Sunday, May 28, 2017

"Hood" by Stephen R. Lawhead

So, I'm in a little bit of an awkward position here.  A friend loaned me this book, and the two others in the series, about 4 months ago.  She said, "I just know you'll love these!  Here, you can borrow them."  And I was excited, because two years ago when I was doing My Year with Robin Hood, lots of people recommended these books to me.  So as soon as I'd finished my mountain of books from the library, I started in.

But... I didn't love Hood.  I liked parts of it, but not all of it.  

If a book doesn't grab me right off the bat, I usually give it 10 chapters or 100 pages, whichever comes first.  If it hasn't hooked me by then, I feel justified in quitting it.  Because this was loaned to me by a friend and I wanted to give it a very fair shake indeed, I decided to give it 150 pages.  And right around page 130, I started to get interested.  At least, interested enough to be willing to finish the book.

However, having finished this volume, I'm not at all sure that I care enough about these characters to spend another thousand pages or so with them.  I don't even like most of them much, aside from Tuck and Iwan.  

But that's not the main problem.  I mean taking 130 pages to get interesting, and only having two characters I like -- those are huge problems.  However, the main problem for me was the fact that, as I mentioned on my other blog a few days ago, I have come to realize that I need Robin Hood to be merry.  You can be dark and gritty, and I'm fine with that.  But Robin Hood himself, or whatever you're calling him (Rhi Bran Hud, for instance) -- he needs to be a cheerful, plucky fellow.  Don't get me wrong, I still love Byronic heroes.  Always will, I'm sure.  But I don't want Robin Hood to be Byronic.  Not at all.

So yeah... I didn't have a problem with this being set in Wales (I like Wales!  Ioan Gruffudd and Luke Evans and Richard Burton are Welsh.)  I didn't have a problem with it being set a long time earlier than most Robin Hood legends.  I didn't have a problem with all the not-quite-usual names.  I just Did Not Like the Robin Character.  And I kept getting bored.

I'm kinda bummed that I didn't like this book, because I really was expecting to dig this series.  Sigh.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for a smattering of bad language, quite a bit of violence, some creepy moments, and a very mild bit of innuendo.

This is my last contribution to Robin Hood Week hosted by Meanwhile, in Rivendell...  

And this is my fifth book read and reviewed for the Adventure of Reading Challenge.  Yippee!

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Robin Hood Week Tag

As part of the Robin Hood Week festivities, Olivia has kindly provided us with a tag.  I love tags, did you know that?  Yeah, if you've been reading my blogs for more than about two minutes, you probably did.  Anyway, here goes!

What was your first exposure to Robin Hood?  It was the little read-along book and vinyl record put out by Disney, retelling the 1973 animated film.  I got that when I was 2 or 3, and I listened to it over and over during my childhood.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how big a fan are you?  Can I say 11?  No, because I haven't seen/read every single version of Robin Hood ever.  Guess I'm just a 10.  Robin Hood is a very important character to me, and has been so for as long as I can remember.  I'm continually inspired by his dedication to helping others at expense of his own safety.

How many versions and spin-offs of the legend have you experienced?  Hmm.  I've watched The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952), Robin and the Seven Hoods (1964), Robin Hood (1973),  Robin Hood:  Prince of Thieves (1991), Robin Hood:  Men in Tights (1993), Princess of Thieves (2001), and Robin Hood (2010), so that's 8 movie versions.  I've also watched two different versions of Ivanhoe (1952 and 1982), and Robin Hood is a pretty important part of that story, so let's add those as well.  And I've watched scattered episodes of the BBC series, as well as part of the 1950s TV series starring Richard Greene.  And an ep of The Time Tunnel called "The Revenge of Robin Hood."  So I think that means I've watched thirteen versions.

As for books, I've read Henry Gilbert's Robin Hood and Howard Pyle's The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood.  Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott.  Plus a few other young adult or junior fiction adaptations now and then too.  I'm working on Hood by Stephen Lawhead right now, and but I don't think I'm going to finish it in time to review it for this week's festivities.

So... lots.  That's my answer:  lots.

What is your favorite version of Robin Hood (can be book, movie, TV series, anything)?  Goodness me, how can I choose?  I think it's a toss-up between the animated 1973 movie and the Howard Pyle book.  So difficult to decide!  Let's just say those are my favorite movie and book versions, and leave it at that.

Are you one of the lads? (Meaning, have you watched/are you a fan of the BBC show?)  I've seen half a dozen episodes and would really like to see the rest.

Who is your favorite Merry Man?  You mean besides dear Robin himself?  Generally Little John or Will Scarlet.  Depends on the movie or book!

Do you have a favorite portrayal of Lady Marian?  Probably Olivia de Havilland in the 1938 Adventures of Robin Hood.  She is equal parts strength and grace and fervor and sweetness.  Everything I love in a female character!

Do you have any interest in or aptitude at archery?  Interest?  Yes!  Aptitude... I haven't shot a bow for years, so I don't know.  I'd like to take it up at some point, and with more than a toy bow and arrow set.

Fact or fiction -- which do you think?  I think there has to be some basis in fact, but that the real people who inspired it were probably not nearly as wonderful as the character we now know.

Do you think Robin Hood has been "done to death," or are there still new twists that can be found?  I think a character who has been explored in so many varied ways is definitely rich enough to be interpreted in more ways.  Robin Hood still has plenty to give us.  There's a version coming out next year with Ben Mendelsohn as the Sheriff of Nottingham that could be cool!

Don't forget to enter my Robin Hood giveaway over here, and to visit Meanwhile, in Rivendell... for the fun Olivia has planned, as well as links to other people's participatory posts.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

"I, Robot" by Isaac Asimov

I'm quite sure I've read this before, back in my twenties, but the only story I remembered at all was "Robbie."  That makes sense, though, as it has a Cinderella thing going on, and I love Cinderella.

I, Robot is a collection of 9 short stories concerning robots, written by Isaac Asimov and originally published as short stories from 1940 to 1950, according to Wikipedia.  They're strung together with a loose framing device of a narrator interviewing Dr. Susan Calvin about the early days of robotics.  I got this from the library because I was having my niece read "Robbie" for her ninth grade lit course and I needed to reread it myself so we could discuss it.  And I decided to just reread the whole thing because I really couldn't remember it.

My favorite story is still "Robbie," about a robotic nanny devoted to its childish charge, so much so that the girl's mother becomes jealous and demands the robot be removed from the household.  

I also really liked "Liar," in which a robot who can read minds obeys the First Law of Robotics (no robot can cause harm to a human, or allow harm to come to them by inaction) in a creative and disastrous way.

In fact, I noticed that my enjoyment of the stories in this collection was directly related to the amount of human emotion involved.  The more the story involved humans emotionally engaged with each other or robots in some way, the more it interested me.  And the stories that were more science-oriented, I just read through without much real enthusiasm.  They were interesting, but they didn't grab me.  I'm pretty intrigued by this insight into my reading, as I hadn't realized before that the emotional engagement of characters mattered that much to me -- I'm going to have to ponder this!

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for some mild bad language and suspenseful situations.

This is my fourth book read and reviewed for Adventure of Reading Challenge, and my ninth for my second go-round with the Classics Club.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: More, Please

Today's topic from The Broke and the Bookish involves things we want to see more of in books.  It's been a while since I tackled one of these lists, but this is such a fun and different topic, I had to find time to do it.

Here are my top ten things I want more of in books!  I thought it would be hard to come up with ten, but once I started thinking this through, I actually had trouble narrowing it down to ten options.  Hee!

1.  Cowboys.  But, real cowboys, not just dudes dressed up in jeans and boots that say, "Howdy, Pardner" a lot.  Basically, I want more historical fiction set in the wild west.  I realize there is plenty out there, but we can always use more.

(Maybe I would say "generally" instead of "always.")

2.  Non-graphic mysteries.  I love mysteries.  Favorite genre, right there.  But... do so many modern mysteries have to be stomach-churning with the descriptions of gore and brutality and weirdness and general ick factor?  One of the things I've been loving about the books I'm reading for the INSPY awards is that they're really great mysteries, but so far, none of them have crossed into the Ishy Zone.

3.  Strong female characters who aren't bossy and/or brassy.  I'm a woman.  I have two daughters.  I realize the importance of having strong female characters, ones who don't sit around waiting for a man to rescue them or capture them or notice them, and so on.  However, too often writers (and moviemakers) use character traits like bossiness or brazenness to convey "strong."  No, that's annoying.  If it would be annoying in a guy, it's also annoying in a girl.

(Strong, opinionated, gutsy, but not bossy or over-bold.)

4.  Romances based on characters getting to know each other, not insta-love feelings.  I'm not saying love at first sight can't happen.  Buuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuut I think that lust at first sight is way more common, and people mistake that physical attraction for love.  Anything that springs up quickly can die away quickly too without something more substantial than feelings to build on.  You see someone and they're attractive and you kind of crush on them a little and you flirt and you think about them a lot -- that's great.  That's fun.  But don't call it love.

5.  Hard-boiled detectives.  Just because I love them.  I can always find room in my heart for another.

Alan Ladd in The Blue Dahlia (1946)

6.  Characters who love to read.  Katherine Reay does this really well -- writing characters who read books, and using their book choices to help define them.  I want more of this.

7.  Fairy tale retellings.  Not getting tired of these yet.


8.  Intelligent children who obey their parents.  I'm really tired of stories about kids who are so smart, they just have to disobey all their superiors in order to save the day or whatever.

9.  Intelligent parents.  While we're at it, let's do away with the "stupid parents who are incapable of simple reasoning and should not be allowed to drive or hold jobs" thing that shows up in kids books.  Especially kids mysteries.  Making the parents dumber does not make the kids look smarter.  It makes the author look lazy.

10.  Nice stories about nice people doing nice things.  And something goes a bit wrong now and then, but everything turns out well in the end.  Does anyone write books like this anymore?  They should.  I will read them.

(I will also love those books, and hug them, and be their new best friend.)

That's all I've got for today, bookish friends!  Are any of these things you'd like to see more of?  Did you do a TTT this week?  Please share and discuss!

Friday, May 5, 2017


The 2017 shortlists for the INSPY Awards were announced here earlier this week.  Since I'm judging the Mystery/Thriller category, I have about five weeks now to read these five finalists:

  • Conspiracy of Silence by Ronie Kendig
  • Cold Shot by Dani Pettrey
  • Dressed for Death by Julianna Deering
  • If I Run by Terri Blackstock
  • When Death Draws Near by Carrie Stuart Parks


Happily, my library has a couple of these, so I got to start reading yesterday already.  BUT.  To keep the judging fair and confidential, I can't discuss these books until after the winners have been announced.  So I can't post reviews here, or even rate the books on GoodReads, until after the awards are decided and posted.  Which means you'll be seeing fewer book reviews from me for a while.

Just so you know!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

"Superman Versus the Ku Klux Klan" by Rich Bowers

The subtitle of this book, "The True Story of How the Iconic Superhero Battled the Men of Hate," led me to believe that this would mostly focus on the time when Superman's writers used him to convince kids that the KKK was bad.  And it's definitely about that.  But it's also a whole history of how Superman was created, and a history of how the KKK was formed and all the different times when it died down and then reemerged.  All in all, it was a thoroughly fascinating book, with so much more history and information than I had expected!

Basically, after WWII, the creative team behind the Superman radio program for kids was looking for a new Big Bad for their hero to battle.  Nazis and the other Axis powers had been disposed of, and they needed something new and evil for Superman to take on.  They wanted their program to be a little educational too, and to help kids learn to be good citizens and good neighbors.  

The KKK had recently resurfaced in many states, fighting primarily against black soldiers who had returned from WWII and were resisting being discriminated against and trodden upon the way they had been before they joined the service.  The radio show created a fictional version called the Clan of the Fiery Cross and taught their listeners how bad and evil these men where, men who hated people only because of their religion or race.  Bowers writes that this series "showed children -- and adults -- all over the country the deep-seated prejudice that fueled the KKK's mission and the greed for money that motivated its leaders.  And the show's use of satire and ridicule set the stage for others to use those weapons against the Klan" (p. 146).

My library had this shelved in the junior non-fiction section, and while I think it would be fine for teens, there was a lot of discussion of KKK activities that involved lynching, burning, branding, and rape, and I personally would not let anyone under the age of 13 read it.  So If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13.

Particularly Good Bits:

Our hero's split personality -- that vast gulf between the milque-toast persona of Clark Kent and the supreme confidence of Superman -- represented the full potential inherent in all human beings.  It made us feel that we too could shed our day-to-day exteriors to reveal the real hero within" (p. 148).

Monday, May 1, 2017

"The Great Gatsby" Read-Along -- Official Announcement

Just to officially alert you... I will be hosting a read-along of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald right here on this blog beginning June 1.  You'll notice that the buttons all say "June 1-30," and that is because I'm convinced we can read and discuss the whole book in one month.

If you've never participated in one of my read-alongs and are curious about how they work, basically I will write a post for each individual chapter.  Each post will contain my own thoughts on the chapter, some favorite lines, and a discussion question or two that I think people might want to ponder.  All participants are then invited to discuss the chapter in the comments, both with me and with each other.  You don't have to stick to the questions I ask!

You are hereby invited to join me!  Whether you've read Gatsby a time or twelve, or never read it.  Whether you read it and liked it, or read it and hated it.  I welcome all comers who are here to read and discuss and learn!

There is no "sign up" process for this, but if you want to share a button on your own blog, or leave me a comment saying you plan to participate, go right ahead!

I tend to celebrate the end of a read-along with some sort of give-away, just so you know...

"The Man in the Box" by Marylois Dunn

Ohhhhhhhhhhh, this book.

I read this book many times when I was a teen.  I got it from the library over and over.  I remember writing a poem about how much I loved it, and putting a copy of that poem inside the front cover of the book before returning it, and then being really pleased every time I would check the book out again and find the poem still there.

But I haven't read this book since leaving home to go to college.  It's been almost twenty years.  I've kept putting it on my list of favorite books, but I'd started to wonder... would I still love it?  Was it as good as I'd thought as a teen?

Yeah, totally still love it.  But it's not as good as I'd thought as a teen.  It's a much simpler story than I'd remembered, and told fairly simply... but at the same time, that suits the story.  It has no need to be fancy and elaborate.

During the Vietnam War, a Vietnamese boy named Chau Li feels intense compassion for an American soldier who has been captured by the Viet Cong and is being publically tortured by them in Chau Li's village.  They imprison the soldier in a box suspended from a tree, a box so small his butt and feet are on the box's bottom, his head between his knees, his arms tied by his ankles.  No room to move, no way to change position.  Chau Li's father was the village leader, and he died in that same box, tortured and killed by the Viet Cong for not helping them.  Although it means he will never see his mother or sisters again, Chau Li decides to try to rescue the American.  The bulk of the book takes place after the rescue attempt.  I remembered, when I got to the end, that once upon a time, I wrote another chapter for this book that took place after the book ends because I wanted it tied up more neatly.  I would still like to know what happens next, but I'm okay with just vaguely imagining it now.  I think.

Note:  the edition with the cover above is the edition I read now, but not the one I read as a kid.  This edition is a nice trade paperback, except it has a lot of typos, especially places where words with an 'r' and an 'n' next to each other have an 'm' instead -- like the word 'bum' instead of the word 'burn.'  I'm assuming whoever put this out scanned the text from the original, and the computer mixed things up a bit.  It wasn't irksome enough to keep me from enjoying this story all over again, but if it would bother you, try to find a used copy of the original.

Particularly Good Bits:

The boy lay listening to the steady fall of the rain, listening to the slow drip of water from the thatch to the floor.  The rain outside was happy.  It was with its companions, striking, running, tumbling, laughing as it fell.  It was like a school yard full of children who have eaten large bowls of hot rice and pork for lunch.  The rain that dripped inside was sad.  it was separated from its friends, hungry, lonely.  It was like the mother's tears (p. 12). daylight, all demons wear kindly masks (p. 53).

Chau Li shrugged.  "One survives.  Tomorrow will come with the sun" (p. 63).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for violence, danger to a child, and suspense.  I will let my 9-year-old read this if he wants to.

This is my third book read and reviewed for the Adventure of Reading Challenge 2017.