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Quote for September 17, 2016

2178939c01db7793d38d1a586bd4cfbe“A public library is the most democratic thing in the world.  What can be found there has undone dictators and tyrants: demagogues can persecute writers and tell them what to write as much as they like, but they cannot vanish what has been written in the past, though they try often enough… People who love literature have at least part of their minds immune from indoctrination.  If you read, you can learn to think for yourself.”  ~Doris Lessing

 
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Posted by on September 17, 2016 in Quotes

 

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Shakespeare Uncovered, Season 2

05a3d4c36d4d45f823f66e9baf196029Good grief– it’s taken me forever to get around to posting this!

Do you love Shakespeare?  I can’t say I’ve been an avid aficionado, especially when it comes to reading him (though I have done that).  His plays were mainly meant to be watched/heard rather than read in any case.  I have enjoyed watching some very well done films of his plays, including As You Like It, King Lear, and Hamlet. 

But while watching the PBS series, “Shakespeare Uncovered,” I brought deeper into Shakespeare’s wonderful stories by professors and lovers of literature, and actors who played (with various interpretations) the different characters.  I absolutely loved the first season (which I posted about here), and so I was thrilled to learn about the Season 2.  Both are playable for free here.  In this season, many of Shakespeare’s stories featuring strong female leads are the focus: Romeo and Juliet, The Taming of the Shrew, Antony and Cleopatra, King Lear, Othello, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Different hosts of the show include Morgan Freeman, Joseph Fiennes, Hugh Bonneville and Christopher Plummer.

I would urge some caution for younger viewers on some of these, as Othello features some violence, Romeo and Juliet a bedroom scene, Taming of Shrew touches on some sexual explicitness, Midsummer discusses bestiality.  Also, playactors take liberties in a public elementary school where they switch male and female roles in the Taming of the Shrew (male actor wears female clothes and vice versa).  It is interesting that the children, who had formerly been enjoying the hilarious play, grow suddenly quiet and uncomfortable when the costumes are changed.  It’s sad when adults mess with children’s minds in this way, twisting the nature of gender.

Despite these few issues, I really did enjoy these a lot and think you will as well.  I’m looking forward to perhaps more seasons in the near future!

 
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Posted by on September 14, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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Audiobook Review: History Decoded, by Brad Meltzer (Read by Scott Brick)

3e491930deb1591a8d9310a3012e4b94Genre: non fiction; history

Story Review: I first heard of Brad Meltzer on the Glenn Beck radio show.  Later, when we were able to get the History Channel, I enjoyed watching several of Brad Meltzer’s Decoded shows.  I’ve seen several other different programs on tv that explore various conspiracy theories, but Brad Meltzer’s are the best mainly because they don’t usually go off the deep end when it comes to the wild claims people make.  I learned that Decoded had a recent book out, but when I saw it at my local library on audiobook I decided to check out that version instead.

Brad Meltzer writes in a unique, conversational, one-on-one style with the reader.  Again, I appreciate his logical approach to exploring conspiracies instead of buying everything that comes down the pike (okay… barring the chapter on UFO’s).  You can sense the enjoyment he gets out of learning about theories.  I love the point he makes that it’s healthy for people to question things, instead of taking everything for granted because somebody said so.  Meltzer lays all the different angles to the different theories out before the reader for you to make your own conclusions, something else I enjoyed.

This book tackles 10 popular conspiracy theories, most of them from American history, but a few international ones as well.  Some of them I had never heard of before, others I skipped over either because I wasn’t interested in them, or because I’d already seen the Decoded tv show on it.  Actually, the book is taken from the information gleaned from the show itself, so if you’re an avid fan of the series you won’t find anything new or earth shattering from the book.

Truthfully, I want to go ahead and check the book version out soon so I can look at the pictures referred to in the text.  In the audio version, photographs and figures are mentioned, but there is no way to see them.  This is one drawback to an audiobook.  I understand there are a lot of really neat maps, pull out charts, etc. in the hard copy.

My favorite theory had to have been the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.  I had never heard that John Wilkes Booth could possibly have lived years after killing the president.  If you’re a lover of history, I think you’ll enjoy hearing new angles on it.

scott_brickThoughts on the Narrator: Slay me now, but for all my hype on audio, audiobooks, reading aloud, etc., I am not an avid audiobook listener.  I don’t really know why this is.  I know I can easily get distracted and annoyed with different narrators’ reading styles.  I didn’t realize until after I’d finished the book who the narrator was, but I immediately loved his reading!  I mean, this guy did everything right!  His voice is smooth, includes delicious pronunciation, has great nuances in his voice, the tension, ups, downs… Drawing you in, stopping you dead in your tracks, taking you up to heights, then bringing you back to earth with a jolt.  :)  Just great!  Duh.  I should have known it was… Scott Brick.

Scott Brick reads this nonfiction book as though he were the author Brad Meltzer himself, which is just the way one should read nonfiction.  He engages the listener and reads with passion.  So much so that when my mom came into the room and heard a snatch of it, she asked, “Is that the author reading that himself?”  Now I’m hooked on Brick and want to hear more.  Sigh~ I can only hope to aspire to his talent.

You can watch many of Brad Meltzer’s Decoded episodes (some of which are included in the book) for free here.

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2016 in Book Reviews, Uncategorized

 

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Lost Tolkien Recordings

961a852c3c3158b591e5edcbb31a22d1I came across this interesting piece about the BBC’s lost J. R. R. Tolkien audio recordings when poking around on the internet a few days ago.  I thought I’d pass it along to all of you!  As someone who devoted a great deal of time when I was a teenager to recording history in the making on my tape recorder, this fascinates me.  So glad a part of history has been recovered!

 
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Posted by on September 2, 2016 in Interviews With Authors

 

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Book Review: “A Shred of Truth,” by Eric Wilson

1573358Genre: mystery; suspense; intrigue

Plot Summary: [from goodreads.com] In “The Best of Evil, “Aramis Black uncovered family secrets and historical conspiracies, hoping that his own dark past had come to certain resolution. But now, in the dark of night, he finds his brother unconscious and tied to a statue in Nashville’s Music Row …with the initials AX carved into his back. A shadow from his former life has reappeared, casting threats of violence and retribution. And soon the attacker is swinging his blade of self-righteous judgment directly at Aramis, calling upon him to “face his sins.” Can Aramis finally break free from the guilt of his old ways… or will he succumb to the vengeance of an arrogant sociopath?*

My Book Review:  If you’ve read my book review of the first in the Aramis Black mysteries, you’ll know I highly enjoyed The Best of EvilNow Aramis’ story continues, starting with an assault on his older brother.

The narrative stays consistently the same in this second installment with Aramis telling the story in first person, often ruminating over his pain and anguish– first at one end of the spectrum of emotions and then swinging the next moment to the other end.  One of the hallmarks of this series seems to be the Blacks’ family history wrapped up in various conspiracy theories of American history.  This time around, it’s the Pilgrim father William Brewster and his involvement in Freemasonry.  A mysterious ring wanted by an anonymous person who calls his himself “AX.”  What does this have to do with Aramis’ mother, Diane Lewis Black, who was killed when Aramis was yet a little boy?  …Or was she?

I have little knowledge about William Brewster and the Freemasons.  Is it true or is it hype?  All I know is that even though I don’t accept Freemason teachings, I’m not freaked out about American founding fathers being involved, mainly because I don’t believe they believed they were doing anything anti-biblical in the early days of it.  But again, this is just my own speculation and I don’t know enough about it.

491d413f37cb35f482c25b3f3f479a0bI enjoyed the read, but wished that the story had given more information about the theory itself, and didn’t continually dwell on the same old ruminations that go through Aramis’ mind as he works his way through the mystery concerning his family.  He seems to go round and round in circles a lot because he doesn’t know exactly what he wants.  But overall the book was suspenseful and intriguing.  I never saw the end coming!

I can very well imagine Aramis in my mind.  I’m convinced that one of the librarians at my local library is Aramis under a different name (has black hair, always wears black, and has tattoos down both arms).

I wish there were more in this series, but sadly it doesn’t seem as though there are any on the horizon.  I know I like this author enough to want to try several others by him, and am looking forward to it, too.  So if you like a good story loaded with mysterious historical secrets, family intrigue, and riddles, I’d say A Shred of Truth would definitely be a good fit for you!

*For whoever wrote this book summary: For the record, I think this word really ought to be changed to ‘psychopath’.  Do your research.😉

?Did any one else take the hint at the end of the book and figure out what the last letter of each chapter spells out?  Very creative!

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2016 in Book Reviews

 

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Summer (Used) Book Gems

It’s time for another round of show and tell concerning the random used books I found during the summer!

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2016 in Book Shopping

 

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Movie Review: My “BEN-HUR” Experience

b64a44c9e00fd891e11b829d49fa28fbBased on the book by Lew Wallace.

Version: 2016

Genre: drama, Christian, bible era

Plot Summary: Judah Ben-Hur is the son of a Jewish nobleman.  Mesala is a Roman who grew up orphaned.  The two share a bond as (adopted) brothers but a misunderstanding takes place turning their affection to hatred.  As Judah is sent to the prison galley slave ships and Messala rises in military rank, all looks as though there is no place for God, peace, or love in this world.  But Judah is given a second chance, to either choose faith in a Carpenter from Galilee, or seeking revenge in the Roman circus.

My Review: I have awaited this day for so long.  The day when Ben-Hur would be brought to it’s full glory and excitement on the big screen with a full-blown budget!  I remember staying up late into the night the summer I was fifteen years old when I was staying at my grandparents’.  The cause of my insomnia was the novel, “Ben-Hur,” by Gen. Lew Wallace.  The book has remained among my top favorites, though I’ve read hundreds over the years.

I’ve seen the old 1959 Charlton Heston version. And contrary to most people’s opinions, I’ve never cared for it.  I’m sure it was a huge deal when it came out back then, breaking records with being the  biggest budget film and using the most paid actors’ of its time.  But watching it after the era of The Lord of the Rings… it just failed to get my heart racing.  And Charlton Heston fails (IMO) to look the part of Judah Ben-Hur; too old and he’s just not how I imagined him.  So many things needed improved upon.  I didn’t even bother with the 2010 tv movie, having heard how certain themes I don’t agree with were inserted into it.  And I’ve seen a couple of scenes on TCM from the ancient 1907 one, but even though I’m sure it was a big deal 109 years ago… I mean, come on.

That was when I began to wish and pray for the epic remake. And I was thrilled earlier on this year to find out that was the case (see my post here).  It was a rainy day today and made perfect for having an adventure at the movie theatre!  And so I got my wish.

I went into this having read a review preparing me for the fact that this version leaves a lot of the Christian gospel out. I was disappointed to hear that, but I still wanted to go see it.  I’m sorry to report that despite my excitement over it, I came away rating it only 3 out of 5 stars.  I will write my pros and cons of it below.  Be aware there it is riddled with spoilers:

serveimagePROS: Oh, boy! Was it ever exciting! Movie-makers really outdid themselves when it came to recreating a gigantic Roman circus arena, a nail biting Roman sea battle, and a heart pounding chariot race.  If that is what attracts you about the book, then by all means you’re going to love this!  Drums, hoofbeats, fire, drama, peril, battles, horses, crashes, crowds, roars!  This movie is not lacking in adventure!

Costumes and props are so beautiful to look at. Loved the women’s hairstyles, and Tirzah’s pink evening toga.  Bright colors and gorgeous jewelry.  I’d watch it again just for that!

I felt the characters were well-cast. Although Mesala (Toby Kebbell) wasn’t quite how I pictured him in the book, I thought he was the best actor out of the whole movie.  I would be interested in seeing him in future movies.  Judah looked right for his role.  Esther was how I’d always pictured her, and Tirzah and Mrs. Ben-Hur also were gorgeous actors.  It was also enjoyable getting to see Morgan Freeman as the sheik  Ilderim and loved how they featured him as narrator in the opening scene.

I am happy to say that there are no sex scenes to worry about! The trailer is actually more suggestive than the film.  Anyone watching based on this hope will be mightily disappointed.

serveimageCons: This is where the 3 stars come in. It all boils down to how a story is told, and this film version got a lot of things wrong in this area.

Let’s start with how it holds up to the book. I am not one of those who believes movie versions should be exactly like the original book.  However.  A lot of liberties were taken with this story and it doesn’t do it any justice.  It just makes things confusing and unbelievable.  I ended up not caring too much for the characters like I’d wanted to.  I didn’t feel emotionally involved with them.  I was just there for the chariot race.

Some of my favorite characters were left entirely out. There’s no Quintus Arrius.  There’s Amrah.  There’s no Iras.  QA is one of my favorites because he provides the story with heart.  He is the kind Roman captain of the slave ship Judah is sent to, who Judah ends up saving during the battle, and who adopts Judah and leaves his inheritance to when he dies.  Judah comes back to Jerusalem like a bible era Count of Monte Cristo. I can see why the movie scriptwriters decided QA was expendable, but I genuinely missed him.  Amrah is Judah’s old nurse, who also provides heart in the book.  The character that is NOT expendable is Iras, the wily daughter of Egypt who tempts Judah from his goals and what is good.  She is in cahoots with Messala and creates a rivalry against Esther for Judah’s affections.  Why does every film version leave this character out?  Not that I’m wishing for it, but if Hollywood wanted steam, they could find a way with this ‘Cleopatra.’

Which leads me to the romance between Judah and Esther. I must say it was a lot better than the old Heston version in which man sees woman, man kisses woman.  The end.  But whoever rewrote Ben-Hur this time around completely killed any suspense they could have made with plot element as well.  They marry them off too quickly… in the beginning!  Now, we loyal Ben-Hur fans know that Esther doesn’t come into the novel until somewheres in the middle.  I get why Hollywood would introduce her earlier in the movie, but where’s the tension?  There’s tension in a story where Esther waits and hopes for 5 long years and then finds Judah again when he comes back, but he’s not the same anymore being filled with hatred for Messala, and meanwhile Iras is fighting for his attention. What will happen next?  Will love conquer all?  But no, they completely ruined the tale by rewriting it.

Where they snipped the romantic tension in one area, they tried to add it in another. Tirzah and Messala are now lovers.  This wouldn’t have been a big deal to me, except that it makes for a completely unbelievable situation when Messala all of a sudden orders Judah’s sister crucified.  Why, when he had genuinely seemed to love her?  And at the end when everyone is hugging and cuddling and crying, and Messala hobbles up on his one existent leg, Tirzah doesn’t seem to mind a bit and it’s assumed the two get together in the end anyway.  Yeah, I’d totally if a hot man ordered me to death by crucifixion!

Other motives didn’t seem to make much sense. Like Druses’ saving Judah’s family’s lives after Judah threatens to kill him.  Huh?  And then there were certain other smaller parts of the film that came across as being hokey, like Judah’s sister and mother suddenly being healed of leprosy… by being rained upon.  No, no, no!  In the book it was Jesus who touched them and had compassion on them!

I went into this having read a review that prepared me to not expect to see a gospel presentation here. OK, I don’t have to have preaching.  But I do need a reason why Judah’s heart and life was changed.  I was glad to see parts of the story of Jesus portrayed, and Judah’s encounters with him, especially when he is a witness to Jesus’ death at the cross.  But without the resurrection, there is no meaning to it all and there is no purpose to us forgiving and loving one another.  And that is one of the biggest ways in which this movie fails big time: the lack of the Resurrection.  It’s not even hinted at.  There can be no inspiration for a changed life by seeing a man hanging on a cross, simply because there is no life at all.  But by faith in the living Jesus and with His life at work in us, we know that this life is not all there is and can therefore have peace and joy, and his victory and power enable us to forgive and love our enemies.  None of that came across in the film, and I’m afraid anyone who knows little about this spiritual aspect of things would fail to make the connection.

The worse, from a storyteller’s point of view, was the ending. This may come across as sounding pretty terrible, but I felt it was ruined because Messala lived and forgave Judah and all became one big happy family again.  That is cleaned-up Hollywood.  In the original book, Messala becomes paralyzed/crippled for life and ends up killing himself.  Judah does gain the ability to forgive him, but Messala’s life is not changed.  To see the ‘two brothers’ flip their attitudes toward each other on a dime, after they each tried to murder each other by various cruel and unusual punishments, is totally unbelievable.

Lew Wallace was a storyteller, you know? There’s a reason why his book has been well-loved for a hundred and fifty years.  Why must Hollywood think there’s a need to rewrite it?  And then they’re a surprised when it’s a ‘big box office flop.’  I’m sorry for that, but they asked for it!  You can’t just bank on a big budget to make an excellent film.  You have to tell a good story.  A believable one, where viewers identify with the characters and can empathize with them.  But this was not that story.

Would I recommend it? It depends on how much of a stickler you are for the original.  If you’ve never read the book and just want a clean, exciting flick, I think you could enjoy it.  (Be aware there are some gruesome battle images, and scenes that include crucifixion.)  But if you’re too much of a loyalist like I am, you might want to wait another 55+ years for them to do the tale justice.

 
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Posted by on August 28, 2016 in Movie Reviews

 

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