The 2016 Summer Games are occurring right now in Rio de Janeiro, and the world has come together to compete in a number of summer sports! From gymnastics to swimming to soccer to basketball, multiple athletes are trying to get the gold! So with the Olympics underway, we thought it would be fun to examine some books that have sports themes in them, particularly sports that are played during the Summer Games!
Book: “Tumbling” by Caela Carter
Publishing Info: Viking Books for Young Readers, June 2016
“Tumbling” centers around a number of American teenage girls who are vying for a spot on the Women’s Gymnastics Olympic Team. Given how amazing U.S.A.’s Final Five have been during these games, and given how popular Women’s Gymnastics is every year, it seems only fair that this book make the list. Not only does it showcase the glory and excitement of trying to make the Olympics, it also shows the struggle and the stress that comes with it. Following a few different girls, “Tumbling” is the perfect companion book for these summer games!
Book: “The Boys in the Boat” by Daniel James Brown
Publishing Info: Viking, June 2013
Following the a true story of Olympic dreams, “The Boys in the Boat” is about the American Rowing Team during the 1936 Olympics, and everything that they had to do to make it to the top of the medal’s podium. This non fiction book has been fairly popular for awhile, and given that it’s an Olympic year the interest is sure to spike once more. While rowing may not have the same interest as swimming or gymnastics does these days, it was very popular in the 1930s, so this race was huge. And who doesn’t want to root against Nazi Germany?
Book: “Fever Pitch” by Nick Hornby
Publication Info: Riverhead Books, 1992
Hornby’s memoir and ode to his love of football (soccer to all of us Yanks!) is one that only brings to light the high intensity world of sports fandom, but also shines a bright light on a world-wide obsession. This is listed as an autobiography/comedy/analytical piece, which is a lot of hats to wear. But, as any sports-lover knows, one’s team can becomes one’s life, if you’re not careful! While some of the references may be dated, “Fever Pitch” still makes most all lists of best soccer-related books.
Book: “The Eighty-Dollar Champion: Snowman, the Horse That Inspired a Nation” by Elizabeth Letts
Publication Info: Ballantine Books, January 2011
The true story of “Snowman,” a regular old plow horse who was rescued from the back of a truck that was on its way to the slaughterhouse and went on to become a national sensation in show jumping. Horse stories are a personal favorite of mine, but it is rare to find a true story that is about horses competing and succeeding in anything other than track racing. With comparisons to “Seabiscuit,” a personal favorite, this sounds like the perfect book for any equestrian sports lovers out there!
Book: “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand
Publishing Info: Random House, November 2010
Speaking of “Seabiscuit”…by the same author, Laura Hillenbrand, comes another World War II true story. This might feel like a bit of a repeat, as the Berlin games are also the focus of our second suggestion, but with a major motion picture recently released, and an amazing story of resilience and survival, we couldn’t leave “Unbroken” off this list. Louis Zamperini‘s story is extremely powerful, speaking to the inner strength that athletes draw upon in their sports (in his case, track and field as a runner) and that, in his case, translated to endurance as a prisoner of war.
Book Description:Kami has lost the boy she loves, is tied to a boy she does not, and faces an enemy more powerful than ever before. With Jared missing for months and presumed dead, Kami must rely on her new magical link with Ash for the strength to face the evil spreading through her town.
Rob Lynburn is now the master of Sorry-in-the-Vale, and he demands a death. Kami will use every tool at her disposal to stop him. Together with Rusty, Angela, and Holly, she uncovers a secret that might be the key to saving the town. But with knowledge comes responsibility—and a painful choice. A choice that will risk not only Kami’s life, but also the lives of those she loves most.
Review: I finally got around to picking up the last book in the “Lynburn Legacy” trilogy. And, while I was left a bit cold by the second book in this series, I am happy to report that “Unmade” pulled the series back from the edge and ended on a solid note.
But first, before I go into any details about the book itself, can we take a moment to be aghast together at this cover? For the sake of discussion, here are the three covers in the series:
Obviously there was a huge shift between the first book and the second. My guess is that the first cover was coming across as “middle grade” and the publishers thought to “age it up” by switching cover art. But to this? Generic back-of-girl-walking-into-distance artwork? At least the first was interesting and unique. The second two just look like every other book on the shelf. I’ve never been a fan of the titles of these books, either. They say next to nothing about what the story is (what genre is this? what time period? what’s unique here?). And this problem is only exasperated by these generic covers. And what’s worse, by the time we get to the third one, the generic cover actually makes no sense! There is absolutely zero reference to the ocean or to Sorry-in-the-Vale even being anywhere near the ocean in these books. While the second cover at least draws feelings of mystery and suspense with a creepy woods (there is at least a creepy woods in the story), the third cover looks like something from Spring Break: Hawaii!! It’s truly awful. I have many feelings re: book covers, and usually I’m good at tamping it down, but this time…
But, enough of that, on to the review! Kami and co. start off this book in a pretty low spot. Rob Lynburn has taken control of the town, Jared is missing, presumed dead, and Kami sharing a sorcerer/source bond unwillingly with Ash. It’s all very awkward and uncomfortable. First off, I commend Brennan for “going there” with the darkness in this book. It doesn’t pull any punches with the horror of what the Lynburn legacy of magic and might stands for, and the type of rule that Rob hopes to usher back in. With that, however, comes a challenging hole to be dug out of. I was concerned that some type of magical out was going to appear, but for the most part I was satisfied with the direction this story took in its final third. While I’ve always wished for a bit more explanation into the magic system (it seems like people just “have” powers and can then do anything. Harry Potter has spoiled an entire generation to fantasy reading where we expect to hear about our characters “learning” their magic!), over all I the expanded ideas with regards to connections between sorcerers and sources was entertaining and interesting.
As I’ve said in my previous two reviews, the characters are what drive this story and the reason I kept returning to the series. Kami is such a healthy, balanced teenage girl protagonist. She struggles with not only the fantasy elements of the story, but problems that many teenagers face: shifting relationships with parents, connections with siblings, evolving friendships, and, of course, romance.
The romance is probably the weakest element of this story for me. By the end of the second book, I thought things had been largely resolved in that area and I was looking forward to a story more closely focused on plot than on the romance angst. Unfortunately, it is made a thing again. And really, because it had been seemingly resolved in the second book, it felt like hoops and out-of-character behavior had to be used to create drama in this department, a writing trope that I never appreciate. At this point in the story, especially when there were serious events going on in life, the relationship angst felt contrived and I almost was rooting for Kami to just slam the door in Jared’s whiny, mopey face once and for all. Alas, she did not. Ultimately, this also resolved itself in a surprisingly satisfying manner by the end of the book, but I feel like a lot less page time could have been devoted to the whole plot line to begin with.
There are moments of this story where the dialogue is laugh-out-loud in its witticisms, but I’ll be honest, there were a few parts that were cry-worthy as well. All in all, it was a very satisfying conclusion to a solid trilogy in the YA fantasy genre. If any of these elements are up your alley, I definitely recommend checking out this series!
Rating 7: A satisfying conclusion full of witty and fun characters!
Book: “Disappearance at Devil’s Rock” by Paul Tremblay
Publishing Info: William Morrow, June 2016
Where Did I Get This Book: The library!
Book Description:Late one summer night, Elizabeth Sanderson receives the devastating news that every mother fears: her fourteen-year-old son, Tommy, has vanished without a trace in the woods of a local park.
The search isn’t yielding any answers, and Elizabeth and her young daughter, Kate, struggle to comprehend his disappearance. Feeling helpless and alone, their sorrow is compounded by anger and frustration. The local and state police haven’t uncovered any leads. Josh and Luis, the friends who were with Tommy last, may not be telling the whole truth about that night in Borderland State Park, when they were supposedly hanging out a landmark the local teens have renamed Devil’s Rock— rumored to be cursed.
Living in an all-too-real nightmare, riddled with worry, pain, and guilt, Elizabeth is wholly unprepared for the strange series of events that follow. She believes a ghostly shadow of Tommy materializes in her bedroom, while Kate and other local residents claim to see a shadow peering through their own windows in the dead of night. Then, random pages torn from Tommy’s journal begin to mysteriously appear—entries that reveal an introverted teenager obsessed with the phantasmagoric; the loss of his father, killed in a drunk-driving accident a decade earlier; a folktale involving the devil and the woods of Borderland; and a horrific incident that Tommy believed connected them all and changes everything.
As the search grows more desperate, and the implications of what happened becomes more haunting and sinister, no one is prepared for the shocking truth about that night and Tommy’s disappearance at Devil’s Rock.
Review: So the other night, the moment finished “Disappearance at Devil’s Rock”, I closed the book, set it on my night stand, and thought to myself
I knew that I would need to ruminate on it for a little bit and let it stew. Its interesting, because Tremblay’s other book I’ve read, “A Head Full Of Ghosts”, seemed pretty straight forward and clear cut to me. I devoured that one, made an opinion, and called it a day, even though I know that others contest my theory about it (my friend Hillary in particular). But with “Disappearance at Devil’s Rock” I found myself filled with questions. After going back and not only thinking about it, but re-reading parts of it as well, I have made up my mind about this book: I greatly enjoyed it. Part of that enjoyment comes from the fact that there isn’t really any clarity as to what really happened. We have about as much knowledge as the characters in this book, cobbled together from diary entries, hearsay, unreliable witness statements, and local legends and rumors. The big question is what happened to Tommy Sanderson? Is it supernatural, or just a regular, worldly evil? Tremblay is great at making you question the things that you read in his books, and boy was I questioning everything.
I first want to talk about the family that is holding out hope for Tommy. Tremblay writes the horror a parent feels when their child is missing in an honest and empathetic way, as Elizabeth is at times both completely panicked and anxiety driven, to numb and almost subdued. She has her moments of doubting everyone around her, even her other child, Kate, and wondering if anyone is being one hundred percent honest with her and what they know. It doesn’t help matters that she is convinced that she saw a vision of Tommy in his room after his disappearance, a shadowy shape crouched down and looking distorted. She feels his presence, she sees him, she smells him, but questions if it’s Tommy, or a ghost, or an omen, or merely her faculties starting to fall apart. This isn’t the first horrific loss that the family has experienced, as the family patriarch left them and then was killed in a drunk driving accident, which raises more questions about Tommy as well. Is this something that has haunted him and affected him for all these years? Is this a trauma that he never really recovered from, and that has altered his state of emotional being? Is this why he’s obsessed with zombies and disaster? Elizabeth’s inability to know and the fact that it is driving her mad is so heartbreaking, but so real. It’s also very hard to read about how it’s all affecting Kate, her other child and Tommy’s little sister. Kate is also hurting and scared, but has this twelve year old girl need to be tough and a supportive, so much so that she makes some very bad decisions when she thinks that she is taking care of her Mom. Seeing the role reversal of a child caring for a parent in this way is always so sad, and Elizabeth and Kate are just another well done example of this dichotomy. I really liked Kate and how Tremblay wrote her, complications and all.
The only insight we get into Tommy’s state of mind is through a frenzied journal, and what his friends and loved ones say about him. His friends portray him as just one of the gang, part of a group that is still having their long summer adventures a la “Stand By Me” or “The Goonies”. But Tremblay slowly reveals that maybe this isn’t the case, and that maybe even their perceptions and depictions of him, even beyond the secrets they are keeping, aren’t quite true either. Those around him only see him through the lenses of a mother, a little sister, and his pals, until the strange and upsetting diary is found. And even that is unclear as to what is the truth and what isn’t. I think that by making Tommy so mysterious, even when so much of him is laid out in the open, is what makes this book all the more scary, and all the more tragic. The one thing that is clear from all of the misdirection and false fronts is that Tommy is lost in more ways than one, and seeing it all written out and pieced together was incredibly heartbreaking. He is searching for someone to really understand him, and unfortunately a rather cryptic and strange character realizes this, and decides to take advantage of it. In this way, the horror of the story is far more real than ghosts, or devils, or other things that go bump in the night. It became evident that, even though perhaps there are strange and supernatural things afoot, the real scary thing is that sometimes we don’t really know those that we care about the most, and if they disappear we will be left with a huge, gaping hole that is filled with far too many questions. And we ultimately may not be able to protect them from those who want to take advantage of them.
And since this is a horror book, and since Tremblay is a damn fine horror writer, I need to talk about the creepy and weird shit that goes down. I already have an abject fear of waking up in the night to see a strange shadow person in the window or in the corner of my room, so whenever this part of the story happened shivers ran up my spine. Shadow people are present in many different kinds of folklore, and the way that they were described in this book was so effective and upsetting that I still feel a bit disturbed by it, a few days after finishing it. I like that Tremblay gives different explanations, from mass hysteria to the Third Man Phenomenon to just plain out supernatural terror. There is one scene written out in transcript form, that describes a Shadow Being combined with a bit of Uncanny horror to top it off, and I was practically shaking I was so tense. I don’t want to give anything away, but my God, it was so unsettling that it’s really sticking with me. Ultimately, the concept of shadow figures and shadow doubles could be a metaphor for other things, or it could just be a flat out creepy entity to instill fear into the reader. But it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that it scared the hell out of me, as unless it were a “Parent Trap” kind of situation I think that the thought of running into a Shadow Double or Doppelganger is just the very worst. Ugh. Thanks, Mr. Tremblay, for freaking me the hell out in that regard.
I was left super disturbed by “Disappearance at Devil’s Rock”, and though it took a bit to build up and terrify me, terrify me it did. Paul Tremblay has continued to prove himself to be one of the best horror writers out there at the moment, filling his stories with scares and also a lot of emotions. And a whole lot of ambiguity, which I have accepted and come to really, really appreciate. If you read it at night, don’t do it by a window.
Rating 8: A slow burn horror story that is both terrifying and tragic, this newest book from the fabulous Paul Tremblay is another true winner. Ambiguity abound, but that can be the best thing about a horror story.
Since “Disappearance at Devil’s Rock” is still fairly new, it isn’t on many Goodreads Lists at the moment. However, with the themes it has, I would say look at “Popular Missing Persons Books” and “Popular Coming of Age Books”. And hey, if you have Netflix, give “Stranger Things” a try because MAN are they similar in a lot of ways (and I mean that it absolutely the best way possible)!
Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!
Book Description:Scotland, 1830. Following the death of her husband, Lady Darby has taken refuge at her sister’s estate, finding solace in her passion for painting. But when her hosts throw a house party for the cream of London society, Kiera is unable to hide from the ire of those who believe her to be as unnatural as her husband, an anatomist who used her artistic talents to suit his own macabre purposes.
Kiera wants to put her past aside, but when one of the house guests is murdered, her brother-in-law asks her to utilize her knowledge of human anatomy to aid the insufferable Sebastian Gage–a fellow guest with some experience as an inquiry agent. While Gage is clearly more competent than she first assumed, Kiera isn’t about to let her guard down as accusations and rumors swirl.
When Kiera and Gage’s search leads them to even more gruesome discoveries, a series of disturbing notes urges Lady Darby to give up the inquiry. But Kiera is determined to both protect her family and prove her innocence, even as she risks becoming the next victim…
Review: Well, I guess it was coming. I had been on a historical binge for the last few weeks, mostly to great success, so there was bound to be a come-down heading my way, and sadly that come-down arrived in the form of “The Anatomist’s Wife.” Really, I should have been skeptical at the title alone considering that “The [insert occupation here]’s Wife” has been the working title of every new work wanting to make a name for itself in the historical fiction world for the last 5 years at least. But the cover was so beautiful! And what if it was another great historical woman detective series that I could just dig my teeth into for the next few months! And look at how pretty! Alas, this book suffered from failings in writing, narrative, and characterization, as well as fell into a few tropes that are particular pet peeves of mine.
For the good, on the whole the writing is fairly strong. The author wasn’t pulling any narrative marvels out of her hat, but it was clear and concise, and for the most part, the dialogue was believable and interesting. Unfortunately, there were also a few distractions. The story is set in Scotland, and while it is explained that many of the characters are from London and thus devoid of a Scottish accent, the author chooses to sprinkle bits of the dialect into the story in such a way that is very distracting. Kiera’s brother-in-law, for example, is originally from Scotland but has apparently lost much of his accent due to schooling. Fine, sounds believable. But then at bizarre intervals throughout the story, he suddenly starts speaking in a deep brogue.
The other sticking point I found with the writing was the author’s choice to write from first person. I’ve long held the view that first person narration is much more difficult to write than third person, and there’s a reason many readers don’t prefer it due to these challenges. For example, in this story, Kiera refers to her own hair as “chestnut tresses” at least twice. No one thinks of themselves like that! Or, if they do, they are a thoroughly strange and probably unsavory character. There were also several anachronisms in the way that Kiera thought/behaved. I’m all for the strong, independent woman character in historical mysteries like this, but there were at least 12 too many eye rolls for even my taste.
Which leads into one of my biggest criticisms of the story: Kiera herself. It felt like the author wasn’t sure whether she wanted to write a historical mystery or a romance novel. And this indecision resulted in very inconsistent characterization for Kiera. She would wildly vacillate from one extreme to another. First as a competent, confident, and independent-minded widow who has seen the nasty parts of the world and has chosen to use the skills she has gained from this to solve a horrendous murder. And next as a weepy, weak, irrational, love-stricken lady who literally clings to the men around her. I’m all for fully rounded out characters, as that’s just a true portrayal of people. We all can be competent one minute and irrational the next, but there’s usually a good explanation for the change. Definitely a better one than “she needs to have an emotional breakdown so that when the love interest sweeps in it’s romantic!” which is often what it felt like here.
Further, there were two tropes of romance novels (at this point, I’m pretty convinced that that was what the author should have written and just left off the whole mystery to begin with) that I absolutely can’t stand. First, while most romance novels have a progression of feelings between the heroine and the hero that can often start with some level of dislike, this book took this idea and would speed the process up one minute and rewind it the next. Kiera hates Gage, he’s a rake! Gage pays her a very small compliment and Kiera’s heart is fluttering and she doesn’t know why! Kiera really doesn’t like him, look at all that flirting! But her stomach swoops when he walks in the door! What can that be about? She definitely doesn’t like him. Sigh. It was exhausting and undermined Kiera as a person. She came across as completely unaware of herself and those around her, which is not a good trait in a want-to-be detective.
Second, Kiera was constantly criticizing the women around her for being shallow and silly. Even worse, she was constantly being told by one man or another how unique and special she was because she “wasn’t like other women.” In general, if the only way a book/author can make the main female character worthy of praise is by tearing down all the women around her, maybe the main female character just isn’t that special to begin with? Like I said, I’m all for the strong, independent women character, but you don’t get there by implying that any other type of woman whose interests might align with the more traditional roles women have played is somehow lesser.
The mystery was adequate. I was able to predict the killer fairly early on, which is always disappointing, but there was a good trail of clues to follow and things tied together nicely. The secondary characters were also interesting, especially Kiera’s sister Alanna who had much more spunk and fire than Kiera herself, sadly.
All in all, I was pretty disappointed by this book. If you are more interested in a historical romance novel with a dash of a mystery, I might recommend this. But not the other way around.
Rating 4: A very “meh” mystery and an irritating leading lady makes for a not great reading experience.
Book: “Girl Last Seen” by Heather Anastasiu and Anne Greenwood Brown
Publication Info: Aw Teen, March 2016
Where Did I Get This Book: The Library!
Book Description:Kadence Mulligan’s star was rising. She and her best friend, Lauren DeSanto, watched their songs go viral on YouTube, then she launched a solo career when a nasty throat infection paralyzed Lauren’s vocal chords. Everyone knows Lauren and Kadence had a major falling-out over Kady’s boyfriend. But Lauren knows how deceptive Kadence could be sometimes. And nobody believes Lauren when she claims she had nothing to do with the disappearance. Or the blood evidence As the town and local media condemns Lauren, she realizes the only way to clear her name is to discover the truth herself. Lauren slowly unravels the twisted life of Kadence Mulligan and sees that there was more to her than she ever knew. But will she realize she’s unknowingly playing a part in an elaborate game to cover up a crime before it’s too late?
Review: Sometimes I take a chance on a book that I have never heard of. Working at a library means that I see a lot of books pass by me, so I get tempted to be spontaneous fairly often. “Girl Last Seen” is one of those books that I decided to take a chance on. I had a long plane trip ahead of me, and something fluffy and easy sounded really good to me. However, I didn’t want it to be THAT fluffy and easy. And unfortunately, “Girl Last Seen” fell very much into that camp. It was kind of like the idea was ‘what if we took “Gone Girl” and made it for teens?’ I have news for you. Teenagers could just read “Gone Girl”. And I didn’t like “Gone Girl” either. So you know that this isn’t looking good for this book.
First of all, none of the characters were very interesting. You have Lauren, a musician and lyricist who is part of a musical duo with her best friend Kadence. But of course the moment that Lauren lost her voice semi permanently due to a nasty infection she contracted, Kadence dropped her and went solo. Lauren is your typical victimized best friend, who did crappy things to become popular, like dropping her old best friend Nathan. Then there’s Nathan, who became a pariah after he lost Lauren, so much so that he left school for awhile. He’s back now, though, and conveniently hot. And he’s going by the name Jude. He’s also kind of stalkery and hell bent on revenge against Kadence and Lauren, but not really Lauren because he’s still madly in love with her. This is normally a trope that I’m on board with, but in this case he wasn’t sympathetic enough for me to pledge my alliance to him. Then there is Kadence’s boyfriend Mason, the guy who put another wedge between Kadence and Lauren by kissing Lauren in the heat of the moment. Which is just another reason that people in their community think that Lauren has something to do with Kadence’s disappearance. All tropes that we’ve seen before. I’m fine with tropes, but only if they are made into their own well rounded characters and plot points, and none of them are.
There was also a strange choice in writing with this book, in that it tried to take an epistolary approach for the chapters that concerned Kadence. But instead of using written things like texts, or emails, or instant messages (is that still a thing?), the authors try to write out what is happening on web videos or news reports. When trying to write out something that is so visual, it comes off as very stilted and strange. I didn’t understand why that choice was made, when it could have been something like a blog post or a bunch of tweets. Instead we got a lot of things like ‘she looks away from the camera and looks upset’, which is the EPITOME of telling and not showing!!! That is a huge pet peeve of mine. If this were an actual web series, sure, a girl looking away from a camera and looking upset may show instead of tell, but in this case it just was awkward and irritating.
And there wasn’t really any big mystery to this whole thing. I pretty much knew what was happening from the beginning, and while the authors tried to throw some red herrings in there, it didn’t really fool me. That said, there was one final big twist that I didn’t see coming, which I do have to give them props for. It was much better than what the initial explanation was, and I did take that at face value at first. So kudos in that regard, as not only was it surprising, but it did end up being the most satisfactory of endings that I could get from this book. But one small twist that shocked me didn’t make up for lots of other things that didn’t quite add up in my eyes.
Seriously, teens could just read “Gone Girl” and get basically the same gist. It’s a shame because the summary was intriguing and I like being spontaneous, but when my spontaneity isn’t rewarded I feel more of a need to stick to planning out what I’m going to read.
Rating 3: This one just didn’t do it for me. The characters were flat, the mystery has been done, and most of the twists were predictable.
With “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” taking the world by storm, we thought that it could be fun to focus our Monday post on the stage! Though “Cursed Child” is a play that has been released as a novel, we are going to focus on the other way around: books that have been turned into successful and famous plays.
Book/Play: “The Phantom of the Opera” by Gaston Leroux (play by Andrew Lloyd Webber)
Publication/Premiere Information: September 1909; 1986
“The Phantom of the Opera” is a classic tale of beauty and the beast, obsessive and tragic love, and the power of music. The play is a personal favorite of both of us, the music and the story and the tragedy of Erik the Phantom overtaking us every time. And before you start to say “oh gross, how could you like a story about an obsessive and murderous stalker,” we have to say to you:
We know. It’s fine. Whatever. We still love it. Leroux’s novel is about Christine, an opera singer who rises to stardom thanks to lessons from her “Angel of Music.” The opera house that she sings at is also the home to an “Opera Ghost” who terrorizes those who don’t bend to his will. The Angel and the Ghost are one and the same, a disfigured man named Erik who is obsessed with Christine and wants her to marry him. But Christine is in love with Raoul, a nobleman who wants to whisk her away. This displeases Erik, and carnage and violence ensues. In spite of his creepy demeanor and stalker persona, there is just something incredibly tragic about the Phantom that makes him very, very sympathetic, and Michael Crawford’s depiction of him on the stage is a performance that is timeless. The music is very operatic and dramatic, which is perfect for a book that is basically a soap opera. “The Phantom of the Opera” has been running on Broadway since 1988, with no signs of stopping. And if you want a surefire way to make both of us sob, just play the entire finale track from the show.
Book/Play: “Les Miserables” by Victor Hugo (play by Claude Michel-Schonberg and Jean Marc Natel, English lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer)
Publication/Premiere Information: 1862; 1980
Known affectionately as “The Brick” by its fandom, the novel “Les Miserables” tackles and disseminates the French political and judicial systems of the time period. It focuses on many characters from many walks of life, but perhaps the most famous is Jean Valjean, a thief turned do gooder. Hugo’s book is considered to be one of the best of French Literature, and the play is one of the most beloved musicals of all time. The show gives many voices to many characters, especially giving voice to Eponine, a somewhat side character in the book. In the play she is arguably the second most important female role, as she is portrayed as very three dimensional and complex. The play has been translated into more than twenty languages, and has been the longest running play in London’s West End. You would be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t at least heard of “Les Miserables,” book or play, and its enduring legacy is still going strong among classics lovers and theater kids alike.
Book/Play: “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley (play by Nick Dear)
Publication/Premiere Info: 1818; February 2011
So this one is kind of a fun anomaly that we both wanted to talk about. The book “Frankenstein” is quite possibly one of the first examples of science fiction in literature, as a young Mary Shelley told the story of science and electricity raising the dead. This story has had MANY adaptations, from Boris Karloff as the Monster to a parody written by Mel Brooks. But this play is kind of interesting. First of all, it was directed by “28 Days Later”‘s Danny Boyle, which is pretty neat. The second, and far more relevant thing to us, is that it starred Johnny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch. Miller and Cumberbatch played both Dr. Frankenstein, and his monster, swapping roles for different performances. The play takes some licenses with the original text, but both Miller and Cumberbatch won awards for their performances as Frankenstein and The Monster.
Book/Play: “Wicked” by Gregory Maguire (play by Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman)
Publication/Premiere Info: 1995; 2003
This is kind of a no-brainer for us, as “Wicked” is another of our favorite musicals. The book is more of a examination of political propaganda, social commentary, and ethics, with Elphaba Thropp, the Wicked Witch, leading a revolution and being vilified for it. The play certainly has this theme, but it gives far more play and time to the theme of friendship, specifically that between Elphaba and Glinda the Good Witch. Schwarz’s musical also makes Elphaba and Glinda more layers of complexity, as while they are complex in the novel, their complicated and fierce friendship makes both of these witches not only stronger, but more vulnerable.
Book/Play: “Peter Pan” by J.M. Barrie (musical directed by Jerome Robbins)
Publication/Premiere Information: 1911, 1954
And, of course, no list of famous book/play/musical adaptations would be complete without mentioning “Peter Pan.” Technically this is a tricky one as as Barrie originally wrote “Peter Pan” as a play that debuted in 1904 and then later adapted it into a novel. And then in 1954, it was re-adapted as the musical, lead by Mary Martin as the title character, that we are all most familiar with today. While both have challenging aspects to modern viewers/ readers, Barrie’s timeless story of childhood and the perils of growing up is one that continues to spark imagination. Sadly, that imagination does not always translate into great things…
So that’s it from us! What are some of your favorite book-to-stage adaptations?
Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!
Book Description:After the Russian revolution turns her world topsy-turvy, Anna, a young Russian Countess, has no choice but to flee to England. Penniless, Anna hides her aristocratic background and takes a job as servant in the household of the esteemed Westerholme family, armed only with an outdated housekeeping manual and sheer determination.
Desperate to keep her past a secret, Anna is nearly overwhelmed by her new duties—not to mention her instant attraction to Rupert, the handsome Earl of Westerholme. To make matters worse, Rupert appears to be falling for her as well. As their attraction grows stronger, Anna finds it more and more difficult to keep her most dearly held secrets from unraveling. And then there’s the small matter of Rupert’s beautiful and nasty fiancée…
Review: I am on a bit of a historical fiction kick currently, it seems. And this story, with its mixture of “Downton Abbey” themes and motifs combined with a main character who survived the Russian revolution, sounded just about perfect right now. While there were definite strengths and weaknesses of this story, I ultimately very much enjoyed it.
Anna, whose family lead an idealic life in the Russian aristocracy before the revolution overcome their country, has now fled to England with the remaining members of her family, and is broke and facing a new life for which she is completely unprepared. Luckily, she finds a place as a housemaid in the household of the Earl of Westerholme. I say “luckily” because, while the book description leads readers to believe that Anna struggles with this transition, she manages to find herself in one of the best households one could imagine. Her co-workers are hardworking and, while initially very skeptical of her clearly inexperienced background (though they only think she is untrained, unaware of her high born status), they are supportive and recognize her hard work and effort. And the family all end up loving her immediately as well, even the family dog!
This speaks to one of my largest criticisms of the book. Reading the book description, I was looking forward to a story about struggle, hope, and the ability to overcome the tough hand life had dealt Anna. But ultimately? She seemed to glide through it all with barely a misstep! Her childhood, before the revolution, is described in rosy hues and she’s pretty much the perfect child, notably never spoiled, always humble and cheerful. And then, thrown into a position as a maid, she seems to adjust instantly and everyone love her! The dog, the eccentric uncle (they bond over classical music), the senile mother of the butler (Anna gives her something to do!), Ollie, the young neighbor girl who struggles with her health (Anna never makes her feel like an outsider!). Anna was bit of a “special snowflake,” I guess is what I’m saying.
While this aspect of her characterization was a bit much, there were also very funny bits. For example, to learn to be a housemaid, Anna reads a 3 volume tome about the do’s and don’ts of service and is eternally quoting it at the other workers, much to their chagrin. She also curtsies elaborately to everyone, like so:
Ultimately, it was the villain character that made this book so fun. I found myself wanting to rush through the story just to get to the parts where Rupert would realize how completely terrible his fiancee really was. And she’s not villainized in the typical way (I was concerned that this was going to be a bit of a “evil for being popular” trope). Instead, Muriel has a keen interest in eugenics and “perfecting” the human race. So, you can guess where that was going! She was delightfully horrible.
My second criticism of the book was the ending and how it was resolved. Rupert is a rather bland leading man, and I was waiting for him to actually make some choices and stand up for his family and household whom he had exposed to the workings of his cruel fiancee. Instead, things are wrapped up in a way that seemed a bit out of left field, and by periphery characters. I feel that this could have been handled a bit better.
I listened to the audiobook version of this and very much enjoyed the narrator. She had a very “Dowager Countess of Grantham” type style which was lovely. The quality of the recording was a bit lacking, but I generally enjoyed it.
If you want a short, sweet historical story and can tolerate a bit of a “Mary Sue” type leading lady, definitely check this book out! Like I said, the villain is lovely to hate.
Rating 6: Solid story with a unique addition of the Russian revolution, but the leading lady was a bit too perfect and the ending a bit too much of an “easy out.”