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!

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Saturday, February 14, 2015

Fifty Shades of Grey Rant - BONUS Gourmet Reader Episode

Hey everyone. Here is a bonus episode for ya. This is my rant on the Fifty Shades of Grey movie that just came out today.

Upon clicking the stop button, I feel I should note that I am not a cynic upon further self evaluation. I firmly stand behind my points and actually feel I didn't talk about the abuse side of this film/book enough in this rant. So I apologize for barely touching on that. However, here is a great article I read after recording that I recommend checking out which deals with that issue.

Relevant Magazine, The Real Abuse at the Heart of 'Fifty Shades of Grey' -

Also check out Jeremy Jahns review which I mentioned in this episode -

Be sure to listen the final Tuesday of every month where I discuss some delectable literary topics. Ironically, my topic of discussion this month ties into this a bit I guess that's a good thing. Consistency for the win!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Awesome People You've Never Heard Of!

Our culture is very media based and an extension of this is that we are flooded with images and movie trailers and okay music and viral videos that really don't amount to much or get us thinking critically about the world. Because of this, it takes some real work and research to find artists who aren't in your face as pop culture is and more often than not these artists are much more authentic and creative. For today's blog I want to talk about some of these artists, whether they be totally obscure or fairly popular, and share with you why they are worth your while. This list is in no particular order.

1. Charlie Simpson
Charlie Simpson started out in the pop punk trio called Busted, a popular U.K. band in the early 2000's. Busted is known for their boy band look, guitar-centric pop and typical teenage boy lyrics. But in 2005 Charlie decided to leave Busted and much to fellow Busted members Matt and James, the group disbanded. Charlie went on to another band called Fightstar but began a solo career in 2010. In my opinion, Charlie's solo career is what has taken him from typical rocker to a serious musician. He has now released two brilliant albums titled Young Pilgrim and Long Road Home. Both albums carry very folksy vibes with raw and fresh lyrics. Charlie is not only on this list for his creative brilliance as a musician bu also for his growth. I was never a huge fan of Busted and never expected any of the band members to have this much potential. Not only that but Charlie is continuing to create great music while Busted members have teamed with McFly, another popular British boy rock band, to form the really gut-wrenchingly awful McBusted. It is nice to see that Charlie has matured from simple guy wants girl lyrics to genuinely interesting and new lyrics that hold a lot more depth and musical ability. Seriously, check this guy out! He is definitely one of my favorite artists.

2. Elizabeth Olsen
Possibly the most known person on this list, Elizabeth Olsen is an actress you will most likely associate with Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen because she is their younger sister. But while Mary-Kate and Ashley have shown little to offer artistically since being the typical child stars and fashion designers, Elizabeth is different. She is by far the best actress I have seen in Hollywood in a long time. You have your Meryl Streep's and Jennifer Lawerence's and Anne Hathaway's and Amy Adam's and...too many others to name. And I believe Olsen can definitely be roped into this group. She is set to star in the new Avengers film and was also in the Godzilla remake which I have not yet seen. She also stars in two of my favorite films - Liberal Arts and Martha Marcy May Marlene. Martha was the first film I saw her in and it is brilliant. Not only is Olsen's performance intricate and solid but the story is good and the way it is set up is even better. If I could only recommend one of her film's it would be that one. Seriously, go buy it now on Amazon. It is by far one of the best films I have ever seen in the past 10 years. And be sure to check out Olsen's other films. You will not be disappointed by her performances!

3. Justin Lee
Justin Lee is an author, speaker and founder of the Gay Christian Network. Yes, that's right. You just read the words "gay" and "Christian" in the same sentence. Lee's book Torn has been one of the best books I have read about faith and culture in the past three years. The book document's Lee's coming out story and discusses the gay vs. Christian debate, arguing that the Bible is not against homosexuality.  I've only read one other book on this topic and it could not stand up to Lee's work. Torn is part autobiography, part theology and part persuading. Lee not only establishes his expertise being a gay Christian man but legitimately writes a good argument for acceptance within the church. Not only that but he has extended his outreach to conferences and even has a podcast discussing different issues within the gay Christian debate and community. He is very tolerable of people who don't agree with him and encourages open and civil communication. He is definitely someone you don't want to overlook because not only does he have important things to say but is very creative in going about his mission.

4. Christina DeCicco
Out of all the people on this list, Christina DeCicco is the only person I can say that I have met. Well, actually that isn't entirely true. She is the only person I've met multiple times on this list. DeCicco is a musical theatre actress who deserves way more credit than she is given. Of course, please don't confuse the word credit with praise because praise is about the only thing she receives when people review a show she is staring in. I say credit because she is not nearly as recognized as Broadway actresses to which she easily measures up. Her high energy and personal acting style mixed with her powerful voice is just magic on the stage. She has acted in many musicals. Most recently she played Arachne in the Spiderman Musical and was the understudy for the title role in Evita. Other roles include Glinda in Wicked, Betty in Sunset Boulevard (my personal favorite role of hers), Belle in Beauty and the Beast, Maria in West Side Story, Eponine in Les Miserables and more! Not only can this girl act and sing but you can tell she is a master at her craft and a very down to earth and humble person. Seriously, keep this woman on your radar. She is destined for great things!

5. Doug Walker
Doug Walker is fairly well known in internet world. Most will recognize him as the Nostalgia Critic on YouTube but he also does many other videos and collaborations. Now I know the Nostalgia Critic isn't something new but I've recently become obsessed with the show. Not only do I love the comedy and the commentary on filmography and thinking critically, but I love the creativity put into each review. No review is ever a simple man sits in front of camera. Walker brings on guests and plot-lines and even sometimes has musical numbers. And these additions aren't random or silly but actually reveal a lot of truth and set Walker's reviews apart from most others. Plus, Walker is a very genuine guy. His points, while overly exaggerated on the Nostalgia Critic, are very well thought out and intellectually driven. If his critique is influenced by his emotions he usually addresses this fact with some comedy or simply calling himself out. It is obvious he knows the balance between taking his art and art itself seriously but not taking himself too seriously. This is also obvious from his simple man and camera vlog reviews where the Nostalgia Critic is stripped away and he speaks honestly about how he felt about a film. I would highly recommend watching the Nostalgia Critic. And shameless plug, his videos inspired me to be a critic of my own - the Literary Critic!

6. Marilyn Sewell
There is a documentary on Netflix called Raw Faith and sits in the faith and spirituality genre. I am all for this genre but more often than not the content is stale and cliche and dumbed down. I've watched a few documentaries in this category said to be really good but overall disappointing. For this reason I was very hesitant to watch Raw Faith but I made myself press play and thank God I did! Raw Faith is a documentary about a Unitarian Minister named Marilyn Sewell. Marilyn walks us through her day to day routines, talks about her life growing up, and tells us why she enjoys being a minister. But there seems to be something missing in her life and that is intimate companionship. Raw Faith has to be one of the best documentaries on spirituality I have ever seen. It truly is as it's title presents - raw and authentic faith.
Marilyn is a very fascinating person and is a voice that needs to be heard not just be people who identify as Christians. She has released a few books and used to host a podcast called Raw Faith Radio which I have been thoroughly enjoying. I would highly recommend you to check out her documentary and all of her other projects.

7. Ron Hansen
For the longest time I believed that Christianity in fiction would never amount to anything but Lifetime movie clones or atheist leanings. Luckily I took a class on Christian fiction in college and was introduced to many great authors who incorporated their faith into their fiction without shoving it down the reader's throat. One of these authors is Ron Hansen. Now, to be clear, I have only read two of his books. The first was Mariette in Ecstasy which I read for my class and really loved. Read my review here. The second book was The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. I wasn't a huge fan of this one but that isn't because of Hansen but my dislike of western's and this mafia-esque story line. But regardless, Hansen's writing was ridiculously good in this book! Read my review here. Hansen always brilliantly captures his characters and the setting of his story. I would compare my reading experience to that of drinking fine wine. He is a brilliant writer and one I would recommend to all lovers of books and words.

8. Wesley Blaylock
Wes Blaylock may be last on this list but he is certainly not least. I was introduced to him my first semester of college in 2009 when I heard his band Deas Vail's track called Birds. I ended up listening to the whole album on YouTube and fell in love. To this day Deas Vail remains one of my favorite bands. Their lyrics are incredibly poetic and their sound is very indie yet interesting and lovely to the ears. Wes is the genius behind this though, writing most of the song's lyrics and music.
What I love about Wes and Deas Vail is, like Ron Hansen, their ability to write about their faith without shoving it down your throat. They have even stated in interviews that they don't outright say they are a Christian band because they don't want to negative connotations that come with that. They want to produce good music and naturally their faith becomes apart of it because it is who they are. Wes has a YouTube channel where he posts cover songs and has also released a solo EP. Be sure to check him out!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Aslan's Call by Mark Eddy Smith

I've read the Chronicles of Narnia series only once (except for Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe which I have read twice) and have not yet dipped into another work by C.S. Lewis. I know, I know...I'm appalled by this statement as well. Yet although Narnia is my only exposure to C.S. Lewis in the novel form, I've been exposed to his beliefs via lectures and magazines and podcasts and sermons and literature classes, etc. This book was a free digital download on Noise Trade (link at the end of this review) and I figured since I was rereading The Lion, the Witch and Wardrobe I would read this book alongside it.
After reading this book I have a much better appreciation of The Chronicles of Narnia series than ever before. I won't go as far as to say the series is amazing but the artistry behind these books is fascinating. The biblical allegory is great. I know many call it didactic but I disagree as I said in my TLWW review. Lewis is a Christian. Naturally his faith becomes part of his art. He is creatively sharing the gospel. When I read complaints about this aspect of the books I find them to be petty and shallow.
But enough about me. Back to the book. Author Mark Eddy Smith's writing style is very clear and straight forward. Nothing special and easy to digest. Everything he discussed made sense and he did a nice job with expanding on scenes and describing their meaning. I thoroughly enjoyed the section on the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, mostly because I just read the book but I also found the other sections very insightful.
Overall, there isn't much more to say about this book. It is a brief glimpse into looking at the Narnia series through a theological lens. There are more in depth books out there but this is a good intro if you are new to literary or theological or analytical essays. It was a quick read and is great fun for any Narnia fan. It just wasn't jump over the moon fantastic. Just okay. I will give it 3 out of 5 stars.

Download the book for FREE on Noise Trade! -

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

One of the most timeless fantasies of all time is The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis. Whether beloved or criticized for being didactic, this cannot be argued. The tale follows the Pevensie children named Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy. The tale is classic but let me rewind for those of you who haven't read these books yet for some odd reason. Youngest sister Lucy discovers a Wardrobe one day while the siblings are living in a large home during the second World War. When she goes inside, she finds there is no back to the Wardrobe but instead a mass of trees leading to a winter wonderland. She soon meets Mr. Tumnus who tells her she is in Narnia which is being ruled by the White Witch who has cast a spell over the land for eternal winter with no Christmas. That is the shortest summary I can give without giving anything away. I read this book for the first time in high school though I was hardly unfamiliar with the story. The Disney live action adaption had come out the year before and the story had been told to us a hundred times in elementary school. It would be practically unnatural of me to not be familiar with the tale. What I was unfamiliar with was the series. I knew there was a series but had no knowledge of the other books.
I felt like rereading the most iconic book in the series to refresh my own memory and to be able to discuss the book with proper knowledge of the source material. The book is a unique study on children's literature, fantasy, religion, gender roles, and more. The Narnia books are quick reads so I had no problem finishing this in a few days time, making this a nice break from the long books I have been reading lately.
While I can't call this book a favorite, I can say that I loved it. It is a really good book! C.S. Lewis knows how to write good children's literature, that is for sure. The fantasy elements mixed with real world attributes was awesome. Each Pevensie child is unique and has their own trials in the book. While the symbolism is obvious, I like it. It's not like C.S. Lewis made us believe this was a Christian text. It's just engrained into the story. It doesn't have to be seen as Christian unless you allow it to. And besides that, why is it wrong to ingrain your life into a text you write? Every author does this. And why is a metaphor considered bad? The whole idea of not liking this book or the series for these reasons really bothers me. It seems very hypocritical.
This book is great. It is a quick and easy read but there are also so many layers to the text which I love. Definitely 5 out of 5 stars!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The World According to Garp by John Irving

I won't lie when I tell you that the death of actor Robin Williams really had an impact on me. That is a weird way to start off my review of The World According to Garp by John Irving but if you are a Robin Williams fan then you are probably aware that he starred in the film adaption of the acclaimed novel. I had never heard of the novel or film before Williams's death. In fact, I found there were many Robin Williams films that I was ignorant to. In an attempt to become more familiar with his film career, I added all of his film credits to my watch list. But Garp was different. Seeing as it was a novel, I added it to the top of my reading list although I can't say I was looking forward to the read. The book sounded okay, my library copy was old and worn and I just wasn't in the mood to read a huge book. I had to give myself a pep talk for that last reason because it is a long read. To my surprise, Garp immediately got my attention and I knew long before I finished that it would be a favorite.
The World According to Garp is a widely expansive novel that focuses on the life of writer T.S. Garp. The story begins with an in depth look at his mother Jenny Fields and how she came to conceive Garp. It would seem a bit curious that the story doesn't start with our main man but then again, there are many curious narrative choices made by author John Irving to tell Garp's story and all of the choices are particularly brilliant; for if we didn't hear Jenny Fields story then we wouldn't have such a good look at how Garp's mother impacted him and his life. The book focuses on many things in the midst of Garp's life. At once it is a commentary on list and politics and the next moment it is about writers and morality and parental paranoia. The book encompasses so many aspects of life and with most novels this would be a huge problem. But not with Garp. Irving seems very aware of the grandness of his tale and matches it with brilliant writing and deep reflections on life and diverse characters.
I feel compelled to compare the experience of reading this novel to reading Ian McEwan's Atonement when I was 17. While these novels are completely different in scope, they both focus on a similar theme and that is the theme of the writer. Both novels illustrate how reality becomes fiction and how fiction is not much different than reality and how the two bleed into one another for better or worse. This theme is captured so well in Garp.
My complaints are limited when it comes to this book. It was a bit boring at times but character development makes up for it. I had a love/hate relationship with Garp's writing. While it was awesome how he came to write a certain piece, I never truly enjoyed reading his writing. I appreciated it in the overall scope of the story but actually reading it was hard to get through. But I don't feel those complaints warrant me from not loving this book because man, did I love it. I'm so glad I read it and wish I could take a class on it and study it more! Definitely giving this 5 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen Dubner

I don't listen to audiobooks often. I only listen when I feel I don't have time to read a book but want to comment on it or if I feel listening would be more beneficial. In the case of Freakonomics, listening definitely seemed more beneficial because I am a frequent listener of the podcast with the same name. I enjoy the podcast. It isn't my favorite but I enjoy it. I have also seen the documentary, complements to Netflix.
If you are like me and have this much experience with Freakonomics, I wouldn't recommend this book. Much of the text was old news to me. I've already heard the argument about less crime in the 90's having to do with legalized abortion, and I already know about the sumo wrestlers cheating. I've heard the same argument about names not deciding a person's fate over three times between the book, podcast, and documentary. So in that regard, the book was a bit repetitive and boring. However, if you are coming to this book for the first time and have no prior experience with the podcast or documentary than you will probably enjoy this book.
What I love about Freakonomics is that it makes connections is placed no one thinks to look. It isn't a biased program taking sides but just dishes the info and allows you to make your final call. The same can be said with this book. It presents the evidence very well but also leaves room for defiance.
Overall, it is a good book. It didn't really wow me so perhaps my review is biased since I already formed a relationship with Freakonomics. I will give the book a 3 out of 5 stars.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Why I Return to Harry Potter

When I tell people that I have read the Harry Potter books six times (the first book seven times), most are shocked that I would return to a series so many times. That equates to 43 books and over 25,000 pages (25, 479 to be exact). I'm shocked by those numbers myself. While those numbers are large, I never feel as if rereading the books is any sort of grand accomplishment. For me, rereading these books is a tradition. I return to them like I return to buying gifts at Christmas and eating pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving. I return to them as an adult would return to their childhood home, just to take a peek back into their childhood even if it is a quick glimpse. Harry Potter, to me, is the same as returning to my elementary school or watching old home movies or eating a piece of pizza that tastes exactly like the kind from Chuckie Cheese where I had birthday parties often. I am filled with a sense of time travel that no Tardis will ever give me. In many ways the books are a key to my past. They are my very own pensieve. Each time I read I dip into a different memory, recalling my old self and my old perceptions. The books hold many pieces of me and in most cases I leave them a different person.
Books, in my opinion, are more than just simple words on a page. They are friends, experiences, and life lessons. They reveal truth to us in very subtle and unexpected ways. With them we learn new things and sometimes a book will raise more questions than answers, forcing us to look deeper into the text and deeper into our own lives. When I reread Harry Potter, it isn't only nostalgia that keeps me coming back. It is the sense that every time I return I will be gaining new insight not only in my life but into the text. Rereading forces me to notice different bits of dialogue that reveal character depth and allows me to notice foreshadowing which in turn reveals the brilliance of J.K. Rowling and helps me in my own writings. There is a lot to be gained from Harry Potter in terms of plot, mystery, character and setting for any writer.
Growing up with Harry always gave me a small sense of community. When I read about Harry visiting the Weasley house I was, and still am, reminded of family gatherings and nights spent with the youth group. The comradery provided a sense of relatability and provides a look back at childhood ethics similar to those found in the 1986 film Stand By Me. 
But I think what ultimately brings me back to Harry is my love of literature. Going back to analyze these books is such a treat and helps me when going to analyze other works of art. And I think Harry Potter provides this amazing element of story telling in that it raises more questions than it answers. The books continually force me to think critically and help me become a better critic, artist and writer. For that I am thankful!