Book Review: Ysabel by Kay (3.5 Stars)

Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay

3.5 out of 5 stars

Read in Nov/Dec 2013

Synopsis (excerpts from author’s website Bright Weavings):

Provence, in the south of France, is a part of the world that has been—and continues to be—called a paradise. But one of the lessons that history teaches is that paradise is coveted and fought over. Successive waves of invaders have claimed—or tried to claim—those vineyards, rivers, olive groves, and hills.

In Guy Gavriel Kay’s novel, Ysabel, this duality—of exquisite beauty and violent history—is explored in a work that marks a departure from Kay’s historical fantasies set in various analogues of the past.

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Book Review: The Book Thief by Zusak (5 Stars)

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

5 out of 5 stars

Read in April 2009

This book is outstanding and well deserving of its many awards. Even better, it is classified as young adult fiction. And I hope one day, soon, The Book Thief is read and taught in classrooms around the world … because everyone should read this book.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to grow up and come of age in Nazi Germany during World War II? Not as a Jew, but as a German citizen – a foster child recently bereft of her younger brother.

Lisa’s coping mechanism is to steal books. In fact, her first theft occurs at her brother’s funeral. One of the cemetery workers drops The Gravediggers Handbook in the snow and Lisa snatches it up. Later, her new “papa” teachers her to read using this stolen book.

Her most daring theft occurred at a Hitler Youth Rally book burning. She rescued The Shoulder Shrug right out of the bonfire!

The story is narrated by Death who is the ultimate book thief. He stole Lisa’s autobiography when he collected her soul many years after the war. He has read her story so many times, the pages are crumbling in his hands. He admits at the end of the story that he no longer needs the pages because he’s memorized it from re-reading it so often.

I hope you will follow in Death’s footsteps and steal this book and remember it always.

Book Review: The Book of Three by Alexander (4 stars)

The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander

4 out of 5 stars

Read in December 2008

This was published the same year I was, born that is.  How did I miss this delightful tale and only stumble upon it in my mid-40s?

Taran is a precocious bored boy with visions of heroes sword-fighting in his head. He dreams of leaving the small farm where he takes care of a prophetic pig named Hen Wen and lives with Coll and Dallben.

Something frightens the bees, the chickens and the pig so much that they all escape the farm and disappear into the surrounding forest.  Taran is sent to find the pig and return her home.  Predictably, he gets lost in the forest following the pig and spies a band of men lead by the terrifying Horned King.  Taran barely escapes and flees into the brush, eventually finding Gwydion, a prince and one of the heroes he daydreams about.

The danger and adventure are non-stop until the end of the book.  Along the way, Taran makes mistakes but learns from them and demonstrates he has the talent to be an inspiring and wise leader.  He meets several companions and legendary folk who aid him on his quest to reach Caer Dathyl to warn the Sons of Don about the Horned King and his army.

A fast fun read.

Book Review: The Hobbit by Tolkien (5 stars)

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

5 out of 5 stars

Read most recently in November 2009.

A delightful introduction to the world of Middle Earth. Follow the adventures (or misadventures) of a respectable hobbit turned burglar, a wizard and a baker’s dozen of dwarfs in their quest to slay the dragon, redeem the lost treasure and restore peace and prosperity among dwarfs, elves and men.

Along the way, the young audience will learn the pitfalls and consequences of greed, pride and arrogance, tempered with a hobbit’s good sense, good cheer, compassion and self-sacrifice.

Update April 2013:  I decided not to re-read the novel before watching the recently released movie of a similar name (click here for my review of said movie).  I did end up buying the ebook edition prior to viewing the movie so I would have it available to search and peruse before, during and after.  I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to be able to search through an ebook.  Compared to page turning and skimming, it’s better than sliced bread (well maybe not my sliced bread).

Movie Review: The Hunger Games (2012)

The Hunger Games (2012)

3.5 out of 5 stars

Better than the book, barely.  I read the book and gave it three stars.  I knew then, when I finished reading it, that a movie would deliver more impact in some respects, and it does.  I missed some of the back-story (although the first book doesn’t give you much to work with).  The book did provide a better window and more intimately through Katniss’ eyes and thoughts, into the plight of the ‘citizens’ of the Districts.

I have gripes with the casting though.  Peeta in no way convinced me of his strength or of even being a baker’s son.  Same goes for Gale, only I thought the casting went over-the-top the other way on that one.

I noticed from the credits that the author, Suzanne Collins, had her fingers in most of the pots, including as an executive producer, so I really have no quibble with deviations from the written vision.

I will say I was a bit disappointed by the special affects, which seemed on par with a television show and not a ‘normal’ science fiction film.

Movie Review: Captains Courageous (1937)

Captains Courageous (1937)

4.5 out of 5 stars

I’m taking full advantage of TCM finally making the leap to HD quality broadcasting.  I have hours and hours of four and five star movies already recorded.  If only I didn’t need to sleep. 

I started watching Captains Courages late Sunday morning.  Terry joined me about halfway through, which prompted me to provide a recap of the first half of the movie.  So many great actors appear in this film:  Spencer Tracy, Lionel Barrymore, John Carradine, Mickey Rooney and of course Freddie Bartholomew.  But the story, written originally by Rudyard Kipling, provided the wind to the actors’ sails in this must-see family adventure classic. 

I haven’t read Kipling’s Captains Courageous, but I plan to download an ebook edition from Project Gutenberg or Feedbooks in the near future and compare the original publication to the screen adapation.  Interestingly, and sadly, Kipling passed away the year before this film was released to theatres.

Book Review: Insurgent by Roth

Insurgent by Veronica Roth

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I eagerly awaited the arrival of Insurgent. I devoured Divergent last fall in hours, unusual in that I normally read two to three books simultaneously over the course of a week or so. I put all my other reads on hold when I picked up Divergent. I almost repeated the process with Insurgent, reading half of the book one weekend and finishing it the next. Quick and easy reading, but a bit disappointing turn in the plot at the end left me with an aftertaste I still can’t rinse out of my mind.

I gave Insurgent four stars here at GoodReads, but I will most likely settle on a 3.5 star rating on my personal objective scale. Parts of the book brought tears to my eyes, but they did not outweigh the moments of frustration I felt with Tris. She personifies recklessness in the extreme.

I’m trying to avoid spoilers, so I won’t express the specific reasons for my distaste or displeasure with the final revelation in the last few paragraphs of the book. I may have to go back and re-categorize this novel, and place Insurgent on completely different shelves.

If there is a sequel, and I haven’t gone looking to determine if there will be one, I hope more background is provided to justify the premise revealed at the end. Too many questions, and not the ones I expected to be answered; just a whole barrel of new ones on top of the old ones.

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Book Review: Mockingjay by Collins

MockingjayMockingjay by Suzanne Collins

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read this as part of the The Hunger Games Trilogy omnibus ebook edition.

I had high hopes for the final novel of the series, especially after thoroughly enjoying the second novel, Catching Fire. I agree with a few other GoodReads reviewers who stated that Collins accomplished her goal in painting the stark reality that war and violence accomplish nothing and apparently humans can’t help but repress and destroy each other, even unto their own extinction.

I also had hope of learning more about the history that led up to the rise of the Panem. But Collins only choose to go back three generations and only once or twice made a reference to the world before the rise of the Panem from the ashes of our civilization.

I suspect a nod to Ray Bradbury in the name of the sharp shooter squad District 13 assigned Katniss and Gale to as part of the rebel army. The prevalence of Ancient Roman names among the Capital citizens and a reference to ‘bread and circuses’ paints the Panem as a resurrected Roman Empire imploding faster than the original.

While predictable, the ending left me dissatisfied. I don’t feel comfortable recommending this book to young adults, even though Collins wrote it for that audience.

As a ‘former’ parent (my kids are grown, either married or in college), I would treat this entire trilogy just like an R-rated movie. Don’t read it unless you’re seventeen (sixteen maybe), mostly due to the violence and gore. Very little if any sexual content exists in any of these novels.

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