician Flagg (as in Randall).  King Roland is getting older, and his power is slowly being handed over to his chief advisor, Flagg.  When Queen Sasha (a major vocal opponent to Flagg) is about to give birth to Prince Thomas, Flagg arranges her murder, leaving Roland to raise the boys on his own.  Prince Peter is smart and brave and strong, and will someday make a wonderful King, which of course threatens Flagg. But Thomas is a different sort of boy — a bit bitter, definitely jealous, and not as smart as Peter — all traits that Flagg finds much more appealing.  Flagg engineers the murder of good King Roland, and frames Peter for his death, leaving young Thomas to become a puppet King, while Flagg runs the Kingdom.

All of this is simply the background for a wonderful tale of bravery and friendship, as well as a classic battle of good vs. evil.  Not your typical King story, but a fun fantasy.  A must for anyone interested in the world of The Dark Tower.

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27
Sep
12

Breaking Bad

We recently watched the first season of Homeland, and while I thought it was FAR better than anything currently on network television, I just can’t accept that it beat Breaking Bad for best Drama at last week’s Emmy Awards.

Yes, Damian Lewis and Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin (Holla!) are great.  But, c’mon.  As good as these three?  No.

26
Sep
12

Scootsa1000’s #CBR4 Review 40-43: Wizard and Glass by Stephen King and the First 3 Dark Tower Graphic Novels

Last year, during the CBR3, I swore I was going to re-read all 7 books in the Dark Tower series, along with other books and stories that fall under the Dark Tower umbrella.  I read and reviewed the first three books and was cruising right along, until I got to the flashback section of Wizard and Glass.

For those who are familiar with the Dark Tower, I’m talking about Susan Delgado and the Big Coffin Hunters.  For those not familiar, sorry to bore you with my Dark Tower ramblings.

I had read this book two or three times before, and had always loved the insight into Roland’s early life.  I enjoyed the details of the sleepy, southwestern town of Mejis, and was heartbroken by the outcome of Roland and Susan’s tragic love affair.  But this time, it just didn’t click for me until the last 100 or so pages (when the young gunslingers obliterate Farson’s army) — in particular, the amazing scene that takes place in Eyebolt Canyon, where the thinny lives.

I read this book on and off for almost an entire year.  Horrible, I know.  I really wanted to finish it, I wanted to get back to the world of Eddie, Jake, Roland, and Oy (oh, and Susannah, too, I guess.).  I just didn’t have the patience for the drawn out story of love and evil in the flashback that makes up the bulk of the story.  No fault of Stephen King — I think this book is some of his finest writing.  I just wasn’t into the story this time around.

However, over the past few months, I also picked up the three graphic novels that correspond with Wizard and Glass: The Gunslinger Born, The Long Road Home, and Treachery.

These I found much easier to get through, and appreciated all of the extra detail added to the story in order to give better understanding of future events to long-time Dark Tower fans.  For instance, we find out that Roland was rescued from Maerlyn’s Grapefruit by Sheemie, and that Sheemie received his special “breaker” powers accidentally when he stumbled upon a Dogan (similar to those in Wolves of the Calla), and was “experimented” on by a robot.  We also get a much more detailed breakdown of the events concerning the death of Roland’s mother and how Farson’s men infiltrate Gilead.

Don’t get me wrong, Wizard and Glass is a great book and a wonderful story (and these companion comics are pretty good, too).  I just really wanted to get back to the “path of the beam” and leave the past behind.

21
Sep
12

Scootsa1000’s #CBR4 Review 39: The Life of Pi by Yann Martel

I hate to do this, but I’m quite far behind in my reviews, and I’m realizing that I read a few of these so long ago (March?  April?  Ack!) that I honestly don’t have too much to say about them anymore.  Ergo, I’m joining in the new trend to write thoughtful, yet INCREDIBLY BRIEF reviews for these that I read prior to June.  I promise to write proper reviews for everything else.  I read this AGES ago.  I apologize in advance for taking a great book and telling you almost nothing about it.

I’m sure that anyone who has ever had any interest in reading The Life of Pi has probably already read it.  This was actually my second time through (my husband and I started a “mini book club” this year…this was our first — and so far only — selection), and I found that it was even more interesting the second time through.  For those who might not know:  it tells the story of Pi, a young Indian boy who’s family owns and runs a local zoo.  Pi is a very devout and pious young man, and his belief in God knows no bounds — he was born a Hindu but also practices Islam, and has been baptized as a Catholic.  When Pi’s father sells the zoo, and all of the animals in the zoo, his entire family decides to move to Canada, to the zoo where many of the animals are going.  Disaster strikes, and their ship sinks, leaving only Pi, a zebra, an orangutang, a hyena, and Richard Parker.  Oh, did I mention that Richard Parker happens to be an enormous Bengal Tiger?

Pi and Richard Parker are at sea for over 200 days together, as Pi learns how to survive by providing for himself and for Richard, and Richard learns how to not eat Pi.  Oh, and meerkats!  Lots of adorable meerkats.

There is a “Sixth Sense” style twist at the end…and I enjoyed looking for clues regarding the ending the second time around.  A great story about faith and belief, and I look forward to the film later this year.

 

17
Sep
12

Scootsa1000’s #CBR4 Review 38: Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

I was raised a fan of movies.  My dad loved movies and wanted to share all of his favorites with us whenever he could.  By the time I was 8 or 9, I had seen all of the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movies, preferred Gene Kelly to pretty much any other movie actor (except maybe Harrison Ford), and could quote freely from Auntie Mame. And I still love spending a cozy night at home watching a Burt Lancaster movie or Rock Hudson comedy.

This is probably why I always am intrigued by stories of “old Hollywood” — in particular, the kind of story where fame is a dark and dangerous trait to acquire: James Ellroy’s books about 1940s LA; Whatever Happened to Baby Jane; The Sweet Smell of Success; or any number or strange and sad biographies of stars, directors, producers, and failed productions.  And there was no bigger a failure in Hollywood than Cleopatra.

When I first picked up Beautiful Ruins, I had no idea that part of it was about the filming of Cleopatra, but I had seen it on several “best of” lists at the end of Summer.  (My library had it on the “great reads for the beach” shelf, which on the day I saw it, was being packed up and replaced by “back to school” suggestions.)  It tells several interweaving stories — between World War II and the present, in Europe and the US, Idaho and Hollywood — that all come together in the end.

I don’t want to get into the plot too much, as I think it is better left as a surprise for the reader.  The story starts out in rural Italy in 1962, when an actress filming the movie Cleopatra comes to a small hotel on the coast to wait for her boyfriend so that she can tell him that she’s dying of cancer.  Chapters jump through time from 1962 to present day Hollywood, where an idealistic young producer wonders if she should stick with her job working with a Hollywood legend, or curate a film museum for the church of Scientology.  And somehow, these two stories become one.  Characters include a young Italian hotel owner, a beautiful Hollywood starlet, a failed writer, an alcoholic rock musician, a ridiculous Hollywood producer (think Robert Evans), and an entertaining and inebriated Richard Burton.

A lovely story, with beautiful descriptions of Italy, and horrible descriptions of Los Angeles.  I really enjoyed it.

By the way, I never looked at the bookflap with the Author blurb until after I finished the book…I was completely surprised to find that Jess Walter is a man.  Weird that I assumed all along that Jess is a woman.

13
Sep
12

Scootsa1000’s #CBR4 Reviews 34-37: Along for the Ride/Dreamland/Lock and Key/Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

Last year, during the CBR3, I discovered the “Sloppy Firsts” series by Megan McCafferty.  I inhaled the five books in a matter of days.  While not great literature, there was something about the books that really appealed to me.  The main character was real and likable, but not too likable.  She wasn’t perfect, and while I disagreed with many of the decisions that she made over the course of the series, they seemed like things that real, human beings — and not just fictional creations — might do.  And so it is with Sarah Dessen.

Over the past week, I devoured Lock and Key, Along for the Ride, Just Listen, and Dreamland.  And I guess there are plenty more of Dessen’s books for me to choose from, but my library is closed for the rest of the week to be painted.  Argh.

Sarah Dessen writes about high school girls who sometimes have grown-up problems.  Abandonment, abuse, drugs, eating disorders, divorce, parental responsibility, runaways, and depression are just a few of the situations that these girls found themselves in between the pages of these four books.  Fun, right?

But the thing about Dessen’s writing, is that I enjoyed reading about these characters and these terrible problems, because I knew that in the end, while everything isn’t completely wrapped up with a nice red bow, that things are better than when the book started, and thats all that matters.

The heroines of these books are all similar: smart and attractive, with some dysfunction at home.  Communication (or lack thereof) between family members is definitely an underlying theme.  These girls are all afraid to let down their guard and be honest with the world about what’s going on in their lives.  They don’t want to let down their friends, or their parents, or the exceptionally cute and troubled boy that befriends her when everything is falling apart.  But they work hard to face their fears and their problems, and in all cases, find themselves happier and stronger in the end.

One little bit that I enjoyed about these books is the way that they all seem to connect to one another indirectly.  They take place in the same towns (somewhere in the Carolinas, I’m guessing), go to the same high schools, and eat at the same place for burgers or coffee.  Dessen has created her own little universe, and in doing so makes me miss the beach terribly.

As mom to two daughters (still way too young for these books), I’ll keep these in mind for the teenage years, when communication problems might arise between us.

 

11
Sep
12

Scootsa1000’s #CBR4 Review 33: A Face in the Crowd by Stephen King and Stewart O’Nan

Back in 2004, when the Red Sox finally won the World Series, Stephen King and Stewart O’Nan collaborated on a book called Faithful.  Told in alternating chapters, Faithful was basically like reading the diary of a fellow Red Sox fan, someone as manic about the game as you are.  The book was going to be published after that season regardless — it was simply an added bonus that the Red Sox actually pulled it together that year.  I loved that book so much.  Its the only King book that I have signed, and he was pretty happy to sign it when I met him last year.  But I don’t know much about Stewart O’Nan.  I know that he is also from New England and that he does not write about horror, but more about day-to-day life.  When I saw that they were releasing a “Kindle Single” a few weeks ago, of course I downloaded it ASAP and proceeded to read it while on the treadmill on day.

A Face in the Crowd is about a guy named Dean, a widow living in Florida, who bides his time watching baseball on TV and thinking about his late wife and the son that he has grown distant from.

One night, while watching the Rays play the Mariners, Dean sees someone sitting behind home plate that he recognizes — his old dentist, who he hadn’t seen in over 50 years.  Dean starts to wonder: is his mind playing tricks on him?  Is that just a guy who LOOKS like his dentist?  Or is there someone sitting behind home plate who has been dead for years, who is waving right at Dean on TV?

Dean (understandably) freaks out a bit, and decides to “self medicate” in order to get some sleep.  And he seems OK, until the next night, when he sees another dead face from his past sitting right behind home plate.  Over the next few nights, Dean attempts to solve this little mystery, and in doing so he learns exactly why he is living out his last years alone in Florida, and why he and his son don’t get along.

The story isn’t the most original, but I love the easy banter that King and O’Nan have established.  Its close to impossible to tell which writer came up with which part (unlike his partnership with Peter Straub, where it was usually pretty clear who was writing what).  And their love of baseball is evident, which makes me enjoy it even more.

All in all, a nice way to spend an hour or so.  Especially if you like baseball or ghost stories.

 




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