Jonathan Livingston Seagull, by Richard Bach

What the whatting what. This is like the tiniest of tiny books β€” 123 very small pages, wide margins, lots of pages dedicated to pictures of seagulls, read it in an hour β€” and yet I still wouldn’t have finished it were it not on my TBR Challenge list. I rue the day I decided against alternates!

I knew pretty much nothing about this book going in. It ended up on my challenge list because a few years ago my sister-in-law said something was “like Jonathan Livingston Seagull” and I was like, who? And she and some random other person were like, how have you not read this book? And then they probably explained it to me, though I don’t remember, and I was like, okay, fine, I’ll read it.

And what it is, is a tiny little book about a seagull (the eponymous JLS) who really likes flying. He’s all about flying to the detriment of everything else including learning how to find food, but apparently he still eats because he continues flying through the rest of the book. He learns how to fly real fast and real fancy, but then he irks the Head Seagull or whatever and gets shunned, and then he goes off to live a life of fast- and fancy-flying solitude. Until some other birds show up and are like, let’s go to the afterlife, where you can fly totally faster! And then they’re like, but it’s not really heaven, just a further world on your way to nirvana, and also you can learn to fly through space and time without flapping your wings! And then JLS goes back to his original flock and teaches some other birds to fly real cool-like, and he gets mistaken for Jesus or something, and then he brings a bird back from the dead, maybe, and then he’s like, I’m outta here you guys can take care of yourselves. The end.

Soooooooooo yeah! Obviously there are a lot of religious themes here, with the heaven/nirvana/Jesus business, and I noticed them and I think they could have been interesting but then they just got kind of thrown off to the side? And I really can’t figure out just what I’m meant to take away from this book β€” is it that having a very one-track mind is awesome and somehow leads you to a Higher Power and also keeps you fed? Is it that you should completely ignore your seagull heritage so that you can fly like a falcon and encourage others to do the same? I have no idea. None.

Also, seagulls. I don’t really like them. And there were lots of pictures of them. Yay.

Have any of you guys read this? What am I missing?

Recommendation: I have no idea why anyone would read this, but if you have a reason you might as well.

Rating: 3/10
(TBR Challenge)

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The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien

Here’s a true story for you: The Hobbit is the first book I ever lied about reading, way back when I was but a young Alison looking to score some Summer Reading Club points. My parents totally did not believe my lies, but they allowed said lies to stand anyway, leading to DECADES of shame and regret. Well, not really. Most of the time I forget it even happened. But I’ve never lied about a Summer Reading Club book since! (Summer reading in general, yes, totally.)

But now I have read it, and I can speak with authority on the subjects of Misplaced Heroism and Wizards That Are Not Very Nice. Seriously, I had no idea Gandalf was such a jerk! Blah blah blah, grand adventures, blah, self-confidence, blah, endless treasure, whatever. No means no, Gandalf!

I know I’m not the last person to read this book, so here’s the plot: jerky wizard recruits homebody hobbit to go help some dwarves steal all the treasures from a talking dragon. Said gang wanders toward dragon and gets swept up in some side-quests along the way; a ring is tricked away from a creeper. The gang finally gets to the dragon and fails at stealing all the treasures until someone kills the dragon for them. There is fighting. Eventually, Homebody Hobbit returns home with a handful of treasure, which doesn’t last long for an amusing reason.

So. It’s a Quest Novel. I’m not always a big fan of these, and I’d have to say this one is all right, I guess. The scrapes they get into are interesting, especially when they ignore directions and go wandering in the woods, and of course I was intrigued by the Gollum aspect of things having seen the LOTR movies (I’ll get around to the books someday, maybe). I was a little concerned by the GI-Joe-like refusal to let anyone die, but then everyone started dying and I was like, hey, hold on, this is going a little overboard. But it’s really not a quest until someone dies, right?

Of course, the best part was that the audiobook cover had the same picture that graces my engagement puzzle (read: the puzzle my then-boyfriend and I were putting together when I completely ignored his proposal [accidentally, I swear!]), so when things got boring I could just think back on adorable times. I may be a huge sap.

The second-best part was that ears-reading the book meant that the narrator SANG to me, which was absolutely fantastic because a) I always want to know how songs in books go and b) Rob Inglis is probably a way better singer than those dwarves and goblins and whatnot. If he could have sung the whole book to me, that would have been just fine.

And even though I wasn’t a huge fan of the book, I liked it enough that I am very interested in seeing the movie β€” I was going to watch it eventually if only for Martin Freeman, but now I might actually pay to see it, which is just ridiculous. There had better be singing!

Recommendation: You probably already know if you want to read it, but if you’re on the fence you should think about how much you like quests, goblins, and riddles.

Rating: 7/10
(TBR Challenge)

World Without End, by Ken Follett

Yessssss! I’m done! It’s done! I never have to read this book again! Woohoo!

Ahem. That… that didn’t sound right. Hold on. Let me try this again.

Did you know that thousand-page books turn into 36-disc audiobooks? Thirty-six. Three six. That is a lot of discs. And a lot of audio. And considering it took me two months to get through Pillars of the Earth while actually reading it, I’m happy it only took me five weeks to get through this sequel.

The problem, I find, with Ken Follett’s books (well, the two I’ve read, anyway) is that sure, they are huge sweeping epics of time and place and they are quite beautiful in a big-picture sense. But. On a chapter-by-chapter basis? Soooooo repetitive. I summed up this book to my husband approximately like this:

Stuff. Sex. More stuff. More sex. Treachery and betrayal. Stuff. Awesome uses of logic and reverse psychology. Rape. Betrayal. Logic. Psychology. Sex. Psychology. Dude being flayed alive. Stuff. Sex. Plague. Etc.

The dude being flayed alive bit, I had not predicted. The other stuff? All the same from Pillars of the Earth. Well, not the Plague.

And so the plus side of the audio is that I can zone out while listening and pretty much not miss a thing, because few specific scenes are terribly important and if they are, Follett will, I promise, repeat whatever happened at least six more times, sometimes in the same chapter. The minus side is that I hear repetitions more easily than I read them, and so I couldn’t listen to this book for more than a couple hours at a time, hence the taking forever.

Anyway, what’s this book about, you say? Um. Well. It’s this sweeping epic, right? And so it starts off with these kids and ends with these same kids as old men and ladies. One of the kids is the raping and pillaging and murdering type, two are creative and ambitious but one’s a girl so she can’t play with the nice toys, and one is of low self-esteem and comes from a ridiculous home life. And… they do their things.

Follett does an excellent job with the characters and how they interact and grow and change or not change, and I cannot say he doesn’t bring the action or the drama, see Man Being Flayed Alive. I just wish he could be a bit more concise about it!

Recommendation: For fans of Pillars of the Earth and other sweeping epics, or people who need something to fall asleep to at night over the next several weeks. Definitely best read in small pieces.

Rating: 7/10
(TBR Challenge)

To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis

To say nothing of the dog! This book kind of broke my brain, on account of it’s about time travel and there is nothing simple about time travel and to make it worse Connie Willis invents a time travel science and when you actually try to explain time travel you are going to make brains explode.

But what I love about this book, and part of why I’m going to go find some more Connie Willis books and read them ASAP, is that the time travel totally breaks the brains of the people doing the time travelling. In multiple ways! First, they don’t really understand it any better than I do, and second… oh, second.

“It’s no wonder they call you man’s best friend. Faithful and loyal and true, you share in our sorrows and rejoice with us in our triumphs, the truest friend we ever have known, a better friend than we deserve. You have thrown in your lot with us, through thick and thin, on battlefield and hearthrug, refusing to leave your master even when death and destruction lie all around. Ah, noble dog, you are the furry mirror in which we see our better selves reflected, man as he could be, unstained by war or ambition, unspoilt byβ€””

And then the protagonist gets time travelled, but the point of it is that this whole soliloquy is part of the “maudlin sentimentality” that comes with time-lag, which encompasses many amusing (to the reader) symptoms and is a result of too much time travel. Willis writes these passages with obvious delight, and I can’t help but love them.

The plot of the book is… simple… Ned Henry, our protagonist, is charged with finding this weird statue thing called the bishop’s bird stump, which is apparently very ugly but which is required by a beast of a woman, Lady Schrapnell, to complete the rebuilding in 20… something… sometime in the mid-21st century… of a cathedral that burned down in 1940. Anyway, the vagaries of time travel mean that Henry and others can’t get anywhere near the cathedral at the right time, and so they can’t find this thing, but Lady Schrapnell is very persuasive and keeps sending Henry back in time until he gets totally time-lagged. The only cure is rest, which he can’t get in the present time with Lady Schrapnell all a-crazy, and so he gets sent to the late 1800s instead to help return a cat that got mistakenly time-travelled when it should perhaps have been drowned. Then things start to get crazy.

I enjoyed the heck out of this book, which also features 1930s mystery novels, jumble sales, sΓ©ances, crazy university professors, and many allusions to the book Three Men in a Boat which I must go read immediately, because it’s got to be pretty awesome if it inspired this.

Recommendation: For those who enjoy being totally confused and bewildered.

Rating: 9/10
(TBR Challenge)

The Shining, by Stephen King

Here’s another entry from my TBR Challenge… I saw this movie a while back and thought it was terrible, so I got it into my head that I should read the book because maybe it was better? And then my mother said, “No, really, the book is way better,” and then I found the book at the used bookstore for cheap and THEN I totally didn’t read it. Hence its addition to the challenge.

So! Now I’ve read it. Well, okay, I listened to it. And, in fact, it is way better than the movie, or at least what I remember of the movie β€” the problem with the movie is that it’s just so middling that there’s nothing to remember. Even after reading the book, my memory of the movie is this: Dude gets a job at a hotel. He goes all Jack Nicholson (see what I did there). He says, “Heeeeere’s Johnny!” There is snow and possibly a snowmobile. The end.

The book, on the other hand, goes like this: Dude gets a job at a hotel, the only job he might even remotely get as a recovering alcoholic who, while sober beat the crap out of one of his students. His plan is to lay off the booze (which will be easy with no booze in the hotel), do some writing that will make him awesome and employable, and fix the problems with his family that are not all related to his alcoholism. This is a good plan. His wife and son come with him to take care of this hotel, which is closed for the winter, but the son has “the shining” which makes him a little bit psychic and a little too attuned to the horrors that have taken place in the hotel and that threaten to take place again. Dude is not attuned to these horrors, even as they start seeping into him, ruining his plan a little at a time until he goes all Jack Nicholson. He does not say “Heeeeere’s Johnny!” There is lots and lots of snow and one too few snowmobiles.

I didn’t exactly like the book, but compared to the movie it is downright wonderful. There’s so much more backstory in the book that makes things make sense, and that also makes things more interesting and creepy. Like, the dad was an alcoholic until one night he and his bud ran over a bicycle in the middle of the road that may or may not have had a child on it; they can’t find a kid but also can’t figure out why there would be a tiny bicycle without a tiny human. And the psychic kid sees a lot more than just REDRUM; he sees what his dad has been and will be capable of and somehow does not pee his pants in fear. And the hotel is dang creepy with its dead people and midnight parties and moving shrubbery and I really don’t think I’ll be able to look at an animal topiary the same way again. Like, ever.

There’s a lot more depth to the novel, is what I’m saying, and it allows King to be more subtle with the creepy and the psychological, which is just the way I like it. It didn’t hurt that the audiobook narrator channeled a little Jack Nicholson into his reading β€” just enough to be fairly terrifying without going all Witches of Eastwick.

Unfortunately, the depth also comes with a lot of long boring bits, which made me not like this book so much. Also, an epilogue. I have been reading an inordinate number of epilogued books lately. Someday I will find a good one. Today is not that day.

Recommendation: Read this if you didn’t like or don’t remember the movie; it’ll make you feel a little better. Not sure I would recommend it on its own strength.

Rating: 7/10
(TBR Challenge)

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen

Ohhhhhh, Pride and Prejudice. This is a book that many of my trusted friends have been obsessed with for many many years, and which I have avoided like the plague because all I ever hear about it is how sexy Colin Firth is. Which, I mean, he totally is, that’s not in question, but I wasn’t too keen on a book whose primary lure is the attractiveness of an actor. I knew there was more to it, but I just wasn’t that interested.

But then I found it for cheaps at Mac’s Backs, and I told myself I was going to sit down and finally read it. And I did. Last January. Side note: I started trying to read this last January. I got married four months before that. I have been attempting to finish this book for most of my marriage. That’s intense.

And so I read through about half the book over the course of six months, then decided I couldn’t remember most of it and started over, and then I read more than half the book in a month but got utterly sick of it right around the point when Darcy gives Elizabeth the letter, and so I moved on to more delightful pursuits. Then this February I downloaded the Kindle app for my phone and tried P&P as an e-book, but I couldn’t be arsed to load it up to read. So THEN I found it for the OverDrive app for my phone as an audiobook, and I forced myself to listen to it last week.

It turns out that Pride and Prejudice is quite good.

I had the same troubles with the audiobook that I did with the print version, namely that if Mrs. Bennett and Mr. Collins wanted to run off and be batshit crazy together I don’t think anyone could complain, and maybe we could send Lady de Bourgh over to judge them. I absolutely hated these characters, but of course I imagine I’m not supposed to like them. I also, having gotten to Darcy’s letter, was not a fan of The Darcy, which is supposed to be the draw, right, and I could not imagine how Austen was going to make Darcy sympathetic in a couple hundred more pages.

And yet, she did. I am definitely more in the Jane and Bingley camp, but by the end of the book I was like, “That Darcy isn’t so terrible after all, is he? I do so hope that those two crazy kids work it out.” Darn you Jane Austen!

Aside from the ‘shipping, I was actually most interested in the culture of Longbourn and environs, as I have not read too deeply in or about this time period. I was intrigued by the particulars of politeness and society and how incredibly scandalous pretty much every little thing seemed to be. And with the characters, I loved how Austen was able to make me hate the sympathetic characters and like the antagonists (with the notable exception of Lady de Bourgh, who can go jump off a cliff if she pleases) in their turn.

Verdict: I need to read some more Austen. I think I might go after Emma and see if Mr. Knightley is as enchanting as Paul Rudd.

Recommendation: Yeeeeah, you should probably read this. I wouldn’t quite recommend the audiobook version I listened to, but there are probably better ones out there.

Rating: 8/10
(A to Z Challenge, TBR Challenge)

The Phantom of the Opera, by Gaston Leroux

It is April, and I am now on my second of twelve TBR Challenge books. This is going swimmingly.

On the plus side, I found this and another TBR book on the OverDrive app I just downloaded for my phone, which makes listening to things at work very slightly easier since I don’t have to transfer them from CD to iPod. Of course, I’ve only found a few books I’m interested in available on the app, but that could change.

Anyway. Phantom. I’ve loved the musical soundtrack since high school, and I saw the musical back then with my bestie (love to Laura!), and also sometime around then I purchased a copy of the book. This is like six or seven years ago. I’m pretty sure I haven’t even cracked open the book. Oops. -gets up from couch-

-cracks open the book on principle-

-returns to couch, is attacked by cat, is now writing this while peering over a cat-

Right, yes. So these days, I am not quite as obsessed with Phantom as I was back then, which is probably good because the book? Not so much the same. Not as different as, say, Wicked (holy heck those are two different beasts), but still I found myself thinking, “This didn’t happen in the musical. This DEFINITELY didn’t happen in the musical. Oh, this part happened, kind of.”

It’s the same baaaasic plot. There’s an Opera Ghost, he teaches a young woman (Christine) to sing amazingly well, he becomes jealous when an old friend of Christine’s (Raoul) shows up all lovey, he tries to make Christine his wife through force. This is never a good idea.

But the Opera Ghost of the novel, Erik, is much more menacing than I recall the musical Phantom being β€” he weighs heavily upon Christine and Raoul’s relationship much earlier, and his retaliation for their love is scarier and rather more psychopathic. I can see how Erik would not appeal to a mass audience.

What I did like more about the book is that it is presented as a frame story, which I am a sucker for, and so Leroux makes it out like he’s actually researched this Opera Ghost and learned all about him through testimony from the various characters (including a “Persian” who pretty much writes the last few chapters), and he does that thing I sometimes like where he gives away what’s coming up and I get all antsy waiting to see how it’ll happen.

Overall, though, I think I’ll stick with my beloved Michael Crawford; the book is quite good, but the musical is just happier!

Recommendation: For fans of the musical or of psychological horror. That’s sort of a strange combination, I think.

Rating: 7/10
(A to Z Challenge, TBR Challenge)