Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Book Review: "The Name of the Wind" by Patrick Rothfuss

I started this book in good faith, having seen high ratings and praise from people I know have similar taste in books to mine. I immediately liked the main character, Kvothe, the red-haired legendary Arcanist (sort of like a sorcerer). The story does start rather slowly, however, and it took me some effort to keep going. I have a pile of books to get to and I don't like to waste time. I'm glad I stuck with it to the end, however, and I am looking forward to the second installment.

By way of short summary, the book begins with a semi-retired Kvothe running a small inn in a tiny rural town. A local man is attacked on the road and brings back an enormous spider-like creature (the villagers immediately decide it's a demon), setting up a small burst of action, followed by a lull. Soon a "chronicler" comes to town, searching for Kvothe, wanting to hear his story. Kvothe, known to locals as "Kote" is hesitant at first, but eventually agrees to tell his story, his history, the truths of the legend he has become. The remainder of the book is told in flashbacks, with the occasional scene in the inn while Kvothe and the chronicler take short breaks in recording the story. There is action, adventure, poverty and wealth, hatred and love. Kvothe is adventurous and charming, incredibly intelligent and gifted in the arcane arts. 

I don't like to give too much away, but I do recommend this book, especially to fantasy fans. It's a great adventure, but the setup for the second book is a bit of a letdown at the end-- I wanted the story to continue immediately- I don't want to wait until I get my turn from the library for book two. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Best Animated Short. Ever.

Each October I eagerly look forward to my yearly screening of what I consider to be the most entertaining, balanced, well-written animated short in existence. Not that I've seen all that many, I confess. But this one? Hands down my favorite cartoon ever. I'm talking about Disney's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow". Narrated by Bing Crosby, this hilarious take on the classic Washington Irving short story is engaging and entertaining from the very first frame until the last. There isn't a single slow or over-written moment. The script is witty and crisp, balanced by an impeccable score. The 63-year old animation holds up very well, even by today's standards. (It was released in 1949.)

My love for this show could be in large part because I have always loved Halloween and spooky-but-not-gory shows and stories. My birthday is in October and I have an insatiable sweet tooth, so Halloween has always had a special place in my heart. Though, for me, Halloween is little kids in costumes, free candy, Charlie Brown (another MUST see Halloween special is 1966's "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!"), non-threatening decorations and good, clean fun-- not so much what it has become today. "Sleepy Hollow" embodies all of that for me.

It is my life-long wish to host a Van Tassel Halloween party, complete with a huge fireplace, a live 3-4 piece orchestra, dancing, lots of food, and decor including corn stalks and Jack-O-Lanterns, and friends and family gathering around the fire to hear good ghost stories when the hour grows late... One of these days... :)
If you've never given it a look, you should try to find a better version of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" than what's on Youtube. Your computer's speakers surely can't do old Bing's narration justice. I'm not sure if it's available on its own, my copy is on a DVD called "Ichabod and Mr. Toad" and is preceded by the dull, dull, boring and dull Mr. Toad cartoon. We always go straight to selecting chapters and skip right past Mr. Toad so we don't fall asleep before Ichabod gets his turn.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Book Review: "The Maze Runner"

"The Maze Runner", by James Dashner, is one of my son's favorites and he's been telling me to read it for a year, so I pushed it up the list and read it this week. In familiar modern dystopic fashion, it's the story of a group of teenagers oppressed by evil adults and an even more evil government. In this case, they are trapped within a maze that is unsolvable and populated by horrible deadly creatures made of blubber and various weaponry. They have to figure out how to survive, how to escape, and how to solve whatever they're supposed to solve.

Dashner's writing style is simplistic (which is good, I guess, since this is a book for youth) to the point of annoying, and though the story moves rather slowly at first, as the reader approaches the climactic final scenes, it becomes much more compelling. The action scenes are well written and exciting, and most of the characters are likeable, though Chuck's storyline is painfully predictable, as well as Alby's. The main character, Thomas, is moderately likeable, if you can get past his almost violent mood swings and grating repetitive exposition.

Would I read it again? Nah. Will I read the sequel? Probably not. I just wasn't left really caring what happened next.

I'm beginning to wonder if maybe dystopian fiction just isn't my thing. I liked, but didn't love "The Hunger Games". Though I really enjoyed Dan Wells' "Partials", it wasn't my favorite of his books. In fact, it hasn't been since "The Shadow Children" series by Margaret Peterson Haddix that I really found myself enjoying a dystopian series. There's a familiar haze over all of them, the adults and rulers doing wicked things to tweens and teens theme, the post-apocalyptic feeling of an unrecognizable Earth, and the unavoidable survival challenges. As my son just said, "Does it always have to be the end of the world?"