Book Review: “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum

Nov 26, 2012 by

“We’re off to see the Wizard…  The Wonderful Wizard of Oz!”

This is one of my all time favorite movies.  I have always loved it – and remember fondly when it would be shown on television once a year.  My family would turn it into an event with popcorn and my brother and I were allowed to stay up late.  Technology being what it is today, I own the DVD and watch it often with my kids (or maybe by myself.  I’m not ashamed.)  I’d always wanted to read the original book, but just never got around to it.  Until now.  This is pretty much the general rule, so I was not particularly surprised.   The story is pretty much what you think it is:  a little girl and her dog get caught up in a tornado, which brings them from their mundane life in plain Kansas to a magical world.  Now in this unfamiliar land, she meets up with a Scarecrow, Tin Woodsman, and a Cowardly Lion with whom she travels to find the Great Wizard of Oz to have their wishes granted.  Along the way, they meet with Wicked Witches, Good Witches, Flying Monkeys, and Munchkins.

Book Review: "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" by L. Frank BaumIn the book, they meet many other curious creatures which add to the adventure.  Other major differences?  (Here is where I’ll start mentioning spoilers)  I always kind of loved that in the movie, the Scarecrow, etc. were imagined versions of people Dorothy knew in Kansas.  Also that her whole adventure was when she was out cold unconscious after being hit in the head during the tornado.  However, in the book, this just isn’t the case.  The world of Oz is real, and real time passes while Dorothy is there – enough time for Uncle Henry to build a new farmhouse, to replace the one presumably still sitting in Munchkinland.  This really is a huge difference, and makes the entire story more of a fantasy, and not just a dream.  Does that make sense?  Also, I really liked that the book made reference to the fact that Dorothy needed to sleep and eat during her long journey on the yellow brick road.  Many people are also put off a bit that Dorothy’s shoes are silver and not ruby as in the movie.  But you have to remember that when the movie was released in 1939 – it was one of the first to be in color, and ruby slippers look way more impressive than silver.  On a much smaller note – The Flying Monkeys used to scare me in the movie, but I like them much more in the book.

I also just wanted to mention that I listened to most of this as an audio book, narrated by Anne Hathaway.  She did a great job, though some of her “voices” for characters were somewhat interesting!

*****
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
by L. Frank Baum
Originally published 1900
Narrated by Anne Hathaway
Series:  Oz #1
Kindle/Audible version
Source:  Purchased New
*****
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Book Review: “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak

Sep 26, 2012 by

Book Review: "The Book Thief" by Markus ZusakI feel like I may be just about the last person in the book blogosphere to read The Book Thief.  But just in case you haven’t either…..  No.  I can’t really give you a coherent synopsis.  It is the story of the book thief, as told from an omniscient and omnipresent narrator…  concentrating on the thief’s life as a German girl in Nazi Germany.  She is living with a foster family, and can barely read the alphabet.  It is her foster father who teaches her how to read the words from the first book she stole.  Learning to read gives our young thief the power to survive the war.

This book contains scenarios you’d expect from any book set in Nazi Germany; Germans who love the Fuhrer, Germans who don’t.  Jewish people persecuted, Jewish people hiding.  Bombs.  Death.  Hunger.  It is put together in such a way that is compelling and intense and incredibly emotional.  The narrator makes no secret about what is going to happen, but allows the words to show their strength, their beauty and their weight in the telling.  The complexity of the human condition is shown in all its colors, and it I just found myself getting wrapped up in all of it.  I had trouble putting the book down, even when bawling my eyes out.

I will keep these characters with me for a long time to come.  They are brilliantly crafted, and just became real to me.  I just loved them, loved them all.  As an added little bonus, Mama used some German words quite often and they are now ingrained in my mind.  I have had dreams in which I’m calling someone a saumensch or saukerl.  The words just sound so guttural, so heavy and insulting – perfect for their purpose really – and I don’t even think I’m pronouncing them correctly.  By the end of the book, I was torn.  I didn’t want to stop reading, I didn’t want this experience to end, but I needed to know what happened to these people.  I needed to know how exactly their story played out.  It was beautiful.

Just on the off chance that I wasn’t the last person out there to read this, trust me when I say to go out and start reading this.  Now.  You will thank me later, I promise!

*****
The Book Thief
by Markus Zusak
Knopf, 2005
550 pages
Source:  Gift – and THANK YOU!
*****
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Book Review: “Mrs. Dalloway” by Virginia Woolf

Jul 26, 2012 by

Reading Mrs. Dalloway involved learning a lesson that I didn’t expect.  I went into it flippantly, even though I had been warned that Virginia Woolf was difficult.  But I have read authors that some consider difficult and made it through…  I thought I knew more than I did.  I mean, it is a small book, and I assumed it would be a quick read no matter what.  I knew some people loved Woolf, and I hoped I would find an enjoyable story in it.  After all, it was a day in the life of a woman planning a party… how difficult could it really be?

Yes.  I thought that.  Can you see me cringing with that admission?  I can’t believe that I tried to debase Woolf, not to mention women in general (and I am a woman!) to that level.  I am not even going to get into all the terrible things that I’m thinking about myself right now, for thinking so simply.  For not realizing the scope of what that initial assumption could mean in a general sense.  Like I said, I am a woman (though I’ll safely assume that this applies to men as well) and I am perfectly aware of how much and how often my mind wanders throughout any given day…. subject to subject, to the past, and curious wonderings about strangers I see on the street….  I guess I never expected that true mind stream of thought could be captured so eloquently on the page.

It takes some getting used to; and I certainly had a hard time with it at first.  Thankfully, I received some great advice which really helped me let loose my usual reading style and ride the stream of consciousness flow of thoughts and ideas.  (Read the post and comments linked HERE if you are interested in the discussion)  The two hardest concepts for me to wrap my head around were that there isn’t much plot and that not every little detail matters.  It also helped to read some passages aloud, so I could grasp where the point of view changed.  While this is a day in the life of Mrs. (Clarissa) Dalloway, we also see into the minds of different people in her life or at least touch her life and day and thoughts in some manner.  I’d say that the first quarter of the book is an exercise in adjusting to this literary writing style.

And this style is extraordinary.  It is innovative.  Simple and complex all at once.  You don’t have to like it or enjoy it to see and appreciate the importance of it.  I’d imagine that re-reading this would be almost necessary to pick up on the subconscious thoughts embedded in the stream of consciousness…  It is going to take me a bit before I will be able to do that though.  This was so far out of my comfort zone that I am going to need to be gentle to my mind for a bit and read something light (and with more plot!).  I am not put off by Woolf though, and I still have Orlando on my Classics Club list.  But I will be better prepared to give her and her writing a proper go from the start next time.  I should also add that an annotated edition might have been helpful in my case!

*****
Mrs. Dalloway
by Virginia Woolf
Harcourt, 1998.  Originally published 1925
194 pages
Source:  Purchased Used
*****
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Book Review & Giveaway: “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” by Rachel Joyce

Jul 26, 2012 by

He didn’t mean to do it.  He certainly didn’t plan it.  I mean, he didn’t even have his mobile phone on him.  He didn’t say good bye to his wife, Maureen.  But Harold did it anyway.  You see, that morning he had received a letter out of the blue from a woman he used to work with.  Queenie Hennessy had written him to say good bye, explaining that she is dying of cancer and living in a hospice.  Harold is moved by his sudden memories of a kindness Queenie provided him twenty years earlier, and writes her a letter in response.  He isn’t really happy with how he has written his letter; he is having trouble saying all the things that he needs to say to her, but he feels as though he must post the letter right away.  The first post box he walks to has already been collected, so he walks to the next one.  And then the next one after that.  By the afternoon, he has resolved to walk the entire length of England to see Queenie…  and he has sent message that she must live until he gets there.  He has faith that his walk will save Queenie.  But she’s not the only one who could use some saving…

I really liked Harold.  He is recently retired, though not really sure what to do with himself all day.  He and his wife have a truly strained relationship…. and there is just so many times a week that you can mow the lawn.  His walk becomes so much more meaningful, and it is a wonderful experience to travel along with him.    He is forced to remember terrible memories of his childhood, of the harder parts of his marriage and fatherhood but also of the happier times throughout his life.  He questions everything, and becomes quite philosophical about the meaning of his life and the legacy he will eventually leave behind.  He encounters some unique individuals along his journey, and even some followers.  There has been much sadness in Harold’s life, and you really feel his despair and depression…. and makes you feel like his biggest cheerleader when the journey becomes harder.

Maureen is also in incredible character.  She is hard, cold, and has certainly endured her share of heartache. But being left behind by Harold, being alone like this is nothing she ever anticipated and I really liked watching her transformation in response to this new situation.  Harold walks to save Queenie in a very literal sense…  but the end result is so much more.  It is meditative, emotional, surprising, humorous and a wonderful experience to read.  Rachel Joyce deserves all the wonderful buzz she’s getting for this impressive debut!

Special thanks to TLC Book Tours for providing this book for review.  Good News!  They are also providing a copy for one of my US readers as well!!  Please complete this FORM to enter.  Please enter only once; duplicate entries will be deleted.  US mailing address only (no PO Boxes please).   Giveaway ends at midnight EST on July 29th, 2012.

*****
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
by Rachel Joyce
Random House, 2012
336 pages
Source:  TLC Book Tours
*****
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Book Review: “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” by Jonathan Safran Foer

May 26, 2012 by

Book Review: "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" by Jonathan Safran FoerIt has been two years since 9/11.  Oskar Schell is ten years old, and lost his father Thomas in the tragedy, and he is obviously still dealing with his loss.  Who wouldn’t be?  But one day, Oskar finds a key among his father’s belongings and believes it is one last mystery his father had left for him to solve.  As Oskar searches for the lock that will fit the key all over New York City, he slowly heals and allows himself to feel his grief.

I think this is the first novel I’ve read that deals specifically with the aftermath of 9/11.  I can’t believe that it has been almost 11 years since that terrible day when thinking about it, remembering still hurts so much. My heart just aches.  Oskar puts a face to just one of the stories of those directly affected – sure he is a fictionalized character, but it isn’t a tough stretch to believe in a kid who lost his father; his father who just happened to have a meeting in that building that morning.  The way that Oskar’s grief manifests itself in his personality is heartbreaking.  He is carrying so much inside of him.  His mother, his grandmother, his therapist all so their best to help…  but it is this challenge that is metaphorically and literally the key to Oskar’s grief.

A secondary story line is uncovered that involves Oskar’s Grandmother, her husband, her sister, and the thousands of lives lost in the bombing of Dresden at the time of her youth.   There is also an elderly mute man who factors into the story, and with Oskar’s as well.  I’ll admit that this subplot was confusing to me at first, then made me feel sad, and finally all out depressed.  Balancing the bombing of Dresden against the bombing of the World Trade Center (with a tangent concerning the horrors seen at the atomic bombing of Nagasaki) pushed me right past my emotional threshold.  I began to feel so much, that I finally felt hollow and spent.

For this reason, I did not enjoy reading this book at all.  Each time I went to pick the book up to continue, I did so with trepidation.  What horribly sad thing was to happen now??  The writing is awesome, the characters are more than you could hope for… and it is all so great that reading was not a likable experience for me.  I should also mention, in the interests of full disclosure, that while I was reading this book, there was a sudden death of a beloved family member.  That upended my state of emotional well-being, and I think that my opinion of this book has been affected by that as well.   In fact, I do remember finding humor in some of Oskar’s conversations and thoughts when I had first started the book…  but I lost them, after.

*****
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
by Jonathan Safran Foer
Mariner Books, 2006.  First published 2005.
326 pages
Source:  Borrowed from my cousin
*****
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