5 Mini-Reviews

I’m on vacation…I have two whole weeks off from having to prepare for Bible studies, sermons, counseling sessions, etc., so my brain has gone into “idle” and refuses to write any full reviews (to say nothing of Grandma’s slow/unreliable internet connection). However, I’ve been reading some interesting stuff so here are five mini-reviews:

Image result for book cover miseryTitle: Misery
Author: Stephen King
Genre: Psychological Horror
Pages: 339
Rating: 4 of 5

Author Paul Sheldon is “rescued” from a car accident by his “number one fan,” and held captive while he is forced to write a sequel to his most recent potboiler. The spectacularly unstable Annie Wilkes demonstrates that psychotic human behavior can be more terrifying than anything supernatural. As is usual with Stephen King, I’m not a fan of the profanity (though Annie uses silly/cutesy faux-curses), but that man can write!

Title: Inferno
Authors: Larry Niven & Jerry Pournell
Genre: Horror / Retelling
Pages: 237
Rating: 2.5 of 5

Allen Carpentier, a sci-fi writer (who is an agnostic), dies in a stupid drunken accident and awakes in what appears to be hell as described by Danté. There, he meets Benito who conducts him through the “nine circles of hell” in an effort to leave the same way Danté did. Along the way, Carpentier tries to figure out “what’s really going on,” sees some clever modern updates to “classic sins,” and explores a theology that is equal parts atheistic “God is a moral monster” argument, C. S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce, and Rob Bell’s Love Wins. B+ for creativity, D- for theology.

Title: Gwendy’s Button Box
Author: Stephen King & Richard Chizmar
Genre: Horror/Weird
Pages: 180 (with a lot of blank space & illustrations)
Rating: 4.5 of 5

This short book falls more into the “weird” category than actual horror. It could be seen as a sort of twist on the story of Pandora’s Box…only this box comes with sinister buttons (especially the big black one) and a couple nice levers. This isn’t high action and doesn’t provide nice neat answers at the end, but it’s an excellent example of “the weird.”

Title: Wayne of Gotham
Author: Tracy Hickman
Genre: Superhero
Pages: 304
Rating: 2 of 5

This story digs into the background of Thomas Wayne (Bruce Wayne’s father) and dirties him up a bit. I’m only a casual Batman fan so I don’t know how well it fits with “canon” (poorly, I suspect). Continuity/canonicity issues aside, it just wasn’t a very good book; the author obsessively describes Batman’s tech (even in the middle of action scenes), mentions Batman’s advancing age and slowing reflexes every few pages, and somehow manages to make Batman boring.

Title: Trouble Is My Business
Author: Raymond Chandler
Genre: Hardboiled Detective
Pages: 224
Rating: 4.5 of 5

I love noir/hardboiled detective stories, and Chandler is one of the best (only Hammett is on the same level). The four (longish) short stories in this volume all feature his iconic detective, Philip Marlowe. Marlowe doesn’t seem to be as well developed in these stories as in his full length novels (he seems a little less snarky and well-read here), but this is still well worth reading.

Updated Shrew

Image result for vinegar girl coverTitle: Vinegar Girl
(Hogarth Shakespeare series)
Author: Anne Tyler
Genre: Literary Fiction / Retelling
Pages: 237
Rating: 4 of 5

In this retelling of The Taming of the Shrew, Petruchio’s (Pyotr’s) “break her spirit” vibe has been tamed down to something more likable and socially acceptable. This renders the story (for me at least) more enjoyable.

This is a less strict retelling than New Boy was for Othello, but no less entertaining for that. Aside from Kate’s off-putting bluntness, there wasn’t much resemblance to the Shakespearean original until about halfway through the book. The author mostly dispenses with all the hidden-identity/wooing-of-Bianca (Bunny) subplots and focuses on the Pyotr/Kate relationship. I thought that updating “marrying her for her dowry” to “marrying her for a green card,” was particularly clever.

As far as the characters went: at times Kate was so socially clueless that she seemed like she belonged somewhere on the autism spectrum…but I suppose Shakespeare’s Kate was pretty outrageously rude too. Pyotr is much less intentionally mean than Petruchio with a lot of his bluntness/rudeness coming from cultural differences. Kate’s father (Dr. Battista) is transformed into an exaggeratedly eccentric scientist, and her sister (Bunny) becomes an airheaded teenager…both of whom feel a bit more like something out of Austen or Dickens than Shakespeare.

Overall, I’m not a fan of romantic books (or The Taming of the Shrew) but quite enjoyed this book…the Hogarth Shakespeare series continues to impress.

Othello on the Playground

Title: New Boy
(Hogarth Shakespeare)
Author: Tracy Chevalier
Genre: Literary Fiction / Retelling
Pages: 205
Rating: 4 of 5

This retelling of Shakespeare’s Othello drives home the pettiness of those involved by setting the action mostly on a school playground with a cast of 6th Graders. The action takes place over a single day in the late 1970’s when Osei, the son of a Ghanaian diplomat, joins an all-white school with only a month left in the school year.

The author tells the story in the third person, constantly shifting point of view to follow the thoughts of Osei (Othello), Dee (Desdemona), Ian (Iago), and Mimi (Emilia). This exploration of each character’s thoughts and motivations is what makes this book worth reading. Mimi/Emilia’s characterization was probably the most interesting since she has rather muddled motivation in the original play.

I appreciate that the author didn’t make the story purely about racism as some people try to do with Othello. Racism is certainly a big component, but Ian/Iago’s issue has more to do with jealousy (over influence, popularity, power, etc.) than race – his racial prejudice just increases the vehemence of his jealousy/hatred.

There were a couple things that kept me from giving this five stars. The main issue was that sometimes when the author changed perspective she retold the exact same events over again. In the first section of the book she does this four times; I suppose the intention was to set the stage, but it was more tedious than clever. The other thing that bugged me was the too-detailed description of Ian and Mimi making out/grinding. Yes, I understand that it was establishing Ian’s skeezy take-what-I-want character, but ew!

Overall, this was an interesting, thoughtful retelling that I would definitely recommend to fans of the Bard.