Monday, March 23, 2015

NEW BLOG! Keep Calm and Read On!

Hey everybody. So guess what? This will be my final post on this blog!

That's right. You read that correctly. Final post. I have moved to a brand new shiny blog that I've been working on for the past few months called Keep Calm and Read On. This blog is harking back to my beginning days as a book blogger as I used to put Keep Calm posters in my reviews and later stopped but now have started the tradition up again.

Be sure to subscribe to my new blog for monthly updates in your email box (subscription form on the home/blog page) and also be sure to subscribe to my new daily podcast on iTunes which will mostly be me talking about, what else, books.

Thanks for the support guys. Have a wonderful spring and be sure to KEEP CALM AND READ ON!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A Guide to Exploring The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by Devin Brown

I have subjected myself to a lot of Narnia in recent months. After reading the first book in the Chronicles titled The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, I read an e-book about the series as a whole and then came to this monster of a book by Devin Brown titled A Guide to Exploring The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Don't be fooled by it's small size of 256 pages because this chapter by chapter analytic look at the first Narnia book is packed with a ton of content that will set your brain ablaze. This is not a drill. This book is for the ultimate Narnia fan and not for the feint at heart. If you are looking for a fairly easy read, don't read this book. If you are looking for an unbiased interpretation of the text by C.S. Lewis that not only contains literary criticism but a look at the theological aspects of the text, allegorical debate, authorial intent and more than this is definitely up your alley!
A Guide to Exploring The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by Devin Brown is the ultimate guide to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Period. This book was fantastically intricate and so well paced. I honestly wish someone would replicate Brown's style and study Harry Potter books too. While I won't lie and say the book didn't have dry spots, part of me says hell with it. I don't care! I loved it too much to fault it for something like that because truth be told, literary theory (or really anything academic) is dry. There isn't much you can do to get around that so usually when I approach a book of this nature I just expect that. That being said, if you don't like literary theory or criticism then please don't read this book and then go on to bash it in a review because it was boring or too serious (I have seen these reviews about this book). You will be bored. Let's just make that clear right away.
Now to the meat of this book. The book has a lot of substance to it. I didn't expect it to take me such a
long time to read which was a clear mistake on my part. Each chapter is content heavy and in my opinion leaves no stone un-turned. I now have a much richer understanding of the first Narnia book. In fact I actually questioned myself when I didn't call the book a favorite because this book by Brown really holds it on a pedestal and gives so much depth to the story. And it is warranted. What I really appreciated about the book's tone is that Brown came off as a completely unbiased party member. Whenever he came to a controversial idea, he was able to provide evidence for and against and really found a happy medium at the end of the day.
This book was great. Being an English major in college, I have a real appreciation for this book because I really enjoy being analytic and thinking about things and it is hard to do this outside of the classroom sometimes so this was very refreshing. Excellent read. I can't wait to read the other two Brown has written. 5 out of 5 stars!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Black and White Slytherin's

If you've ever read my blog then you know that I love Harry Potter to a fault. It has taken me a long while to admit to myself that the series isn't perfect and in today's blog I am going to tackle one of these imperfections.

The imperfection I will be writing about is one that has been of particular annoyance for as long as I can remember. I've listened to fan opinions and read multiple essays and heard many lectures on the subject but none truly solve this specific problem in the series.
I take issue with the way Slytherin House is portrayed in the Harry Potter books. None of the characters are outright redeemable and if they are good it is either not directly addressed by Harry or it is Snape. This is most apparent when it comes to Slytherin House while Harry is at Hogwarts. We see the Slytherin's cheat on the Quidditch pitch, not join Dumbledore's Army but the Inquisitorial Squad, and none of them stay to fight for good in the Battle of Hogwarts. They are all either ugly, stupid, snobby, a bully or everything put together. It saddens me to see Rowling paint most other characters with such color yet the Slytherin's are almost amateurly black and white. For years I have been questioning these small details from the books and have only just come up with an explanation. Hopefully it holds some validity. Let's find out!
As I said, I've constantly wondered why Rowling would fail to create any god Slytherin characters. I mean sure there is Snape but he is kind of a jerk even though I love his character. Then there is Slughorn who is a good Slytherin character however he does come off as a bit of a coward and addicted to his status quo of knowing so many famous witches and wizards. Finally there is Andromeda Tonks, Tonks's mother and sister to Narcissa Malfoy and Bellatrix Lestrange. She was a Slytherin but ended up marrying muggle Ted Tonks against her family's pureblood standards and we see her fighting for the good side in the final book. This character is barely touched upon in the books and isn't talked about enough to redeem Rowling. While Draco Malfoy is a strong contender, I think his struggle is passed over like Andromeda's too much for it to close this gaping hole. Surprisingly the film version of the sixth book humanized Draco much more and Tom Felton captured the very complex essence of Draco's character and struggle. The books don't do this and while it can be argued Harry's point of view prevents this from happening, I'd argue it is Harry's point of view in the final book that could easily humanize Draco Malfoy. Of all the internal struggle Rowling writes in the final book, I'm sure she could squeeze in a bit more about Draco.
But all of that aside for a moment because I finally think I have a case for the black and white Slytherins. There are many themes coursing through the veins of these seven books but one of the major themes is tolerance. Rowling herself has stated, "The Potter books in general are a prolonged argument for tolerance, a prolonged plea for an end to bigotry." As I pondered this question and thought about this major theme, a light bulb suddenly went off in my head. I began to think of all the bigots - Westboro Baptist Church, haters on the internet and racists. I thought about politics and how no matter what wrong a politician commits, their political party will make excuses and defend their actions. This is when I realized that the Slytherin students in these books could be one big huge metaphor for the bigots of the world and the powerful people in the world who like to abuse the power they hold.
Slytherin House, per the examples I gave earlier, never gives us a reason to like them. They hold a very strict God complex and like to abuse those who don't fit into their mold of thinking. They fear for their own power and will make an excuse to hold on to it. This very much resembles corruption and bigotry in our our world.
Now I know it is a stretch and some could argue that this theme is already capitalized by Fudge and the Ministry of Magic in the fifth book or that making Slytherin House as a whole theme is still dehumanizing since they are all the same still but I think this is the only valid explanation of Jo's actions before jumping to the conclusion that she overlooked this aspect of the books.
What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Goodnight iPad by Ann Droyd

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown is a classic children's picture book that has been cherished for years by children and parents alike. I did not grow up with the book and only picked it up for the first time hours before reading a parody book titled Goodnight iPad by Ann Droyd. I went through it quickly to get a glimpse of the source material and found it to be charming and original but also bland. For me it was just another children's picture book. I made sure to read it again before writing this review because while I am going to be writing about Goodnight iPad, I wanted to have a competent understanding of the original work because it obviously plays a big part in the parody book. After reading it twice, I definitely have a much better appreciation of the text.
Goodnight iPad is subtitled "A Parody for the Next Generation" which is so subtly clever and at the same time respectful to a modern audience. To children it is a fun book of rhymes; to adults it is a funny and wise commentary on our obsession with gadgets. I found this book to be quite delicate and detailed in the smallest of places. No stone is left unturned. From the copyright page to the tie in to Goodnight Moon's final sentence and overall story, it is just brilliant cover to cover. It is a book that you not only want to read twice but should read twice.
Now I want to talk spoilers so if you want an unspoiled review, move on to the next paragraph. In this spoiler paragraph I want to briefly comment on the brilliance inside this book. To do this I first want to quote the final sentence of Goodnight Moon which says, "Goodnight noises everywhere." Goodnight iPad seems to cling to this sentence that technology is noise and needs to be shut off. In Goodnight Moon, the so called noises being written about are bedtime rhymes like a cow jumping over the moon or the three little bears. This book takes the modern approach in that the once popularity of bedtime rhymes is comparable to the viral popularity of angry birds and cat videos. Angry birds and cat videos are now what we must say goodnight to. What I also found interesting about this book was the specks of dialogue littered throughout the illustrations. As more and more technology vanished, so did the dialogue. The book symbolically goes on the journey with the text and the reader in slowing down and growing quiet. The colors slowly dim as well. The book's final page is also a piece of brilliance in that we see a child pick up a book instead of a gadget and the book is Goodnight Moon. This was a great way to not only get a point across about reading and it's importance but pay homage to the original work. And what is interesting is that in the original book, books are what the characters are saying goodnight to but now books are a way to find quiet.
This book is fantastic. I would recommend it to anyone and everyone. It's attention to detail and social commentary and humorous style are nothing short of brilliant. This book gets 5 out of 5 stars from me. Buy it at or Amazon!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Beauty by Robin McKinley

Beauty and the Beast is one of the most well known fairy-tales that has ever been adapted many many times by the film and television industry. From head-shaking flicks like Beauty and the Briefcase to more loose adaptions like Rigeletto, there seems to be no end for this tale. But the most well known adaption was released by Walt Disney in 1991. This is the version I grew up with and consider to be one of my favorite films. But I've always been intrigued by other versions and even the darker elements of the Disney film. When I looked into this, Beauty by Robin McKinley is what I found. I bought the book right away and now three years later have finally found time to read it!
I won't lie when I say I came to this book very cautiously. Retellings are always hard to tackle. It is a clash between building on the original work and making it better vs. what people know and slowly easing them into questioning their usual understanding. Anyone attempting to adapt a fairy-tale of this caliber is entering a danger zone. If done properly, the outcome can be really good. However, more often than not these retellings are cliche and contrived and take the reader/audience no further than one dimension. Does Beauty fall into this trope or does it rise above it?
Sadly, this book falls into the tropes I feared it would. In an attempt to flesh out the story and add contemporary flare we are subjected to constant exposition and more plot holes than the original tale.
Before I go into more detail, let me state that reading this book only made me appreciate the Disney movie even more. I became very aware of the choices McKinley made vs. Disney's version and only have more love for the film. The film builds upon the idea of the rose and the enchantress and the spell and introduces Gaston to show why Belle would choose to love a Beast. It is just really well done. This book didn't do anything to help the original story except elongate it and make it feel much more didactic. Some of the major changes from the fairy-tale to the book is Beauty's sister's are not mean but very good, Beauty is actually very plain and ugly, and Beauty does not return home to check on her father but to reveal some information to her sister. I'm guessing that second point is meant to be ironic but it is painfully didactic. It's the author's laughable attempt to show how beauty is found within...because apparently the story hasn't done that already.
So let's start out with the plot. Other than what I mentioned in the previous paragraph, not much is changed from the original fairy-tale. This book is essentially the fairy-tale stretched out a lot. Think of Beauty and the Beast as play-dough. When you stretch it out it becomes this book - thin and easy to tear apart. My biggest concern with the plot was that it failed to build upon or fix plot holes but adds more insufficient plots creating only more plot holes from the original fairy-tale. And the fact that it was so laid out with these added meaningless plots made me want to skip paragraph after paragraph just to return to something that mattered. This begs the question - why rewrite it in the first place? This book not only ignores it's source material plot holes but adds more. It is disappointing. Not only that but I continued to wonder as I was reading if the author knew her setting/time period very well. In the beginning she mentioned a curling iron which by all my knowledge should not have been invented yet. No other electronic device is mentioned thereafter. I found this to be very odd.
One plot line I was interested to see McKinley handle was the cursed servants in the castle. At first I really loved how they were portrayed. However, they grew very annoying after a while. I think all of my issues stem from the author's lack of knowledge of her story's voice. She seems to have compiled some layers with substance but doesn't know how to handle them without them coming off as just okay. The book seems to want to come off as raw and realistic but I found it to be anything but.
The characters aren't much better than the plot. I connected with none of them. They are all just traits and nothing more. Beauty, the person we are meant to connect with the most, was nothing more than a caricature. For example, we know she loves books but nothing in this book really shows us this. Sure we see her reading to the Beast and have books around but it is all told to us. There is never a moment where we truly feel Beauty's passion. We are just told she likes to read and that is it. A contemporary example of this is in the show Two and a Half Men on CBS. In the final season, Ashton Kutcher's character adopts a little boy and we are told through the dialogue that he really loves this kid. But Kutcher never actually seems to have chemistry with his child counterpart and we as an audience are painfully aware that this story-line is only possible because the original actor (putting the 1/2 in Two and a Half Men) is all grown up and they need another kid to fit the show's title. That is all. The same goes for this book. There is never a sense that Beauty loves to read, only that it is required of her character and so she does it. But this issue doesn't compare to how McKinley eventually has Beauty see things differently. Let's just say fainting is involved and heightened senses. Twilight anyone? That isn't the only Twilight reference I could make but I won't go on hating this book anymore than I have to.
Overall, this book was very disappointing. I know the author was going for something great but her poor characterizations, constant exposition, and dragging of the plot-line didn't do the story any favors. I will give this book 2 out of 5 stars. My advice, just read the original. It is much better and takes less than an hour to read.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Would Belle Read Twilight? - Episode 2 of The Gourmet Reader

A new episode of The Gourmet Reader is live TODAY! I ask the question, would Belle from Disney's Beauty and the Beast read the Twilight saga books? If you like the episode, be sure to give it a thumbs up on YouTube or a plus one on this blog. Do you agree with my assessment? Do you disagree? Let me know in the comments below or comment on YouTube. And be sure to answer the question of the episode in the comments as well.
I have embedded the YouTube video and podcast episode. If you would rather just listen to the episode via the podcast, I recommend subscribing on iTunes or listening via one of the links below rather than listen on this page. Listening to embedded episodes actually doesn't help my rating much so let's boost it up by listening directly! Woo hoo!

PodOmatic URL:
RSS Feed:
YouTube Playlist: