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A Court of Thorns and Roses eSampler
A Court of Thorns and Roses eSampler
Price: £0.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Silver bells and iron, 12 Jan. 2015
Imagine if France and most of England were dominated by different courts of Faerie, while Germany and the southernmost part of England were ruled by mortals.

This is the setting of "A Court Of Thorns and Roses," Sarah J. Maas' fourth fantasy novel. The "A Court of Thorns and Roses eSampler" allows readers to check out the first four chapters of this story (plus map), which is just enough to get you excited about the story -- influenced by the medieval legends of Tamlin and (possibly a little) the works of Garth Nix.

When a massive silver wolf stalks the deer that Feyre is hunting, she ends up shooting it through the eye and skinning it. Her family has lost their estate and is on the verge of starvation, and Feyre is the only one who can hunt for them. Her life is a hard, bitter one, with nothing to look forward to except the occasional tryst with a local friend-with-benefit, and the bitterness of her sister.

But the killing of the wolf attracts trouble from Prythian -- a monstrous Faerie creature who demands to know who the "murderer" is. And under the Treaty between the Faerie, he is owed a life for a life.

The four-chapter preview of "A Court of Thorns and Roses" is a good teaser for the book to come -- it gives a fairly complete portrait of the world in which Feyre lives (complete with Faerie worshippers, fantasy creatures and the Treaty), and introduces some characters (the mercenary, the young Blessed fanatic) who will probably be significant in the overall story. But of course, it ends on an epic cliffhanger.

And Maas writes in a solidly older-teen style, with lots of detail and slow reveals of how Feyre's life and world works. Her writing is strong, detailed but full of pretty little details (the silver bells, snowflakes and painted flowers) to lighten up the rather grim medieval village. The only problem is that she doesn't really explore how well-off the "well-off" people of their village are, which would have given us a better idea of how the village works overall.

The interestingly-named Feyre is also a fairly likeable heroine -- she's strong and athletic, more attuned to the life that her family now leads. She has some bitter edges, but is kind enough to not dislike her family for the things they can't/won't do, like chop wood or hunt. And Maas bravely avoids a common trope in young-adult fiction, namely having teen girls be virtually sexless before they meet their One True Love.

"A Court of Thorns and Roses eSampler" is a good introduction to Maas' fourth book -- you get to know the heroine, the setting, the backstory, and the strong writing. On to the real thing!

The Silmarillion by Tolkien, J. R. R published by Houghton Mifflin (1977) Hardcover
The Silmarillion by Tolkien, J. R. R published by Houghton Mifflin (1977) Hardcover
by J. R. R Tolkien
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars The Bible of Middle-Earth, 12 Jan. 2015
Consider this -- J.R.R. Tolkien's fantastical epic "Lord of the Rings" is only the tail end of his invented history.

Yes, Tolkien spent most of his adult life crafting the elaborate, rich world of Middle-Earth, and coming up with a fictional history that spanned millennia. And "The Silmarillion" was the culmination of that work -- a Biblesque epic of fantasy history, stretching from the creation of the universe to the final bittersweet departure of the Elves from Middle-Earth.

A complete summary is impossible, because the book spans millennia and has one earth-shattering event after another. But it includes:
*The creation of Tolkien's invented pantheons of angelic beings under Eru Iluvatar, also known as God.
*How they sang the world into being, and the creation of Elves, Men, and Dwarves (hobbits are not really covered).
*The legendary love story of Beren and Luthien, a mortal Man and an Elf maiden who gives up her immortality for the man she loves.
*The attempts of the demonic Morgoth and his servant Sauron (remember him?) to corrupt the world.
*Feanor and his sons, and the terrible oath that led to Elves slaying one another.
*The Silmarils, the glorious gems made from the the essence of the Two Trees that generated the world's light.
*Elves of just about any kind -- bad, mad, dangerous, good, sweet, brave, and so forth.
*The creation of the many Rings of Power -- and the One Ring of Sauron.
*And finally, the quest of the Ringbearer, Frodo Baggins, and the final battle that would decide the fate of Middle-Earth.

If you ever were confused by a reference or name mentioned in "The Hobbit" or "Lord of the Rings," then chances are that "The Silmarillion" can enlighten you about what it meant. What is Numenor? Who are the Valar? Who is that Elbereth Gilthoniel that people keep praying to? How did the Elf/Dwarf feud originally begin? And how exactly is Elrond related to Aragorn?

For the most part, it focuses on the Elves and their history, especially where it intertwines with the history of Men -- although Dwarves and Hobbits don't get nearly as much ink devoted to them. But in that story, Tolkien weaves together stories of earth-shattering romance, haunting tragedy, gory violence, good versus evil, the rise and fall of cities and kingdoms, and much more.

However, it's not really written like Tolkien's other works. It's more like the Bible, the Mabinogion or the Eddas. Tolkien didn't get as "into" the heads of his characters here, and wrote a more detailed, sprawling narrative that would have needed countless books to explore in depth. But while his prose is more formal and distant here, it still has that haunting starlit beauty ("Blue was her raiment as the unclouded heaven, but her eyes were grey as the starlit evening; her mantle was sewn with golden flowers, but her hair was dark as the shadows of twilight").

It's clear to see, while reading this, the extent of Tolkien's passion for his invented history. Someone who had a lack of enthusiasm could not have spent much of his adult life writing, revising, and polishing a history that never was. It's also almost frighteningly imaginative and real: It isn't too hard to imagine that these things could actually have happened. In a genre clogged with shallow sword'n'sorcery, Tolkien's coherent, carefully-written backstory is truly unique.

Casual Tolkien fans probably won't be able to stick it out. But those who appreciate the richness and scope of Middle-Earth should examine "The Silmarillion," a sprawling fictional history full of beauty, tragedy and love. A work of literary genius.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies [Blu-ray] [2015] [Region Free]
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies [Blu-ray] [2015] [Region Free]
Dvd ~ Martin Freeman
Price: £14.99

19 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars One last time (some spoilers), 12 Jan. 2015
For the last decade and a half, Peter Jackson has been bringing audiences to the legendary world of JRR Tolkien's Middle-Earth.

And for the moment, "The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies" is the final piece in this cinematic tapestry -- the big action-packed climax to the first half of this story. While it has some weak spots (such as the whole awkward subplot involving Tauriel), it packs a devastating wallop to anyone who has come to love the characters over the past two movies, from the stubborn Dwarf king Thorin to the doughty little Hobbit.

Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) is only barely stopped by Bard (Luke Evans), who manages to take down the dragon with his black arrow... but not before Smaug destroys Laketown. Bard becomes the de facto leader of the refugees, who find themselves starving and homeless as winter approaches. Thranduil (Lee Pace) comes to help them with food and other supplies, but he's also there to back up Bard's claim on a share of the Dwarvish gold, and reclaim a certain item from Erebor.

Meanwhile, the White Council comes to Dol Guldur to rescue Gandalf from the mysterious Necromancer. And they soon find that he was right about the Necromancer's true identity, and the horrifying spectres that are rising to menace the world. And Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) head to the fortress of Gundabad to figure out what is going on with the orcs.

And back at the Lonely Mountain, Thorin (Richard Armitage) is seized by "dragon sickness," a lust for treasure that makes him a paranoid wreck unmoved by the two armies massing on his doorstep. Bilbo must take desperate measures to keep Thorin's mad greed from starting a war -- but when Dwarf and Orc armies arrive, war between the armies becomes an inevitability.

"The Battle of Five Armies" is best appreciated as the final part of one very, very long movie. "An Unexpected Journey" set the scene and began the journey slowly, and "The Desolation of Smaug" was an increasingly tense build to the climax. This movie IS that climax -- at least half of it is an epic battle between multiple armies, swinging between different characters in a multilayered battle royale.

Expect lots of bloody duels on the ice, elven acrobatics, and a ragged army of angry fishermen running through a ruined city. Just as it seems that the good guys are about to win, they're suddenly bludgeoned by a new attack that leaves them crippled and desperate. And the bloody consequences of the battle isn't limited just to nameless extras -- some characters whom viewers will have grown to love will die, and Jackson gives their deaths the painful pathos they deserve.

But Jackson hasn't lost his touch for the quieter moments. The aftermath of Smaug's death has a haunting quality as the Dwarves wander their ruined halls, and the audience sees Thorin growing progressively more detached from reality. And the movie's final scenes are bittersweet ones -- the everyday world seemed stained with blood and shadowed by the presence of Sauron. Things suddenly feel unbalanced and uneasy, even if the sun is shining and spring has come again.

But there are some things that really should have been cut, such as the rather silly romance subplot -- it feels like the studio decided, "Female viewers won't watch unless there's romance!" and demanded one that makes little sense. And with the Master gone, the character of Alfred becomes less villainous sidekick and more annoyance.

But one thing nobody can complain about is the acting. Martin Freeman's Bilbo is sometimes eclipsed by the dark, brooding, hubris-crippled Thorin, but he remains the amiable heart of a big, splashy, action-packed movie. Armitage is the other half of the movie's soul, slowly twisted by his decades-long obsession with regaining Erebor, and his increasingly mad lust for its gold. His final gut-wrenching scene with Freeman is absolutely perfect, bringing their troubled friendship -- and Thorin's classic hubris -- to its inevitable conclusion.

There are also excellent smaller performances by Ken Stott as the grandfatherly Balin, McKellen as a rather battered, desperate Gandalf, John Bell as Bard's tough teen son, and Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving and Christopher Lee in one brief, intense scene at Dol Guldur. Lilly and Bloom are a bit wasted, though -- they don't have a lot to do, plotwise.

Two particular scene-stealers are Evans and Pace, as the two kings -- one old and one new -- who butt heads with Thorin. Evans brings a passionate, desperate energy to Bard's role as a loving father, and easily extends that same protective care to all the people from Laketown. And we see a bit of Thranduil's raw pain and grief under his haughty smirk, when he wanders past the bloodied bodies of slain Elves.

"The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies" is top-heavy on action and tragedy both, filling in the last gap in the saga of the hobbits and the One Ring. It has some missteps, but the passion and grief make it a powerful experience. And all the brilliant, epic action scenes don't hurt either.

Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Knickerbocker Classics)
Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Knickerbocker Classics)
by William Shakespeare
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.60

5.0 out of 5 stars Tales of the bard, 12 Jan. 2015
Shakespeare requires no introduction -- he is "the Bard," the most imposing playwright and storyteller in the English language. And "The Complete Works of Shakespeare" brings together every one of his plays, ranging from harrowing tragedies to airy little puffs of comedy -- and even the lesser plays are still brilliant.

The plays basically are divided into comedies, histories and tragedies. The tragedies are pretty much... tragic, the comedies are not always funny but end semi-happily, and the histories... well, dramatizations of history, which usually make a great deal more sense after some historical research.

And everybody has heard of the greats here -- the Scottish lord who murders his way to kingship, young lovers divided by a feud, a Moorish general who is driven mad with jealousy, an elderly king whose arrogance rips his life apart, a very cleaned-up version of Henry VIII's split from his first wife, the goofy Prince Hal and his growth into a great king. There are feuding fairies, bickering lovers, romantic tangles, Julius Caesar's demise, gender-bending, an exiled duke/magician on his island, and the infamous "pound of flesh" bargain.

But Shakespeare also wrote a bunch of lesser-known plays that often can't be so neatly categorized -- a rotten love affair during the siege of Troy, a Roman general attacking his own city, an Athenian gentleman embittered by humanity, Richard III's Machiavellian plot to become king, two sets of twins separated at birth, a corrupt judge obsessed with a lovely nun, Falstaff's doomed efforts to make money, and so on. Some of these ("Troilus and Cressida") aren't nearly as good as his "main" body of work, but they're still excellent.

For all Shakespeare's plays, it's best to read them AFTER you've seen a good performance. Otherwise, it's like reading a movie script to a movie you haven't seen -- easy to get lost, and the dramatic effects aren't easy to connect to. But if you've seen performances of any/all of Shakespeare's plays, then his vibrant stories and poetry leap off the page.

There are long eloquent speeches, puns, clever linguistic twists, and evocative language that soaks the play in atmosphere ("With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine/There sleeps Titania sometime of the night/Lull'd in these flowers with dances and delight..."). In fact, his plays are diamond mines of quotations -- some are infamous ("To be or not to be") and some of which have floated into public knowledge without labels ("Cowards die many times before their deaths/The valiant never taste of death but once").

And while some of his plays are basically fluff, he manages to weave in moral questions, criticism and explorations of the human soul. And his characters range as far as his plots -- kings and princes, teenage lovers, proud but doomed warriors, clever young ladies in drag, bratty queens, the witty but combative Beatrice and Benedick, and even the puppet-master mage Prospero.

Shakespeare's "Complete Works" is a must-have for anyone who loves the English language -- his writing was unparalleled, and even his lesser plays are a cut above the rest.

Shiver Series (Shiver, Linger, Forever, Sinner)
Shiver Series (Shiver, Linger, Forever, Sinner)

4.0 out of 5 stars Shiver on, 12 Jan. 2015
For many years, we were inundated in paranormal romances -- including quite a few about werewolves. But Maggie Stiefvater's "Shiver Series" has a delicate, haunting, wintry quality that most paranormal romances lack, as well as a romance that tosses aside "Twilight"-style crushy obsessions in favor of a gentle, sweet romance threatened by nature itself as well as humanity.

In "Shiver," Grace has been visited by a yellow-eyed wolf every winter, ever since he saved her life as a small child. When a teenage boy is killed by wolves, and his body is stolen from the morgue, she somehow knows that supernatural stuff is afoot.

When a bunch of illegal hunters try to kill the local wolf pack, Grace rushes in to save her wolf -- and finds "her wolf" as a wounded, naked human boy. It turns out that cold triggers his transformations, while "warm makes me me. Makes me Sam." But as the cold approaches the town again, Grace may lose Sam in more than one way -- if she isn't destroyed as well.

"Linger" picks up with Sam and Grace trying to have a semi-normal HUMAN life -- getting a job, thinking about college, and fending off a police investigation into Olivia's disappearance. But Cole is determined to lose his pain in his wolf form, until he inadvertently stumbles into Isabel's life, and she finds herself drawn to him. And Grace's happiness at having Sam back is overshadowed by a mysterious illness, which may draw her even closer to the world of the werewolves.

"Forever" has Grace returning after her first winter as a wolf, still unstable. She hides in Cole and Sam's house, and for a brief time the young lovers are blissfully happy. But someone has been killed by one of the wolves, and Isabel's father has used his influence to have the entire pack killed. And as the four teens try to save the pack, their only hope may be a cure Cole has been searching for.

"Sinner" is less a sequel to the trilogy, and more a companion piece that comes after. Isabel has gone to live with relatives in California, to get away from her lycanthropy-wrecked life and her tumultuous relationship with Cole. But Cole has come to L.A., edging back into his life of rock'n'roll fame as he tries to win her back. But both of them have cracks and flaws that keep them from easily fitting back into each other's lives.

This trilogy has a poetic quality that most urban fantasy lacks -- it's a delicate, hauntingly crystalline book where even the humdrum high-school stuff takes on an ethereal quality. Maggie Stiefvater really came up with a unique idea for werewolves as well, where their transformation is dependent on the temperature -- cold makes them wolves, warmth makes then human. (Why don't they move to the tropics then?)

And her prose has a shimmering, silvery beauty that envelops you in black-leafed forests, wintry skies, snow-encrusted fur and icy air ("Despite the chilly air that made ghosts of my breath..."). She writes dramatic, intense situations that really grasp your emotions (Grace almost drowning in a muddy pool), but without melodrama or excessive dialogue.

"Sinner" is a somewhat different beast from the other three books -- while lycanthropy is still an enduring part of the story, it focuses more on romantic turmoil than on fantasy. It's a glittering, neon-hued story about a messy relationship that will never stop being messy and passionate... which happens to involve a werewolf.

I'm also rather sick of hormonal teenagers obsessing on each other and calling it "true love." Grace and Sam's relationship is a much more moving one -- hesitant, unsure, but deeply caring and rooted in true affection. As time goes on, they become more passionate and adorable, all the more so because they have to wait for each other. We also have a much more tempestuous, unpredictable couple in the charming, erratic Cole and snarky rich girl Isabel, who are just as gripping as Sam and Grace.

Maggie Stiefvater's "Shiver Series" deftly sidesteps many of the genre cliches, and leaves you in a chilly cocoon of beautiful prose. A must-read for those who want something more poetic and less creepy than your average werewolf romance.

Persuasion (Vintage Classics Austen Series)
Persuasion (Vintage Classics Austen Series)
by Jane Austen
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A second chance at love, 12 Jan. 2015
In Jane Austen's time, young women were taught that it was practically their duty to "marry well" -- someone of at least equal social/financial standing.

But if a woman turned down a suitor for being poor, she ran the risk of losing the man she loved. That's the problem for Anne Elliott, the heroine of Jane Austen's final novel "Persuasion" -- a delicate romance that takes place AFTER the romance, rejection and heartrending sorrow. There's some slight roughness around the edges, but the story and the characters are simply brilliant.

Eight years ago, Anne Elliott was engaged to the handsome, intelligent and impoverished sailor Frederick Wentworth, but was persuaded to dump him by the family friend Lady Russell.

Now she's twenty-seven (ancient by the time's standards), and her vain father Sir Walter is facing financial ruin. So he decides to relocate to Bath and rent out the vast family estate -- and it turns out that the new tenant is Frederick's brother-in-law. Of course, Anne still loves Frederick, but he doesn't seem to feel the same, especially since he's rumored to be interested in some younger, flirtier girls.

And Anne's worries increase when she joins her family in Bath, where her father is attempting to live the lifestyle he feels he deserves (since he's a baronet). His heir, William Elliott, recently reestablished contact with his relatives -- and he seems very interested in Anne. But Anne suspects that he has ulterior motives... even if she doesn't realize how Frederick truly feels about her.

It's pretty obvious that Jane Austen wrote "Persuasion" late in her life -- not only is Anne Elliott older than her other heroines, but she seems to have been more sympathetic to women who bowed to society's "persuasions." This was the last book that Austen wrote before her untimely death, and it was only published posthumously.

As a result, the book can be a little rough and the story is rather simple. But Austen's writing is still intense and powerfully vivid. Her prose is elegant and smooth, and her dialogue is full of hidden facets. The half-hidden love story of Anne and Frederick is among Austen's most skillful writing ("I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever"), and it's virtually impossible not to be moved by it.

And Austen went out of her way to praise the self-made man, who got ahead through merit instead of birth (something that bugs Sir Walter). She also pokes holes in social climbers, vain aristocrats ("Few women could think more of their personal appearance than he did"), nasty family and false friends.

Anne herself is a very rare heroine, both then and now -- she's past her designated "marriage" years and would have been considered a lost cause. But she remains remains kind, thoughtful, quiet, intelligent, and as time goes on she starts to appreciate her own judgement instead of being "persuaded." And Captain Wentworth is a vibrant portrayal of a strong man who worked his way to the top, but had to do so without the woman he loved.

Jane Austen's last finished novel is a little rough in places, but the exquisite beauty of Frederick and Anne's love story is simply staggering. Truly a masterpiece.

Mansfield Park
Mansfield Park
Price: £0.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Everybody likes to go their own way, 12 Jan. 2015
This review is from: Mansfield Park (Kindle Edition)
Even the best authors in the world sometimes put out something that... well, isn't up to their usual standards. For Jane Austen, that book was "Mansfield Park" -- her prose is typically excellent, and she weaves a memorable story about a poor young lady in the middle of a wealthy, dysfunctional family. But put bluntly, Fanny Price lacks the depth and complexity of Austen's other heroines.

As a young girl, Fanny Price was sent from her poor family to live with her wealth relatives, the Bertrams, and was raised along with her four cousins Tom, Edmund, Maria and Julia.

Despite being regarded only little better than a servant (especially by the fawning, cheap Mrs. Norris), Fanny is pretty happy -- especially since Edmund is kind and supportive of her at all times. But then the charming, fashionable Crawford sibilings arrive in the neighborhood, sparking off some love triangles (particularly between Maria and Henry Crawford, even though she's already engaged.

And the whole thing becomes even more confused when Henry becomes intrigued by Fanny's refusal to be charmed by him as the others are. But when she rejects his proposal, she ends up banished from her beloved Mansfield Park... right before a devastating scandal and a perilous illness strikes the Bertram family. Does Fanny still have a chance at love and the family she's always been with?

The biggest problem with "Mansfield Park" is Fanny Price -- even Austen's own mother didn't like her. She's a very flat, virtuously dull heroine for this story; unlike Austen's other heroines she doesn't have much personality growth or a personal flaw to overcome. And despite being the protagonist, Fanny seems more like a spectator on the outskirts of the plot until the second half (when she has a small but pivotal part to play in the story).

Fortunately she's the only real flaw in this book. Austen's stately, vivid prose is full of deliciously witty moments (Aunt Norris "consoled herself for the loss of her husband by considering that she could do very well without him"), some tastefully-handled scandal, and a delicate house-of-romantic-cards that comes crashing down to ruin people's lives (and improve others). And she inserts some pointed commentary on people who care more about society's opinions than on morality.

And the other characters in the book are pretty fascinating as well -- especially since Edmund, despite being a virtuous clergyman-in-training, is an intelligent and strong-willed man. The Bertrams are a rather dysfunctional family with a stern patriarch, a fluttery ethereal mother, a playboy heir and a couple of spoiled girls -- Maria in particular develops a crush on Henry, but doesn't bother to break off her engagement until it's too late. And the Crawfords are all flash and sparkle: a pair of charming, shallow people who are essentially hollow.

"Mansfield Park" suffers from a rather insipid heroine, but the rest of the book is vintage Austen -- lies, romance, scandal and a dance of manners and society.

Sense and Sensibility (Wordsworth Classics)
Sense and Sensibility (Wordsworth Classics)
by Jane Austen
Edition: Paperback
Price: £1.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The sensitive and the sensible, 12 Jan. 2015
One of the Dashwood daughters is smart, down-to-earth and sensible. The other is wildly romantic and sensitive.

And in a Jane Austen novel, you can guess that there are going to be romantic problems aplenty for both of them -- along with the usual entailment issues, love triangles, sexy bad boys and societal scandals. "Sense and Sensibility" is a quietly clever, romantic little novel that builds up to a dramatic peak on Marianne's romantic troubles, while also quietly exploring Elinor's struggles.

When Mr. Dashwood dies, his entire estate is entailed to his weak son John and snotty daughter-in-law Fanny. His widow and her three daughters are left with little money and no home.

Over the next few weeks, the eldest daughter Elinor begins to fall for Fanny's studious, quiet brother Edward... but being the down-to-earth one, she knows she hasn't got a chance. Her impoverished family soon relocates to Devonshire, where a tiny cottage is being rented to them by one of Mrs. Dashwood's relatives -- and Marianne soon attracts the attention of two men. One is the quiet, much older Colonel Brandon, and the other is the dashing and romantic Willoughby.

But things begin to spiral out of control when Willoughby seems about to propose to Marianne... only to abruptly break off his relationship with her. And during a trip to London, both Elinor and Marianne discover devastating facts about the men they are in love with -- both of them are engaged to other women. And after disaster strikes the Dashwood family, both the sisters will discover what real love is about...

At its heart, "Sense and Sensibility" is about two girls with completely opposite personalities, and the struggle to find love when you're either too romantic or too reserved for your own good. As well as, you know, the often-explored themes in Austen's novels -- impoverished women's search for love and marriage, entailment, mild scandal, and the perils of falling for a sexy bad boy who cares more for money than for true love... assuming he even knows what true love is.

Austen's formal style takes on a somewhat more melancholy flavor in this book, with lots of powerful emotions and vivid splashes of prose ("The wind roared round the house, and the rain beat against the windows"); and she introduces a darker tone near the end. Still, there's a slight humorous tinge to her writing, especially when she's gently mocking Marianne and Mrs. Dashwood's melodrama ("They gave themselves up wholly to their sorrow, seeking increase of wretchedness in every reflection that could afford it").

And Marianne and Elinor make excellent dual heroines for this book -- that still love and cherish each other, even though their polar opposite personalities frequently clash. What's more, they each have to become more like the other before they can find happiness. There's also a small but solid supporting cast -- the hunting-obsessed Sir John, the charming Willoughby (who has some nasty stuff in his past), the emotional Mrs. Dashwood, and the gentle, quiet Colonel Brandon, who shows his love for Marianne in a thousand small ways.

"Sense and Sensibility" is an emotionally powerful, beautifully written tale about two very different sisters, and the rocky road to finding a lasting love. Not as striking as "Pride and Prejudice," but still a deserving classic.

The Calling (Endgame, Book 1)
The Calling (Endgame, Book 1)
by James Frey
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £7.00

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars This is Endgame. There is no why., 12 Jan. 2015
I think we know what the pitch for "Endgame: The Calling" was: It's like the Hunger Games, but without the realism! And there are PUZZLES! And a fetch quest!

And sadly, the pitch is all there is to recommend the first book of James Frey and Nils Johnson-Shelton's new series for young adults. The actual execution is like a piece of stale pizza with no sauce -- dry, flavorless and kind of tedious. In addition to the awkward, lifeless writing with its short bland sentences, the characters feel more like game pieces than actual people.

The premise is that there are twelve ancient lineages who have been preparing to save the world for thousands of years... and for some reason, only one person is eligible per line, even though any one person from thousands of years ago is going to have a LOT of descendants. And for some reason, only teens are eligible, even though you would expect people at their peak physical condition to be chosen. But what do I know? Endgame!

Now meteorites are falling on whatever city the ONLY appropriately-aged descendants are living in, signaling the beginning of the vaguely-defined Endgame. Every one of them has been trained in deadly Special-Ops-style combat, so they can kill anyone who gets in their way -- including each other. Their goal: when Endgame starts, they must fetch three keys. And so begins a world-wide, bloody quest for the Great Puzzle of Salvation. If they don't win, they die.

"Endgame: The Calling" is the worst kind of story -- the kind of story that has a brilliant premise... and falls flatter than a tortilla that has been run over by a steamroller. In the hands of a better writer, this would be an epic story. It has backstory that spans all of human civilization, sci-fi/fantasy "Sky People" who have caused all this, a large cast of characters who come from all across the world... it sounds very epic, and a writer like Brandon Sanderson or Garth Nix could have spun a spellbinding tale.

But do we get an epic story? Alas, no. It feels like neither Frey nor Johnson-Shelton even cared.

The biggest problem is the writing, which is as dry and bloodless as a mummy. Often it feels like a screenplay ineptly transformed into a novel -- most of the time, we're simply told the characters' actions and some bland inner descriptions like "she wanted this" or "he didn't like this."

Everything is related in short, clunky sentences in the present tense (presumably a failed attempt at immediacy). They're strung together like dreary little beads ("It's just a gash. It will need stitches, though"), and they never swirl up the passions of the reader. For instance, once scene involves Sarah cheating on her Perfectly Perfect Ken-Doll Boyfriend with one of her rivals, whom she is competing against. How is this conveyed?

"But then they kiss.
And kiss.
And kiss.
And Sarah forgets."

Riveting, isn't it? The heat just radiates off the page.

And Frey and Johnson-Shelton utterly fail at creating any sense of actual tension. The first few chapters contain devastating meteorite strikes that leave countless people dead... and the reaction of all the characters is either glee or dull surprise. Even when a character's brother is impaled on a steel beam and dies in front of her, she barely even seems to care. It's presented in such a dull, vague way that nothing actually seems important.

But that's because these are not characters. They are chess pieces. They are video-game avatars. The backstory, personalities, and experiences of the characters are nonexistent except for their Endrame training. Admittedly it is difficult to flesh out such a large cast, but some of their introductory chapters are only a few pages long -- just long enough to establish the character's nationality/ethnicity, and that they are a main character.

What is there to these people other than their nationality/ethnicity and the fact that they have trained to be in Endgame? Not much. Only one seems to have an actual life outside the Endgame prep, and that is just so her blandly perfect boyfriend can eventually be imperiled.

"Endgame: The Calling" has a shell of a plot, full of the characters' actions and words, but without any kind of narrative soul. The writing is dry, the characters are like paper, and the authors clearly cared about nothing but the movie rights.

Little Women
Little Women
Price: £0.00

5.0 out of 5 stars From Little Women to Good Wives, 12 Jan. 2015
This review is from: Little Women (Kindle Edition)
Louisa May Alcott wrote many books, from her "blood and thunder" tales to heartwarming novels about teens growing up.

But there's something special about "Little Women," a fictionalized account of her own family's growing pins. Thewarmly realistic stories, sense of comedy and tragedy, and insights into human nature make the romance, humor and fun little anecdotes of "Little Women" come alive.

The four March girls -- practical Meg, rambunctious Jo, sweet Beth and childish artist Amy -- live in genteel New England poverty with their Marmee, while their father is away in the Civil War. The girls don't let lack of money hamper their fun and happiness. But their world starts to expand when Jo befriends "poor little rich boy" Laurie, and soon he and his tutor are almost a part of their family.

Along with him, the girls encounter many of the bumps of growing up -- the destruction of Jo's treasured writing, romps with wealthier pals, Amy's expulsion from school, and Meg's reluctant first romance. But their lives are turned upside-down when Beth contracts scarlet fever, and they receive news that their father has been seriously injured -- and these crises threaten to destroy the heart of their family.

The second half of the book opens with Meg's wedding -- if not to her dream guy, then to her love. But while time has mellowed and matured the Little Women, it hasn't lessened the capacity for conflict and unintentional comedy -- particularly with the now-attractive Amy, whose attempts to pursue art, culture and the appearance of wealthy sophistication usually go horribly wrong.

But the platonic friendship between Laurie and Jo is shattered when he admits his true feelings to her... and gets rejected. Distraught, he goes to Europe, as does Amy with crusty old Aunt March. And left in New England, Jo is faced with the question of what her life has in store, despite Beth's picturesquely poor health. Her new job as a governess leads her to put her treasured stories into print... leading her to love and her future.

There's a clearly autobiographical tone to "Little Women" -- and since the March girls really are like the girls next door, this doesn't exactly come as a shock. How much of it is real? A passage late in the book portrays a post-"blood and thunder" Alcott -- in the form of Jo -- "scribbling" down the book itself, and getting it published because it feels so real and true.

And it does. Alcott's writing is a warm, smooth string of interconnected stories, some of them quiet and some peppered with silly jokes, moments of tragedy, poetry, and unintentional humiliation ("Salt instead of sugar. And the cream is sour"). Sometimes, especially in the beginning, Alcott is a bit too preachy and hamhanded. But her touch becomes defter as she writes on.

The best part of this book is the March girls themselves -- they have flaws and strengths, ambitions and dreams that never quite turn out as they expect. And their misadventures -- like Amy's embarrassing problem with her huge lobster, or Meg's makeover at a rich friend's house -- have the feeling of authenticity.

Lovable Jo is the quintessential tomboy -- rough, gawky, fun-loving, impulsive, with a love of literature and a mouth that is slightly too big. Meg's love of luxury adds a flaw to the "perfect little homemaker" image, and while Amy is an annoying little brat throughout much of the first half of the book, by her teens she's almost as likable as Jo.

It must be admitted that Beth is not quite as endearing -- she's canonized with the 19th-century approach to the deceased, and so is continuously sweet, loving and understanding. But Laurie makes up for this: a wealthy, artistic, passionate young man who goes through all the growing pains, as he tries to be worthy of the girl he adores. Don't worry, things turn out all right for him.

"Little Women" is one of those rare classic novels that is still relevant, funny, fresh and heartbreaking today. The March family will come alive, and never quite leave.

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