Category: Book Blog (page 2 of 27)

2015 Book #10: The Neverending Story

neverendingI should have written this post right after I finished reading The Neverending Story, if only as a public service to save you the trouble of trying to read this stupid book. My anger has lessened as I’ve subconsciously begun to repress  the crap my eyeballs transmitted to my brain over several days. Ugh.

SO short spoiler-free review: DON’T.

For those of you who want to know the whole truth, I present some highlights, in bulleted form. I’m assuming you’ve seen the movie, as I’m pretty sure everyone has, so I’m sticking to the many differences.

  • The movie only covers the first half of the book – the relatively good half. The second is ridiculous and terrible. I’ll get to that in a minute.
  • At first I was like, okay, this is interesting. We get more background on Atreyu and Falcor.
  • Except Falcor doesn’t just drop in to save Bastian: After he goes through the swamp and loses Artax (who talks in the book, but only a couple of times, which somehow makes his death less sad?), he discovers that he needs to go to the far end of Fantastica (and yes, I spelled it correctly. In the book, it’s Fantastica, not Fantasia), which involves crossing this abyss, which is guarded by the Scariest Monster Ever. It turns out to be a ginormous spider-thing that’s made up of millions of tiny insects, and it has a web crossing said abyss with Falcor stuck in it, stung by the monster and slowly dying. Atreyu has the emblem-necklace the Childlike Empress gave him, which the spider-thing respects, so it tells him its secret: if it stings him, it will kill him in an hour, but within that hour, he can magically travel anywhere in Fantastica that he wishes. Yep. So Atreyu asks to be stung, effectively committing suicide, so he can travel to the south of Fantastica and…die? Except Falcor hears what the monster says, too, and wishes himself to Atreyu’s location, then flies him to the little people and on we go with the Southern Oracle and such.
  • After all of that and various other adventures, Atreyu and Falcor head back to the Childlike Empress to explain that a human needs to give her a new name. In the movie, the storm is going on, etc, and the Empress talks to Bastian through the book, then he yells her name into the storm and is magically transported to Fantasia. But no! Bastian is worried that once he gets there, they’ll laugh at him because he’s fat and awkward. MEH. SO the Childlike Empress has to go on a quest of her own go find an elusive old man on some mountain who can make Bastian say her name and show up. Bastian only does it because he has to.
  • THEN, by the time Bastian gets to Fantastica, it’s only a grain of sand, etc, etc, and he has to wish it back into existence bit by bit. This is the book’s halfway point. He creates a beautiful night forest with plants made of light. Then, he thinks there’s not enough trouble in the world, so he wishes to find the Greatest Enemy Ever. He wakes up the next morning and discovers that his forest has become a desert, then travels across it, eventually finding a lion who kills everyone except whoever is wearing Moonchild’s (ugh) emblem. Bastian is comfortable and stays there for a really long time until the lion hints that he should move along.
  • And then a long string of stupid and unnecessary adventures commences, each involving a wish. Bastian quickly becomes a selfish, dumb kid who makes terrible decisions. And I’ve forgotten to mention that he’s wished himself a new body: he’s big and strong and Middle Eastern and wears a turban.?. Yep. Moving on.
  • As Bastian becomes more and more of an asshole, Atreyu and Falcor figure out that every time he makes a wish in Fantastica, he loses a memory from Earth. (I’ve forgotten exactly how this relates to the SECOND movie, but the whole situation is turned around in Bastian’s favor, so Bastian is the good guy in the movie but the bad guy in the book.) They try to explain that he needs to leave Fantastica before he loses all memory of Earth and causes Fantastica to be forgotten and destroyed again, but Bastian is having too good a time and doesn’t want to go home.
  • It also turns out that, after he forgets almost everything and tries to declare himself Emperor of Fantastica but fails and runs away, he’s not the first: there’s a whole village of humans who gave the Childlike Empress new names but who couldn’t get back to Earth for various reasons. This part was a wee bit interesting, and the experience finally convinces Bastian that he needs to go home.
  • Bastian eventuall figures out that to get home, he has to find his true wish. Get ready for it! It is…drumroll please…to learn how to love. SERIOUSLY. Any possible redemption that this book was heading toward fizzled out in that very instant. Eff you, Michael Ende, is what went on in my head. UGH.
  • And it only gets worse! Other non-movie things happen, and eventually he ends up back in his school attic. The school is closed, so he crawls down some scaffolding, then runs home, where his dad is waiting. If my kid skipped school and was gone all night then came home safe and sound, I’d be furious. But no! Bastian’s dad is just glad he’s home. He makes Bastian some toast, and Bastian tells his story. Again, if my kid told me a story like that, I’d either be furious or immediately seek some professional help depending on whether I thought he actually believed it. But no again! When Bastian finishes, his dad starts crying, hugs his son, and says things between them will change – and not because Bastian is about to be admitted to a mental hospital. Bastian’s dad believes everything he says. REALLY. He even volunteers to talk to Mr. Coriander about Bastian’s little thievery incident, but Bastian says that he has to grow up and do it himself.
  • SO he goes to see Mr. Coriander, who also believes his stupid story. The book had disappeared from the attic by the time Bastian returned, but, luckily enough, Mr. Coriander says that he didn’t have a book like that to begin with, though he’d been to Fantastica himself some other way, that most people find their way there at some point. Groan.
  • And Bastian lived happily ever after.

Wow. I didn’t think my list would be that long. The Neverending Story is the worst book I’ve read in a long time, and I’ve read some doozies here lately. It’s also a HUGE example of a movie being better than a book. You don’t find those often. And this book is so terrible that you should leave your childhood memories alone on this one. Don’t spoil the whole idea by slogging through this piece of crap, and don’t even tell your kids that the movie is based on a book. There’s a reason everyone’s seen the movie but no one’s read the book.

End of PSA.

BONUS: Turns out some guy likes the movies so much that he outfitted a Neverending Story-themed custom van. Oh, yeah.

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Featured image credit: Tina Ottosson

Wacko van images: ROOSTER.NEVC@YAHOO.COM

2015 Book #9: The Long Home

longhomeAfter spending some time with Andy Weir on Mars (and after slogging through the weirdness of Still Life with Woodpecker), I wanted to read something a bit more mundane. I’d never heard of The Long Home or William Gay, but Goodreads thought I’d like it since I love Larry Brown and the library happened to have a copy, so I jumped in.

And it was so good.

Also: very like Larry Brown in subject matter, though not in style. It’s like Larry Brown went literary. I’ll stop talking about Larry Brown now.

The Long Home is set in 1940s Tennessee. It begins with a flashback to ten years before: Dallas Hardin has taken over a sick man’s home (and his wife and daughter). He gets into an argument with a man named Nathan Winer, kills him, and dumps him into a pit next to his house. Ten years later, Winer’s son is a teenager and doesn’t know what happened. He ends up working for Hardin, building a speakeasy of sorts. The younger Winer falls in love with the sick man’s daughter and tries to rescue her from Hardin. Meanwhile, he befriends an old man named William Tell Oliver, who knows what happened but doesn’t want to tell anyone. Things happen. It’s a complex plot.

It’s such a good novel. I don’t know how I hadn’t heard of William Gay before, but I guess it’s because at some point when I was in college, I decided that I hated Southern lit, and I avoided it until a year or two ago. Ahhh, dumb youth. The Long Home is a great example of contemporary Southern lit and reminds me of Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor. I’ll be reading Gay’s other books in short order. Of course, like almost every author I decide I like, he only published a small handful of novels, and he died a few years ago. So it goes.

If you don’t have an arbitrary hatred of Southern lit (or are ready to get over it), you should give William Gay a try. The Long Home is definitely worth a read.

As a side note, this novel reminds me of this song (specifically, this version of this song):

2015 Book #8: Wolf in White Van

wolfinwhitevanWolf in White Van only landed on my radar because of its author: John Darnielle is a member of one of my favorite bands, The Mountain Goats. (I’ll add a Spotify playlist of some of my favorite songs to the bottom of this post.) I probably saw this book in an upcoming books list on The Millions, and it seems there was quite a bit of hype for a first novel, not that the author is unknown by any means. I read the blurb and was a bit skeptical, but once I got my hands on the book (okay, downloaded it from OverDrive), I was won over almost immediately.

It’s a novel told in reverse, like Time’s Arrow (which is better) or Lotería (which is oh so much worse). The protagonist, Sean, has suffered a disfiguring facial injury that has left him ostracized by his parents and most of society. He generally stays at home with frequent visits from a nurse. He spends his time working on a mail-order roleplaying game called Trace Italian, which he came up with when he was a teenager and in the hospital. We slowly discover what his world is like and what has happened to him.

Oh, this book is so good. It’s my favorite novel-length novel so far this year (which, of course, counts out The Strange Library). It’s so much better than I expected – and very different. It’s what I’d imagine John Green‘s novels might be like without all of the insufferable sap. (I say I’d imagine because I’ve never actually read one word John Green has written, and I absolutely refuse to. I’ll link back to this post when I break down and read one of his novels…)

Seriously, y’all. Mountain Goats fan or not, you need to read this book.

And here’s the promised Mountain Goats playlist:

2015 Book #7: The Martian

martianI’ll go ahead and warn you about the huge spoiler a little down the page because there’s no way I could review this book without talking about the ending. So if you haven’t read it, here’s the short version. Read it. Skip the review until then. It’s worth it, I promise.

Onward. I’m not sure what I was expecting when I picked up The Martian. I knew it was sci-fi, but I didn’t know what kind or how far-out it would be. I thought there might be evil aliens lurking in corners, waiting to spring on Mark Watney at every corner. Turns out that’s not it at all.

The Martian is about an astronaut stranded on Mars. Shortly after he and his crew landed, there was an accident, and they thought he was dead, so they followed orders and left. Except he wasn’t dead: his suit had been punctured, and it was sending out incorrect data. The rest of the crew heads home, and Watney has to figure out what to do. The next mission isn’t supposed to arrive for over a year, and he only has supplies for a couple hundred days. So…

A lot of the novel is made up of Mark’s log entries, which describe what he does to try to stay alive. After not too long, though, someone at NASA sees him on a satellite picture, so at least they know he’s alive. Watney had a dual role with the crew: botanist and mechanical engineer. He can fix stuff. So he makes a several-day journey to pick up one of the lost rovers, brings it back to his base, and gets it working again, allowing him to communicate with NASA. And that’s only the beginning.

So here’s the *MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT* you’ve been waiting for. By the end of the book, I was so emotionally involved because of all of the things Watney survived that I would have been so angry if he died. This book might have dropped to two Goodreads stars solely to reflect my frustration level. But no! Andy Weir was reasonable and allowed Watney to survive, eventually returning to Earth. I especially liked the very end, in which a kid asks him if, given the chance, he’d return to Mars: “Are you fuckin’ crazy?” Yes, indeed. *End MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT*

Oh, how I enjoyed this book. Weir did an amazing amount of research and applied it brilliantly. I should probably mention that I listened to the audiobook as I was walking a certain dog, and I think I liked it more because of that. The Martian is the perfect book for audio. At one point, I was worried I’d have to walk home crying. I’m not sure the book would have had the same effect.

Which all means you should read The Martian if you haven’t already. It’s realistic sci-fi at its best.

Featured photo credit: NASA

2015 Book #6: Still Life with Woodpecker

stilllifeI should have stopped reading Still Life with Woodpecker at the first mention of the “half-shellfish half-peach that occupied the warm, watery bowl of [Princess Leigh-Cheri’s] lower regions.” This is a (mostly) family-friendly blog, so I’ll let you come to your own conclusions about exactly what that means. My conclusion? YUCK.

Anyway. Still Life with Woodpecker has been on my TBR list for at least a couple of years now. It was toward the top of my failed TBR Pile Challenge last year, but I didn’t get around to it then. I’m not sure how I first discovered it, though it might have been Goodreads’s recommendation engine, which is usually pretty reliable. This time, it made it to the top of my list because of a recommendation from Book Riot: they seem to think that if you’re a Twin Peaks fan, you’ll like Still Life with Woodpecker.

Nope.

That peach business shows up around the 10% mark in a very short book, and that’s when I figured out that it’s Not My Kind of Book. I’m not a prude, but I don’t like a bunch of sex in my books. One or two tasteful scenes is tolerable, but Still Life with Woodpecker goes way overboard. Even her dad calls her a sexpot. Meh. That, and I just don’t like Tom Robbins‘s version of humor. It wasn’t funny to me: it was stupid. If it wasn’t so short and hadn’t been on my list for so long, I would have stopped.

So what’s this book about, anyway? you ask. Well, there’s a family that had been royalty of a nonexistent country, and they’ve been deposed by rebels. They’ve been given political asylum in the US and live near Seattle. Princess Leigh-Cheri is the daughter of the deposed king and queen, and she’s always in trouble, mostly for hijinks involving sex. She ends up going to Hawaii for a hippie-type conference and falling in love with a man who tries to blow it up. Things continue to happen.

Sounds exciting, right? I guess it is. Still Life with Woodpecker has good reviews on Goodreads. My issues with this book are personal, and in this case, I don’t claim any sort of objectivity: I just didn’t like it, and I’ll probably avoid Tom Robbins in the future just because I don’t like his style.

Featured photo credit: frankieleon

2015 Book #5: The Stand

thestandSo I finally read The Stand. It had a firm place on my TBR list for at least ten years, possibly since I saw the TV miniseries several years ago. Okay, so I’ve seen said miniseries more than once. Probably at least five times. Don’t judge.

Until fairly recently, most of my exposure to Stephen King was made-for-TV movies like The Stand, IT, and The Langoliers, all of which I love. I’d only read The Shining and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, one of which is good and one of which is in my top five Worst Books Ever. I’ll let you guess which one is which. Then, of course, the Dark Tower series happened, and all hell broke loose.

I can’t get enough of Stephen King.

I don’t think I know anyone who hasn’t either read The Stand or seen the miniseries, so I’ll only give the vaguest of synopses: A horrible plague decimates society, leaving two camps of immune people: one drawn to a nice old lady in Nebraska and another drawn to an evil Walkin Dude in Las Vegas. They divide into their various camps and Things Happen.

See what I did there? Two sentences to explain a 1200-page book. Easy.

I think I would have liked it more if I hadn’t seen the miniseries so many times. I couldn’t help but compare them. You aren’t missing anything super-important if you haven’t read the book. The main differences involve horror and sex that couldn’t be put on TV. Maybe it’s worth it for the real story on the dog named Kojak, but otherwise, you aren’t missing too much. (One amusing bit, though, involves Harold Lauder: he’s nothing like the actor. Imagine a young George R.R. Martin. Yep. That’s Harold.)

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What I did find interesting were the numerous references to The Dark Tower. First of all, there’s Randall Flagg, who is a character in the Dark Tower series. There are also mentions of ka, the unfound door, and gunslingers. Fascinating stuff! Otherwise, The Stand is okay. I don’t regret reading it, though I probably won’t do it again. That said, I still can’t stop reading Stephen King. I think IT is next, though I’m going to stick with smaller books in the short term, as The Stand took quite a while and I have a quota to hit.

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Featured photo credit: Kevin Schraer

2015 Book #4: The Rithmatist

rithmatistHere’s another book I chose almost solely based on its immediate availability on OverDrive. I’d just finished listening to 10% Happier (and was somewhere around half-through The Stand), and I was in the middle of a massive scanning project at work, which required some sort of audio entertainment since scanning is so monotonous. The Rithmatist‘s blurb looked interesting enough and Goodreads thought I’d like it, so I downloaded it, not really knowing what I was getting myself into – especially since it’s YA.

And I really enjoyed it!

The Rithmatist is about a 16-year-old kid named Joel who goes to an exclusive school because his mom works there and his dad did before he died. Joel’s grades are by no means spectacular. He’s obsessed with rithmatics, a type of magic involving chalk drawings, though he’s not a rithmatist. Rithmatists are chosen in a special religious ceremony at age eight, and Joel didn’t make the cut, so he goes to the regular part of the school but spends as much time as he can on the rithmatics side of campus. While delivering a note to a teacher in a rithmatics classroom, Joel witnesses a duel that ends with that professor’s losing his place and being replaced by the younger professor winning his position. Joel immediately dislikes the younger professor and wonders what he’s up to, especially when rithmatic students start disappearing. What follows is a steampunky magical mystery with various twists and so on.

While I enjoyed this book, it’s really not that great. Brandon Sanderson writes a lot of books, and it seems like he wrote this one pretty quickly. It follows the usual Harry Pottery story arc, and while it’s not exactly predictable, I wasn’t surprised by the outcome. Which is fine when the outcome isn’t annoying, as it is here. It seems like Sanderson spent the bulk of his time coming up with the magic system, which is innovative. I enjoyed that part. Basic rithmatics looks almost like a game played on the ground with chalk, circles and lines for defenses and mythical creatures for offenses.

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The book is, for obvious reasons, illustrated, and I missed that part since I listened to it, but judging from my Google Images results, I sure wasn’t missing much. These illustrations look more like they’re for a kids’ book than YA. Anyway.

Again, I enjoyed it. It’s fun, easy YA and was a nice break from The Stand. It passed the time during my Massive Scanning Project. Sanderson has a sequel queued up for 2017, but that’s so far away that I’m sure I’ll have forgotten all about The Rithmatist. I guess that’s my main problem with Sanderson: he’s working on too many series at once, and it seems like this one might be an afterthought, like he’s just churning out books as fast as he can for the money. Not releasing the next book in a series for four years is a bit excessive (though I guess that if Mr. Stephenking can do it, Sanderson thinks he can too).

Friday Things: 1/23/2015

So I’m not very good at posting Things every week. I’m not sure whether I want to make myself be better about it or give up the venture entirely. We’ll see what happens. This week, anyway, you’re in luck!

If you haven’t guessed, the featured image is one of Dalí’s paintings. If you can name it, I’ll give you a cookie.

Non-Book Update Time (of course it’s mostly about the dog)

I made a few changes to the blog to accommodate posts that don’t involve books, and I haven’t written even one non-book post since. Until now. You, dear readers, have been underinformed about dog-related happenings, and it’s time to rectify that situation.

Zelda went to the dog park in Longview, TX.

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Which wouldn’t be so monumental if Shreveport would ever get one. (They say the paperwork is signed, but I’m guessing we might have one in 2020. Maybe.)

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Longview is over an hour away, so we stopped in Marshall for a bite to eat. Zelda tried her first potato chips.

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(She also snapped at the owner’s hand, but that was because he got all up in her face and scared the living bejeezus out of her. I was mortified.)

Zelda was timid at first, but she eventually joined in the fun and had an excellent time.

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It was nice to see her run. At home, her only outside option is a leash. Hopefully, we’ll have a backyard fence installed soon.

After the dog park, we met some friends at Starbucks, and Zelda enjoyed a puppy latte.

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In other news, Shakespeare turned 11 on January 1. His present was his very own cubby next to my desk, complete with a heating pad and No Dogs Allowed sign. He spends a good bit of his time there.

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And, finally, I got a master’s degree. The one I’d been working on for years. Good times.

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2015 Book #3: 10% Happier

tenpercentI usually lump nonfiction reviews into bulk posts because I don’t have much to say about them. Same goes for Dan Harris‘s 10% Happier, but it gets its own post because I’m doing my best not to get behind. Which means this’ll be a short one.

I’m not sure what section of Barnes & Noble you’d have to look in to find 10% Happier, though I figure it’d be either biography or self-help. Both categories might help, but I’ll vote the former because it was much more interesting to me on a biographical level.

The title refers to Harris’s claim that meditation has made him 10% happier. He works in the cutthroat news industry and has anxiety issues. After various investigations and attempts to allay his anxiety, he settles on Buddhist meditation. He meets various self-help celebrity gurus like Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra along the way and examines how meditation has affected his career and his private life. At the very end, he offers a list of ways people with similarly stressful careers might become happier.

I guess I read 10% Happier because it’s featured on Good Morning America so often, and I thought it might be interesting. And it is – except not in the way Harris probably intended it. Sure, meditation is good by almost all counts. I should meditate. You probably should, too. That’s fine. What’s really interesting here is Harris’s account of his career. I had never thought about what newsy celebrities put themselves through to get to the top, so I had no idea the degree of stressed caused by constant, insane competition. No wonder Harris went a little crazy after a while.

So. Should you read this? Maybe? I liked it. It’s well-written. It’s a good starting point if you’re interested in meditation as it points you in various directions you might want to pursue. Am I going to pursue said further research? Probably not. I might give meditation a try at some point. Which all means that if you’re into meditation or finding out what being in television news is all about, it’s worth a read.

Photo credit: Jules Antonio

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