Monday, September 27, 2010

Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator

This will be my final entry in my little "Dahlathon" quest that I embarked upon this month.  Frankly, I'm glad .... when I started, I was inspired --- and now, I'm all "Dahl-ed out."

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads):  Picking right up where Charlie and the Chocolate Factory left off, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator continues the adventures of Charlie Bucket, his family, and Willy Wonka, the eccentric candy maker. As the book begins, our heroes are shooting into the sky in a glass elevator, headed for destinations unknown. What follows is exactly the kind of high-spirited magical madness and mayhem we've all come to expect from Willy Wonka and his creator Roald Dahl. The American space race gets a send-up, as does the President, and Charlie's family gets a second chance at childhood. Throw in the Vermicious Knids, Gnoolies, and Minusland and we once again witness pure genius.

And here's what I thought:   While this continues a story I liked very much, this book really isn't my favorite among the bunch.  It's almost like Dahl continued on because he felt like he had to, but it wears a little thin in spots.  We have Charlie and Mr. Wonka, and Charlie's family (including Grandma Georgina, who's turned into an outspoken old lady).  The Glass Elevator shoots the bunch into space, where they encounter the Space Hotel and.... Vermicious Knids.   Don't tell me you don't know about the Vermicious Knids?!  Well, you can read all about them here -- it's p. 50 in my edition (hardcover, 1972), Chapter 7, titled "Something Nasty in the Elevators."    I actually loved it when I got to this point, because I was a bit bored up until then.  The Knids really are nasty, boogery, icky beasties.  Dahl does a good job of making them downright yucky, but then gives us a laugh when one gets a huge butt bruise, trying to smack into the glass elevator.

But then, after the Knids, we're back down to the factory, where the story becomes all about Charlie's grandparents and their efforts to become younger (courtesy of Mr. Wonka's magical pills).   This is actually a kind of scary part -- one of the grandparents reverses age so quickly and completely that she becomes a "minus."  I'm not sure why this bothers me, but when I read this as a child, I found it pretty disturbing.   This whole old age to really young age and then back to old age was something I just didn't like --- and actually, I find it a little creepy, even now.

Overall, this is an okay book, but it didn't have the completely magical qualities that the first story had.  Perhaps it's because I find chocolate more interesting than space travel?  Dahl does put some interesting elements into this book, such as his having Mr. Wonka explain how to propel yourself when you have no gravity.   And on p. 109 (again, in my edition), when the grandparents are fighting over who gets the magical pills, Mr. Wonka has a moment of reflection.  "He hated squabbles.  He hated it when people got grabby and selfish.  Let them fight it out among themselves, he thought, and then he walked away. .. It was an unhappy truth, he told himself, that nearly all people in the world behave badly when there is something really big at stake."

This was a part in the book where I actually stopped and reflected for a moment.  Here, instead of giving us comeuppance for bad behavior, like in the first story, he is just laying it all out, stating it simply.  It's not just something that Mr. Wonka is reflecting on -- it's a thought a reader should reflect upon.   And, in this story, when this is happening, it's actually not children behaving greedily, like Violet snatching the gum, or Veruca reaching for a squirrel: it's grown-ups who are really too old to be acting that way.  Perhaps Dahl is pointing out that even the best adults can be reduced to acting like spoiled children in a certain situation.  Not sure, but it did make me think.

Despite this not really being my favorite Dahl book, I still enjoyed reading it, and I think it makes a good read, overall.   That being said, I have finished my "Dahlathon" and look forward to moving on (I have 2 books currently going and way too many in my library bag).  Happy reading, everyone!!

One last note:  this original edition is illustrated by Joseph Schindelman, who also did the original illustrations in Charlie and the Chocolate factory.  He does a wonderful job with the Knids.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Hoppin' Along........

 SO glad it's Friday!  Not only is it the end of a long week, but it's time for the Book Blogger Hop!   Hosted by Jennifer over at Crazy for Books, this is a great way to meet other bloggers through the weekend and into the week.   and, it gets me off my lazy butt and makes me blog.

psst!  Move your booty -- it's time to Hop
Each week, there's a question --- this week's question comes from Elizabeth at Silver's ReviewsWhen you write reviews,  do you write them as you are reading or wait until you have read the entire book?

Great question!   I tend to write the review right after I have finished the book (sometimes it waits a day or two).  But, I do tend to make some notes while I'm reading so I can remember things about the book, or certain passages, etc.  I use big blank notecards for this, which is an idea I got from other bloggers.

Happy Hopping, everyone!!!!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Smart Chicks totally kicked it!!!!!

Ok ---- I don't usually talk that much about me (other than what I think about books) --- but I just got home from the Smart Chicks Kick It tour  and.... IT WAS SO AWESOME!!!!!     My friend and I sat right in the center, second row..... and we got to see Alyson Noel, Carrie Ryan, Melissa Marr, Kelley Armstrong, Jackson Pearce and Jennifer Lynn Barnes.   How cool is that?      I am so grateful to our local bookstore, Anderson's -- I don't know how they do it, but it's so great.  

Carrie Ryan, Melissa Marr & Kelley Armstrong
And..... although I didn't win any t-shirts, bands, or the amazingly cool and huge big basket o'books and swag.....   I had the first ticket.   Oh yes, I was doing a happy dance in the bookstore when I got it.   So, I got to go up on stage and get my books (and a few library books) signed, and quickly say hi to all the authors.   I seriously cannot believe I got to speak to them.   I about fainted when Melissa said she liked the top I was wearing (I almost offered it to her right off my back).

Ok --- fangirl moment over for now.....   I now get to go upstairs and try to simmer down so I can watch some tv and hopefully get some sleep (have to work in the morning).     Don't know if I can sleep..... might need to keep looking at the shiny signed books.........

These are Melissa's boots.  I love them.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Teaser Tuesday!

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should be Reading and it asks us to...
  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This week, my teaser comes from Never After, which contains stories from Laurell K. Hamilton, Yasmine Galenorn, Marjorie M. Liu and Sharon Shinn:

"Sally danced that night.  It was not the first time she had ever danced, but it was the first beyond the watchful eye of home, in a place where she was not known as the eccentric tatterdemalion princess - but as Sally, who was still a mystery, and unknown, without the aura of expectation and distance that so many placed on her."   p. 203   (Marjorie M. Liu)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory ---- on film

I promised in the last post that I'd talk about the two movie versions made from this book.  So, I watched both of them over the last two days, and took some notes.   If you aren't already familiar with the films, please be warned that there are some spoilers.   And, if you haven't seen them, some of my comments just won't make sense.

I figured the best way to talk about them would be to do so comparatively (hopefully, this will all make sense).   The first movie, made in 1971, is Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (Gene Wilder as Wonka) - hereinafter referred to as WWCF; and the second movie, made in 2005, is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Johnny Depp as Wonka) - hereinafter referred to as CCF.

The Storyline:

WWCF:   The screenplay for this film was written by Roald Dahl, and seemed to stay relatively close to the book.    Charlie and his family appear quite poor (although his Dad seems to no-show).  Scenes are pretty close to the book, although there is no mention in the book of the fizzy lifting drinks that Charlie and Grandpa Joe
imbibe in the movie.  No background of Mr. Wonka.   Geese and golden eggs.
CCF:  The screenplay for this film was written by John August and while it actually seemed to follow more closely to the book, there were some exceptions, as well.  Charlie and his family are obviously poor (and Dad's even present and accounted for, like in the book).   The factory is somewhat darker and more mysterious in this film, but we see a flashback of when the factory was humming with human workers.  No fizzy lifting drinks.  Detailed background of Mr. Wonka.  Squirrels.

Opening Sequence:

WWCF:  Luscious, mouth-watering scenes of cacao beans, and molten chocolate.  Row after row of shiny chocolate chips.  Happy.
CCF:  Scenes of chocolate manufacturing, with a focus on slick graphics.  Dark music and a feel that reminded me of a later Harry Potter film.  However, I absolutely adore Tim Burton, so I expected this and enjoyed it.

Casting (according to how the characters are written in the book):
WWCF:  Wonderful casting.   Augustus Gloop is appropriately fat, Veruca looks like she might have a hidden wart or two, Violet is a snip, and Mike's an obnoxious loudmouth.  I always thought Veruca was perfect, especially when she's singing her song about wanting it all.   Charlie looks appropriate for the book, and he's sweet, and pretty believable.   Adults are well-cast, as well.  I always loved the scene where Grandpa Joe gets out of bed and dances. 
CCF:  Again, wonderful casting.  Augustus isn't just fat; he's grotesque (watching this kid eat is enough to make me lose my appetite).  Veruca actually looks a bit like the original Veruca, and Violet has been bumped up to a gum-chewing aggressive competitor (and her mother's even scarier).  Mike TeeVee is addicted to violent video games and in addition to being aggressive, is a know-it-all.   Charlie seemed more perfect in this movie -- he looks hungry.  Parents are great (although I have been a huge Helena Bonham Carter fan for years).

Mr. Wonka:

WWCF:   Gene Wilder was my first film exposure to Mr. Wonka and although he seemed nice, I always felt like he had a bit of an edge to him.  Almost like he's got a bad temper simmering beneath the surface.   This meant that while I was completely intrigued by him, I was always a little scared of him, too.  Somewhat snazzy dresser (chocolate-colored top hat and purple velvet coat).  No background about his childhood.
CCF:  Johnny Depp makes a wonderful Wonka, although he's a bit strange.   When the movie came out, some people remarked that it seemed Depp had modeled Wonka a bit on Michael Jackson (pale, high-pitched voice, a bit strange).   Either way, he's interesting.  I never felt the menace factor as much as I did with Wilder, but for a real treat, watch the scene where Veruca is trying to grab a squirrel -- Depp is amazing, just with his facial reactions to her.  Also a snazzy dresser, although a bit slicker and more modern (still has a top hat, though).  I found the long bit about his relationship with his dad to be unnecessary (just a personal reaction).

Oompa Loompas:
WWCF:  Orange faces, green hair, and snazzy outfits with stripes.  I always loved the big pom-poms on their shoes (and their striped socks).   Oddly fitting white overalls.  
CCF:  Small (tiny, actually -- 13 inches), and one man, Deep Roy, doing it all.   Zippy candy-colored outfits and funky hair.  Coordinated singing and dancing, and an especially creative scene for the song about Mike Teevee. 

Scary factor: 

I remember seeing this movie as a child and being completely terrified at parts.   The scariest scene for me would be where they are all in the boat, and all of a sudden, there are awful images being projected (centipedes!!!), and Wonka starts singing in a creepy, louder and louder voice.   Yikes!!!    I was also freaked out by the first scene where they're all in a hallway that gets smaller and smaller.  For whatever reason, this gave me nightmares for a long time.   And why yes, I am claustrophobic. 
CCF:  The opening part where people are welcomed to the factory, with the plastic dolls, is creepy.  Some of the scenes in the factory are a little dark, and a little creepy.  I suppose the word in this movie is creepy, not scary.


WWCF:   Songs in this film were done by a team of people, and did not take lyrics from Dahl's book.   I never really cared for The Candy Man song (sung by the candy shop owner in the first part of the movie), but I always did like Gene Wilder singing when he's in the chocolate room.  There's something just so wistful about that song.  Singing done by more than one character.
CCF:   Music by Danny Elfman.  What can I say?  The man is a genius.  I've been saying that for years.   The songs in this film took lyrics from the original book, but completely modernized the music.  They tend to be catchy (otherwise known as: the one about Augustus Gloop tends to stick in my head).  Songs are just for the Oompa Loompas.

Cool factors:

WWCF:   The Chocolate Room.   I loved how it was so magical looking.   Again, seeing this movie as a little kid, it was like a huge dream.  Special effects in this movie were somewhat simple, but completely got the point across.  There's nothing quite like the image of Violet as that big blueberry, is there?  In those days, effects let your imagination do a little more. 
CCF:  Special effects up the wazoo.  Just having the multiple upon multiple Deep Roy Oompa Loompas is amazing.  Factory is magical and amazing.  Violet's morphing into the blueberry is almost a little too slick for me, but the end effect is quite good.   What happens with Veruca in the nut room is funny, but also a little disturbing (one squirrel is cute; having forty leap on you isn't so cute).

Overall, although the older film always comes first in my mind when I think about this story, I actually like both films for different reasons.   I always feel nostalgic when I watch the 1971 film, and I always laugh a HUGE laugh at certain scenes in the 2005 film.  Let's just say, the scene with Veruca and the squirrels had me almost screaming with laughter.  In the theater.    It's always interesting to compare a film to a book, and in this case, we have not only two films to compare to a book, but two films to compare to each other.   Either way, it's great entertainment.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

   Summary:  I'm sure you're already familiar with the story, but just in case, here's what it says on 
GoodreadsFor the first time in a decade, Willy Wonka, the reclusive and eccentric chocolate maker, 
 is opening his doors to the public--well, five 
members of the public to be exact. The lucky five who find a Golden Ticket in their Wonka chocolate bars will receive a private tour of the factory, given by Mr. Wonka himself. For young Charlie Bucket, this a dream come true. And, when he finds a dollar bill in the street, he can't help but buy two Wonka's Whipple-Scrumptious Fudgemallow Delights--even though his impoverished family could certainly use the extra dollar for food. But as Charlie unwraps the second chocolate bar, he sees the glimmer of gold just under the wrapper! The very next day, Charlie, along with his unworthy fellow winners Mike Teavee, Veruca Salt, Violet Beauregarde, and Augustus Gloop, steps through the factory gates to discover whether or not the rumors surrounding the Chocolate Factory and its mysterious owner are true. What they find is that the gossip can't compare to the extraordinary truth, and for Charlie, life will never be the same again.

And here's what I thought
:   This is such an iconic book (at least, for many of us, it is).  I first read it when I was a child, along with other Dahl books, and I always loved how Dahl created this magical story.  Not only did it contain elements of magic, but it had chocolate.  And wonderful-sounding candy!   Just the names of some of them were enough to make me drool --- "Whipple-Scrumptious Fudgemallow Delight."  "Everlasting Gobstopper."  "Eatable Marshmallow Pillows."   Yum.   When all of Wonka's guests enter his Chocolate Room (the one with the chocolate river and waterfall), everything in there is edible, including the grass (a soft, minty sugar Wonka calls "swudge").

And speaking of the room with the chocolate waterfall, if you're familiar with this story, you know that this is the place where the first incident occurs with one of the children on the tour: Augustus Gloop.   Ah yes, Augustus.  Even his last name sounds fat, doesn't it?   Let's talk a bit about these children, shall we?   First and foremost, we have Charlie Bucket, the hero of the story.  Like many of Dahl's heroes, Charlie is honest and goodhearted, and down on his luck.  His family's poor.  And I don't mean "they've got a nice house, but no cable or Internet" poor.  I mean: nothing but cabbage soup to eat poor.  But, he's got a great set of parents and grandparents, especially Grandpa Joe.   In the book, Charlie is basically starving by the time he finds the Golden Ticket; he's conserving his strength when he goes to school so that he doesn't pass out.  If anyone deserves a Golden Ticket, it's Charlie, and you can't help but cheer for him when he finds it.

But these other children.....  they're nasty little things.  We've got Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt, Violet Beauregarde, Mike Teevee -- children whose names can give us a hint of what they might be like.   Augustus seems to embody the deadly sin of gluttony, and gets his comeuppance when he falls into the chocolate river (while greedily slurping up handfuls of the river) and gets sucked up a pipe -- which leads to the room where Wonka makes fudge.   Of course, Mrs. Gloop is upset, and gets escorted out by an Oompa Loompa (more on them in a moment).   Like many parents of awful children, she thinks Augustus is wonderful and can do no wrong (and that it's simply awful of Mr. Wonka to allow Augustus to have this accident).  Actually, all of the parents of these children seem to do nothing but either fawn over them, or let the children completely intimidate them.  Veruca simply needs to scream and her rich father will buy her whatever she wants.  Violet steamrolls right over her mother, and Mike does the same, as well.   However, as nasty as these children are, in typical fashion, Dahl exacts some revenge upon them.   Veruca (which yes, is a name for an icky type of wart) gets sent down a garbage chute by squirrels, Violet snatches a forbidden piece of gum (which has a very interesting result), and Mike defies authority and gets himself shrunk (which doesn't seem to improve his temperament, actually).   It's a bit of a morality tale, actually, in that Charlie survives to the end just by being his good, sweet, self, while the bad behavior of the other children results in some kind of creative punishment.   It always seemed to me that Roald Dahl must have been chuckling to himself while writing about what happened to Veruca, or Violet.   There is a bit of discomfort in reading what happens in the story, but as a child, I was gleeful that these awful kids were getting their comeuppance. 

So, about those Oompa Loompas.  I'm sure anyone reading this has a clear idea of what an Oompa Loompa might look like, depending on which movie version of the story you have seen (I'll get to the movies in a sec).   Do you think of them as being small men with orange faces and green hair?  Or do you imagine Deep Roy, multiplied into many different Oompa Loompas?   If the films are your only encounter with an Oompa Loompa, or when you read this book, it wasn't the original printing, you're in for a bit of a surprise.  In the original book, written in 1964, the Oompa Loompas are African pygmies.  I've included a little picture here from my book, which is from 1964 (which has the original illustrations by Joseph Schindelman).  As you can see, they are small people wearing what look like togas.  As you can imagine, some people weren't thrilled with this, and the NAACP was pretty critical.  Dahl changed this part and when the book was reprinted in 1973 (US), they were changed to having rose-white skin and long golden-brown hair.   I'm not quite sure how either of these versions of an Oompa Loompa resulted in what we saw in the films.
And speaking of the films ---- this post is already a bit long, so I thought I'd save that for my next post.   Suffice to say, there are differences between the book and both of the movies.   That being said, if you've only seen the movies, and never picked up the book, I'd encourage you to give it a read.  It's a wonderful story, and in my mind, one of Dahl's best.   It's full of fantastic details and songs, and funky illustrations (no matter which version).

One last note -- in the story, Mr. Wonka has closed his factories because he has had issues with spies stealing his ideas.  As Grandp Joe explains it, Fickelgruber, Slugworth and Prodnose, all three candymakers, were sending spies to infiltrate Mr. Wonka's factory.   Interestingly, this part is based on some real instances of this kind of thing happening to real candymakers.  Both Cadbury and Rowntree's in Britain were rivals, as were Mars and Hershey in the US.  It wasn't uncommon for spies to try to steal trade secrets and recipes.   And if you're interested in Mars and Hershey, there's a wonderful book called The Emperors of Chocolate by Joel Glenn Brenner.

That's all on this one for now --- I plan to watch the movies and post about them soon, along with Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Hoppin' !!

gearing up to hop .... any moment now....
It's that time again ---- let the Hopping begin!   The Book Blogger Hop is a weekly event hosted by Jennifer over at Crazy for Books.  I know this week is BBAW (Book Blogger Appreciation Week), so I'm not sure how much hopping will get done, between visiting those blogs, and hopping through the list.    However, I've got some free time coming up, so I plan on doing some hopping!

This week's question for the Hop is: 
In honor of Book Blogger Appreciation Week, let's take this time to honor our favorite book bloggers and why we love them!

I follow a number of other book blogs, so I thought I'd just give a shout-out to two of them:  A Thousand Books with Quotes, and Musings of a BookShop Girl

A Thousand Books with Quotes definitely does the whole blogging about books thing a little differently.  There's always a summary of the book, and then some quotes from it.   I really like this because it gives me not only an idea of the kind of writing in the book, but it's also a completely different way to look at a book.  If I'd read a particular book, I'm always interested to see if there's a quote I remember -- and if I've never heard of the book, it's great exposure to it!

In her blog, Musings of a Bookshop Girl, Ellie writes book reviews, but also gives us little slices of her life.  I always get a kick out of reading about the tales of the bookshop, probably because I work in a public library and deal with the public on a constant basis.   I like the way Ellie writes, whether about books or her life in general.  I also admit a bit of fascination because she's British; I've been to Britain twice, and would love to go back (and reading her blog makes me think fondly on my trips).

Looking forward to seeing what other book bloggers have to say on this Hop this week!

Monday, September 13, 2010

It's official Roald Dahl Day!!!

If you've been reading recent posts, you may have noticed a proliferation of Roald Dahl books.  Not my usual stuff, but I was inspired to read some of his books, in a kind of "Dahlathon" of my own.   Today is official Roald Dahl Day, and there are celebratory events happening all over.  Of course, with me being in the US, and the events being in the UK, I'm not going to any of those events (actually, I'm also working this evening, so that would count me out, as well).

However, I didn't want to let the day go by without at least a little mention.  That being said, I'm posting a little review here of one of his books:  Switch Bitch.   The review is going to be little for a few reasons.  First, it's a book of four short stories, so it's a small-ish book.   Second, I wasn't that big on the book, so I actually don't have a lot to say.

PLEASE NOTE BEFORE PROCEEDING:   This book of stories is not for younger readers.  It is "Four stories by the inimitable master of seduction and suspense - each with a razor-sharp sting in the tail..." (taken from GoodReads).  They center around a salacious main character, and focus on sex.    If you're still interested in what I thought of the book, read on.   If not, that's ok -- I completely understand if this isn't your thing.   Stay tuned for more Dahl soon, including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Here's what I thought about this book:   While I read Roald Dahl's stories as a child, I did not encounter his stories for adults until I was close to 20 (I'm still not to 40 yet).   However, from what I knew of Dahl, I expected they would be different from what I had read in stories like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and James and the Giant Peach.   And yes, I was correct in this -- the only thing that the four stories in this book, and some of his books for younger readers, is the somewhat acerbic wit that Dahl seems to have.   While his somewhat wicked sense of humor is quite present in the children's books, in these four stories, he takes that to a different level here.   There's still that sense of humor, but since the subject is sex, it sometimes takes on a somewhat sinister tone.

One of the primary characters we encounter is Uncle Oswald, whose diaries have been entrusted to a family member.  In those diaries he describes some of his adventures.  He's really not a very likeable character; he's rude, and crude, and kind of ....slimy.    In fact, if you look at my previous post on James and the Giant Peach, there's a quote there about the Earthworm being "a slimy beast."  The Earthworm is not.  Uncle Oswald is.    At any rate --- the very first story in the book, The Visitor, has a very interesting ending, which I won't spoil for you here.  However, suffice to say, there's a bit of a horror twist to what happens.  

This is a good example of the four stories in this book.  They are somewhat amusing, in a dark sort of way, and they're disturbing --- but they are well-written.   Say what you like about the subject material; Dahl writes just as richly as always.  It's a little hard to know if these stories are supposed to give a kind of morality warning, or are supposed to be somewhat sexy horror.   I'm not sure, but either way, I didn't really love this book.   I've got a book of Dahl's ghost stories, and have enjoyed those far more.  

For even more opinions, please click the GoodReads link ---there are wide and varied opinions from other readers about this book.    Just because I didn't like this one as much doesn't mean other readers won't enjoy it.  However --- if all you know of Dahl is his books for children ..... maybe think twice about picking this one up. 

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Blameless (The Parasol Protectorate, #3) by Gail Carriger

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):  Quitting her husband's house and moving back in with her horrible family, Lady Maccon becomes the scandal of the London season.  Queen Victoria dismisses her from the Shadow Council, and the only person who can explain anything, Lord Akeldama, unexpectedly leaves town. To top it all off, Alexia is attacked by homicidal mechanical ladybugs, indicating, as only ladybugs can, the fact that all of London's vampires are now very much interested in seeing Alexia quite thoroughly dead.

While Lord Maccon elects to get progressively more inebriated and Professor Lyall desperately tries to hold the Woolsey werewolf pack together, Alexia flees England for Italy in search of the mysterious Templars. Only they know enough about the preternatural to explain her increasingly inconvenient condition, but they may be worse than the vampires -- and they're armed with pesto.

And here's what I thought:  If you've read books #1 and #2 in this series, then you're already familiar with the slightly acerbic wit of Gail Carriger.    If you haven't read those two books, what I'm saying here probably won't make too much sense --- and here are the links to both of those books, Soulless, and Changeless.  

I hadn't warmed up too much to book #2, Changeless, but still had hopes that this book, the third in the series, wouldn't disappoint.   And it didn't (thankfully).   This book begins with Alexia (Lady Maccon) at her parents' home, trying to deal with the scandal that she created when she became pregnant and then left her husband's home.  Her family's not too happy about the state of affairs and immediately suggests that Alexia take a trip to Europe.  Of course, things can never be too easy -- as soon as she decides that she's going to go to Italy, she's under constant attack.  Good thing she has some friends on her side: Madame Lefoux and Floote (and Professor Lyall, as well). 

I'm determined to avoid giving anything away about the plot, but I can safely say that Gail Carriger's has done it again.  This story is a wonderful mix of wit and manners, vampires and werewolves, and tea.  Lady Maccon is one of those characters that I can't help but love; she doesn't always fit in with society, she doesn't hide the fact that she's intelligent, and she's got a good head on her shoulders.  I don't think that she ever really loses her head, even in the face of attack (although it certainly helps that she has a well-designed parasol to protect herself with).  Despite the fact that she's faced with what seems like insurmountable odds, she's determined to persevere.   And, she's funny.   I would classify the humor in these stories as more dry, than laugh-out-loud (although I have been known to laugh when I'm reading Gail Carriger's books).   I think what made this story such a good read for me is that I enjoy Gail Carriger's writing style, and how she creates, and then treats, her characters.  Even the one friend of Lady Maccon's that acts like a bubble-head (Ivy), is probably smarter than she seems, and is just putting on an act.  It's not to say that the intelligence of the characters makes them infallible; they are prone to making bad decisions like just anyone else, but this makes the characters seem more realistic.   Wonderful books -- if you get a chance, and you're in the mood for something a bit different, these might be just what you're looking for.

And here's a few examples of the writing I so love in this book, and the other two: 

"Alexia thought this dreadfully boorish.  The least they could do was answer with a 'No, killing is all we are interested in at the moment, but thank you kindly for the offer all the same.'  Alexia had, in part, compensated for a lack of soul through the liberal application of manners. This was rather like donning an outfit consisting entirely of accessories, but Alexia maintained that propert conduct was never a bad thing.  These vampires were behaving most improperly."  (p. 121-2)

"Mr. Lange-Wilsdorf came to stand near her, looking down.   Which must be a particularly unusual experience of him given his diminutive stature, Alexia thought nastily."  (p. 293)

Friday, September 10, 2010

James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads): When poor James Henry Trotter loses his parents in a horrible rhinoceros accident, he is forced to live with his two wicked aunts, Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker. After three years he becomes "the saddest and loneliest boy you could find." Then one day, a wizened old man in a dark-green suit gives James a bag of magic crystals that promise to reverse his misery forever. When James accidentally spills the crystals on his aunts' withered peach tree, he sets the adventure in motion. From the old tree a single peach grows, and grows, and grows some more, until finally James climbs inside the giant fruit and rolls away from his despicable aunts to a whole new life. James befriends an assortment of hilarious characters, including Grasshopper, Earthworm, Miss Spider, and Centipede--each with his or her own song to sing.

And here's what I thought: 
  The cover of my book says Dahl is "The World's Most Scrumdiddlyumptious Storyteller."   As evidenced by my recent reviews, I certainly agree.   This story comes complete with a young hero, and a bevy of beasties.... er... insects.   In a similar vein to some of his other stories, Dahl gives us an honest, good-hearted main character, James, who is a little like Danny (from Danny, The Champion of the World), and Charlie (from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory).  He's a smart little boy, kind, and creative, and used to having to fend for himself.  His parents have died, and he's in the care of two horrible aunts.  The aunts are yet another dastardly creation, as well --- Aunt Sponge is monstrously fat, and Aunt Spiker is monstrously thin -- and both are cruel, selfish, and nasty.  And, of course, thoroughly awful to Charlie.

However, James' life quickly changes with the arrival of the magic green crystals, and the peach grows to an enormous size.  Trying to escape from his aunts (and, actually, really just trying to get a little something to eat), James tunnels his way into the peach, right to the very stone of it -- and discovers creatures within.   Now, keep in mind that in real life, his assortment of huge bugs would be absolutely horrifying.  However, in this story, although they are large, there's nothing to fear.  In fact, they all have interesting personalities, and become fast friends with James as they set off on an adventure via the peach.  Grasshopper's like a wise grandfather, while the Earthworm is a bit of a worrywort.  Miss Spider and Miss Ladybug are both quite sweet, as is the Glow-Worm.  And then... there's the centipede.   Let me say, that in real life, I find centipedes absolutely awful.  In fact, the sight of them makes me want to throw up (this is why I don't do certain kinds of yardwork, as encounters with things such as centipedes and earwigs sends me off to the side, retching).   However, in this story, the centipede was one character that I really liked as a child.  I'm not sure why, because he's really obnoxious.  On second thought, that's probably why I liked him.  He's completely happy with what he is, and insists on being the center of attention.  Example:  when they are all introducing themselves, the Earthworm is explaining how it glides along, and Centipede says:

"You call that walking!" cried Centipede. "You're a slitherer, that's all you are!  You just slither along!"
  "I glide," said the Earthworm primly.
"You are a slimy beast," answered the Centipede.
  "I am not a slimy beast," the Earthworm said.  "I am a useful and much loved creature.  Ask any gardener you like.  And as for you..."
"I am a pest!" the Centipede announced, grinning broadly and looking round the room for approval.                 p. 29

See what I mean?  And he's constantly singing obnoxious songs, as well (which are really quite funny).   If you're familiar with Beatrix Potter at all, you could see him as the Squirrel Nutkin of this book.  

The overall story is very charming, as there are some scary moments with their travels (both in the water and in the clouds).  I always found the ending a bit too wrapped up, for my taste, however.  It all seemed like things were tied up very neatly and quickly, and as a child, I always thought there had to be more to what really happened to all of them.   However, the whole book is worth it, just for the Centipede (and he's not even the main character!).   Also, the original illustrations, by Nancy Ekholm Burkert, are also quite good, and really make the story come alive!

Leaping and Hopping!!!

It's the perfect day to do some hopping!!!!   Not only is it a beautiful day weather-wise (at least it is where I live), but it's FRIDAY!!!!     And that means it's time for the weekly Book Blogger Hop, hosted by Jennifer over at Crazy for Books.    I didn't make the Hop last week, but this week's much better --- and I'm looking forward to doing some hopping over the next few days.

This week's question is:  Post a link to a favorite post or book review that you have written in the past three months    And Jennifer took this one step beyond --- And your challenge, if you choose to accept it, is to COMMENT ON THAT PERSON'S POST! Spend some time getting to know each other's blog and writing!    I think this is a great idea!!!!

My link is to a post I did about Midnight Blue by Nancy Collins 

Happy Hopping, everyone!!!!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl

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Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):  Danny’s life seems perfect: his home is a gypsy caravan, he’s the youngest car mechanic around, and his best friend is his dad, who never runs out of wonderful stories to tell. And when Danny discovers his father’s secret, he’s off on the adventure of a lifetime. Here’s Roald Dahl’s famous story about a 9-year-old boy, his dad, and a daring and hilarious pheasant-snatching expedition. Just as important, it’s the story of the love between a boy and his father who, in Danny’s own words, is “the most marvelous and exciting father a boy ever had.”

And here's what I thought:   I think this might be my favorite Roald Dahl story  -- it was one I read over and over as a child, and I basically wore out my original paperback.   A few years ago, in a used bookstore, I found a nice, hardcover copy, and was so thrilled!     As you can see from the above summary, this is the story of a boy and his father, and some of the adventures they have.  The two of them live in a converted Gypsy caravan, on the site of Danny's father's filling station and garage, a small piece of land in the middle of a bigger patch of land that belongs to a wealthy man (more on him in a moment).     Although they live pretty simply, Danny's life is a rich one, because his father not only constantly educates Danny about the world around him, but he's also a wonderful storyteller.

In the book, Danny describes his father by saying, "My father, without the slightest doubt, was the most marvelous and exciting father any boy ever had."    And he certainly is --- he makes up wonderful stories about things like The Big Friendly Giant, but teaches Danny how to take apart and put together car engines, and more.   Life seems exciting enough until one night, when Danny wakes up and his father's not in the caravan.  In fact, he's not on the property at all.    Once he comes home, it turns out that Danny's father was up in Hazell's Woods.....  poaching pheasants.

So, a few quick words here ---   like in Fantastic Mr. Fox, there's a character who ..... practices thievery of some sort.  Poaching pheasants is a crime, which Danny's father knows.   However, as he explains to Danny, he just can't help himself.  Sounds a bit like Mr. Fox, yes?   When Danny finds out, he's shocked; ""My own father a thief!  This gentle, lovely man!  I couldn't believe he would go creeping into the woods at night to pinch valuable birds belonging to somebody else."     But once Danny's father starts to explain, it somehow starts to seem like it's okay.   Danny's grandfather, apparently, was "a magnificent and splendiferous poacher."   He taught Danny's father the art of poaching, and although he's been able to resist the allure of the pheasants for a long time.....  he just couldn't help himself this evening.    And, after all, the pheasants belong to wealthy Mr. Hazell, who's really not a very nice person.

Didn't I say we'd get around to him?   Mr. Hazell is the villain here, and Dahl once again gives us a character we can truly despise.    Like the farmers in Fantastic Mr. Fox, Hazell is a nasty piece of work.  He owns a brewery (and apparently, likes to drink his beer quite a lot), is extremely wealthy, and is a jerk.  Actually, the description is "a roaring snob."   He drives a silver Rolls Royce, and tends to be rude to everyone he encounters.    His woods are full of pheasants, and he has an annual hunting party so he can try to mingle with other wealthy people.    Because he's such a awful person, it seems completely justified that Danny's father doesn't feel bad about trying to poach some of Hazell's pheasants.

Once Danny learns about his father's poaching, he makes him promise that if he does go back to the woods, that he'll let Danny know, and be back by a certain time.   Seems like a good plan... until the night that his father doesn't come back, and Danny has to go find him in the woods.   Once he rescues his father, the two of them come up with a brilliant plan to bring down Mr. Hazell in a big way: poach as many of his pheasants in one swoop as they possibly can.    If you read my last post about Fantastic Mr. Fox, I mentioned that the movie borrowed something from this book (they made it blueberries and beagles).  Apparently, pheasants are mad about raisins, so Danny comes up with a plan to use raisins and sleeping powder to snatch as many of the birds as they can (thus ensuring that Mr. Hazell's big hunting party will have no pheasants at all).

What happens next is the biggest, and funniest, part of this story.   Needless to say, it's not easy to pull off such a plan ... and Mr. Hazell isn't a man to be trifled with.   What happens?  Not telling!   Read the book!
As in all of his stories, Roald Dahl uses wonderfully descriptive language.   We see everything through Danny's eyes, and whether he's telling us about his father, their caravan, or even the apple tree that grows on their property, there's a honesty and sense of wonder at it all.  As  a child reading this book, it didn't matter that I wasn't a boy, and didn't live in a caravan --- I felt like I knew Danny.   When he said, "I will not pretend that I was petrified.  I was.  But mixed in with the awful fear was a glorious feeling of excitement.  Most of the really exciting things we do in our lives scare us to death.  They wouldn't be exciting if they didn't.", I understood this completely.    I always trusted Danny as a narrator, and found his adventures to be thrilling.    I liked how good and honest Danny and his father were, and how awful Mr. Hazell was (nothing like a wonderfully bad character).   I suppose the reason I still re-read this book is because it's just a great, well-written story.  And, the illustrations inside, by Jill Bennett, wonderfully enhance the story.   So, if animals aren't quite your thing, maybe try this one!

Coming up soon -- James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and then on to some of Dahl's stories for adults

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl

Summary (actually by me, for once):  You might already be familiar with this story if you've seen the movie *and more about that in a moment*.   According to the back of my book, this is "Concerning the extraordinary adventures of three nasty farmers, two curious creatures, a family of foxes and our hero..."    The three nasty farmer, Boggis, Bunce, and Bean, are determined to destroy Mr. Fox after discovering that Mr. Fox has been stealing from their storehouses.   Bean comes up with an idea to dig out Mr. Fox, destroying the Fox home and forcing the Fox family to run for their lives.   Question is: how long can the foxes, and other animals, survive against the three farmers?

And here's what I thought:   I chose this book as the first one to write about for my "Dahlathon" celebration in September.   I don't remember if this was the first of Dahl's books that I read as a child, but it was always one of my favorites.   Dahl writes this book for children, but I think that his sly, clever humor can also really be appreciated by adults.   The story is fairly simple:  animals versus humans. 

  Let's start with the humans.  Boggis, Bunce and Bean are all pretty awful; in fact, right at the beginning, we learn, "All three of them were about as nasty and mean as any men you could meet."   Boggis, a chicken farmer, eats nothing but chickens all day.  Bean raises turkeys and has apple orchards and exists on nothing but hard cider (which, I have to admit, I actually enjoy quite a bit -- although the idea of cider and nothing else is not appealing).  Bunce raises ducks and geese and -- get this --- eats nothing but doughnuts stuffed with goose livers.   Ugh!   Dahl really seems to delight in the disgusting, but this was the kind of thing that as a child, I found wonderfully icky.     And, it makes it really easy to despise these farmers right off the bat.

So let's move on to the animals, shall we?   Mr. Fox, is "a fantastic fellow."  He's clever, and creative, and a family man, determined to protect his family against the horrifying farmers.   And...he's a thief.   This has never bothered me, as I always knew that foxes, as wild animals, would steal chickens.   I suppose I always figured it was in Mr. Fox' nature, and since he didn't seem overtly greedy in this story (only taking enough to feed his family), I never thought of him as being despicable, himself.   And really, he's quite charming -- and a natty dresser (see illustrations).     

The other supporting animal characters include Badger, who is respectable and kind (and a great digger), and Rat, who's a despicable twerp.   

The story is rather short, and I don't want to give anything away --- but suffice to say, it's clear that Mr. Fox is much cleverer than the farmers.    Dahl does a nice job of making Mr. Fox a fully realized character, and one that the reader sides with.   The illustrations, as well, really lend something special to the story.  In my book, a Bantam edition from 1978, the illustrations are the original ones, by Donald Chaffin.  I've included two pictures in this post to show you just how natty he makes Mr. Fox look, but all of the illustrations really make the story come alive.  I have always loved all of the little details he includes, and how realistic they were (well, as realistic as a fox in knickers could be).    

And a quick word about the new-ish film that was made out of this story.  I watched it over this last weekend, and while I thought it was okay, I really wasn't that wild about it.   Because the book is so short, the film had to expand the story --- but there were some parts I thought were a little excessive.  I also thought it was interesting that the movie borrowed something from one of Dahl's other stories, Danny The Champion of the World (it's the thing about blueberries and beagles ---- more on that when I post about Danny).   In the film, I thought Mr. Fox was actually a little obnoxious; he was sometimes pretty rude, especially to the others around him, and frankly, I just didn't find him very charming.   I had been curious to see what the movie was going to be like, but I don't think I'll watch it again --- I'll just stick to this wonderful book!

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