Saturday, February 28, 2015

March 2015 Book Photo-A-Day Challenge! #march2015bookpics

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!