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Sep 152013
 
 Posted by on September 15, 2013 Tagged with: , , , ,  2 Responses »

illustrated_hobbit

 

As a child, my mother read fairy tales to me and I loved them. As I got older, I discovered mysteries and thrillers and historical novels. It wasn’t until I was in college and someone gave me The Hobbit that I rediscovered my love of fantasy.

Tolkien totally hooked me in The Hobbit. Hooked me on “The Lord of the Rings.” Hooked me on Gandalf and hobbits and dwarves and Middle Earth. And hooked me on fantasy for adults, with a love affair for the genre that has continued all these decades later, right down to this day. The Hobbit earned its Five-Star place on my bookshelf and can never be replaced. “Firsts” are like that.

I followed up The Hobbit with the rest of “The Lord of the Rings” series, of course. I even have my beat-up, often-read, original books from back then, although my old version of The Hobbit itself is missing. No worries, I have the boxed set from when the Jackson films were released.

So what is it that I loved about this book? Everything! I think it’s probably the easiest read of the series. A simpler tale, with fascinating characters that give us a glimpse into Middle Earth. A glimpse that was not nearly long enough, though. It gave a rich and complex world, with depths, layers, and colors that insinuated themselves into my mind’s eye. I could “see” that world so clearly!

We get introduced to those wonderful hobbits through Bilbo, our reluctant hero. I loved learning about hobbits. Bilbo jumped straight into my heart and quite made himself at home there. So much so that I had to have Tolkien memorabilia, such as calendars. I still have those old calendars from the 1970s.

Gandalf was intriguing. A wizard? Magical? Mysterious? Oh, definitely right up my alley!

And the dwarves with their rich history and songs became believable in Tolkien’s hands.

My first look at Gollum gave me a creature so very different from anything I’d read before. I was fascinated and repulsed by him, while also feeling a little sorry for him.

The plot and story move along majestically, leading us through a world painstakingly detailed. Bilbo set off on an adventure that had me totally rooting for him and his company. His insistence that he’s not a thief, not an adventurer and only wants his comfortable life is endearing. And when he actually went along on the adventure, I was thrilled. There’s more to Bilbo than even he knows and that’s always fun. Tolkien builds his characters with the same detail he builds his world.

Tolkien’s writing is, of course, superb. He’s a master wordsmith and storyteller. His prose lightly echoes the times he writes about. That goes a long way toward making his “history” of Middle Earth so believable. The style is rather formal, adding to that historical feeling. But it has lots of lovely descriptions that I enjoy and that gave me the texture of Tolkien’s world.

This book is a classic for a reason and better reviewers than me have given it much thought and analyses, with lots of logical, academic reasons as to why it’s great. For me it’s much more visceral. Did it touch my heart? Absolutely! Did I care about the characters? You bet! Did I want to go back to that world? Oh yes, please!

This is on my list to do a re-read, but with the illustrated version linked below. I’m adding the audible version because I want to experience that and the sample I played was wonderful.

With the first part of the movie out, this is the perfect time to enjoy this awesome book. Or if you’ve already read it, why not re-visit Middle Earth? I’ll be there, too.

Happy Reading!

 

You can buy The Hobbit at Amazon.

Sep 082013
 
 Posted by on September 8, 2013 Tagged with: , , , , ,  No Responses »

AGAMEOFTHRONESnewHCsm

Having several favorite fantasy series makes for diverse reading experiences that literally last years. My top series right now is George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. And yes, my love affair with this series has lasted years. In this case it’s almost too many years with only five books out. Now there’s no way I can review the entire series, in one little post, so I’m going to start with the first book, A Game of Thrones. It is one of my Five Star, all-time favorite books.

Oh, and did you see that title? That title that has gained international recognition as a popular TV show? Well, that’s the book that hooked me on this series over ten years ago. I discovered the series back in 2003, when a friend loaned me her copies of the first three books. Naturally, I had to have my own copies for rereads, so it wasn’t long before they were added to my bookshelves.

I remember reading A Game of Thrones and liking it and getting comfortable with some of the characters, loving Martin’s gritty style and thoroughly enjoying the story. Completely out of the blue, I hit the first “big surprise.” I won’t spoil it for you and tell you what it is, but I will tell you how it made me feel. Shocked. Stunned. Disbelieving.

I had not just read that, had I? In fact, I had to read that same section over and over because I could not believe it had happened. I eventually moved on, with tears still in my eyes. And as simple as that, I was hooked. I practically devoured that book the first time I read it and immediately moved on to the other two.

But it’s the memory of reading A Game of Thrones that has stayed with me all these years.

Martin’s words resonated with something deep inside me and, even now, after four or five rereads, I can’t tell you exactly what it was because it occurred on so many levels. The closest I can come is that I fell in love with his characters. And the story. And the writing style. And Martin’s fearless risk-taking. Oh yes, he does take enormous risks as a writer.

For me it’s almost always character first and Martin doesn’t disappoint in that department. The story centers on a gigantic cast of characters, good and bad, young and old, male and female. I adored so many of these rich and detailed characters. Like the Stark family, especially the children, with their dire wolves. Bran and Arya are particular faves.  Jon Snow, whose birth is shrouded in mystery, or is it? Daenerys Targaryen, heir to past kings, but hidden across the sea. And, of course, Tyrion Lannister, brilliant, irreverent and enigmatic.

Told in third person, but from each of the main characters’ perspectives, the story unfolds in some of the most elegantly crafted prose I’ve ever read. Yet, it’s also dark, edgy and gritty.

There are so many rich, complex layers in this story. Every time I read it I find new things and think “aha!” Martin’s imagination is nothing short of incredible. The weaving of the various stories and the detailed history puts realistic characters into a world that seems believable. There are so many intriguing plots and subplots, twists and turns that simply captivated me and stole me away into that world for so many hours of pure reading enjoyment.

The story takes place in mythical, medieval-type lands. We find out relatively soon that this is not a variation of Earth. Dragons used to roam this world. And magic was real at one time. This world’s weather is strange, with summers lasting for years. But the North knows what the pampered South may have forgotten – Winter is coming. And with it, many wonderful, strange and horrifying things will emerge, played against a backdrop of kings and thrones and those who surround them.

Epic fantasy at its finest, A Game of Thrones is not just a satisfying read. It’s essential for anyone who loves the fantasy genre.

So, if you love fantasy and haven’t yet read this book, I highly recommend it. And if you have read it, but like me it’s been a while, I suggest a reread is in order. I know it is for me.

Happy reading!

 

You can buy A Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire: Book One at Amazon.

Aug 312013
 
 Posted by on August 31, 2013 Tagged with: , , , , ,  2 Responses »

Philip_k_dick_reader

 

For my first 5 Star Review from my bookskelf, I’ve chosen “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” by Philip K. Dick. This is my all-time favorite short story and has been for over thirty years. I picked this as my inaugural review for that reason. And because there is an interesting backstory from when I first read it all those years ago.

I’ve always been a voracious reader, but more so when I was younger, devouring as many as five to seven books a week. Being on tour with the theatre company I belonged to, I had lots of time to read while we traveled. Of course, this sometimes resulted in my reading similar books and/or anthologies around the same time. That, in turn, led me to combine two or more stories into one, forget who wrote something, or some other odd twist my brain dreamed up.

200px-PhilipDickI met Philip K. Dick back in 1972 and we remained friends until his death in 1982. One day, in 1981, we sat in his condo chit-chatting away as we often did, when the subject of short stories came up. I was quite thrilled to tell him about my favorite story that I’d read somewhere, but didn’t remember the title or the author’s name. I only remembered that I loved it.

So, I proceeded to describe this story about a man who wanted to go on a trip to Mars, but couldn’t afford it. Instead the man goes to have a false memory implanted about an imaginary trip to Mars as a spy. But during the memory procedure, a complication arises.

Now, as I blithely described this story to Phil, his face got darker and darker and his frown deeper and deeper. Choosing to ignore the frowns, I sat beaming when I finished.

“Who did you say wrote that story?” he grumbled at me.

Well, I stuttered a bit because I had no clue, but finally I took a stab at a name I thought was on the book that I thought the story was in. Yep, I was doing a lot of thinking. All wrong, of course.

He glowered at me some more and left the room. A minute later he returned and tossed a book to me, telling me to look at “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale.” I barely glanced at the cover, only noting it was a collection of his stories and dutifully turned to the Table of Contents, found the page for the story and began skimming.

I looked up in sheer delight, as he stood, arms folded, still glaring at me. “Oh, but you wrote this!” My surprise was at war with my confusion as to why I thought someone else had written it.

Needless to say, he wasn’t pleased with me not remembering that he was the author of my favorite short story. I, however, was thrilled because it was my favorite story. I told him he should be happy, too, because I hadn’t realized he’d written it and therefore my opinion was a completely unbiased and honest one. He grumbled some more, but I think he was secretly pleased that it really was my favorite story. Of course, he never admitted that to me.

So, what is it about this story that it remains my favorite to this day? First of all, the story itself captured me. The twists and turns and unexpected gems that I don’t want to give away enthralled me when I first read it. Even knowing what those twists are on subsequent re-reads, they still delight me.

I love the character of Douglas Quail, an Everyman who dreams of being more, and whose depths and layers reveal the man beneath. Phil draws  the supporting characters in broad strokes that might be a bit stereotypical, but it also serves to let us know exactly who they are, without using a lot of words on them. In this case, the stereotypes work.

And I simply adore Phil’s writing in this story. It’s elegant and crisp, drawing the reader in and painting vivid pictures that call his voice to my mind all these years later.

Having been published originally in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in April, 1966, the technology is dated. However, that doesn’t bother me. Perhaps it’s nostalgia, and I freely admit there’s a lot of that in this review. However, even dated technology gives this story a mid-twentieth-century sci fi feel that is appealing. And it makes me wish they would do a movie based on the story. Oh, not the Total Recall ones that borrow small bits and miss the whole point of the original work. But an honest-to-goodness film that would capture all the nuances of my favorite story.

You can purchase this story at Amazon in the collection, The Philip K. Dick Reader.

Happy Reading!