Category Archives: Novels

The War Within These Walls Review

I tend to avoid any novels about Jews in World War II. The biggest reason being they are way too depressing (The Diary of Anne Frank, anyone?) It’s not that they are poorly written or anything, it’s just something that I never really bothered to touch on except when I really have to. I broke with tradition and picked up one of those books called The War Within These Walls by Aline Sax with illustrations by Caryl Strzelecki.

Based on the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Misha, and his family are forced to live in the ghetto with the rest of the Jews. After what seems like an eternity being abused by the Germans, Misha comes across a resistance group that decides to stand up against the Germans.

This book is told in the first person, but it’s presented like a poem but not really a poem. Confused? You have to read the book to know what I’m talking about. One thimg this book deos is that one page is white and the other is black. It seems like the black pages are more for writing that is supposed to be super shocking than on white pages, but it’s hard to decern with all the horrible things happening. One of the worst things that happen is Misha sees a German soldier kick over a baby carriage, pick up the baby, slam it against a way and then shoot the mother. That was the only time I stopped reading for a while.

Is the book any good? Well, it is cleverly written, has some nie illustrations and shocking, but it’s nothing groundbreaking. This may sound heartless, but these kind of stories are a dime a dozzen. Yes, World War II was hell for everyone involved and we must hear the voices of those involved, but the sheer number of these stories is staggering. While these stories are important and have historical significance and we must hear them in order to not repeat history, the genre is now tired.

It’s not a bad book, it’s just something we’ve heard many times, but it is one of the better-written books out there.

The War Within These Walls may be one of the better written World War II books about the Jews, it feels the same. Yes, I will say it is one of the more important books as well as Mause and The Diary of Anee Frank, but don’t expect anything different.

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Reading the Oz Books.

The Wizard of Oz was a huge gamble for MGM when it came out in 1939 seeing as how expensive it was to film because filming in color was unheard of back then. It may have done reasonably well in theaters, but it gained a huge following when it started airing on TV. What some people may not know is that this was based on a book by L Frank Baum. A book that’s book one of fifteen. Yes, FIFTEEN, Oz books.

Now, if you’re thinking about reading all fifteen Oz books, I’m here to tell you that, no don’t. Only read the first three (maybe four,) and then stop.

Let’s start at the beginning. The first book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, is about young girl Dorothy who has whisked away to a magical land called OZ. Her farmhouse kills the Wicked Witch of the East. Of course, her sister, the Wicked Witch of the West, is none too happy about that. So, Dorothy is given the silver slippers by the Good Witch of the North (not Glinda as the movie says( and is sent to the Emerald City to seek help from The Wizard.

This is probably the best book of the lot and, of course, there are a lot of differences from the movie. What makes this book great is that while it is the typical book of a kid finding him/herself in a fantasy world, that’s not the point. The point is more along the lines of a kid going through hardships in order to grow up. Not to mention that this world is pretty much something a kid would imagine based on their real life.

The differences between the book and movie are apparent. For one, the slippers are silver and not ruby like in the movie. Also, we don’t see Glinda until the end of the book and she’s the Good Witch of the South. Not to mention the Cowardly Lion and Dorothy are the only ones who get captured by the Wicked Witch. Dorothy kills her by, well, getting angry and throwing a bucket of water on her to shut her up. No epic chase, just “I’ve had enough of your shit.” Also, the flying monkeys are just slaves controlled by a cap the witch wears (and Dorothy uses.)

The next two books, The Marvelous Land of Oz and Ozma of Oz, tell of how Ozma, the real ruler of Oz, comes back and Dorothy’s return to Oz. They also introduce more elements of the world (a powder that makes inanimate objects come alive) and the like. Both are well worth reading.

Then we come to Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz. This is where Baum lost steam. This book is boring. Like, really boring. Not to mention this introduces a deus ex machina that is used throughout the series: a belt that the Nome King had and now Ozma has it grants the wishes of whoever wears it. This belt is used to wish Dorothy and her friends back to the Emerald City. Yawn.

Why do the books go down in quality? If you read the intros done by Baum, you’d know he was sick and tired of writing Oz books after number three. It was obvious he was phoning them in. There were some neat ideas and creatures in Oz, but the writing wasn’t really good.

So, if you want to read the OZ books, just read the first three and that’s it. Hell, go ahead and read/go see Wicked and other Oz books not written by Baum.

 

 

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Dragons at Crumbling Castle Review

Yes, another Pratchett review. That’s what fanboys do, you know.

Dragons at Crumbling Castle is a collection of short stories Terry Pratchett wrote when he was young. As many of you know, Pratchett hates the stuff he wrote when he was young. Well, there is some good stuff here.

The first story is the also the title of the book. It’s about King Arthur hearing that there are castles occupying a castle. Problem is, his knights are away and the only one available is a boy named Ralph. So King Arthur tells the boy to go and kill the dragon. This is actually a pretty funny story, especially once you consider it’s  a King Arthur story. Since ths is Pratchett, the ending is unexpected.

In fact, most of the stories are worth reading. Some of the best are Hercules the Tortoise, Dok the Cavemen and Hunt the Snory.

Of course, this collection also has two early version of The Carpet People: Tales of the Carpet People and Another Tale of the Carpet people. Both are the longest stories in the collection. They’re not bad stories, but if you’ve read The Carpet People you know what to expect. If you’ve read my review of The Carpet People, you know my stance.

One thing these stories have are illustrations by Mark Beech. These same illustrations appear in The Carpet People. They may just look like silly pencil sketches, but when you realize what kind of stories these are, they fit perfectly.

Should you read these stories? Of course. Why? As the name implies, these are stories. A novelist should write short stories to strengthen their writing prowess in order to write longer fiction. If they can write a good story in just a few pages, they can write one in a few hundred. There are other short story collections of Terry Pratchett’s work, and I have every intention of reading them.

 

 

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Pinocchio (book) Review

Everyone is familiar with the story of Pinocchio. Hell, the reason for that is because Disney is one of the biggest movie studios in the world and everyone watches Disney movies. What few people know is that Pinocchio was originally a book by Italian author Carlo Collodi. I managed to track down a copy of this book from my library (the Brooklyn Public Library system is awesome, huh?) After reading it, here a few things.

Firstly, the story is a little different than what people remember. Yes, Pinocchio was made out of a piece of wood that talked. However, it was not Geppetto who found the wood, it was Mr. Cherry. Geppetto bought it from him. Also, how Pinocchio looks like is vastly different than what people know. In the book, he wears a hat made from bread and his clothes are made from flowered wallpaper.

Also, the fox and the cat are usually changed in movie versions. The fox and the Cat pretend to be beggars with some kind of disability (the cat is blind and the fox can’t walk.) The blue fairy is actually just a fairy with blue hair.

Oh, and Geppetto gets arrested and lots of violence. Let’s talk about that. Pinocchio’s feet get burned off, he throws a hammer at the cricket and kills him, a snake laughs so hard at Pinocchio so hard a blood vessel in his heart bursts and Pinocchio bites the Cat’s paw off. Remember, this book was written in 1882, what was acceptable in children’s literature was different back then.

The writing style also reflects the era this was written. Since this is a children’s book, it likes to backtrack a lot which was normal at the time. It also has a moral which is “be a good kid or you’ll suffer a lot and become a donkey.”

Is there any particular reason to read this book? Yes. You see, this book may be just one big moral, but this moral and what happens to Pinocchio still rings true today. Bad things happen to those who refuse to follow societal rules. You will encounter hardships worse than what you would if you were good and will become a donkey. Not an actual donkey but society will view you as one.

With that, go out and read Pinocchio because of its importance and the fact that it is a good story despite some of the writing and some exaggerated reactions from the characters.

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When Zachary Beaver Came to Town Review

You know how people say their entire life changed when a big event happened? Well, stuff like that happens because we experience stuff because we decided to go to that event. That’s also how stories work: some big event happens and the characters react to it. That’s the basses to When Zachary Beaver Came to Town by Kimberly Willis Holt. I came across this book by looking at a list of books and this one stood out to me. It also had one of those “National Book Award Winner” stickers on it. It’s too bad that this was a massive disappointment.

Zachary Beaver, the “Fattest Boy in the World,” arrives in the backwater town of Antler, Texas. It is because of this small event that Toby Wilson’s life takes a huge turn that will leave him changed forever.

This is one of those slice of life books that win awards because it’s slice of life. I don’t have a problem with slice of life. Hell, I’m a huge fan of them especially in anime form. The problem is that this book goes from really interesting to super boring. Hell, Zachary Beaver doesn’t really play that much into what happens in Toby’s life. The actual events in this book are Zachary’s mom entering a singing competition in Nashville, his friend Cal’s brother fighting in Vietnam and Toby trying to get the girl of his dreams to notice him.

While these are all interesting in their own right, Holt manages to make them boring and even predictable (Cal’s brother dying, for one.)

As far as Zachary, his presence in Antler doesn’t cause that much to happen. Hell, take him out and very little will change. Holt had to create some kind of plot for Zachery to be there. That one plot point is he wasn’t baptized and now Toby and co. help him to get baptized. See what I mean by him adding nothing to the plot?

It’s not a terrible book by any mean. Holt does showcase writing talent. It’s just that this book offers very little and the payoff makes you feel like you wasted your time.

Don’t let the “National Book Award Winner” sticker fool you, this book is  a great concept with a weak story and even weaker payoff. There are plenty of National Book Award winning books out there that are worth reading, it’s just that this one isn’t.

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The Boy From the Basement Review

I’m fully aware that I’m throwing a book with a heavy subject matter at you guys even thou I’ve said I wanted to keep this blog chill. That’s the way literature is. You take the light stuff with the heavy. The Boy From the Basement by Susan Shaw is one of the heavy ones.

The world Charlie knows is the basement of his house. He’s there because he’s been bad and Father put him there until he’s ready. One night Charlie goes outside to pee and locks himself out of the house. After fainting, he finds himself in a hospital and in a new house with a stranger. Charlie is certain this should not be happening or else father will get mad. Not to mention the spider is always watching him.

This is a book told from the POV of the kid. That’s actually a great idea since what better way to see the damage done from abuse than by the abused. This can, however, go wrong in so many different ways. Shaw actually treats this topic with the respect and delicacy it deserves. We get an abused kid who does show signs of being abused both physically (bad shoulder) and mentally (the spider.)

Let’s talk about the spider for a second. I’m no psychologist, but I think the spider represents Charlie’s dad. You see, every time Charlie sees the spider he feels afraid. Not to mention it makes an “ihmmm” sound. The idea that his dad is constantly watching him is part of the abuse. Charlie’s dad has ingrained into his head that every movement he makes is wrong and the only right things to do are what does not make dad mad.

Of course, the book isn’t perfect. You see, we never really find out what Charlie did except he played outdoors in the rain and got the house dirty. Maybe? Also, the big scene near the end (won’t spoil it) seems a bit too unrealistic.

The Boy From the Basement is a rather good book about an abused kid. There are some problems that keep this book from being great, but it is worth looking at for the curious.

 

 

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Carrie (novel) Review

It’s finally happened: I found a Stephen King book that I like. It took seventeen years and about ten books to get to this book. Well, King did write like a hundred books so it was inevitable I’d find one. It’s also King’s first book and the one he hates the most.

That book is Carrie. The book about an awkward girl who is constantly picked on by other girls and is beaten by her super-religious mother. She also has psychic powers that she uses to get her revenge.

One thing that is obvious is that this is one of King’s shortest books at 290 pages. People are so used to seeing a Stephen King book being around 1,000 pages that when they see a book this short it’s a shock. Am I saying I liked this book because it was short? Not in the least.

You see, this book is not long winded at all. The amount of content in this book is just right to tell the story. Also, the writing is pretty solid which makes this book a page-turner (I read this book in three days.)

Let’s look at some of the writing styles used in this book. There’s the traditional narrative form which is well written. King also adds nonfiction writing such as news stories, memoirs, letters and medical journals. It takes a lot of talent to get all of these styles to be interesting. King does manage to do that in a way that flows nicely. Normally, when a writer changes writing styles in a book it’s like hitting a high wall and then trying to climb it to get back to solid ground. Some writers can do this right, but some can’t.

What’s not great is some of the fluff in the book. The fluff I’m talking about is some of the scenes with Chris and Billy. Billy really only has one purpose in the book: Collect the pig blood. And Chris is there just to tag along. These two are the least interesting characters in the book.

Of course, what everyone talks about is how different this book is than the movie (the 1976 version anyway.) In the movie, Carrie is super skinny while here she’s chunky. Other changes are Miss Desjardin doesn’t die in the book, Carrie just kills her mom without a big fight, Carrie destroys the entire town instead if just the school and Carrie actually ENJOYED killing people. Yes, the book describes Carrie as smiling while she kills people. That right there is a lot scarier.

In all, King may not like Carrie but I did. It has some great writing conventions that make it worth reading. It may be scary like people make it out to be, but it’s still one of King’s better books. It has made me want to go back and give his other books a second chance.

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Go Ask Alice Review

*Sigh* Look, I understand I’m in the right age groups for this book, but I can, at least, appreciate YA novels. Hell, YA can be awesome. The problem is, at least, make an attempt to not insult the intelligence of the reader and write a well-written story. Go Ask Alice is one of those books that make you wonder why did it sell so many copies.

Go Ask Alice is about a teenage girl who one year goes to stay with her grandparents and meets a group of kids that are iffy at best. That is how she first starts to takes drugs which would then ruin her life.

First, let’s get one thing straight: This book is pure fiction. Just look at the copyright page of the book and it says, “this book is a work of fiction.” It’s obvious it’s fiction because of the writing. No teenage girl can use those big words. Not to mention a teenage girl in the seventies would not call their parents mother and father.

As for the writing itself, it’s pretty bland. As a book that’s written as a diary, it is not engaging at all and the stuff that happens isn’t all that realistic. Yes, realistic. It’s obvious this book is meant to be an anti-drug ad, but some of the stuff are ridiculous. Teens really don’t start off with acid. Marijuana is usually the starting point and that’s usually where it ends. Pills like speed, maybe. Hard stuff like acid and LSD are WAY too expensive for a teen and the highs those give are more terrifying than exhilarating.

Hell, she then SELLS drugs. Seriously, she becomes a drug dealer. Becoming a drug dealer is a LOT harder than the book makes it out to be. It would be more realistic for a teen to sell his sleeping pills, ADHD pills or antidepressants. Marijuana and other drugs require a supplier, something a lot of teens don’t have.

Also, the book reads like something D.A.R.E would come up with. The thing about these organizations is that, yes, their hearts are in the right place but teens think of them as jokes.

All in all, Go Ask Alice is purely fictionalized propaganda that doesn’t know anything about teens and drug use in teens. You may have read this book in school or may read it for a class. Expect to hate this book because it’s just pure poorly written silliness.

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A Christmas Treasury of Yuletide Stories and Poems Review

“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” is one of the most famous quotes about Santa Claus. Like many people, I heard the quote but had no idea where it came from. Apparently it’s from an editorial from the September 21, 1897, edition of the New York Sun answering a letter called “Is There a Santa Claus” from a girl named Virginia O’Hanlon. The only way I was able to read this editorial was from a book called  A Christmas Treasury of Yuletide Stories and Poems.

I came upon this book when I decided to attend my local church’s bazaar a few years back and they were selling it for a dollar. I bought it and completely forgot about it up until a week ago (yes, I DO have that many books that I forget what I have.) It’s also worth noting that this book is out of print.  Don’t worry, you can still buy this on Amazon for 12¢.

After perusing this book, there are quite a few nifty poems and stories pertaining to Christmas. Like I said, it has Virginia’s letter in it so that’s pretty cool. This book also has The Gift of the Magi and Christmas Every Day. These are stories that have become essential reading for Christmas reading. There’s also the songs Three Kings of Orient (you know, “we three kings of Orient are, bearing gifts we traverse afar”) and  Silent night, Holy Night.

One of the strangest inclusions is A Christmas Carol in Prose by Charles Dickens. I thought it was a different story/poem, but it was actually A Christmas Carol in it entirety. Yes, this book has A Christmas Carol along with other stories and poems. That right there is well worth the price.

There are also stories/poems by William Shakespeare, L. Frank Baum (yes, that L Frank Baum,) Hans Christian Anderson, Washington Irving, Nathanial Hawthorne (yup,) Oscar Wilde, Leo Tolstoy  and T.S Eliot.

It’s a pity that this book is out of print. There really should be a revised version of it because there is a lot of great stuff in here. Get it from the library, buy it on Amazon or if you can find it in your local bookstore (please do. Small bookstores tend to be awesome) get it. There’s a ton of stuff here for the literary minded and those who want to read good Christmas writing.

 

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The Shepherd’s Crown Review

Here it is folks, my review of the last ever Discworld book the Shepherd’s Crown. Some of you may be asking, “what took so long?” Well, I was kinda apprehensive about reading this book since I’ve been burned by the last few Discworld books and I needed some time to get over the fact that this was the last ever book. I finally read and the finished the book and my apprehensions were right.

Tiffany Aching has inherited Granny Weatherwax’s cottage and position after Weatherwax’s death. Yes, Granny Weatherwax is dead. More on that later. Tiffany is having problems filling Weatherwax’s shoes as the new head witch. Meanwhile, the elves see this as an opportunity to attack.

Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way: Granny Weatherwax is dead. One of the greatest and most powerful characters on the disc and Pratchett decided to kill her off. Well, Pratchett has done that plenty of times before with certain characters (Cohen, anyone?) But, still, when you read that part it will be a huge shock.

As for the story itself, it isn’t all that interesting. It’s just Tiffany doing her witch’s duties and trying to be as good as Granny Weatherwax. It may be a typical coming of age story, but most of what happens just isn’t’ all that interesting . Even the whole idea of a male becoming a witch (and a good one at that” seems more like a minor plot point that just happens.

When the elves do finally arrive, there’s a battle. Yes, an actual fantasy style battle in a Discworld book, a series that for the past thirty years tried to be the OPPOSITE of what makes a fantasy book. Even how it all ends is uneventful  and feels rushed.

Someone on Amazon even said that this book reads like it wasn’t written by Pratchett. I agree. I did not laugh once, it wasn’t smart in any way, the story plodded along, the plot was dull and the characters didn’t act like they should.

Once again, I’m a huge Pratchett fan. I thought the guy was brilliant and even cried when he died. I just felt his post-Alzheimer’s books lacked the same quality as his pre-Alzheimer’s books.

Despite that, I’m kinda glad I read this book. To me, it  gives a sense of closure to the career of one of the best fantasy writers this generation. Granted, the book isn’t all that good, but still.

The Shepherd’s Crown is the final book in the Discworld and one of the weaker one. The only reason to read this book is for completionist and closure sake. If you want to honor Pratchett in any way, read the Watch books. Read The Truth, Lords and Ladies, the Death books. This one will only be remembered as the Discworld book and that’s it.

 

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