The Prisoner of Heaven

This is the third book in Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s series of books that revolves around the Cemetery of Forgotten Books.  The first two in the series being The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game.  It’s not a typical series because you can really read the books in any order, they’re all separate stories, but they’re set in the same time and have many of the same characters.  At least that’s Zafon’s intent.  And while the first two books easily fell into that style of story, I don’t think you would appreciate this book as much without having read the first two.  But I’ll get into that more later, on with the review.

Book StatsThe Prisoner of Heaven

278 pages

Drama

Characters

This book is centered on two of the characters from The Shadow of the Wind, which isn’t a bad thing, because the main arc of the story is telling us about Fermin Romero de Torres and his life story.  I loved Fermin in The Shadow of the Wind, I actually thought that one of that book’s few weaknesses is that Fermin was the most interesting character in the book despite being a side character.  All of the characters in the book feel like real people, and that’s easily the strongest thing about the book.

Setting

Barcelona in the late 1950’s, with flashbacks to the 1940’s.

Plot

The plot of this book is interesting, but it’s also the weakest part of the book.  Basically, it’s a long flashback to talk about Fermin’s past, as well as a way to try and tie the first two books in the series together more.  I enjoyed the plot, but without having read the first two books it wouldn’t have been nearly as entertaining.

Enjoyment

I had a good time reading this book, but didn’t enjoy it quite as much as the first two.  Zafon’s characters are the strength of the story, and the translator once again did a fantastic job, you’d never know that this was originally written in Spanish.  The biggest problem with this book is that it’s almost entirely filler to connect the first two books in the series.  It did a lot to set up some ideas that will be explored in the fourth book, but it really feels like this book is just treading water for most of the pages.  I still enjoyed it, and I’ll still check out his next book, but I wasn’t blown away by this one.

Overall Grade

Less of another book in the series, and more backstory to try and combine the two other books into one story, but it’s still a fairly quick and entertaining read.

7/10

77 Shadow Street

When I decided that I wanted to read some Dean Koontz books a while ago, there were two that I purchased, this book and Your Heart Belongs to Me.  I read Your Heart Belongs to Me a couple of weeks ago and wasn’t terribly impressed, and this book didn’t do much better for me.

Book Stats77 Shadow Street

451 pages

Drama

Characters

This book follows the residents of the Pendleton, a very large residence built in the late 1800’s that was split into quite a few condos in the mid 1900’s.  Of the 20 or so characters, there were two that actually stood out to me, and it’s probably largely because they’re the two children in the book.  Winston (called Winny in the book) is a young boy who reads a lot and is shy around most people.  Iris is a young girl who is autistic and also reads a lot.  Although those two come to mind first when I think of the characters, there really isn’t much about them that stands out.  The only thing that should really stand out is Iris’s autism, but in one of the more tense sections later in the book, she is able to calm down when faced with everything that triggered her panic earlier in the book, completely ruining the point of her having that aspect of her character.  The other characters are completely forgettable, and even having just finished the book about an hour ago I don’t think I could list half of their names.

Setting

The book is set in 2011 and most of the story takes place in the Pendleton.

Plot

On a random day like any other, some very strange things start happening to the residents of the Pendleton.  They start seeing apparitions and hearing strange noises.  As the book continues, they are transported to a very strange version of the Pendleton where nightmarish monsters are all around.  The story of the book is just the people trying to stay alive.

Enjoyment

First off, after having now read two of Koontz’s books, I can see that he constantly tries way too hard at creating artistic prose.  While he’s trying to sound profound and deep with his language, it comes across as pretentious and extremely overwritten.  This is a recent book of his – published in 2011 – and I wonder if Koontz even has an editor anymore, if he does I don’t think he listens to them very much, at least when it comes to sentence level editing.

The idea behind this story is really interesting, but there are several major problems that I have with it.  The first is that there are simply too many characters.  You don’t have time to get to know any of the characters that well.  Because of this they all come across as being very flat.  The second is the way that the characters discover what is going on around them.  It seems like everything that is going on is something that the characters knew beforehand, so there is very little discovery, and more of the characters simply saying what they already knew.  This leads to very poor foreshadowing throughout the book, because there really isn’t any.  One of the main parts where you learn what is going on in the story comes from a conversation between two people who aren’t even going through any of the events in the story.  They’re two people who live in the Pendleton, but who were out eating while all this was going on and weren’t pulled into the events.  The last problem that I have with the book is similar to a problem that I had with Your Heart Belongs to Me.  Most of the book makes it seem like there is a supernatural element to the story, but about 80% of the way through the book, he gives it a plausible scientific explanation.  The problem with it in this book is that it only covers half of what is going on, the monsters that we see.  There is also a time travel element that is left completely unexplained.

After reading two of Koontz’s books, I’m not impressed and probably won’t be looking into any more of his writing.

Overall Grade

A decent story idea plagued by forgettable characters, overwritten prose, and poor foreshadowing.  I can’t give this book too much of a suggestion.

3/10

Night

Night is one of those books that I talked about a couple of weeks ago as having finished reading, but not posted a review for.  If you’re curious, the other two books are Dawn and Day, also by Elie Wiesel.  I first heard of these from the podcast Do I Dare To Eat A Peach, and I thought the book sounded interesting.  And being myself, that led to me buying all three books once I found out that it was a trilogy.  Although I really should say that it’s considered a trilogy, because the three books aren’t connected by anything other than the themes and ideas that they deal with.

Book StatsNight

120 pages

Non-Fiction, Drama

Thoughts

I’m cutting right to the chase here.  This is a book where the author talks about his early childhood which ended very abruptly when he was sent to a concentration camp in Germany.  And as such it’s not the easiest book to read, but at the same time, the language keeps it from being as powerful as I think it could have been.  Wiesel uses very simple language (at least the translation that I read had very simple language), and it comes across as bland.  If you compare this to The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, they’re written at very similar levels of language, but this book doesn’t do nearly as good of a job in the description.  In O’Brien’s book, it really feels like he took the time to find the perfect word, and it led to very simple, but beautiful writing.  In this book, the simple language feels like it was the first thing that was written down, and there was never anything done to make it seem like it was anything more.

But while I thought that the writing was bland, it’s obvious that there is a lot more to a book than just the individual words on the page, and while the tale told in this book is an important one, it was far less effective than it could have been because of a previous experience in my life.  For my Cross-Cultural Psychology class in college, we had an assignment where we had to experience something about another culture.  For one of my places to visit for that class, I went to the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage.  I enjoyed my time there, learned a lot and did well on the project.  But of all the things that I saw in the museum, there is one thing that stuck with me more than anything else.  In a side room where they had articles from the Holocaust, they had a short looping video that showed some people who had been in the concentration camps.  I say people out of respect, because in the video they looked more like slaughtered pig carcasses waiting to be butchered further.  They say that pictures are worth a thousand words, and that image is one that will stick with me for a long time.

This is an important book, simply because it takes the time to discuss a topic that should never be forgotten, but if I’m going to look strictly at the quality of the book, I have to say that I wasn’t terribly impressed with the level of the writing.

Overall Grade

A unique perspective on one of the worst parts of human history, but the overall quality is dragged down by the poor level of writing.

5/10

The Catcher in the Rye

What’s this?  Two book reviews in less than an hour?  No, I didn’t learn to speed read, I actually read The Things They Carried last weekend and I read The Catcher in the Rye yesterday.  I’ve just been lazy in getting around to writing up the review for O’Brien’s book, and I’m writing my review for Salinger’s book now.

Book StatsThe Catcher in the Rye

214 pages

Drama, Classic

Setting

The book is set in and around New York in the mid 1900’s.  I don’t know exactly when, and to be honest the exact year doesn’t matter for the book.

Characters

There’s really only one character who matters in the book, and of course that’s Holden Caulfield.  He’s in many ways a typical teenage boy who is facing a future that he isn’t ready for and in some ways doesn’t want to deal with.  He’s cynical, brash, and doesn’t much care what many other people really think.  But he does show some signs of being a much better person, and in finishing the book you really feel like there’s going to be hope for him once he grows up.

Plot

The plot to this book is almost non-existant, we basically follow Holden as he goes through a a fairly rough weekend and follow his thoughts.

Enjoyment

One of the first things that you have to talk about when talking about this book is the fact that while it’s widely considered to be one of the best books written in the English language, it’s also one of the most widely banned books in the United States.  And after finally reading the book, I kind of wonder what the big deal is.

To be fair, I do lean towards being fairly liberal in most matters, and I have no problem with people pushing the limits of what most people consider to be acceptable.  Even with that, I think you can tell that some of the people who complain about the book probably never read the book, or if they did they never got past the surface level.  To begin with, Holden swears constantly (just like many teens today), thinks and talks about sex constantly (just like many teens today), drinks while being underage (just like many teens today), and doesn’t care about school or his future (just like many teens today).

So yeah, as far as being an obedient child and teenager, he’s an awful person.  But the book also shows just how horrible his life really is as he’s going through the weekend in the book.  You could easily argue that this book does a better job than many others that I’ve read of showing you how having an excessive number of bad habits can ruin your life.

Another thing to talk about with this book is that while it’s frequently banned, it’s also one of the most frequently taught books in public schools.  I never read this book in high school, and while I enjoyed reading it now, I don’t know if I would have enjoyed it as much had I read it in high school.  The biggest selling point of the book for me was the character voice, and I don’t think that I would have appreciated a book with a strong character but a bare bones plot in high school.  Either way, I’m glad that I read the book.

Overall Grade

An interesting book driven by a great character.

7/10

The Things They Carried

This is a book that I heard of through a podcast that I listen to fairly often.  For once, it’s not the Writing Excuses podcast, although one of the members of the Writing Excuses cast is part of it.  This time I’m referring to the podcast Do I Dare To Eat A Peach? which is hosted by Dan Wells and Rob Wells, two authors (and brothers) whose work I enjoy.  I’ve reviewed works by both authors on this blog and I have a good time listening to their ramblings about various topics.

This is one of the books that they talked about in their best books you read in high school podcast.  After finding the book a while ago, I’m really glad that I read it.  Tim O’Brien is a wonderful writer and I’ll probably check out more of his stuff in the future.

Book StatsThe Things They Carried

233 pages

Drama

Enjoyment

Like a few of the other books that I’ve reviewed on this blog, this is a collection of short stories.  The difference between this and some other short story collections is that the works in this book loosely form a larger story.  Easily the best thing about this book is the writer’s voice as he talks about the events in the book.  One of the last books that I read was by Dean Koontz, and in that book I hated the flowery language that he used to try and make it sound fancy.  Take that in comparison to this book, O’Brien never seems to try and force the prose to sound flowery, but the writing ends up being absolutely gorgeous in it’s simplicity.  There are times when the best way to say something is as simply as you possibly can, and this book does it better than any other book that I’ve read in quite some time.

The book is also written as though it was a sort of memoir recalling parts of O’Brien’s life.  I have no idea whether or not the author actually went to Vietnam as he described in the book, but the way it’s written he makes it sound like he was there.  And while I enjoyed all of the book, I especially loved the chapter titled On The Rainy River, where the narrator talks about his reaction when he was drafted.  It’s amazingly well written, and it’s a perfect example of everything that I think would be going through my mind if I was in the same situation.

If you’re a fan of military history, I think you’d love this book.  If you’re a fan of fantastic writing, I know you’ll love this book.

Overall Grade

A very interesting set of stories with some of the most beautiful prose I’ve ever read.

9/10

Coyote Blue

Since picking up Lamb and A Dirty Job a couple of years ago, I’ve been a big fan of Christopher Moore’s writing.  I’ve said before that I think it’s far too easy to dismiss Moore as nothing more than a humorist, when he is a very skilled author who does a lot of interesting things in all of his books.  This book is no exception.

Book StatsCoyote Blue

294 pages

Drama, Satire

Characters

The characters in this book are all interesting, but not terribly deep.  The book focuses on Sam Hunter, a full blooded Crow indian who left his reservation when he was 15 due to a “deadly misunderstanding with the law” (words from the back of the book).  Since then he’s become an insurance salesman, and because of this he’s become very adept at hiding who he is, to the point where he really doesn’t know who he is, only who he is pretending to be.

Setting

Modern day (well, modern day when it was written, the book was published back in 1994) California primarily, but also located partly in other states.

Plot

There’s a problem in trying to talk about the plot of this book, it’s a little hard to discuss without spoilers, especially since the first 1/3 of the book is largely about setting up the story and the mythology that Moore uses for the rest of the book.  I typically don’t try to talk about events that take place more than the first third of the way through the book, so I won’t get into too much of the plot here.  But one of the things about this book is that it’s less about the plot and more about the meaning behind it.

Enjoyment

One of the books that I read before I started this blog was Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.  I’ve said before that I’m not a huge fan of Gaiman’s work, but a whole lot of other people are.  One of the most thoughtful reviews of American Gods that I’ve ever heard was that the book was really about what it’s like to be a god from a foreign country living in America today.  I think that this book does a better job of explaining that problem than Gaiman’s, while at the same time telling a better overall story.

Sam has his normal life interrupted by the ancient Crow god Coyote, and Moore does a perfect job of showing how different the world today is from the world that Coyote knew.  Moore also does a good job of showing that the gods of old largely survive based upon the the stories that are told about them, and he explains this by visiting another god later in the book who is largely dead to the world because his stories are never told.

At the same time, we’re shown the story of how Sam lives his life basically going through the motions, and never really thinking about what he really wants, only thinking about what he needs to do to get by.  So while Coyote’s part of the story is talking about the loss of old religions, Sam’s is about the alienation that we feel from each other in our daily lives.  Sam’s story also talks about how easily our simple little lives can get thrown out of whack by a seemingly innocuous meeting.

Overall Grade

Not quite as funny as some of Moore’s other work, but a very well written and thoughtful book.

8/10

Your Heart Belongs To Me

So I’ve been wanting to read some of Dean Koontz’s books for a while now, having heard good things about many of the novels that he’s written.  So on  my last trip to Barnes & Noble I found where his books were at, read the synopsis on the back of a few of them, and ended up buying this one.  Apparently that was a mistake.

Book StatsYour Heart Belongs To Me

364 pages

Drama

Characters

The main character of the book is Ryan Perry, a 34 year old internet millionaire who seemingly has everything going for him in life, except of course for a decent – or consistent – personality.  There was really nothing about Ryan that makes him memorable, and if you ask me in 3 months what the main character of this novel’s name is I doubt that I’ll be able to tell you.  The most memorable thing about him is how he completely flipped his personality about half way through the book.  None of the other characters in this book are all that memorable either, and I’m not even going to bother mentioning them here.

Setting

Present day, mostly in California but also takes place in Las Vegas and Denver.

Plot

The synopsis on the back of the book got me interested in buying this novel over Koontz’s 20 or so other novels that they had in stock, so I’ll just give that.  A year after receiving a heart transplant, Ryan is visited by the spitting image of the donor of his heart.  She feels entitled to everything that Ryan has, and is coming to take it from him.

Enjoyment

The plot summary is brilliant, unfortunately everything else about this novel is a complete and utter train wreck.  Rather than taking place immediately before his transplant, the book starts about 4 months beforehand to show Ryan happily living with his girlfriend.  After finding out that he needs a transplant, Ryan immediately does everything in his power to get the best doctors in place so that he can keep living.  But once he gets his transplant, we immediately skip to a year later to show that his personality has flipped, and he’s gone from being a very open person to a paranoid recluse.

There are also some very odd plot points throughout the book.  Koontz spends a lot of time having Ryan follow a very strange hunch, and then it never plays out for the rest of the novel.  Along with that, one of the biggest plot points around which Koontz places the theme of his novel is never mentioned before the reveal in the final few chapters.  Without giving spoilers it’s involving the location of his heart transplant, which is never mentioned in the chapters where it talks about him going to get his transplant, trust me, I checked.

Along with those, Koontz beats you over the head with the idea that novels often have subtexts.  I don’t have a problem with that, but Koontz talks about it for a decent portion of the novel, then beats you over the head with what he thinks the subtext of this novel is.

I also have to comment on Koontz’s writing style.  And considering that this is the first of his novels that I’ve read, I don’t know if it is simply something he did here or if it’s part of his style.  He constantly tried very hard to use poetic and flowery language, but the problem is that I could see how hard he was trying, and it comes across as one of the weaknesses of the novel.  I also think that someone needs to take Koontz’s thesaurus away, or at least smack him every time he reaches for it.

So what we end up with is a novel with a forgettable main character, a pointless first half that is completely different in tone from the second half of the novel, non-existant foreshadowing of some major plot points, and overdone language.

Overall Grade

I’m hoping that this novel is a bump in the road in Koontz’s writing career rather than the norm, and I’m going to check out one or two more books by him to make sure, but for this book by itself, I can’t suggest it to anyone.

3/10

The Willow Tree

I talked in my post yesterday about how much I love this book, and I said that I wanted to do a more in depth analysis of the book.  This is probably the longest single book review that I have, and it somehow seems fitting to me that this should be the book for it.

Book StatsThe Willow Tree

282 pages

Drama

Plot/Setting

The Willow Tree takes place in New York City sometime in probably the late 1970’s to the early 1980’s.  Selby never says the exact year that the story takes place, but one of the main characters is a Holocaust survivor, so assuming he was in his early 20’s when he was sent to the camp, he’s probably in his 60’s or 70’s when the story takes place.

One of the things that Selby gains from setting the story in NYC is that he can safely assume that the reader is at least going to have a basic vision of the city.  Whether you like or dislike the fact that NYC is very prominent in media, you can’t deny that most people have at least an idea of what the city is like.  This lets him jump immediately into the story, and that’s exactly what he does.  One of the things that Selby does as well or better than most other authors that I’ve read is his willingness to be mean to his characters.  This book is a perfect example of that because he literally kicks his main character in the teeth on the fourth page of the book.  While a Latino gang attacks Bobby, his girlfriend Maria actually gets the worst out of the exchange as she has lye thrown in her face while she is trying to break up the fight.

But even as Selby shows the negative side of people, he also quickly shows the positive side as a couple of guys who are hanging out at a local bar see Bobby as he stumbles past.  They give him a little bit of alcohol to help ease his pain as they also bandage a couple of his wounds.  Bobby leaves the bar after a short time and goes to a deserted area of the city where Moishe finds him.

Moishe is an elderly man who largely keeps to himself, but when he finds Bobby in an abandoned building Moishe decides to help Bobby.  We’re not told early in the book exactly why Moishe decides to help Bobby, but as the story unfolds we’re slowly shown more of Moishe’s past and why he decides to help Bobby.

From this point on the book follows Bobby as he continues his quest for revenge against the gang that assaulted him and Maria, and Moishe as he tries to teach Bobby that the hate he feels for those who wronged him will end up destroying him.

Characters

Willow Trees

The single biggest part of this story is following Bobby as he seeks his revenge.  Once again Selby does a fantastic job of showing just how far you can push a character.  Bobby is 13 when the novel starts, and he quickly gets beaten to the brink of death.  When he finally recovers enough to go back to his old neighborhood he talks to his younger brother only to find out that Maria has killed herself because of the pain from being burned by the lye as well as what she hears and how she is treated in the hospital while the doctors try to help her recover as much as they can.

On a side note, Selby also does a fantastic job of showing the pain that Maria feels, as well as showing the pain that her family feels.  Many times in fiction there are reasons why everything happens, and you could argue that what happens to Maria mostly takes place to push Bobby along his arc.  But by showing the viewpoints of Maria – as well as her mother and grandmother – he also shows us one of the most painful facts of life; that bad things can happen to good people for no reason.

Bobby has had a very rough life; he is being raised in a rough neighborhood by a single mother who is trying to raise Bobby as well as his younger siblings.  There are just a few short sections where Selby talks about Bobby’s mother, but you learn that she doesn’t really like the situation that she’s in, and that she became a mother at a very young age, well before she was ever ready to really be a parent.

From everything that he’s been exposed to in his young life, Bobby thinks that the only way to move forward after being attacked is to seek revenge.  He constantly tells Moishe that he is going to get his revenge, and specifically that he is planning on killing Raul, the leader of the gang that attacked him.

Into Bobby’s chaotic life, Selby introduces the stabilizing force of Moishe.  The juxtaposition of the two characters way of looking at life is what makes this novel work.  Bobby doesn’t have an easy life, but everything that he’s been through seems like nothing at all when you compare it to the struggles that Moishe has gone through in his life.

Reading the novel for a second time, I picked up a few things about Moishe’s life that I didn’t remember from my first read through.  And the things that I picked up made it even more amazing that he is able to forgive those who have wronged him.

Prior to World War 2, Moishe – who was going by his given name of Werner Schultz at the time – was working as a handyman with his business partner Klaus.  He had a loving family with his wife Gertrude and son Karl-Heinz.  However, Klaus was greedy and saw a perfect opportunity to get rid of Moishe and take over the business completely.  He convinces several members of the Nazi party that Moishe is Jewish and gets him sent to a concentration camp for 4 years.  After finally being freed from the camp, Moishe and his family move to America, where his son is drafted into the army and sent to Vietnam, where he is killed.  After this, Moishe’s wife dies, leaving him alone.

Despite all of this, Moishe is still an optimistic person who does everything that he can to help Bobby overcome his feelings of hatred.

Enjoyment

Willow Trees4The central theme of the story is Bobby’s redemption, and how Moishe continuously tries to help Bobby realize that his hate will only destroy him.  One of the things that I love about this book is that Moishe never tries to stop Bobby from seeking his revenge, but instead tells Bobby about his own life.  In some ways, Moishe actually helps Bobby in his quest for revenge by buying him weights and teaching him how to work out to make him stronger.  And when Bobby uses his new strength to attack the members of Raul’s gang, Moishe never reprimands him, instead continuing to tell Bobby that his hate will end up killing him as well as his enemies.

Moishe is arguably the best mentor character that I’ve ever seen in fiction.  He has unceasing patience, and rather than trying to force Bobby to abandon his quest for revenge, he simply tells his story and gives Bobby the tools to make his own decisions.  One of my favorite quotes from the book describes Moishe’s strategy perfectly:

What is it you are going to do Werner????  Nothing, just hope.  Maybe my tongue will be guided?  Yes, what other hope is there, only that my tongue will be silent so my heart can speak.

Later in the book, Bobby begins to realize the strength that Moishe shows in being able to forgive his enemies.  (I haven’t mentioned it to this point, but from Bobby’s viewpoint, he consistently refers to Moishe as Mushie.)

an somehow he be seein Mushie different, like how he see those old beat up buildins.  Used to be he see them like tumbling down bricks, but now he see they be strong muthafuckas stayin up there like that even when everybody tryin to tear their asses down…yeah, they be righteous the way they still standin…an Mushie righteous the way he keep standin up.  Sheeit, he like some muthafuckin mountain, or that river out there, cant be nothing stopping it or Mush.

Overall Grade

This book is easily one of the top 3 or 4 books that I have ever read.  If you’ve never read Selby’s work, this book is a perfect example of why he should be one of the more celebrated writers from the latter half of the 20th century.

10/10

How I Met Your Mother

A couple of weeks ago I started watching How I Met Your Mother on Netflix, and as a lack of recent posts by me shows, I’ve been watching it obsessively and just finished watching the last episode of the 7th season.  Sadly, Netflix doesn’t have the 8th season of the show yet, and because I don’t want to watch the episodes out of order if I can help it, I’m not going to start watching the ninth season when it airs starting Monday.

HIMYM

There aren’t a lot of TV shows that I watch, and there are a few reasons for that.  The first is the time commitment, with working full time (plus having a decent commute), along with bowling in 3 leagues a week, I’m a fairly busy guy.  Along with that I still try to read as much as I can, which leads to another reason why in many cases I prefer books to TV.  With books the author knows that there is going to be an end, so the characters have growth arcs that they go through, and when they’re done with that arc, the story is usually over.  There are some TV shows that do a very poor job of that because they refuse to let the characters finish their arc, or you’ll run into a show where the writers don’t give the characters room to grow.  Or if the show runs a long time, the characters will finish an arc and then get another arc forced on them (this happens in books as well, and I complain about it with books as well).

Lastly, when it comes to comedies, there are a lot of times when the humor just doesn’t work for me.  With something like Family Guy, the show is almost entirely comprised of non-sequitar jokes, which – to me at least – get old pretty quickly.  Then there are shows like The Big Bang Theory, which I can’t stand because it does nothing but make fun of nerds for every episode, and being a nerd, that bothers me.  It also has a tendency to make fun of Sheldon being an extremely anxious person, which also bothers me as a person who has an anxiety disorder.  (And once again for clarity, it’s self-diagnosed, but I did study psychology so I have a semblance of an idea of what I’m talking about.)

Two of my favorite shows of all time are M*A*S*H and Scrubs, because I think both shows do a fantastic job of being outrageously funny while being able to stop on a dime and deliver some of the most poignant moments you’ll ever see in TV.  I can easily add How I Met Your Mother to that list, because it does so many things so well.

The most important thing about any TV show is the characters, and the 5 main characters on this show are wonderful.  They each have distinct personalities and a number of quirks that separate them from each other, but also allow the characters to play off of each other as well.  From Ted’s intellectualism, Marshall’s earnestness, Lily’s innocence, Robin’s bluntness, and Barney’s insanity, they all work perfectly on their own but they work just as well when mixed with the other characters.  In some ways, it’s exactly what made Joss Whedon’s Firefly work so well, you put a bunch of unique personalities together and you see what the results are.  And just like in Firefly, the results are wonderful here.

Another thing that the show does a wonderful job of is not overusing it’s jokes.  There’s a fine line between a running gag and beating a dead horse, and this show runs it perfectly.  It’s one thing to watch a season over the course of 6 or 8 months and not overuse a gag, but I watched 7 seasons of this show in 3 or 4 weeks and never got sick of the jokes.  I suppose the only way I can finish this paragraph is by saying that the writer’s willingness to show restraint in not overusing their jokes was legen – wait for it – dary.

One of the more interesting things that this show does is also one of the harder things to do in fiction, it tells a compelling story when you know the ending.  Because of the flashback nature of the show, there are parts of the show where you already know how it’s going to end.  The obvious example is Ted and Robin dating.  You’re told early in the first season (maybe even the first episode, I don’t remember offhand) that they don’t get married when Ted tells his future kids about how he met their Aunt Robin.  Yet even though you know they don’t end up together, they’re dating for most of season two and it’s still great to watch.

This is a show with fun characters, great humor that is never overused, and at the same time the show is able to stop and deliver a truly touching moment.  This is one of the best comedies that I’ve seen in recent years, and it’s one that I’ll definitely go through and watch again in the future.

HIMYM2

Hood

When you think of the reading habits of your average 28 year old man, I bet I can guess exactly what the first two words that come to your mind are: lesbian romance.

Wait…..   what?

Yeah, that’s what I figured you would be thinking.  But then again I wouldn’t describe my reading habits to be similar to, well, anyone really.  I usually look through bookstores and pick up books that interest me, which when you’re a nerd and someone who has interests all over the map, that can end up with me reading some fairly odd things.  Some time ago I read the book Room by Emma Donoghue, and a while ago when walking through Barnes & Noble I was looking through her other books, and the premise for this one was really interesting to me.  So as I am one to do, I bought the book and just finished reading it today, so on with the review.

Book StatsHood

309 pages

Drama, Romance

Setting

Dublin Ireland in the early 90’s, with lots of flashbacks over the 15 years before the events of the book.

Plot

Penelope and Cara have been in a loving relationship off and on for the past 13 years, but that quickly changes when Cara dies on her way back from a vacation in Greece.  Now Penelope has to deal with the aftermath of her lover’s death.  The exact words from the back of the book ask how she can survive widowhood without daring to claim the word?  The book is really a well drawn portrait of a character dealing with an extremely difficult situation.

Characters

The main character is Penelope, and the book is entirely from her viewpoint.  Pen is a very quiet character, and as a result she takes a lot of time to examine the other characters in the book and you get a very good idea of who the rest of the characters are through her observations.  I liked Pen as a character and I think that anyone who is usually quiet and spends a lot of time observing people will identify with her.

Enjoyment

It’s weird to say that I enjoyed a book written about a grieving woman, but I liked the book.  I thought it was one of the most realistic books that I’ve read in some time, with Pen constantly going off on tangents and getting distracted by things she sees throughout the week, things that remind her of both the good and bad times with Cara.  I also thought it was an interesting to watch her thoughts about how she was dealing with hiding a fairly large aspect of her life from everyone she knows.  That really struck a cord with me since I do something similar with hiding my anxiety issues and panic attacks from most of the people that I know.

Early in my reading of the book I was going to say that the narrative voice wasn’t quite as strong as it was with Jack from Room, but thinking about it after finishing the book I think it was more of that simply Pen being a very reluctant character.  All things considered, this is one of the more unique books that I’ve ever read, and it deals with a difficult topic very effectively, while doing one of the best jobs that I’ve ever seen of expressing the thoughts that run through a person’s mind on a daily basis.

I suppose I should give a little warning and say that there is some graphic content in the book, but it fits well within the story.  It also shows some of the degree of love between the two characters and adds to the sense of loss that Pen is experiencing.

Quote

‘Ah, come on, you know that real loneliness is having no one to miss.  Think yourself lucky you’ve known something worth missing.’

Overall Grade

Definitely not for everyone, but if you’re willing to give it a chance, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

7/10