Saturday, July 31, 2010

Jim Henson's The Storyteller, by Anthony Minghella

You can compare this book to J. K. Rowling's fantastic Tales of Beedle the Bard, the small but exciting collection of Wizard fairy tales. The difference is that Rowling's stories were brief, to the point, and completely original. The tales found in Jim Henson's The Storyteller, on the other hand, take quite a few pages to read (maybe half an hour when you're reading out loud), have long and winding (but still exciting and suspenseful!) plot-lines, and were apparently old European folk tales handed down from generations.

I promise you, these stories are absolutely fantastic! Each one is like a mixture of the fairy tales I'm familiar with, like Beauty and the Beast, Hansel and Gretel, Rumpelstiltskin, etc. There's magic, clever characters, evil witches and giants, and good triumphing over evil, but hearing them told, they feel somewhat different from the ordinary tales I know. The characters are always portrayed as strong-willed, masters of their own destinies. They aren't stupid like Jack, who climbed the Beanstalk, or helpless damsels in distress like Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty. Interestingly enough though, the expression "3rd time's the charm" seems to apply very heavily in each story.

I loved reading these stories. The writing style is extremely entertaining. What alliteration! The book is written just as if you were hearing someone tell the tales to you, in the oral tradition. Each story is simply amazing. The best part about it is that you can truly see these tales come to life, by viewing them on YouTube! Jim Henson transformed these amazing tales into mini-movies for television, making fantastic creatures come alive by way of the skilled puppetry (or "muppetry") he was famous for. I can't possibly pick a favorite. Perhaps you'll have better luck? I'll attach a link to each story's respective YouTube video clips, so you can see them for yourself. (Well, it at least shows the first part of them. Seeing the rest is up to you.)
Unfortunately, I can't find the YouTube link to the tale "A Story Short", which is quite a shame, because that's a story that actually has the storyteller himself in it. Oh well. Enjoy the stories anyway. And please, check out the book too. It's so much fun to read these stories aloud! ^_^

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Rapunzel's Revenge, by Shannon Hale

I seem to be reading a lot of graphic novels lately. I don't know what it is about 2010 that is making me read so many G.N.s, but I'm glad I'm reading some good stuff here. When the story is good and the art style is appealing, they are quick and easy reading. I think that's what I love about them. I can go to a book store or a library and leave having enjoyed another wild adventure.

Anyway, after just a couple visits to the library (once a few days ago and once yesterday), I finished my first book by Shannon Hale. How cool that it was a graphic novel. I've heard that my friend Q is quite the fan of Shannon Hale. Well, she has pretty good taste. Rapunzel's Revenge was a wonderful take on an old fairy tale, with a few certain changes. For example, Rapunzel escapes from her own tower (a taaaall tree hollowed out at the top) with her extremely long hair, which she braids and uses as a couple of lassos. (Go girl power!) Then she befriends a guy named Jack (who seems to be Jack from the Beanstalk story) and together they journey across the land so Rapunzel can settle the score with her "mother", the witch.

Quite action packed and well worth looking into. In fact, I've learned that this book actually has a sequel that was published at the beginning of the year. It's called Calamity Jack. I suppose it focuses more on Jack this time, but Rapunzel still follows him. From the cover alone, it looks great. Since I liked the first book so much, I've already reserved it from the library. I hope it comes in soon.

While at the library, I also had time to finish another graphic novel, though this one was really short. Wallace and Gromit are such a funny claymation duo. It's a very quick mystery about dogs going missing and since Wallace and Gromit are amateur sleuths, they get to solve it. Well, Gromit the dog does, anyway. Wallace just runs into dead ends, but ends up taking the credit anyway. Very sweet, anyway.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Jim Henson: The Works, by Christopher Finch

I remember taking this book out in the past, but not being really into it. Perhaps I just looked at the many pictures in it. (This book certainly has a LOT of pictures!) But this time around, I took a closer look. I read the entire thing cover to cover, even the little captions that go under the photos, and the profiles of the different Muppet characters, and bios on Jim Henson's colleagues and friends.

After reading this book, Jim Henson has definitely become one of my top 10 heroes. He did such amazing things in his lifetime, and ultimately changed the world! Besides being partly responsible for the success of Sesame Street and the Muppet show, and making incredible Muppet films, he did a lot of stuff that I was unaware of.

For example, in his college days, when he was just starting out, Jim and his future wife, Jane, did this TV show with puppets called "Sam and Friends". Kermit was one of the characters, only he wasn't actually a frog at that point. More of a lizard-like abstract character. Oh, and they did absolutely hilarious commercials with puppets! (Click this link for a collection of Wilkins Coffee spots. Wilkins and Wontkins are so funny!)

Jim Henson also made these incredible films that had nothing to do with any of his Muppet characters, but made great use of skilled puppetry and animatronics. I've seen 2 such movies, "The Dark Crystal" and "The Labyrinth", with my twin sister, and I thought they absolutely rocked! They are such great stories, and all the puppet characters seem so real and alive! Jim Henson was an absolute genius, just for helping to create these films alone.

The last thing I didn't know was the exact day Jim Henson that died. May 16, 1990. ~,~ It's sad that such a great guy like Jim had to die. But he left quite a legacy behind him, that's for sure. I highly recommend reading this book. Don't worry if the size of it appears daunting. Even looking at the pictures makes it all worth it. ^_^

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Standard Hero Behavior, by John David Anderson

I randomly picked this book up in the library and read a chapter before we had to go home. Just from that chapter alone, I knew it was a good story. It's a medieval tale about a teenager named Mason who is the bard (story-teller/ poet/song writer) of Darlington, a town that used to have lots of brave heroes, but now only has one, Duke Darlinger, who always returns from his adventures suspiciously unscathed and puts heavy "protection taxes" on the people.

Eventually, when a couple of Orcs come to town, Mason discovers that the Duke is actually a big wimp and not the hero that everybody thinks he is. So Mason and his best friend Cowel set off in search of heroes who will help fend of the evil army of orcs and goblins about to overrun their town in just a few days. Along the way, they make interesting friends, have very close shaves, learn about what really happened to Mason's father, and discover what being a hero really entails.

I liked the humor in this story, as well as the world-building and what I thought were quite fully rounded characters. The ending was somewhat anti-climactic, because it skipped the big battle scene altogether (Mason and Cowel weren't around for it, after all), but it ended pretty nicely. Wrapped everything up very neatly. I don't see any sequels coming out of this any time soon, which is fine and dandy with me.

There are a few places where the characters curse mildly, which was pretty funny. However, I think it would have been more entertaining if the author had been more creative with his profanity instead of simply letting the characters say cr** and sh** to express their anger/annoyance. But besides that, it was all in all an enjoyable reading experience for me. Pick it up and see what you think.

Recent books

I'll probably be ready to post a couple new reviews very soon, but I thought I'd let you know what I've been reading these days.

On July 11th, the day I met Julie Andrews in person (see full story here ^_~), I read and finished a couple books while waiting in the bookstore. One was the children's book that Julie had written with her daughter Emma, The Very Fairy Princess. (We actually have Julie Andrew's autograph on the front page!) Of course, being a children's book it was very easy to read in one sitting. The pictures were pretty cute, and it's definitely a nice book to read to one's own little princess. Who knows? Might become one of those classics or something...

The other one I read was another Runaways novel, though this one was much, much thinner. Apparently the huge one was a compilation of 3 volumes, and I think this one was Volume 4, True Believers. The story that continues was as good as before, with some new friends and new villains to fight. The ending was, once again, very cliffhanger-ly and totally unexpected. It's really cool, having a book series that can surprise you like that.

The next time I went to Borders, I read Runaways Volume 5, Escape to New York, only I wasn't quite able to finish that one. I wanted to, but there was just no time. I think I got a third of the way in, perhaps half. For some reason, the art style had noticeably changed, but I don't think it made the story any less enjoyable. Some really strange twists in it, though, especially concerning Karolina, the girl from another planet. 0,o

A book my sister took out from the library recently that I've tried to finish, but I guess I've lost interest in it, is called The Back of the Napkin. It's a very informational book about solving problems easier by putting them into simple picture form. Basically there are 4 simple principles to follow: Look, See, Imagine, and Show. In drawing your pictures, you ask yourself 6 questions: Who/what, How many/ much, Where, When, How, and Why. Very easy stuff to understand. I just got half-way through and didn't bother with finishing the rest.

Currently, I'm juggling 2 books at a time that are holding my interest very well, a novel and a biography. I started reading Standard Hero Behavior I believe weeks ago in a different, less familiar library branch. It's a very charming, funny, kind of medieval story, along the lines of Once/ Twice Upon a Marigold, or How to Train your Dragon. I only finished the first chapter before we had to leave that time, but now I've taken it out from our regular library and am currently enjoying it.

As recent as a couple days ago, Annette and I were on YouTube and we watched a Muppet tribute to Jim Henson's death. It was very sweet, and I even cried. I had no idea that he had died in 1990. Reminiscing about my favorite Muppet films, I've begun to realize exactly how much HARD work must have been put into making these fantastic creatures come to life. I reserved 3 or 4 books about Jim Henson from the library, but my sister happened to find this book on the shelf. It's very big, but there's lots of pictures, and a lot of info about his accomplishments and his friends and his life that I never knew about before.

Look forward to reviews for these two fantastic books. Believe it or not, I'm a couple of chapters away from finishing the both of them. ^_^

Friday, July 9, 2010

A couple graphic novels

Finally, my first book review in ages! This review is actually for two books, two graphic novels. One I liked very much (^_^), and the other one... not so much (0,o).

The one I read first was recommended to me by a new random blog friend. On first sight, I thought "Nuh-uh, I don't think it's for me." I don't know, something about the art-style, and the kind of genre... But I judge books by their covers way too often, so finally I read through it and gave it a try.

Harry Dresden, the wizard/detective and hero of this story, slightly reminded me of an Indiana Jones type, but with less of a sense of humor, in my opinion. I wasn't exactly thrilled with the story itself, but since it was a graphic novel I flew through the pages easily enough. I can kind of see why other people would like it, such as my friend, but sorry. Not my particular style.

Now this was a random graphic novel that I started paging through in the library. It's a superhero series about 6 kids who discover that their parents are actually super-villains. The teens band together, run away from home, discover powers of their own, and try to figure out a way to stop their evil parents from destroying the world. The story and the art-style seemed to come from the same Marvel universe of super-heroes such as Captain America or Spiderman, which was really neat.

I tell you, this book was HUGE! I later found out that it's because it was a collection of 18 of these Runaways comic magazines wrapped in one book. Because of it's size (and weight! *,*) I debated whether or not I should borrow it. The story seemed worth it though, and I didn't want to wait until our next library visit, so I took it out. I'm definitely glad I did. It was awesome! ^_^

My favorite thing about it, I believe, was the character development. I really think that by the end, all the characters had become slightly different people, in a good way. Oh, and what a surprising ending... I didn't see it coming at all! I thought I knew who would be the traitor, but I was dead wrong! It was the very person I never even suspected!!!

My final word: Definitely check out Runaways. And if it so happens to be your style, maybe try out the Dresden Files. I wouldn't, but no one's stopping you, right?