Recommended Reads: Verse Novels

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It’s National Poetry Month so you should be reading poetry. My obsession with verse novels has continued and expanded to memoirs and biographies written in verse. I’ll be working my way through a few of those this month. Meanwhile, here a few books I have read and highly recommend, even to people that aren’t big poetry fans.

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds–On his way to avenge his older brother, 15-year-old Will is confronted and forced to face the cycle of violence he’ll be contributing to. The whole book takes place on an elevator, a ride that seems to stretch time and pass too quickly. It’s a quick read but it will stay with you for long after you’re finished.

Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow–Criminals, lawyers, and feral dogs that also happen to be werewolves plotting world domination. Throw in a romance between a werewolf and dogcatcher and this is the most interesting verse novel I’ve read so far. It’s such a great story, you almost forget it’s written in verse.

Wicked Girls by Stephanie Hemphill–Peek inside the minds of the young girls who sparked panicked witch-hunts in their community. Through shifting points of view, we see how a game has deadly consequences. High recommended for anyone interested in the Salem witch trials.

The Language of Fire: Joan of Arc Reimagined by Stephanie Hemphill–I jumped into this without really knowing much about Joan of Arc. I didn’t just learn her story but felt like I was a part of it. It was equal parts inspiring and heartbreaking.

Check out my Bookshop list for more verse novels and other narrative verse suggestions.

Movie vs Book: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

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The Hate U Give book cover

(Post includes affiliate links. I get nothing for my opinion, but might get paid if you buy something.)

I’ve wanted to read this book for a while. When the movie came out it was added to my list for future posts. But then I stalled, and stalled and stalled. As interested as I was in it, I also didn’t really want to face it’s realness. The book revolves around Starr, who witnesses her childhood best-friend, Khalil, get shot and killed by a police officer. She struggles with fear, guilt and shame as the people around her pressure her to either stand up for her friend or stay silent for her safety. This builds on the pressure she already feels attending a private school with mostly rich white kids.

I knew this book would not be an easy read, and would likely bring me to tears. I was absolutely right. Hearing everything from Starr’s point of view is heartbreaking. The realness of the story also makes it hit hard. The characters are flawed. Khalil questions the officer, responds with an attitude and doesn’t follow his directions. You may find yourself judging him, it almost seems as if Starr does too in the moment. But as Starr points out, he didn’t do anything wrong, certainly not anything to deserve to die. It also accurately reflects real world stories where the victim ends up being more scrutinized than the police officer. Starr also has her own complicated and conflicting issues. The story is just too real not to hit home.

The movie sticks pretty close to the book. They switch the order of scenes, eliminate some characters and make a few changes that don’t have a major affect on the overall story. I didn’t like the changes they made to the story line following her school friendships. In the book, Hailey’s racist behavior is more of a ongoing issue extending beyond Khalil’s murder, the movie makes it the catalyst for all the conflict between with her friends. In the book it’s a lot more complicated, a lot the deeper issues Starr and her family struggle with are just barely mentioned in the movie. They also threw in an extra confrontation between police officers and the family that seemed just to be there to shock viewers and drive home the main theme. Generally it was a good movie, and a pretty good adaptation. What’s odd is that for a fairly long movie, a little over two hours, it felt rushed. It also didn’t seem to have the same natural flow as the book. The order of events and scenes felt disjointed and pieced together. There are also elements left out of the movie that would have added more depth. I think the narrow focus on Starr, made the other characters fall flat.

Overall, I’d say the two were pretty comparable. They both manage to tell a difficult story that shines a light on a very real problem. While the movie has a very narrow focus, I think the book really highlights how the events affect more than just the individuals involved. In the real world it’s hard to see the connections, but the book really shows how the events ripple out to family, friends and the communities of the victims of police violence and abuse. I preferred the book over the movie but I really think this is a story everybody should hear in either form.

Book vs Movie: Princess Bride by William Goldman

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The movie Princess Bride is an old favorite of mine and a better love story is inconceivable. There’s something for everybody, romance and a hot hero for the ladies; revenge and sword fighting for the guys. I won’t even try to imagine how many times I’ve watched it; there was a time it was on at least once a week. (That might be a little exaggerated.) I was pretty shocked to find out there was a book, and that it took me this many years to know. Wasn’t it lucky when ebook came up as a freebie through Prime. I know Amazon is horrible but it’s so convenient. I made up for it by borrowing the DVD from the library. That works, right?

I was pretty excited to read the book. I’d always loved the movie so naturally I expected the book to be even better. I will say it was interesting. The book is presented as an abridged version of a fictional novel the author’s father read to him as a kid. The introductory first chapter sets up the premise with a bit too background about how he ended up doing this abridged version. I didn’t read the whole thing, about half way through I jumped to the actual story. He also interjects the story randomly, explaining things he left out or other related notes. They didn’t distract too much from the story and some were a bit humorous but I could have done without them.

It’s been quite some time since I’ve watched the movie and it was still just as good as I remembered. Besides some minor changes the movie sticks pretty close to the book. They incorporated the author’s premise of the kid being read to, but it really fades into the background you kind of forget about it. I’m pretty surprised that the whole thing wasn’t completely committed to my memory. How I forgot about the R.O.U.S, I have no idea. Of course, I did remember my favorite parts, mostly the end when they rescue Buttercup. Never could get those scenes of Westly barely able to move out of my head. (I’m wondering if that says something about me.)

This is one of the few times where I have to say, I liked the movie better. The book isn’t bad, I actually really like the story. The biggest issue was the chapter introducing the whole fictional novel premise. It was too much, too many tangents, too much information, just too much. And the interjections became a little annoying after the first couple. So yeah, if you were thinking of reading the book, I’d say just skip it and watch the movie again.

Book vs Movie: Beowulf translation by Seamus Heaney

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In honor of National Poetry Month, I decided see if I could find a movie adapted from a poem. I found more than I expected, although some were more inspired by the poet or their collected works as opposed to actual adaptations. Then there are the epics, which in some cases seem to have spawned their own genres. I decided to go with Beowulf because I knew pretty much nothing about it. I thought this would be an interesting experience and it was. A little different, kind of odd, but interesting.

I’ll start off saying I enjoyed Beowulf. The basic story is pretty cool. Beowulf is a bad ass hero. He fights some sea monsters, kills a demon and it’s mother. He becomes a great king because of his reputation as a great warrior and the alliances he formed. With that said, it was a difficult read. It’s not exactly hard to follow, but it does need your full attention. It’s also best to read it in small chunks. There are a lot of digressions that can be draining. Usually it’s the praising of former kings and heroes, or background information, and even a minstrel’s song performed during a feast. It’s especially frustrating because its usually just before or in the middle of climatic scenes. Overall, it was an interesting read and had some engaging parts but I don’t think I would of finished it if I wasn’t doing this post.

There have been a couple different adaptations of Beowulf, I chose the major movie released in 2007. The movie uses real actors for motion capture animation, I’m not a fan of the style. Something about the way the actors look like overly edited photos irks me, however it works well for the fantasy elements. In general the movie seems a lot like the book, it uses a lot of the same elements, but it ends up telling a very different story. The poem is essentially a way to sing the praises of Beowulf and other great kings and warriors. The movie presents a story of flawed, easily corruptible men whose misfortune is a result of their own actions. It’s a modern, or some would say more realistic interpretation of the poem. However, it makes for very few, if any, likable or sympathetic characters. In fact I wonder if the point wasn’t that men are the real monsters.

If not for this post, I wouldn’t of even been interested in watching this movie. I didn’t think it was horrible, there were bad parts, but it wasn’t really good either. I’m not even going to attempt to say which I thought was better. They were both kind of meh. Plus they were very different and made for different audiences. I’d say if you’re into scholarly reading have a go at the poem. You’ll probably enjoy studying it and different interpretations. (But don’t watch the movie if it’s for a class.) If you’re looking for a fantasy action adventure, the movie is entertaining enough. While the poem has some moments, it’s not exactly thrilling reading.

Book vs Movie: Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

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So this post is just a bit different from my usual book vs movie. There are actually two movie adaptations of the book, made within only a couple years of each other. So I watched both and will be comparing all three. Second, I did not wait to finish the book before watching the movies. I watched the first just as I started the book and the other while I was about half way. I thought it would be fun to switch it up, plus I’d already read the book previously, although it was long enough ago that I barely remembered it.

This book is one of the only vampire novels I know of that mainly focuses on children while being meant for adults. The main characters Eli and Oskar are twelve years old. Rather they both appear to be twelve years old, Eli is actually a vampire that’s lived hundreds of years. Despite her long life, Eli still has child like qualities highlighted by her interactions with Oskar. While their relationship is the main focus of the story, the book bounces around to several other minor characters and subplots that all converge. It all comes together well, and in all it’s a great book. Although I will admit towards the end I felt it was dragging, I was impatient for the end. I don’t remember feeling like that the first time I read the book, so this might have been the result of watching the movies first.

I have to say for an adaptation the original Swedish film was damn good. Obviously, with so many characters and subplots, a lot cut out from the movie. However, they were able condense the story and cut out parts that weren’t integral. Although, they did hint at one major part of Eli’s backstory but didn’t elaborate, which in that case could have just been left out. Otherwise I think they did an excellent job with adapting it. The movie has a pretty eerie atmosphere. The beginning was especially jarring, and seemed stilted.  It seems to echo the book in that respect, jumping around to different story lines, yet moving faster than the book. It’s hard to describe but while moving quickly it still felt like a slow buildup.

The American version was made only two years after the Swedish movie. It’s not supposed to be a remake but it’s own adaptation of the book. While sticking to the same basic story it was a pretty different movie. I guess on it’s own it might be an okay movie but after the book and the first adaptation it was disappointing. I thought there were pointless changes, like changing of main character names, and they cut out a lot more of the story. It didn’t have the affect and felt a lot more rushed. Even the friendship between the two main characters seemed to spring up overnight.

The one aspect that both movies kept from the book that was really cool is the consequences of a vampire entering uninvited. That’s usually not included in most vampire stories and I thought it was an interesting inclusion and also the affect is pretty sick, in a good way. So obviously in this case here the book is best. Although I will caution to read the book first, it does feel like it drags if you watch the movie first. And hands down the Swedish version is much better and a very worthy adaptation.

Book vs Movie: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

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I thought this would be the perfect book and movie for this month, because essentially it’s a love story. Not my usual thing and I was not expecting to enjoy either, as I assumed it was a typical couple from different worlds makes it against the odds story. Nick Young and Rachel Chu have been dating for two years when a trip to Singapore introduces her to the alternate reality of Singapore’s elite and super wealthy families.

While the love story is the major plot line and driving force of the story it recedes into the background for much of the book. We are introduced to a handful of minor characters, mostly members of Nick Young’s family. The story takes on a fly on the wall feel, giving us an insider view of the family and their social circle. We see their extravagant lifestyle and how they struggle with the pressure to keep up appearances. The over the top characters create a lot of humor, but we also see the darker side portrayed in the negative reactions to Rachel. The book is a great read and I flew through it, I will likely be reading the followups in the series as well.

As for the movie, I enjoyed it, but it was a bit disappointing after the book. For obvious reasons, much of the story from the book was cut out, shortened or sped up. The book includes a lot of characters with their own subplots that add depth and are entertaining but have little to do with the main characters. However, there were also some changes that made a major difference. First of all Peik Lin and her family were not as ridiculous in the book. I loved Peik Lin, she was literally my favorite thing about the movie. But the rest of her family was just too much, especially the father who was more creepy than funny. There’s also their knowledge of the Young family and Peik Lin attending the party at Tyersall Park, which completely undermines how the Youngs were portrayed in the book. And then there was the ending, which literally ruined the movie for me. It was the most cliched, vomit inducing, regurgitated scene ever. No spoilers here, but you can probably guess, because it’s been done in about half the romance movies ever made.

So as usual the book was better than the movie, far better. Besides major issues, there are also minor scenes that don’t really make sense to viewers unless they’ve read the book. The movie simplified a complex story into a superficial and unoriginal rom-com. Although entertaining, it was a poor reflection of the book. I’ll be digging into the next books of the series soon, but I doubt I’d ever watch the movie again. And I’ll likely skip the sequel if it actually happens. (Unless they make it all about Peik Lin.)

Have you read the book, seen the movie? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Comment below and let me.

Nano-Reads–Published NaNoWriMo Novels

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I had originally planned on participating in NaNoWriMo this year, but decided to sit it out. Instead I’m going to continue with the two other projects I’m already working on. I have enough unfinished projects. As an alternative I decided to read a couple of published novels that started as Nano-books.

Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard

Finally a YA book that does not take place in a dystopian futuristic world. Instead it’s set in a magical alternate past, during Philadelphia’s Worlds Fair. Just as Eleanor’s brother goes missing, the city’s dead begin to rise. When Eleanor receives a message from a corpse about her brother she goes to the Spirit-Hunters for help, but ends up in the middle of the investigation for the necromancer responsible.

Necromancers, spirit-hunters, and walking dead, make for a great story, but what really pulled you in was Eleanor. She seems very conflicted about her role in society. Eleanor is expected to dress and behave according to her role as a young woman of high society. It’s interesting to see how she navigates around (or simply breaks) these conventions to achieve her goals.

Art In Blood: A Sherlock Holmes Adventure by Bonnie MacBird

I’m not a big mystery reader and all I know about Sherlock Holmes is from TV and the movies. I have no idea how this compares to other Sherlock Holmes novels but I enjoyed reading it. The novel begins with a newly married Watson finding Holmes in an cocaine fueled spiral. He’s pulled out of the spiral by a intriguing message from French performer worried about her son and believes he may be in danger. The son lives with his father, an English lord, and their yearly visit has been canceled. Holmes in a frenzy sets off to Paris right way. His hurry isn’t simply concern for the boy. This particular English Lord has been suspected of art theft in the past and may be connected to a recent art theft of notoriety.

The story moves at a quick pace, new details introducing connections between the cases and darker mysteries. Not much I can say about the book, it was a quick, easy read and was pretty entertaining. 

Book vs Movie: Percy Jackson and The Lightning Thief by Rick Rourdin

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In an effort to keep these interesting I wanted something a little out of my normal reading and viewing habits. I decided on the kids book Percy Jackson and The Lightning Thief.  I’d seen parts of it on TV, it seemed okay and I was interested in how they combine the mythology with a modern day setting. I’ve always loved reading mythology, the Olympian Gods especially.

If this series came out when I was a kid, I would have been obsessed. A thirteen year old kid from New York finds out his father is Poseidon, god of the sea, then goes on a quest to save the world. I enjoyed reading the book, it’s a quick read for me but has a good story. I really liked the way the author wove in mythological aspects into the setting. Especially, how magical elements were hidden in plain sight. For example, Medusa’s victims as garden statues and DOA records as the entrance to Hades. The story was humorous, the characters likable and it really kept my interest.

The movie was okay. It keeps some elements from the book but the story ends up vastly different and not for the better. There were a lot changes to the story, big and small. The movie isn’t terrible but it could have been better if they had stuck closer to the story from the book. One major change to the story took a way a lot of the agency of the characters. In the book, the decisions they make lead to face monsters and various obstacles. However, the movie eliminates all of that with addition of a magical tool that guides them on their way. We know exactly when to expect a fight or action scene, there’s no suspense, no tension. While reading the book, I was always wondering what mess they would get into next and how it would change their path. The movie ended up seeing our protagonist and his friends go on a very different quest.

This time around, I have to say the book was definitely better. The movie was fun to watch, the characters and the humor hold up well. However, they should have stuck closer to the source material. The book just had a better story. Let me know what you think. Have you read the book, watched the movie? Share your thoughts below in the comments.

Fall 2019 To Be Read List

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Well there goes the summer. A a fan of the hot weather it’s very disappointing for me. I don’t mind the fall, or Autumn if your fancy, but the temperature drops way too quickly for my taste; one day it’s 60 the next it’s 30. I do try to look on the bright side and there are some great things to look forward to, garlic festivals, Halloween, and new books. Okay so new books come out all the time, but for some reason this fall seems to have so many great books, a few I’ve been waiting months for.

My Fall 2019 TBR List

Institute by Stephen King

I decided to include this even though it came out in August, technically still summer.  It was only last week, close enough, and it’ll be September when I read it. From the description think it might be a Dark Tower related book. The story takes place at The Institute, where children with psychic abilities are imprisoned and their gifts extracted. I can only guess at who’s running this place and their intentions, but I think I have a good idea. I’ll just have to wait and see.

September

Grim, Grit and Gasoline: Dieselpunk and Decopunk Fairy Tales

Another collection for the list. I’ve kind of been really into fairy tales lately. It might have something to do with binging fairy tale based TV shows; Grimm, Once Upon a Time, etc. I’m also kind of intrigued by the dieselpunk and decopunk aspect; described as alternate histories of the WWI and WWII eras, 1920’s-50’s. I’m not exactly sure what to expect, maybe a flapper fairy godmother or Pinocchio as a Nazi double agent. I don’t know, I have to find out.

Quichotte by Salmon Rushdie

Rushdie is one of my other top favorite writers who never disappoints me. I love the magical surrealism of his stories and the beauty of his writing style. I know he’s not for everybody, but I hope you’ll give him a shot. Quichotte has been described as a modern day Don Quixote, or at least an homage to it. Set up as a story within a story, Quichotte, who is actually the creation of writer Sam DuChamp, takes a cross country trip with his imaginary son to win the love of a famous actress. As always with Rushdie I’m excited to see what ridiculous trials his characters go through and how he intertwines their stories.

Monster, She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror and Speculative Fiction- 9/17

When I saw this title, I absolutely knew I had to read it. Described as “part biography, part readers guide,” it includes over a hundred women authors. I am always looking for new horror and sci-fi writers and bonus for only focusing solely on women writers. I’m almost certain it’ll have to be a new addition to my library.

October

Hex Life: Wicked New Tales of Witchery- 10/1

Here we have a short story collection. The theme of the collection is witchcraft and witches, with all the stories being written by women. The book is described as classic tropes infused with “fresh, feminist perspective and present-day concerns.” Although I have to wonder, with the emphasis on feminism why it has a male editor. Not that I care, just seems a bit odd. Anyway I’m just here for the stories of witchery, but bonus for female perspectives and featuring Kelly Armstrong.

Toil and Trouble by Augustin Burroughs –10/1

It feels like I’ve been waiting forever for this book to come out, an excerpt was release early summer, and I still have another month to go. But I’m pretty sure it’s worth the wait. His books include some dark topics, his wit and humor keeps it from becoming bleak and depressing. In this upcoming memoir he shares his lifelong secret of being a witch.

Book vs Movie: Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann

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So far I haven’t been too disappointed with the Valley of the Dollsmovie adaptations, of course that had to come to an end. I have issues with some of the movies but this one by far has to be the worse adaptation I’ve seen. Of course, a large part of that could be the novel’s length and two decade timeline. A movie just could not do it justice.

Valley of the Dolls is an excellent book and it’s easy to see why it was and has remained so popular. It provides an interesting story with genuine characters you care about. It starts as a fish out of water story centering on Anne Welles, a small town girl who moved to New York City. Her job puts her in the center of the city’s entertainment industry, which highlights her innocence and naivety. Central to the story are her friendships with Jennifer North and Neely O’Hara. Switching points of view we get a picture of each of their struggles in the limelight and eventual reliance on prescribed pills, other wise known as Dolls. By the end we can read it as a cautionary tale and social commentary of show business. It’s relevance is not relegated to it’s own time period, many of the themes are just applicable today.

One reason the book works so well is because the reader becomes invested in the characters. We get to know them as they form their friendships and are just starting out in their careers. The movie does a poor job portraying this. None of the women seem to struggle at all, in fact they seem to become famous and wealthy overnight. And the friendships seem to form out of nowhere, we barely even see how they know each other besides being loosely associated through familiar social circles. The character’s in the movie end up coming off unsympathetic, especially Anne and Neely. Almost from the beginning they seem entitled and self absorbed. It’s easy to blame some of the issues on the time constraints of a film, but there are lots of other changes that simply do not add to the story. And the most horrific change of all, the ending. It was completely butchered.

I waited until after writing this to read reviews, or anything else about the film, and apparently many people love it because it’s so bad. I can understand that and yeah I got a few laughs out it. But it was just sooooo disappointing after the book. I was going to say don’t waste your time with the movie, but on second thought go ahead, just remember you’ve been warned. If you do give it a try I’d say watch the movie, then read the book.

Thoughts, opinions, questions? Comment below.