Archive for books

Rowling Along

Yesterday, Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling announced the title and brief synopsis of her first foray into more adult fiction. The Casual Vacancy
will be a darkly comic novel set in the seemingly idyllic British town of Pagford in which everything is not as idyllic as it seems.  It opens with the sudden death of a popular man whose unexpected demise shocks the town. The battle for his seat on the local council sets off “the biggest war the town has yet seen,” with rich people fighting poor, parents battling their teenagers, and wives in conflict with their husbands.

Given the juggernaut success that is the Harry Potter brand, I believe the world will be moderately interested to see if magic can strike again with a tale aimed at a more grown-up demographic. We have until September 27 to find out.  Since the Potter books were accepted by a large amount of adult readers as well as the target adolescent audience, I think the book will have a moderate amount of success.

Speaking of Mr. Potter, once again Warner Bros. is going for the jugular when it releases the Harry Potter Wizard’s Collection (Blu-ray / DVD Combo + UltraViolet Digital Copy) this fall.

If you have the $400.00 to throw around you can perhaps be mesmerized by the 31 disc set full of the obligatory bells and whistles contained in an attractive display box.  I suppose that if true collectors are willing to pony up the money, then whoever is behind these merchandising schemes will continue.

It All Began (AGAIN) Here

Twenty years ago, a resurgence of Star Wars began not on the big screen but on the printed page.  Back in 1991, the franchise itself was in danger of becoming obsolete and forgotten.  It had been 8 years since Return of the Jedi ( long before the Special Editions and bloody prequels came along).  Enter Lucasfilm Publishing who got the ball rolling and eventually leading to Timothy Zahn penning a three volume series chronicling the further adventures of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, and all the rest following the events of the final film.

Yesterday, I finally received my copy of the 20th Anniversary edition of said novel: Heir to the Empire.  It has been sometime since I have checked the novel out from the library.  The book itself is gorgeous featuring a silver-colored dustcover with the New Republic emblem prominently displayed.  Underneath the cover is a rendering of the original cover.  Inside in the introductory remarks, the author and his editor provide insight into the story behind the new trilogy.  Something new in the meat of the book is annotations by Zahn providing insight into the development of characters and events.  Names of friends, acquaintances, and contest winners became a part of the Expanded Universe!  I have not yet begun to read the story itself but was captivated by the anecdotes including some flack from fans the author took for introducing such “Earthly” items as hot chocolate into the SW universe.  Also a well-known Trek term was given some highlight but was quickly defended.

I must say that I am throughly enjoying the book and I haven’t even started it yet!

Ok… ok… should I or shouldn’t I comment on the OTHER big Star Wars event that happened yesterday.  All right I will.  For the first time, the entire cinematic saga (Episodes I-VI) are available on Blu-Ray.  Personally, I have no problem with the release itself.  I just grow weary of George Lucas changing the movies for each new release.  I accepted the Special Edition releases of the original films prior to the much-inferior (IMHO) prequels.  Now it seems that he adds pointless bits every 10 years or so.  I agree with those who state that they are his movies and can do what he likes with them but do not like the “inclusion for the sake of inclusion.”  Aliens being included via the wonder of CGI that were not there before.  And the most awful inclusion of all:

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All Is Well

It is OVER!  The phenomenon that began in 1997 with the British publication of a little book entitled Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and continued through 7 books and now 8 big screen adventures has reached its climax.  All I ask is that it ends here.  To go back or to move forward would cheapen what has come before.  I cannot recall a pop culture phenomenon that has endured, captivated, and caught the world’s (for better or for worse) attention.  Millions of children (and adults as well) began reading the novels of “the boy who lived.”  These same children grew up with each page turn, every movie frame as the core cast of the films remained the same throughout the octology.  I found it enthralling to follow Daniel, Rupert, Emma, Matthew, Tom, and the other young actors progress from naive 10-11 year olds into 20-something year old seasoned performers aided by a cadre of many of the finest British thespians.

I dare say that never before (and very likely never will again) has the world experienced the likes of such a series.  Midnight book/movie releases; a game invented from the pages; a theme park; college classes; and I’m sure a myriad of other items devoted to the world have appeared.

I was (as I’m sure millions of other fans were) a bit nervous about what to expect from the printed pages being transferred to movie screens.  Apparently,  the worry was for naught as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 has vanquished several box office records in its path in the first 5 days of release.  This afternoon, I spent the extra money to attend my first IMAX 3D experience.  I was blown away by the pre-movie graphics and announcement to say nothing of the main feature itself.  There were moments that I could tell that were filmed traditionally and transferred but the total experience was breathtakingly immersive.  I would have enjoyed the film itself on a regular screen but after investing the last decade plus in the characters, I felt that the farewell needed to be experienced on a grand scale.  Thrilling, wondrous, emotional (any fan who isn’t moved… well…) action packed.  The best of the series?  Definitely… YES!  However, I like to think of the movies as a whole.  Things that were left out in the transfer to the movies… most notable in the Half-Blood Prince.

Goodbye, friend of Hagrid!  It has been a magical adventure.

Carte Blanche

Just finished the latest 007 novel (if it is going to be a few more years before the next movie… glad someone was commissioned by the Ian Fleming family to write a new one).  Carte Blanche is yet another reboot of a classic character.  Bond is introduced as an agent in his early 30s who is a veteran of the Afghan War.  To me the last two movies which combined as a reboot failed horribly by being something the franchise is not.  They are WAY too serious and totally dismissed what is so fun about the classic Bond movies.  However, they are all back in the pages of the first official Bond book penned by an American, Jeffery Deaver (author of such suspense novels as The Bone Collector which became a Denzel Washington/Angelina Jolie film).

Supporting Cast:

  • M… Bond’s boss is once again a male character.  I enjoy Dame Judy Dench as the head of MI6 but liked a return to the classic male figure
  • Q… Quartermaster… weapons guy who provides agents with the most advanced weaponry available…. whether or not it comes back intact at the end of the adventure is always fun to see.  Sadly missed in the last two movies.
  • Miss Moneypenny… a bit different role in the books than in the movies but also missed in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.
  • Felix Leiter… CIA Agent who has more of a cameo role in this one.

The Bond Girls:  There are three in this one.  One of the three MORE than lives up to her name.  Another is as icy as Pussy Galore, herself.

The villain: Severan Hydt. Quite memorable.  I don’t think there has been a Bond villain quite as interesting in quite a while.

Of course, 007 is sent on a hazardous mission with Earth shaking consequences and millions of lives at risk.  All of these elements combine to bring James and company into the 21st century.  The reader is even provided with quite a bit of backstory into the life of the secret agent that ties directly into the action.  Exotic locales, breathless action sequences, and twists, including an ending most unusual for a Bond vehicle.  Let’s hope the movies get back on track.

Free Fridays

One of the great things about the Nook (of which there are many) is “Free Fridays.”  Most of the titles offered every Friday by Barnes and Noble interest me not at all, but occasionally one piques my interest.  Last Friday’s offering, Stupid History by Leland Gregory, is a compilation of “Stupidity, Strangeness, and Mythoconceptions.”  The truth about Paul Revere’s famous ride;  the trial of Lizzie Borden; the Battle of Bunker Hill; and countless other tidbits.  Ironically, earlier tonight I was playing a game in which one of these tidbits would have come in handily.  In the game “Malarky,” the reader reads the question on the card and either reads the correct answer or makes up a load of malarky.  The other players determine whether or not the reader is giving the correct answer or feeding them a line.

One of the questions had to do with sardines which everyone knows is purchased in a small can.  I cannot remember the actual question but the answer had something to do with the fact that there is no such fish as the sardine.  They are usually pilchard or small herring packed into the can like… well… sardines.  I came home tonight and read that fact and had a good laugh.  Imagine how funny it would have been if I had read that tidbit BEFORE the game.

Perhaps this is in bad form, but did you know that Ahnold had competition for the role of The Terminator?  Apparently, O.J. Simpson is “too nice to be taken seriously as a killer.”

All of these are but a few of the (at times humorous) moments in Stupid History.  I may regret this post as the number of trivia games seems to be dwindling at game nights.  However, how much useless trivia do I actually retain?  Ok… perhaps this Free Friday was an attempt to encourage readers to pay for the humorists other books as this was published in 2007.  But still a fun read.

Once Again Hollywood Has Come Up With A Creative Idea

Or maybe not so creative idea.  It seems that ABC and Selma Hayek are combining forces to create a magical miniseries which is based on a popular novel which was based upon a beloved classic movie which was based upon another book.  The popular novel was also the basis for a megahit Broadway musical which is (the last I heard) is being turned into a big-screen production.  Whatever happened to an original, creative idea.

The miniseries in question is based upon the novel, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire.  While the musical may be a blockbuster, one of Maguire’s newer “Fractured Fairy Tales” was made into a telefilm.  Anyone remember Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister?  That’s ok… neither do I.

I think I will stick with the Fractured Fairy Tales as ready by Edward Everett Horton as seen on The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.  For your enjoyment, I have chosen a classic Mr. Know-It-All segment.

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A Pair of Thick, Woolen Socks

I just finished watching a fascinating interview on Oprah. I am not a regular viewer by any means but she seems to be going out with a bang.  I could not pass up the opportunity to watch her sit and chat with the world’s first self-made billionaire author.  If ever J.K. Rowling has her memoirs published I will be in line to snatch it up.  Just one hour totally fascinated me.  How from very humble beginnings to a 13 month and one day marriage to the death of her mother and the estrangement from her father all combined to give her the ammunition to create what has become a worldwide  juggernaut.

The term “phenomenon” came up in one intriguing moment.  Remember back in the mid 80s when Michael Jackson’s Thriller was declared the phenomenon of the day.  At the time, the concept did not enter the King of Pop’s head.  And neither has it entered Rowling’s.  If it had, she feels that she would now be trying to do herself one better.  Attempting to create the next great world and leaving Harry Potter by the wayside.  Incidentally, the author turned down Jackson’s offer to turn her world into a musical.

Did you know it took Jo  twelve rejections before, on the lucky 13th publisher, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s (which we blokes know as the Sorcerer’s) Stone saw the light of day?  Even then, she was warned that children’s books make little to no money.  Well… after seventeen years, 7 books, 6 movies (with two coming), millions in collectibles, and the theme park… who is laughing now?

She even detailed some of the downside of her life that is very much a part of the masterpiece.  In her eyes, every other page seems to point to her mother’s failing from MS.  The dementors (who prey upon the happiness of their victims and seek to suck out their soul) represent her own battle with depression.  However, the prevalent theme throughout the entire series is love.  I say shame on all the groups who would criticize or even ban the books when the strongest virtue of Christianity is seen through every page, every frame.  However, the surest way to ensure that your work is read is to have it banned.

What does the future hold for the billionairess?  More writing.  If she doesn’t write she will lose her sanity.  Spoken like a true artist.  Did she know that Harry would become so huge while writing at nights beside her sleeping baby daughter while one step away from homelessness.  Absolutely not.  She had no idea that: “This boy will be famous. There won’t be a child in our world who doesn’t know his name.”

King In Ohio

I have recently started reading novels by Stephen King and I must say that they really are page turners.  I have been considering them for a while and ever since I picked up Carrie from the library I have been hooked.  Great character development, plot, and creepiness throughout.  I have been working my way through pretty much in order of publication.  I really liked ‘Salem’s Lot (a terrific vampire nail-biter).  The Shining just creeped me out (I have never seen the Jack Nicholson movie… I dunno if I will).

I am now making my way through the 1100+ page uncut, unedited version of The Stand.  While spending a lot of time backstage in the last play I was in, I was only starting on the post-apocalyptic novel.  An apocalypse brought upon by a strain of (now isn’t this ironic) a superflu…OH, GREAT!  The survivors of the epidemic make their way from various points of the country to Colorado.  Some of these make their way via I-80/90 through my neck of the woods.  Archbold, Maumee, and even little Columbia are mentioned.  I am in the 800s so I am nearing the climax and good thing with the next play starting rehearsals Thursday night.

Intriguingly, one of Mr. King’s short stories is no longer to be found on the open market which only increases my desire to hunt down a copy.  Following the rash of high school shootings in the late 1990s, the novelist himself made the decision to pull Rage from publication.  The plot was a little too close to the tragic events.

Suspenseful, page turners all.  I have seen a few of the other movies adapted from the books: Firestarter and Christine years ago; The Running Man (starring the Governator); The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, of course.  However, I rarely prefer a movie adaptation to the original novel.

From One Optimist to Another

I have always admired the work of Michael J. Fox. Although I usually had to find another tv in the house to watch his fabulous role as Uber-conservative Alex P. Keaton on Family Ties, the family did enjoy the Back to the Future trilogy and the original Teen Wolf. Another of my favorite Fox movies is The Secret of My Success in which he plays a young man climbing the corporate ladder without really trying. I admit that I was not an avid fan of his second major series Spin City, during the course of which he made public his Parkinson’s Disease diagnosis.

The past decade of Michael’s life is chronicled in the excellent autobiography, Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist. The book is broken down into four extremely informative, touching, and HILARIOUS sections each showing how he has embraced his new life. His decision to retire (maybe not permanently) from acting, politics (ok so maybe not the best reading ever, but), faith, and family have all played a part in the creation of the Michael J. Fox Foundation which not only funds PD research but for other debilitating diseases as well.

While reading about his political views did get kind of dry, it did hold my interest with some of the humorous anecdotes that were a highlight of the entire book. I loved the dedication he pays to his wife, Tracy (who played his girlfriend Ellen on Ties), son Sam, twin daughters Aquinnah and Schuyler, and 8-year old Esme (who was born following Mike’s diagnosis… COOL!) Cross-country road trips, playing guitar with The Who (it really WAS him playing Johnny B. Goode in Back to the Future), and his battle with Rush Limbaugh (the BEST part of the Politics section) are just a few of the remarkable tales he spins.

Through it all, one thing was quite evident: Mr. Fox’s unwavering optimism. Never for one instant did I find that he was painting a picture asking for the reader’s sympathy. It just proves the cliche that when one is given lemons he should make lemonade and who doesn’t like a tall cool glass of lemonade.

Requiem And Return

On November 12, 1992, the world’s greatest superhero lost his life in an epic battle literally on the streets of Metropolis right in front of the Daily Planet building. The comic series leading up to the end of Superman and the events following are all chronicled in the novelization The Death and Life of Superman. The story begins as a monster (no better way to describe it) of unknown origin and power begins his ravaging of the Earth. Members of the Justice League, including Green Lantern and other characters I am not very familiar with, are incapable of stopping the beast which became known as Doomsday. Eventually, the Man of Steel himself joined the battle which stretched from ironically, the village of Bluffton, Ohio (a mere 90 minute drive from my hometown… WOW to think) eastward. Not sure if this was a tip of the hat to the hero’s creative team of Siegel and Shuster who grew up in Cleveland. The first part of the novel ends with the Man of Tomorrow’s demise.

The last two sections detail the aftermath and the rise of the Supermen: four individuals all but one of whom claim to be the real deal miraculously brought back from the great beyond. There is the Last Son of Krypton, The Man of Steel, a Superboy (but don’t call him, Boy) and a Cyborg Superman. But, is one of these the real Kal-El or are they each cheap imitations? They each have most or all of his power but all claim to have only bits and pieces of his memory. Some of the personalities exhibited by the four are less than the true blue, Boy Scout image portrayed by the original. However, by the novel’s end, the real McCoy (HEHE) is revealed as well as the identities of the others.

I really liked the nods to past characters of the legacy and other small bits tossed in. Inspector Henderson from the Adventures of Superman tv series has a role. Landmarks and locations are given names calling to mind past Superman related people: Collyer Boulevard (for Bud Collyer who was the original voice of Superman in radio serials way before I was thought of) and many others. Fun to pick those out!

Overall, I think this was the best incarnation of the Death and Return saga. It started as the comic series that lasted an entire year. Then, the novel which was just so much fun to read. Finally a few years ago, an animated feature was made that left too much out to be really enjoyable. Thanks Chris and Lisa!

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