Sunday, October 30, 2011

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Pride and Prejudice and ZombiesPride and Prejudice and Zombies – Seth Grahame-Smith & Jane Austen
Evan’s ESS = 8 out of 10
Erin’s ESS = out of 10
Content = PG-13 (Adult Content, Violence, Zombies, Violence, Swordplay, Mad Ninja Skills)

Why: With Halloween right around the corner, we decided to venture into a place we rarely go...  Zombies.  As it turns out, the inclusion of Zombies can have quite a profound impact on one of literature’s most beloved love stories.  A world of idleness and dancing functions are replaced with Paranoia and training dōjōs.  Ninja skills hold far more weight than beauty.  And, of course, the constant threat of an uprising from the cast from Michael Jackson’s Thriller video tends to damper any long term planning. 

There’s no sense in rehashing the plot, because in our opinion Pride and Prejudice is an absolute prerequisite.  That being said, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is nothing more than a retelling of Jane Austen’s masterpiece if, and this is a big IF, armies of death had infiltrated her work.  All the key scenes remain intact and all the key characters remain intact (at least in principle).  Elizabeth is as prideful as ever, Darcy is as prejudiced (or was it the other way around?), and Wickham is still a complete arse.        

Seth Grahame Smith does a masterful job retaining the key scenes from within the original text while removing some of the lesser events and of course, throwing in a fair number of unmentionables and the armies of death.  We especially enjoyed the marriage proposal scene with Mr. Collins.  The personalities remained intact from the original and the story line stayed as focused as possible considering the frequent zombie attacks.  Plus, the fate of a certain unnamed villain is much, much more satisfying...

If we were forced to describe this Pride and Prejudice and Zombies in one word we’d go with: disturbing, yet fun.  The concept was brilliant and the execution was even better.  In the author’s own words, “... people are always walking here and there and taking carriage rides here and there... it was just ripe for gore and senseless violence.”

Honestly, we were a bit squeamish about taking on this book and while Elisabeth’s thirst for blood was a little unsettling, the gore felt more like cartoon violence than anything else.  In fact, the whole concept was quite laughable.  For that reason we were able to have fun with the narrative and learned that Darcy’s fighting skills are quite proficient.  We also need to highlight a few really great societies: League of Gentlemen for the Encouragement of Continued Hostilities Against Our Most Unwelcome Enemy and Society of Gentlemen for a Peaceful Solution to Our Present Difficulties.  We’d sign up for the later in a heartbeat!

Friday, October 28, 2011

TGIF and Spooky Reads

To keep in the spirit of Halloween, we’ve decided to participate in the TGIF meme over at GReads!  Our top 10 list this week (found here) was spooky themed so this week’s question is still very fresh in our minds.    

Question: Which stories have chilled you to the bone?

Answer: Pretty much anything by Stephen King has the ability to produce cold sweats for a 2 to 3 week period in the middle of the night.  As teens we loved to torture ourselves with a late night read of something like The Dark Half, It, The Langoliers, or Bag of Bones.  For whatever reason, we could rarely avert a final trip to the bathroom before lights out and at no other point in our lives have we displayed such impressive feats of speed.  It also didn’t help that unnamed family members thought it was hilarious to throw objects at our bedroom windows in the middle of these aforementioned reads.  No wonder our nerves are shot to pieces...

In addition, we wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t mention The Haunting of Hill House and Something Wicked This Way Comes as worthy candidates of our creepy reads list.

Okay, now we need to return to the Angry Birds costume we promised our son.  Have a great weekend and a SAFE Halloween!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Leave it to Psmith

Leave It to PsmithLeave it to Psmith – P.G. Wodehouse
Evan’s ESS = 9 out of 10
Erin’s ESS =  out of 10
Content = PG (Mild Adult Content, Mild Violence, Mild Language, Necklaces, Efficient Personal Assistants)

Why: Have we mentioned before that we love P.G. Wodehouse?  No?  Hummmm, well, our research department is woefully underfunded and we’re far too lazy to delve back into the archives ourselves...  Just in case, we’ll mention it again.  We love P.G. Wodehouse.

Fed up with the fish trade, eccentric good guy, Ronald Psmith is keen on a career change.  To facilitate this urge, he takes out a classified add offering a rather ambitious range of services:

“Leave it to Psmith.  Psmith will help you. Psmith is ready for anything. Do you want: Someone to manage your affairs.  Someone to handle your business.  Someone to take your dog for a run.  Someone to assassinate your aunt.  Psmith will do it.  Crime not objected to.  Whatever job you have to offer.  Provided it has nothing to do with fish.  Leave it to Psmith.  Address applications to R. Psmith Box 365.  Leave it to Psmith.” 

Not surprising the advert catches the attention of Freddie Threepwood who, as it happens, requires help stealing a pricey necklace from his aunt (all for a good cause).  The job will take all the cunning and strategery Psmith can muster.  Plus, if he’s lucky he might be able to win the girl too...

In researching this review, we discovered that Leave it to Psmith is actually the 4th book in the Psmith series - another shining example of information that would have been nice to know a few weeks ago.  Fortunately, this novel was perfectly satisfactory on its own.  The character of Psmith is likeable from the beginning and we found ourselves anxious to find out what he was going to say or do next.  And then there was oft imprudent, Freddie Threepwood, who provided the perfect balance.  Why do the names Bertie and Jeeves suddenly come to mind???

The treat of any Wodehouse novel is found in the dialogue.  There’s probably an intelligent term for his writing method, but he has a way of striking right at the core of our funny bone (minus the tingly numb sensation).  We love everything from expressions like, “dash it” and “right ho” to the more complex humor, like how Lord Emsworth reacts to the flowerpot scene.

Overall, Leave it to Psmith was brilliant novel and classic literature at its funniest (or at least funnier).  If you haven’t read something by Wodehouse, you really are missing out... we’re not judging though...

Editor’s Note:  Okay, we are judging, but only a little...    

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Top 10 Halloween Reads

Top 10 Halloween Reads.

Answer: We’ve often been called lightweights when it comes to scary reads, and honestly it doesn’t take much to freak us out.  For that reason, our list of worthy Halloween reads might be considered a bit wanting.... thank goodness for Stephen King!

  1. The Haunting of Hill House (Shirley Jackson) – An Intelligent haunted house story with a surprise ending.  Literature’s worthy alternative to a visiting an actual haunted house.
  2. Bag of Bones (Stephen King) – You don’t need to wait until Halloween to read this one.  King’s best ghost story and quite possibly his best novel.
  3. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Roald Dahl) – This one might not scare you, but it will get you in the mood for all the glorious Halloween candy.
  4. Something Wicked This Way Comes (Ray Bradbury) – Spooky carnival bad guys that pack plenty of fear. 
  5. Dracula (Bram Stoker) – The authority on Vampire lore and a main character who could kick Edward’s butt!
  6. The Thirteenth Tale (Diane Setterfield) – A brilliantly written ghost story.  We only wish Mrs. Setterfield would write another one... and another one... and another one...
  7. The Langoliers (Stephen King) – While this is a lesser known King novel, this one F-R-E-A-K-E-D us out as teens.
  8. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (J.K. Rowling) – Halloween parties made frequent appearances throughout this series, but book 2 included an epic Deathday Party.
  9. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Seth Grahame-Smith & Jane Austen) – Darcy and Elizabeth under constant threat and Zombies ravishing Pemberley... quite possibly the perfect Halloween book.
  10. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte) – Our favorite Gothic novel of all time and while it probably won’t scare your socks off, we really couldn’t think of anything else for number 10.

Have a great Halloween and head on over to The Broke and the Bookish to join the fun!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Fountainhead

The FountainheadThe Fountainhead – Ayn Rand
Evan’s ESS = 7 out of 10
Erin’s ESS =  out of 10
Content = PG (Adult Content, Violence, Language, Libel, Poor Decision Making)

Why:  Apparently this is the year of Ayn Rand.  We started off rather tentatively with her novella, Anthem.  Next, we nearly bit off more than we could chew in Atlas Shrugged, and as recent as this post, we are still trying to digest The Fountainhead.  To be honest, we feel much like we do after a typical Thanksgiving dinner: the food was definitely good, but we had way too much of the cranberry jello and the green bean casserole and that Snickerdoodle salad stuff and if we think about it too much it’s going to come back out the hard way.  Anyway, we’ll try to explain...  Sorry for the weird turn at the end.

Recently booted from the halls of academia, young and talented Howard Roark sets out on his own path to become an architect.  Howard has very specific views on style and refuses to be persuaded by the fickle whims of society.  In fact, no commission is worth even the slightest design compromise.  With such lofty opinions it’s only a matter of time before “the man” tries to break his resolve.  Will our young hero bend?  Will he become the most inspiring architect the world, nay, the universe has ever known?  Will he seek revenge as a nameless explosion extraordinaire, set on destroying his creations?  Tune in next time for another exciting... sorry.

In each of her books, Ayn Rand does a great job creating characters and circumstances that invoke meaningful thought.  The Fountainhead was no different.  Unfortunately, her characters are often so stubborn and so righteous that they’re almost unbelievable and not always likeable.  Enter Howard Roark and Dominique Francon.  These too characters are considered the superstars, yet much of their beliefs were lost on their questionable decision making.  On the flip side, they were entertaining.... 

Plus, we knew it was inevitable, and sure enough we got another John-Galt-like speech.  The speech was supposed to align the heavenly bodies, create world peace and reverse polar icecap thaw.  Yet, Roark’s speech was the low point of the novel by bogging down the narrative and interrupting the flow.  Despite making some interesting points the whole thing felt formulaic and seemed atypical of a character who never felt the need to defend his actions.  In the end, it only succeeded in leaving a bad taste in our mouths (shame on you for thinking the analogy at the beginning wasn’t going to come full circle).

And yet, we DID enjoy this novel.  The good DID outweigh the bad, only the bad has a funny way of getting stuck in your teeth.  We’ll try to end this review with some praise and justification for the otherwise high rating.  The Fountainhead was definitely a page turner with a complex and well thought out plot.  The characters were alive and full of drama (which we like)!  Any novel that that can exercise your brain has done its job and for that, Mrs. Rand, we are grateful.   

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Top 10 Book Covers that Inspired a Purchase

Question:  Top 10 book covers that inspired a purchase.

Answer: Confession: we like to buy books.  While at our core we are bibliophiles, the Two Bibliomaniacs are also, well, bibliomaniacs.  For this reason, our personal library is splattered with books that were purchased for no other reason than their glorious art work.  If only we could figure out a way to increase our book buying funds...

  1. The Hobbit (J.R.R Tolkien) – We did splurge a bit on this one, but can you blame us!
  2. The Thirteenth Tale (Diane Setterfield) – We knew nothing about this book except the awesome display of books on the cover.  It turned out to be one of our favorites of all time. 
  3. The Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd) – Love the artwork, love the story.
  4. Something Wicked This Way Comes (Ray Bradbury) – We’ve loved this novel for a while and when this edition appeared at Half Priced Books we couldn’t resist.
  5. The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck) – Even though the original first edition is better, we’re still fond of our edition.
  6. The Wooden Sea (Jonathan Carroll) – Haven’t read this one yet, but the cover was too good to pass up on the bargain shelf.
  7. The Regulators (Stephen King) – Many, many years ago this book was sitting at the discount table at Borders.  The cover art was way too intriguing to pass up, and the story turned out to be really good.
  8. Danny and the Champion of the World (Roald Dahl) – You can pretty much throw any Dahl book on here that was illustrated by Quentin Blake.  Unfortunately, we only have 1 hardcover.
  9. The Floating Book (Michelle Lovric) – This book still remains on our TBR list, but at least it looks good waiting.
  10. Auriel Rising (Elizabeth Redfern) – While this book was a bit of a bust, not even an uninspiring plot can take away from a cool cover.
Have a great week and head on over to The Broke and the Bookish to join the fun!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Books to Movies Challenge - October Check-In

Only 3 months left to complete the wildly fun Books to Movies Challenge! 
While we did complete The Help last month, our outlook for October is looking rather bleak.  Wolf Hall and Gormenghast are proving to be major obstacles.  Plus, we have a family wedding coming up, we might plant a large tree in our yard, we just had a garage sale, new seasons of Dancing with the Stars and Parks and Recreation keep drawing one of us in, and the Indiana basketball season is about to start.  See, we’re really good at excuses and if we didn’t feel the need to save some good ones for next month we could go on and on and on....
Hope everyone else is making better progress!!!  Be sure to link up your reviews so we can check out which medium has supremacy. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Top 10 book endings that left us with our mouth hanging open

Question:  Top 10 book endings that left us with our mouth hanging open

Answer: This week’s list took much longer to compile because of the many typing breaks required to excitedly rub our hands together in giddy pleasure.  Finding books that leave our mouth agape are a rare treat and our favorite pastime.  We can’t wait to read everyone’s lists and unearth all the other great books that fit this category!

  1. The Shadow of the Wind (Carlos Ruiz Zafon) – Something happens to the main character at the very end of this book that had us yelling NOOOOOOO....  Needless to say, we were a little caught up in the suspense.
  2. My Sisters Keeper (Jodi Picoult) – A perfectly good vase nearly got broadsided at the conclusion of this one.  We’re not head over heels about Mrs. Picoult, but she does know how to deliver suspense.
  3. The Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett) – Instead of a single jaw dropping event at the end, this novel had them strewn throughout.  Honestly, we probably need three hands to count the number of “Oh, no he didn’t” moments.
  4. The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini) – This book didn’t open our lower jaw as much as it did our tear ducts.  The final exchange between Amir and Sohrab was so touching.
  5. A Pale View of the Hills (Kazuo Ishiguro) – We mentioned in our review that this book did a number on us.  It wasn’t spectacular, but the end revelation completely caught us on our heels. 
  6. Shutter Island (Dennis Lahane) – One of the best physiological thrillers ever!  It certainly helped that we read the book before seeing the movie.  It took nearly three rereads before we could believe the twist at the end.
  7. The Haunting of Hill House (Shirley Jackson) – With any haunted horror novel the reader should expect the unexpected...  yet, the tree scene at the very end sent a pleasant chill down our spine.
  8. Bridge to Terabithia (Katherine Paterson) – Nooooo... we demand a rewrite.  Okay, no we don’t, but oh, what a turn of events
  9. The Beach (Alex Garland) – We kind of knew something epic was going to happen, but then the end scene on the beach happened and the bar was raised even higher or lower, depending on how you look at it...
  10. Jude the Obscure (Thomas Hardy) – Overall we had a hard time liking this book.  The infamous jaw dropping scene in this novel was appalling and ghastly, yet it happens to fit in this week’s category pretty nicely.

Have a great week and head on over to The Broke and the Bookish to join the fun!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Stranger in a Strange Land

Stranger in a Strange LandStranger in a Strange Land – Robert A. Heinlein
Evan’s ESS = 6 out of 10
Erin’s ESS =  out of 10
Content = R (Adult Content, Violence, Sexual Content, Annoying Vocabulary, Water)

Why:  For almost six months it’s sat in the back of the closet, collecting dust and fallen winter coats.   Even now we wish we didn’t have to use it, especially given the high risk of aggravating our seasonal allergies.  Alas, we are left with little choice.  Pardon us for a second while we retrieve our abnormally large SOAP BOX.  Actually, this might take more than a second....

Born to humans, yet nurtured almost entirely by Martians on the planet (you guessed it) Mars, Valentine Michael Smith arrives on planet Earth to a whole lot of fan fair and speculation.   Almost immediately he’s thrust into a massive government conspiracy involving inheritance and possible ownership of the infamous red planet.  Fortunately, Mike is befriended by a couple individuals that help him navigate his celebrity status along with the tricky legal waters.  It also turns out that Mike has some pretty nifty brain superpowers that turn out to be quite useful.  If only Mike can secure his freedom, the world as we know could be his playground.            

What started as a very interesting story about blackmail, kidnapping, and the cultural differences between earth and mars, digressed into a diatribe against religion and well... religion.  The first half of Stranger in a Strange Land was seriously intriguing (top 5 science fiction ever potential) and then, as soon as Mike goes on his journey of self-exploration the train derailed.  We may be spoiling the plot here a bit, but we blame it on the whole soap box thing.  With an endless supply of cash, what does the Martian decide to do?  Yep, join the traveling circus, and when that doesn’t work out so well, he decides that his female companion should become a showgirl out west.  We’re not judging, but really?
Now, let’s take a moment to discuss a newly invented and frequently used word within Stranger in a Strange Land.  Merriam-Webster’s definition of GROK is “to understand profoundly and intuitively.”  Mike the Martian introduces this word and uses it regularly.  He even goes so far as to suggest that people of the earth do not have the ability to grok anything because they don’t have the mental capacity to do so.  Yet, near the end of the book his close circle of friends seem to grok everything without hesitation.  This might seem like a little thing, but for some reason this word really aggravated us by the end of the novel.  

Finally, we liked the fact that Stranger in the Strange Land challenged so many cultural norms, and as Christians, some of the criticism directed at established religion was fair and understandable.  But then everything got all muddled up with the advocating of free love, the glorification of pornography, and some of the demeaning attitudes towards woman.  By the end it felt like Heinlein was trying to punch holes in so many hot issues that even his credible arguments eventually lost all credibility.  More importantly they lost our interest.    

Whew, now we’re starting to sweat, which means it time to be done.  In summation, we did not grok this novel nor do we grok its widespread appeal.