Monday, April 30, 2012

The fateful magic flames await deep in the belly of the beast...

“Long ago, as the Firelings’ Story Stones tell, Belcher, then a blundering sky-creature, put his foot right through the sky and went falling into a sea of his own brine.  Deep in Belcher’s belly inner fires still kindled, and to appease his rumbling appetite hapless victims had occasionally to be sacrificed down what was called the Long Slip.  This had not happened for some time, but when Belcher again developed a bellyache and gave voice to his discomfort with cantankerous grumblings and growling, the Firelings began to whisper among themselves that the time had come for another victim to be sent the way of the Long Slip…”

The Firelings by Carol Kenall is a book I was on the hunt for but my sister kindly sent me a copy, along with two other Kendall books for Christmas.  I really enjoyed reading all three books and can see why my sister loves them too.  I have to say, ending with The Firelings was the best way to finish up this mini Kendall marathon read.  It is definitely the best of the three for me.  Each book just got better and better as I read.  The Firelings is really special though.  It really dug deeper emotionally than The Gammage Cup or The Whisper Of Glocken did.

The Firelings is also unique from the other two Kendall books because the enemy is not another group of people; its nature in the form of the volcano the Firelings call Belcher, and themselves.  I usually like to write my own summaries, but the one above perfectly captures what to expect from this book, without revealing too much and gives you an example of Kendall’s style of writing.  There is a lot going on in 252 pages and it’s done well.  We have a younger generation of Firelings, who don’t remember much from the last time a morsel was fed to Belcher, but they are determined that it will not happen again and work together to see that it doesn’t.  There are those of the older generation too, who will not be bullied and stand up to those who insist they sacrifice someone else to Belcher.

There are some very good twists and revelations that have you gripping the book tight.  I want to talk about some of the situations and the characters but I feel I will end up giving too much away and I think this book is better enjoyed not knowing anything else going in so you feel the surprise and excitement when you start to figure things out on your own.  And these characters are not slow to catch on either.  They are smart and brave, which just adds to the enjoyment of this book.  Another plus - and this will be the only slightly spoiler-ish bit I’ll add - is that nobody is paired up at the end.  You only get a sense of deep admiration these characters have for each other after everything that has happened and it’s just refreshing and wonderful.

I’d also like to point out the great cover art on my copy.  I really love the detail in it from the individual stones that make up the path, the green lichen on the rocks and the swirling purples, blues and orange used for the volcano and sky.  Having such lovely cover art to accompany an enjoyable book made this reading experience one of the best I’ve had so far this year.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

New On The Shelf: The Limited Edition

Well, I’ve been very good lately and I haven’t bought too many books since my last New On The Shelf.  During one of my daughter’s softball practices, my husband and I wandered over to a shopping center for some caffeine.  Of course, it was just an excuse to check out the used bookstore, My Favorite Books, which I hadn’t been in yet!  And it was worth it!  I found two Discworld books, The Light Fantastic and Going Postal by Terry Pratchett, as well as Zoe’s War by John Scalzi.  An interesting tidbit I learned at the bookstore: There are certain author’s books who don’t stay long on the shelves and Pratchett is one of them, so I was really happy that I found these two before someone else got to them.

 After watching The Legend of Korra, I had done some research prior to my write up for it to make sure I had certain facts right.  I learned of the graphic novel Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Promise Part 1 that bridges the two series together.  Naturally I had to get a copy for myself so Venessa and I headed over to Barnes and Noble.  I didn’t tell my husband what I planned on getting, I wasn't even sure they would have a copy, so when we returned he looked at me funny and said, “I thought you were getting something for yourself?”  I did!  It was in the Graphic Novel section, which is right next to the Sci Fi/Fantasy section!  Not the kids section!  I can’t help it if it’s something we can both enjoy! (Geez, don't get so defensive, Sarah!)

 This Kid needs her fingernails trimmed!

After enjoying The Dead Man: Face Of Evil, and having received it for free, I went to the Kindle store to see what else I could get for free that looked interesting.  I got Wolverine’s Daughter by Doranna Durgin and The Illustrated Book Of Wrath Volume 1 by Robin Coe.

Then the Sony Reader Store had a 35% off code to redeem with select titles.  One of those was The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan and I couldn’t resist.  This will be a good one to read with Venessa (I say that a lot, don’t I?).  I read it a few years ago when it was just that one and The Sea Of Monsters and really liked it.  I ended up donating my physical copy and I've regretted it so I had to jump on this deal.

I also checked out Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman for an upcoming group read that is part of the Once Upon A Time Challenge.  Anyone is welcome to join.  And hopefully soon I’ll be receiving The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin.  I ran across it at B&N a few months ago and it’s been haunting me so I finally gave in and requested it from the library.  But man, am I itching to buy my own copy even if I haven’t read it yet! 

Out of all of these, I’ve already read the Avatar graphic novel and I read it a second time aloud to Venessa.  I’ll post a Storytime With Venessa to discuss what we thought of it soon.  I also started on The Illustrated Book Of Wrath but I don’t know… It has some lovely illustrations but Famine rambles a lot in the beginning and it’s real tiresome.  I don’t know if I can continue through much more of it to see if he stops.

So, that’s what’s been added to my collection.  Lots of good stuff I can’t wait to get to!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Hear no evil, speak no evil, but the dead man must see the face of evil

I received a free Kindle copy (sorry, it's no longer free unless you have Amazon Prime) of this and read on my phone.  Not the most ideal reading experience, but slightly better than trying to read from a computer screen for me.  I ended up reading it because I had some time on my hands before my daughter’s softball game began.  So you know what that means… playing on the smart phone!  I decided to read something on the Kindle app so I look smart at least because my go-to games are usually Reversi, Spelling Sea or Army Sniper.  I don’t know if that’s anything to use to profile my personality that would disturb anyone, but I didn’t want to take any chances.  And I’d already checked FB and my email (I’m extremely thorough with my social networking).  But instead of jumping into The Three Musketeers, I went with THE DEAD MAN: FACE OF EVIL by Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin.

It starts out with a man, who dotes on his one and only daughter.  They are on a family ski trip.  His daughter, playing in the snow, happens to dig up the body of Matthew Cahill, who was lost and presumed dead in an avalanche three months earlier.  At least, he should have been...

The beginning, though not at all very interesting, was still written well enough to keep my interest to see what would happen next, especially after the little girl dug up the body.  I thought there was going to be some kind of murder mystery to be solved (I had not read any summaries for this story) so when the story jumped back in time to when Matthew was alive and well, that was when it really grabbed my attention because I thought I’d get to see who perhaps murdered him and buried him in the snow and why.  But when it started talking about the avalanche I started to give this the side eye.  Really?  An avalanche?  Come on, there has to be more!

There was.

Matthew Cahill is a simple (but not in the Simple Jack-simple kind of way), hard working, all around good guy.  He lost his wife to cancer and about a year later his coworker, Rachel, wants him to get over it so she can get into his pants.  She even cancels a room for a ski trip together so they have to share the same hotel room!  She’s a real winner!  But she does really care for him as you’ll learn.  They are out skiing and there’s the avalanche.  Rachel is able to get away from it but Matthew is not so lucky.  His body is dug up three months later and taken to the morgue.  It’s there that we discover that Matthew is not dead; he is alive!  When he comes to, all he wants is to just move on with his life, now that he has this second chance.  But there is something different about Matthew and he tries to ignore it.  He’s starting to see some people as they truly are, and it’s really really gross.  I mean, really, really gross.  He doesn’t want anything to do with it (and I don’t blame him because it is really, really gross), but it’s too late and now he’s out to discover what it all means.

There is nothing fancy with the writing.  It’s just plain, straight forward storytelling.  It actually reminded me of a one hour TV show, something like Supernatural, with its pacing and format.  This shouldn’t be a surprise after reading the bios of the authors who have both written for TV shows in the past.  Nothing for Supernatural, so they might want to get on that.  And I did imagine Jensen Ackles, who plays Dean Winchester, as Matthew Cahill, so there you go.

Yes, you, so don’t give me that look.  Just deal with it.

When I rated this on Goodreads, I would have given it 4 stars but I knocked it down.  There was a certain line that annoyed me.  Most readers may not be bothered by it, but it bothered me because it was similar to something that happened in The Difference Engine, which made me stop reading that book.  Overall, I did enjoy it.  It kept my interest and I’m curious enough to want to know what happens next in part 2, Ring Of Knives.  But be warned, there are some really, really gross parts so you might not want to eat while reading.

Or maybe wait 20 minutes after you do.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Whisper Of Glocken by Carol Kendall

Hear the whisper, whisper, whisper,
That lost and far off whisper,
And remember, member, member,
The whisper of Glocken’s bell…

In this sequel to The Gammage Cup, The Whisper Of Glocken by Carol Kendall, returns us to the Land Between the Mountains where the small ones, known as the Minnipins, live.  The Watercress River is flooding and has already destroyed two villages.  To prevent the entire valley from flooding, five new reluctant heroes set out to discover the cause of the flooding and unblock the river if they can.

Our new brave Minnipins, hail from the village of Water Gap; Gam Lutie, the wise, village elder who is too concerned with her family treasure; Silky, a somewhat whiney, yet caring lass; Glocken, the town bell ringer and dreamer; Scumble, the fish presser and Crustabread, the wandering loner.  When they are taken in by the citizens of Slipper-On-The-Water, they are mistakenly tasked by the old heroes from The Gammage Cup to discover what is blocking the river.

This time the five new heroes must venture out of the valley, and there they discover new friends, a harsh desert and new threats that are much more formidable than the Mushrooms, who the Minnipins faced in The Gammage Cup.  I have to say, I liked this one a lot more.  I like that these new heroes had to step out of the comfort of their valley.  Their strength and wits are tested right away when they lose some of their supplies.  Water quickly becomes scarce and they must fight to survive as they encounter the harsh elements and some desert creatures that are not all that nice.  They have their moments when they become frustrated with each other, but they still look out for each other and do not give up.  And their adventures in the desert do not end there when they come upon the Hulks, giant-like men, who promise to help the Minnipins but who are not all that trustworthy.

In this book I liked Crustabread who reminded me a lot of Mingy from The Gammage Cup.  Crustabread keeps to himself and rarely speaks.  But when he does, he chooses his words carefully and makes a whole lot of sense and is very wise and strong, despite what others may have thought of him, having always kept to himself in their small village.  He’s the one who always kept a cool head, made decisions quickly and watched out for the others.  Think of him as the Daryl Dixon of the Minnipin world.

Except Crustabread didn't have a cool crossbow

But each character has their moment to shine and you grow to care for all of them, even if they start out annoying, like Glocken did.  Oh lord, did that boy test my patience at first.  When he finally met his heroes face to face, after all his dreaming and building them up to be perfect and without fault in his mind, he was very disappointed and really rude.  But eventually he changed and grew on me.

This time I only had one minor issue regarding the collateral damage near the end.  I won’t get into it, it will give too much of the story away and I would like others to experience it themselves.  It’s a very well written story, it kept me on the edge of my seat and I was pretty happy with the way the story was wrapped up.  At the beginning of each chapter are cute poems and maxims and there are some nice illustrations peppered throughout, which adds to the character of the book.  If you get the chance to read it I think you'll enjoy it.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Legend of Korra

The Legend of Korra takes place 70 years after the events at the end of Avatar: The Last Airbender.  If you’ve never heard or watched Avatar: The Last Airbender you are missing out on so much!  Sure it’s on Nickelodeon, targeted at kids but it easily appeals to adults as well.

The Last Airbender takes place in a world that is divided into four different cultures: Earth, Fire, Air and Water.  There are citizens who are born with the abilities to manipulate these four elements.  They are called benders and train to develop their skills.  There is one individual, known as the Avatar, who is the only one who can control all four elements.  She or he has the responsibility to maintain balance in the world.  When an Avatar passes away, a new one is born as the reincarnation of all previous Avatars.

The events in Avatar: The Last Airbender centered around Avatar Aang and the 100 Year War that started when the Fire Nation began a campaign of domination.  It was Avatar Aang who had the responsibility to stop the Fire Nation and restore balance among the other nations.  In the new series, Avatar Aang has passed and a new Avatar, Korra of the Southern Water Tribe, is tasked with maintaining balance but in a very different world with advanced technology and a populace with a growing distrust of all benders.

The Legend of Korra recently premiered on Nickelodeon on Saturday, April 14th.  The first two episodes have been kicking around the internet for a couple of weeks now.  Since only the first episode has aired, I’ll just talk about that one for now.  I’ve always enjoyed The Last Airbender.  I think it was about two years ago when we were finally able to watch the entire series from beginning to end courtesy of Netflix.  Before it was catching episodes here and there as it was running, and filling in the rest of what we missed with reruns.

It’s a fun, exciting adventure that the whole family can enjoy that has a fully realized world with wonderful characters who are easily likable yet layered with flaws, which makes them even more interesting.  The Legend of Korra starts out well, establishing a young Korra that will be equally likeable, from what I’ve seen so far, yet setting her apart as her own person.  She is not a warmed up version of any characters we’ve seen from the previous series.  She is smart, brave, strong and full of life and energy.  She doesn’t want to be kept locked up, she’s ready to explore the world and fulfill her obligations as the Avatar.

There is also a whole new setting in this series: Republic City.  It’s a city established by Avatar Aang and Fire Lord Zuko, where all benders could live together peacefully.  It’s a city that has grown tremendously, in both size and its use of technology.  It’s modern and full of new wonders that Korra has only heard about as she trained in the Southern Water Nation.  This is a city that has been without the Avatar for a while and has seemed to move on toward a different future.  It is here where the seeds of dissent have been planted and beginning to manifest itself against all benders.

The look and feel of the city is great.  It is very 1920s-esque with the Model T-like cars driving around, shop keepers selling phonographs, yet it has that steampunk vibe with zeppelins zipping through the air.  It’s a very different city compared to what us fans of The Last Airbender are used to seeing in the large, walled cities of this world.  Ingenious uses of bending were used for transportation and communication.  Republic City has moved beyond bending for its uses, though benders are still a big part of the city.

I’m really excited to see more from this new series.  We’ve gotten just enough to tie the two series together but The Legend of Korra will be able to move on and be its own show.  It has a new Avatar, a new setting and a new adventure that has not yet been explored before.  I really recommend it so far based on the first episode.  I think it gives you enough background to jump into this new series if you haven’t watched The Last Airbender.

Now I want to discuss some things I noticed and show some of my favorite moments.  There will be minor spoilers ahead:

The opening is narrated by Tenzin, Aang’s youngest son, who is the only one of Aang’s children who is an airbender and who will be training the current Avatar, Korra.  In the original series, Katara was the narrator, and we were shown faceless figures demonstrating each of the four elements.  This time we get to see the last 3 Avatars (who were very prominent in the original series) and Korra, the current reincarnation, demonstrating each of the elements.

Avatar Kyoshi - Earth

Avatar Roku - Fire

Avatar Aang - Air

Avatar Korra - Water

We also get a glimpse of all our favorite heroes from The Last Airbender, but they’ve been aged since the last time we’ve seen them.  They look like they are in their late teens.  It’s a nice transition, moving seamlessly from the original to the new to show the passage of time.  It’s done in a way that’s respectful of the original series characters and the fans who love them.

Sokka, Suki, Toph and Katara

Zuko and Aang

I really like the statue of Avatar Aang in the bay of Republic City.  Even more interesting, it’s of an adult Aang (also note that Aang is an adult in demonstrating airbending as well).  It’s showing us that yes, he was only a 12 year old child when he defeated Fire Lord Ozai but he grew up, and did a lot more.

It seems the creators are avoiding showing us images of Aang as us viewers remember him, as the adorable 12 year old child.  I like what they are doing here.  We are moving into a time and place, when Aang has already passed on and a new Avatar is ready to take her place in the world and assume her responsibilities as the Avatar.  It is time to let the new generation follow their own path.  I will miss Aang, and I’m saddened that he has passed but he achieved much and there was a life for him beyond the 100 Year War.  He grew up and lived a rich full life.  He and Katara have three children together, he helped build Republic City; his legacy will live on.

I really loved the introduction of a young Avatar Korra showing off her limited earth, fire and waterbending skills.  The little puffs of fire and small earth platforms were adorable as well as her baby belly hanging out!  Oh my god, baby bellies are the cutest!  If you want to see her in action, check out this clip:

“I’m the Avatar, you gotta deal with it!”

Aang and Katara named their first son, Bumi, after the king of Omashu who was a close friend of Aang.  And if you take a look at this, he is a non-bender.

It’s awesome that Katara is Korra’s waterbending master and she still has her hair loopys!

I loved the part when Katara picks up her grandson, Meelo, to hug him, and he tells his grandmother, “Unhand me strange woman!”  It's moments like these that make me love this show.  I find it very believable that a small boy, meeting his grandmother for the first time, would say something like this, and grandma would just chuckle and hug him some more.

And the most important question asked by Jinora, Tenzin’s oldest daughter: "What happened to Zuko’s mother?"  Yes!  This is very important because The Last Airbender ended with this same question and it has not been answered yet.  Not cool!  I demand an answer!  Please.

Tenzin’s children are adorable.  They are air benders and very much like Aang when he was young, fun loving yet very serious when it comes to the art of airbending.  Well, except for Meelo who fell asleep when he should have been meditating.

Some things I’m looking forward to in this new series:

I really hope we see more of Katara and that we get to meet her and Aang’s other two children, Kya (love that name!) and Bumi.  And maybe a chance to meet Sokka’s children or grandchildren (if they exist).

Korra achieving the Avatar State.  It was said in the first episode that she has the physical abilities covered (though just beginning her airbending training), but not the spiritual.  It’s going to be interesting watching her journey.  Aang managed, though with some difficulty.  But he was still very young and only had a year and I think he had a bit of an advantage having been trained by peaceful monks.  I can’t wait to see how Korra does it.

Before it was everyone against the Fire Nation, but within the other nations, benders were looked up to and protected those that were non-benders.  This growing conflict between benders and non-benders is going to be very interesting.

So two big, enthusiastic thumbs up!  I’m looking forward to more.  And if you are a fan and want more, Nickelodeon already has episode 2 up:

And this past weekend I picked up the graphic novel Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Promise Part 1 which bridges the events from the original series with the new.  It's excellent!  Part 2 is due in May!

* Since I do not cable, I just found out that Nickelodeon aired both episode 1 and 2 on Saturday, so I guess I could have talked about both episodes.  Oh well... gives something else to talk about another day!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Game of Thrones Season 2

Finally watched the latest 2 episodes of the second season of Game of Thrones and I am very happy with what is going on.  Well, except for the soft porn/incest bits but hey, whatever floats your boat (and apparently it floats a lot of boats because each episode has had somewhere around 3 million + viewers.  And it's not like I can talk considering I'm sitting here watching it too!).  Anyways, there’s lots more to talk about than all that.  Here are my thoughts with what’s been set up so far because I just really need to get these thoughts out of my head.

Warning: There will be spoilers from the show and I’ll try not to reveal too much of what’s to come based on the book, A Clash of Kings, but tread carefully just in case:

Direwolves and Dragons and red comets, oh my!

The direwolves have grown!  And because of that don’t expect to see them that much, as evidenced by the very short appearances of Grey Wind, Ghost and Summer.  I can imagine animating a fully grown direwolf will take some money and they need to stretch their budget for what will be an epic last few episodes.  Even though we only got brief glimpses of them, I think they were done well.

And dragons!  We only got to see one but it was worth it and so adorable!  More baby dragons!  And like the direwolves, don’t expect to see a lot of them because they need to save the money for important events that will occur later.

And there’s also a red comet.  What does it mean?  It’s an omen, of course!  But for what?  Oh, I don’t know…

In Winterfell, you’re never too young to tell old people to go away and be quiet

Bran holding court and looking bored, as would most people.  I liked his “dream” as he saw things through the eyes of his direwolf.  Foreshadowing!  Pay attention to this!

The Khaleesi in the Red Waste with a dead horse and severed head… Good times!

Poor, poor, Daenerys.  I remember thinking how the hell is she going to get out of this mess when reading the books.  But she’s strong.  Keep an eye on her.

King’s Landing is just a huge brothel with baby killers, backstabbers and people who need to mind their own business

Tyrion you little scamp.  Between seasons and having not read any more of the Song of Ice and Fire series, I forgot how much I missed you and your snark and wisdom.  Keep an eye on this guy too.  He has more in store that will surprise you.  I liked Cersei flexing some muscle with Littlefinger.  But, Cersei, why did you change your mind?!  Littlefinger is a jerk and not just because of what he did to Ned in Season 1 but what he ends up doing in the future.  He’s awful.

And Joffrey, you totally deserved this: (the 2nd slap heard round the world)

On the road with Arya and Gendry

I was reading another min-recap of Episode 2 and they are shipping Arya and Gendry.  Okay, honestly, I was thinking this same thing as I read the book, that this is something George R.R. Martin has in mind for the future, when Arya is of age of course.  Say, when she’s thirty!  The whole scene between Gendry and Arya is pretty much right from the book though in the show Gendry was teasing Arya where in the book I think he seemed more ashamed and apologetic for being so crude around a Lady.  And keep an eye on that Jaqen H’ghar too.  I mentioned a while back that Arya scares me, but in that wonderfully don’t-mess-with-her way.  This is where it all begins.  But oh my gosh, I want to spoil what happens with Arya and Gendry but I won’t and it’s going to drive me crazy not saying anything!

Dragonstone bonfires are kind of boring.  Where were the s’mores?!

The quicker we get Stannis off of Dragonstone the better.  The burning of the old gods was not all that dramatic.  But I guess they have to save money for what’s to come later this season.  DO NOT STOP WATCHING THIS SHOW IF YOU WANT TO KNOW WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT.  When reading the book I imagined Stannis and Davos maybe about 10 years younger, but they both look rugged enough, like they’ve been there, done that and are filling in the characters from the book nicely.  Also, from what I remember in the book, Melisandre is pretty close to how she was described and how I imagined her.  To wrap this part of the story up all I’ll say is Davos is a great sidekick.

On the Iron Islands with Theon Greyjoy who almost made me give up on the books

So, Book 1 completely sucked me in and I charged into Book 2.  In Book 1, Theon seemed cool, a good guy to have by your side (there was none of that ridiculousness with Ros from Season 1).  So I thought, cool, Theon is going to get his own storyline, we’ll get to know him and he’ll help Robb.  Wrong.  Sure we get to know him, which then leads to you hating him.  The whole ship scene in episode 2 is very short (thank goodness) yet accurate enough from the book and it’s that part when I stopped reading and for two weeks I went into a reading funk, wondering if I could bring myself to return after being so disappointed with Theon.  But I went back I was rewarded (a.k.a. grossed out) with his advances toward his sister, accurately portrayed in the show, unfortunately.  And it just gets worse but at least we’re done with gross inappropriate fondling with his sister, and I guess he’s not really at fault because he didn’t know it was his sister but still, feeling up a complete stranger, Theon?  Yes, you are at fault because you’re a pig.  But Theon fully deserves what happens to him eventually and that is all I’ll say.  So don’t worry, this jerk is dealt with but not until after he makes a big mess.

John Snow beyond the Wall where there are more gross men

Why are the men so disgusting in this series?  Ugh.  And why can’t I stop watching/reading about it?  I don’t know, there must be something wrong with me because now we have to deal with Craster, the weirdo who marries his daughters and only keeps the female babies when they are born.  Where are the boys?  Take a wild guess.  It’s not that hard to imagine if you remember how Season 1 Episode 1 began.  And oh yeah, the Night Watch is looking for Benjen, or at least asking about him.  Remember him?  Headless Ned’s brother?  I’m surprised the show and the book, and myself, actually remembers him as these storylines become more and more layered and complicated.

So far, just two episodes into Season 2, everything is being set up nicely for what is to come.  And I’m super excited because HBO is set for Season 3 and I know I’ve said this before too and I’ll say it again, Season 3 is where it’s at.  Seriously, this is when, if you’ll pardon my French, the poo hits the fan!

Hey, I just remember it’s in Book 2 that the Reeds are introduced!  Can’t wait to see them!  At least I hope they get introduced.  From my “extensive” internet research, I haven’t seen who has been cast to play Jojen and Meera Reed.

King/Queen count: 7

Joffrey Baratheon
Daenerys Targaryen
Robb Stark
Renly Baratheon
Stannis Baratheon
Mance Rayder
Balon Greyjoy

Did I leave anyone out?

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Gammage Cup by Carol Kendall

The Gammage Cup by Carol Kendall is a book I’ve always known about.  It is one of my sister’s favorite books and one she’s always been trying to get me to read.  Well, I really had no choice once she gifted me a copy.  And now I can see why it’s one of her favorites.

The Gammage Cup is the story of the Minnipins.  Centuries ago the Minnipins found sanctuary from the Mushrooms, or Hairless Ones, in the Land Between the Mountains.  Living peaceful lives without threat from their enemies outside of their valley, they wouldn’t dream of anything harming them.  

It’s also the story of ‘Them’; Muggles, the hoarder who curates the local museum; Walter the Earl, the eccentric historian; Gummy, a head in the clouds poet; Curley Green, the artist; and Mingy, the frugal town treasurer, who become unlikely heroes of the small village, Slipper-On-The-Water.

Muggles wakes early one morning and sees something unusual; fires burning on the mountain.  She dismisses it as a dream.  When Walter the Earl and Gummy acknowledge the strange occurance, her concern begins to grow.  However, the town leaders, known as the Periods, don’t take the potential threat seriously.  They are more concerned with winning the prestigious Gammage Cup for their village.  The Gammage Cup belonged to Gammage, who all those centuries ago, led the Minnipins to safety into the Land Between the Mountains.  Judges visit each village within the Land Between the Mountains to determine which one is deemed worthy to acquire the cup.  But when Curley Green’s scarlet door is considered an eye sore that could lose them the Gammage Cup, someone secretly paints her door green, like every Minnipin's door in Slipper-On-The-Water and it sets off a battle of wills between the conformist Periods and ‘Them’, who are told to leave their homes but can return once the judging is over.

When the potential threat becomes all too real, though, Muggles and her fellow outcasts must convince the other Minnipins of Slipper-On-The-Water that it’s up to them to fight, and save their village before it’s too late.

I really enjoyed this book a lot.  It has a very likable cast of characters, my favorite being Muggles of course, who finds she has a lot of strength and courage, and is not all that dim, as some have always thought of her.  Mingy is another favorite.  At first he seems like he’s just one of the Minnipins, guarding the town treasury, literally by carrying the chest everywhere he goes.  But when he puts his foot down over extravagant spending that is unnecessary, you kind of wish he was overseeing our government, and you feel bad for him when he’s caught up in the Slipper-On-The-Water pile up against ‘Them’.

The writing and descriptions contain just enough detail to paint a lovely picture of the Minnipins and the Land Between the Mountains.  It has all the elements I love in books such as Redwall and the early Harry Potter books; the whimsy and great descriptions of food.

I only had two problems with the book.  One was the outcasts instinct to build an army to fight the Mushrooms.  Sure, the Minnipins escaped from them centuries before, but I doubt these Mushrooms were specifically looking for them.  They were mining and happened to finally tunnel through the mountain, only to be met with Minnipins with swords that glow.  I think if I were a Mushroom that would scare the hell out of me and I think I’d be on the defensive too.

My second issue was the pairing up at the end of the outcasts.  It was a little out of left field with not much build up of the particular pairings that happened.

I did like that the outcasts stayed true to themselves, they didn’t back down and conform along with the rest of the Minnipins of Slipper-On-The-Water.  Overall it’s an enjoyable book that an adult can enjoy, reading on their own, or with a young one.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Hunt Continues As I Embark On An Elf… Quest

The hunt continues.  Even though I received a copy of The Firelings, I’m still on the lookout for a vintage copy of Captain Blood.  I have spotted copies of The Sea Hawk and Scaramouche, both by Rafael Sabatini.  So close, yet so far.  But it hasn’t been all that much fun looking for just one book.

Then recently I began to think about another book I’d like to find.  It’s the novelization of the first part of a comic series called Elfquest by Wendy and Richard Pini.  

Elfquest is set in the World of Two Moons where elves and humans live together but not always peacefully.  The story begins with the arrival of the elves and their first encounter with primitive humans who attack out of fear.  The elves scatter and find themselves learning to survive in this primitive world.  Over thousands of years, each tribe has adapted to their new home, developing their own traditions, and each unaware of the other tribes of elves living throughout the World of Two Moons.

The main story is about Cutter, the young leader of the Wolfriders.  He and his fellow tribesmen have bonded with wolves as a way to survive.  Forced to leave their home in the lush forest they travel across the desert in search of a new place to settle.  They then find the Sun Folk, elves like them who have been living peacefully, without any contact with humans, for hundreds of years.  The Wolfriders see this place as a sanctuary but the combining of the two tribes of elves does not necessarily go smoothly.

I swear I either had the book or saw it somewhere.  But alas it’s nowhere to be found in my collection and I can’t remember why I didn’t buy the copy I may have held (maybe it was all in my dreams.  Not surprising!).  So you know what that means… Treasure Hunt!

The same rule applies: to find a copy locally.  Challenge – sorry, Quest Accepted!

And I think the book will go nicely with my collection:

(Just had to show off)

If you are unfamiliar with Elfquest, you need to get your hiney over to the site to check it out!

Wendy’s art is so lively and detailed.  Her characters unique and layered with the world of Two Moons full of adventures and danger.  It’s fun, exciting, joyful and sad.  Give it a try.  You won’t regret it.  And you really have no excuse not to read them because you can read them free on the Elfquest website!:

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Kid

"A picture with a smile - and perhaps, a tear."

After watching The Thief of Bagdad, it put me in the mood to watch some more silent movies.  I haven’t seen The Kid in years and I’d actually been obsessing about watching it for about a month now.  My sister is a big Charlie Chaplin fan and several years ago we went through a Chaplin phase that included this delightful movie.  And what made this viewing even better was watching it with Venessa (who actually remembered the Tramp character from a couple years ago when we watched The Gold Rush!  Her exact words were, “Hey, I remember that funny guy.”  And on a side note: I've been known to call Venessa, Kid.  The nickname came about because of this movie.)

The Kid is the story of a single mother who leaves her baby in a car parked outside a home of a wealthy family.  Unfortunately, the car is stolen and the baby is abandoned by the car thieves in an alley where the Tramp finds him.  In a series of silly encounters with passersby, where the Tramp tries to leave the baby with someone else, he ends up taking responsibility for the baby to raise as his own.

I think the quote above should be something more like this: “A picture with a smile – and FOR REALS, LOTS OF TEARS!”  I was actually smiling AND tearing up as I wrote this.

If you’ve never seen a Charlie Chaplin film, please find a way to do so.  And if The Kid is your first, even better!  Chaplin is wonderful as the Tramp.  There is a reason the character is iconic.  His physical comedy, facial expressions and timing is perfect.  He makes it look so easy.

The Kid, played by Jackie Coogan, is probably one of the best child actors then and now.  This little boy expresses so much, whether it’s mischief, joy, sadness, you feel it all.  And he does it all without dialog!  It’s all in the eyes and body language.  One of my favorite scenes is when the Kid is caught, just as he's about to throw a rock at a window, by a police officer.  He tosses the rock away quickly, starts kicking the dirt around, leans against a wall, trying to act like he's not up to something.  Then he points at something to distract the officer, then runs away.  It's one of the funniest and well performed moments in the movie and Jackie Coogan just shines on his own.

The connection between the Kid and the Tramp is so real; there is nothing artificial in this father/son dynamic.  Keep tissues at hand!  The scene when the Kid is taken away and he’s crying out for the Tramp is heartbreaking!  You don't need to be a parent to understand.  When you see the bond that has formed between these two, you'll see why the Tramp runs across the rooftops to get this little boy back.

Sometimes it’s just nice to step away from the big budget movies and crude slapstick comedies.  Don’t get me wrong, I love it all but it’s nice to get back in touch with where it all began, with simple storytelling done right, that can still leave an impression on you.  This movie really does.  You won’t forget it after you’ve seen it.  It packs in a lot in such a short amount of time with the comedy and the drama.  It really is something special and shouldn’t be missed.