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Cosmic

Author: Frank Cottrell Boyce

My rating: 5 of 5

Liam has always been tall for his age, getting mistaken for being older than he is and being teased by other children for it. Now at the age of twelve, he’s already growing facial hair and being mistaken for an adult. Which is mostly awful. . . . But it does have its advantages at times. Like when he was mistaken for a new teacher at his new school or when he and his classmate Florida would go to the stores with him pretending to be her father. And ever one to push the limits, Liam begins to see just how far he can go with this “adult” thing–never dreaming that doing so would end up with him being stuck in a spaceship with a bunch of kids looking to him to get them safely home.

So, Cosmic was one of those books that blew my expectations completely out of the water. I had never even heard of the author previously (clearly an oversight on my part), and it appeared both from the cover and the description to be a rather average middle-grade story of hijinks and randomness. Well, the middle-grade hijinks and randomness is definitely there, but average this book is not. It uses humor and a tall tale sort of setting to look at what being an adult is really all about–as well as to examine how much the advantages of being an adult are wasted on actual grown-ups who don’t have the sense of fun and irresponsibility to really enjoy them. It also looks at major themes like fatherhood and the relationships between fathers and their children in a way that is quite touching. But the story never gets bogged down in these themes; rather they are revealed gradually through the improbable and ridiculous circumstances in which Liam and his companions find themselves. It’s very funny–perhaps even more so reading this as an adult, although this is definitely written for a younger audience and is completely appropriate for such, even for a younger elementary grade readership. There’s something of a universality in the midst of absurdity to be found in Cosmic, and I would highly recommend this book.

 

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Short Stories from Hogwarts of Heroism, Hardship and Dangerous Hobbies

Author: J. K. Rowling

My rating: 4 of 5

While entering the world of wizarding and magic through the stories of young Mr. Potter, we are introduced to any number of individuals, some of whom have a profound impact on events even while remaining shrouded in mystery. Professor McGonagall, for instance, shows immense depth of character and insight, yet her students are never told much of anything regarding her personal history. And Remus Lupin, beloved teacher and dear friend of Harry’s parents, had his own share of secrets. Even some of your less well-known residents of Hogwarts may surprise you with their courage, their tragic histories, and the lengths to which they will go in pursuit of their passions.

As with Hogwarts: An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide, this collection is less a collection of short stories per se and more of a collection of short documentaries and short biographies that were originally released on the Pottermore website and are here collected in an organized volume. It’s quite an enjoyable collection, I must say. This particular volume focuses on the lives of Professor McGonagall, Remus Lupin, Sybill Trelawney, and Silvanus Kettleburn, providing all sorts of details that never came up in the Harry Potter books. The bulk of the book is focused on McGonagall and Lupin (which is as it should be). The sections about Minerva made me love and admire her all the more, and Lupin’s story made me cry all over again (like I didn’t do that enough while reading those parts of the Harry Potter series to begin with!). Mixed in with the characters’ stories are short sections of a more documentary nature, providing additional details about werewolves, the naming of witches and wizards, and the like, which were quite interesting as well. I would definitely recommend Short Stories from Hogwarts of Heroism, Hardship and Dangerous Hobbies to any fan of the Harry Potter stories (even if the book doesn’t actually contain short stories).

 

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The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe

Author: Romain Puértolas/Translator: Sam Taylorextraordinary-journey-of-the-fakir-who-got-trapped-in-an-ikea-wardrobe

My rating: 3 of 5

This is the story of one Ajatashatru Oghash Rathod (pronounced any number of ways, depending on who you ask), a fakir or professional con artist by trade. For years, Ajatashatru has convinced his community–even those closest to him–that he is a holy man. Now he is in the midst of his greatest con yet, convincing his followers to send him to Paris to buy a bed of nails from the IKEA store there. Things begin to go astray from his plans though as Ajatashatru 1) cons the wrong taxi driver, 2) encounters an extraordinary woman who may just be the love of his life, and 3) gets himself locked in a wardrobe on the way to England while hiding away in the IKEA overnight (to avoid paying for a hotel room). And so, this fakir begins a journey that will take him immense distances, both globally and within himself.

I found The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe after enjoying The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared (to be reviewed later). This book is similar, although I think I enjoyed Jonasson’s story a bit more. Puértolas’s story is a bit more openly satirical and just generally further from what I typically read, which made it harder for me to get into. Still, I found the story amusing and interesting. It’s an intriguing journey–both in the pinball-esque trip Ajatashatru takes across Europe, Asia, and Africa and in the internal transformative journey he takes. Probably the most interesting and enjoyable part of the book for me personally was the interactions of Ajatashatru with all sorts of people, including the variety of people he encounters and the influence they have on his perceptions of the world. The biggest negative (other than that this just isn’t so much what I typically read, which isn’t the author’s fault) is that sometimes the author seems to be trying too hard, which is partly just the book’s style, but still. For those who enjoy picaresque, satirical contemporary novels, I think The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe would be an amusing and enjoyable book to try.

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The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Omnibus Edition)

Author: Alan Moorethe league of extraordinary gentelmen omnibus

Illustrator: Kevin O’Neill

My Rating: DNF

Warning: Mature Audience

In England during the year 1898, a mysterious unnamed individual–going merely by M–has begun collecting a most unusual group of people together. Strayed to the outskirts of society and beyond by choice or chance, these individuals have both the will and the abilities to do what many might consider impossible. And perhaps, for the sake of their country, they might even be motivated to have the will to work together and accomplish the task.

First off, apologies to those who love this, admittedly classic, comic book–you should probably stop reading now. Actually, this particular review is for myself more than for anyone else, so that when I look back in 5 years and wonder whatever happened to the characters, I’ll be reminded of all the reasons I stopped reading to begin with. Because The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen has the potential to be a wonderful story. The premise is intriguing, the blending of Victorian period literature and style with the superhero comic. I would even say that, at times, Moore and O’Neill manage to pull it off. Certainly, a familiarity with and appreciation of classic literature will certainly increase one’s appreciation of the comic–the incorporation of characters and stylistic elements was one of the things I appreciated the most. So if there’s that much good, why did I stop halfway through with no intention of ever picking this comic up again to finish it? Because I found this comic to also be racist, sexist, violent, bawdy, and offensive in the extreme. Is that seriously necessary?! So yes, I won’t elaborate further, but I can’t recommend The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, nor will I ever read any of it again.

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The Red House Mystery

Author: A. A. Milnethe red house mystery

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Mr. Anthony Gillingham has made a life of wearing many hats, switching from one to the next as soon as he has mastered the first. And his sharp wit and photographic memory make doing so rather easy–not that he doesn’t work at excelling at whatever he chooses to do. So when he stops in at the countryside residence of Mark Ablett (to visit an old friend who is also staying there on holiday) and discovers a murder has just occurred . . . well, why not try being a detective?

I absolutely love Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh series, so I was pretty excited when I discovered he also wrote other books, including this one, solitary mystery. For those who love fast-paced, tightly plotted mystery thrillers, The Red House Mystery is nothing like that. For those who enjoyed Milne’s children’s books, this is that sort of story, just for adults and a murder mystery. Which makes no sense at all, I know, but it’s true. This book is quaint and bucolic, there’s a period-specific air of leisure–and indeed a very period-specific vibe in general–that shine throughout in that natural way that historical fiction can never quite emulate. Which isn’t to say that the mystery itself isn’t interesting and perhaps even clever. It’s just developed in a more leisurely sort of way. I liked the characters, even though Mr. Gillingham is a bit larger than life–how many detective stories are written about characters who aren’t? In any case, The Red House Mystery isn’t groundbreaking or marvelous, but for a nice, easy-paced, fun read, I think it suits quite nicely.

 

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Sherlock (TV series)

BBCSherlock

My rating: 5 of 5

Dr. John Watson has come home from Afghanistan due to a war injury, and he’s having trouble adapting to civilian life . . . financially and psychologically. So when an old friend introduces him to Sherlock Holmes–a most interesting and unusual man who is willing to share the rent for a flat–John finds himself rapidly accepting the offer. Life with the self-proclaimed “consulting detective” soon draws Dr. Watson into a whirlwind, solving crimes and assisting Holmes in whatever capacity he can–certainly in a medical one. Perhaps even as a friend, whatever the sociopathic  Holmes may say.

Why do I love this series so much?! I’m a huge fan of Doyle’s classic Sherlock Holmes stories–I grew up reading them. As such, I usually hate movie/TV versions of the stories since they almost always get important stuff wrong. Sherlock gets it right. Rather than trying to re-create a Victorian setting and Victorian characters while still making it interesting for a modern audience, the creators immediately scrap all that and go for a modern London setting. Instead of trying to pull details from the classic stories, they pull feelings, ideas, and inspiration. So it feels right–but also fresh and exciting. The plots are intriguing, and I really love they use of hour-and-a-half episodes to allow a full development of individual plots within the episode. Steven Moffat’s touch on the show is pretty evident, which I (as a big Doctor Who fan) really love–you’ve almost got a Doctor-Companion dynamic going between Sherlock and John, and it works beautifully. The characters and the character dynamics are spot-on perfect–very, very fun to watch. Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock is brilliant, absolutely brilliant. But I really think Martin Freeman as Dr. John Watson is the heart of the show, the one who makes you really care. And the interactions between the two . . . priceless. The other characters/cast members are brilliant as well, from those who show in nearly every episode (like Mrs. Hudson & DI Greg Lestrade) to Sherlock’s nemesis Moriarty to those who only show up briefly in one episode. I loved the camera angles, the production, and the creative use of screen text to show Sherlock’s though processes. All around, Sherlock is just brilliant–highly recommended!

Created by  Mark Gatiss & Steven Moffat/Written by  Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat, & Stephen Thompson/Starring Benedict Cumberbatch & Martin Freeman/Based on the stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Note: Currently this series is ongoing, with three (3-episode) seasons and one special currently available.

Update 02/12/2017: I just finished watching the fourth season (which brings the series up to a whole 13 episodes. Yay! I definitely enjoyed this season and found it to be in keeping with the previous seasons in most regards. There were definitely some surprises though, and I found the almost surreal quality of the episodes to be unique and intriguing–difficult to follow sometimes though. I’ll be interested to see if a fifth season comes to be; the end of this season almost felt like a good-bye, but I haven’t heard an official announcement that the series is completed. We’ll see, I guess.

 

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The Year of the Hangman

Author: Gary Blackwoodthe year of the hangman

My rating: 4 of 5

What if. . . ? The year is 1777. The American colonies have lost their revolution, and many have been killed or have fled to Spanish and French territory for safety. Not that any of that concerns 15-year-old Creighton Brown. Living the high life in British society, he is much more interested in drinking and gambling away any fortune his family might once have had–and there’s little enough left since his father’s death in the war. But when Creighton is kidnapped and shipped off to the “uncivilized” colonies, his perspective is challenged . . . his perspective on just about everything.

I have admired Gary Blackwood’s writing ever since I discovered his middle-grade historical fiction story, The Shakespeare Stealer–which is amazing, just saying. I didn’t love The Year of the Hangman in quite the same way that I did Blackwood’s Shakespeare books, but I did find it quite enjoyable. The whole alternate history, “what if” idea was very interesting, and I think he handled it well, blending both real history and logical possibility in a manner that was very credible. On the whole, the plot and developments were, however, a bit predictable–still enjoyable, but not particularly gripping or surprising. Still, I think The Year of the Hangman was definitely an interesting read, particularly for those interested in Revolutionary War history or in alternate history stories.

 

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