Friday, November 26, 2010

I Am Not A Serial Killer

We're going to start off the proceedings with an entirely new author! His name's Dan Wells, and writing about creepy guys is his specialty. He's only got two books published as of now, the first two books in a trilogy, and I've had the priviledge of reading them both. Here's the thing: Dan Wells is one of the most promising new writers I've read in recent memory, and I Am Not A Serial Killer is a real genre-defying delight.

John Wayne Cleaver is something of a troubled teen. By "troubled" here I mean of course that he has all the indications of growing up to be... well, you know. Even though he's a sociopath, he really doesn't want that. So he studies up on famous serial killers to give him an idea of what not to do.

But there are some issues. Like the fact that his family owns a morgue. And the fact that some murder victims are arriving, looking to be more and more like the work of a serial killer. So John's faced with a smidgen of a problem-- finding and stopping the killer without anyone else knowing... or without succumbing to the temptations of blood himself.

It's impossible to classify a book like I Am Not A Serial Killer. It involves a teenage protagonist, but it's a bit too gruesome to be classified as YA. And there are some twists which make it hard to place in any specific genre at all. But that's okay, Dan Wells's book isn't any worse because of it. This is a truly original work (although comparisons to Dexter will inevitably be made, it's way too much of a stretch) with a chillingly complex narrator.

More about that narrator. John Wayne Cleaver's voice is what guides us through the book, and Dan Wells has absolutely nailed it. He's nailed it so well that I'm almost worried about his state of mental health. John is both a teenager and a sociopath, a paradox when it comes to emotions, something which in the hands of a lesser writer would only lead to disaster. But Dan Wells is Not A Lesser Writer. John is a protagonist you will in turn root for and be unnerved by, a diamond in the very, very rough. It's what had me coming back for more in the sequel, Mr. Monster.

In short, I Am Not A Serial Killer is Not An Average Book. The characters are fascinating, the plot page-turning, and the attention to detail on the part of the author unnerving. In short, I recommend it highly.

My rating: 9.5/10

Coming Soon: Mr. Monster and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I

I'm Back!

I'd like to start off by saying I'm terribly sorry about the lengthy hiatus from the blog. I've been extremely busy, and I've hardly had time to get to a computer. This is perhaps the longest I've ever gone without a post, and for a brief period of time, I was contemplating not coming back. After all, Speculative Horizons just recently bid farewell, and since I reviewed such a good book for Classic of the Month, I considered just leaving it at that.

But I couldn't let it sit anymore. And I'm not going to let it sit anymore. The Writer's Notebook is coming back up, starting now, and I've got some really explosive reads for you now! New authors, new books from old authors, and a new look! I appreciate any and all of you who actually read what I write, and I look forward to continuing this journey.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Classic of the Month: Les Miserables

Hi, there. I think it's time I wrote about what is quite possibly the best book I have ever read. This time on Classic of the Month, I'm going to take a look at the greatest thing to come out of France, and one of those books EVERY PERSON should read before they die. Period. I am of course referring to Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.

First of all, yes, the musical is fantastic, but if that's all you know of this story, you're missing out on a beautiful experience. The movie with Liam Neeson is a terrible adaptation, and I'm still astonished the filmmakers got away with it. Now, onto the top ten reasons why I love this book so much:

10. The Structure. Les Miserables was published in fifths. Each section has its own feel to it, as well as rising action and a major climax of sorts. At the same time, each part fits in with the whole seamlessly, creating one massive, complex arc of love, loss, and redemption.

9. The Setting. Victor Hugo picked the perfect time for his masterpiece to take place. The revolutionary turmoil serves as a superb backdrop for all the characters' internal confusion, and when the two become linked closer to the end of the novel, it is immensely satisfying.

8. The Thernardiers. M. and Mme. Thernardier, who go by different aliases throughout the novel, are some of the most repulsive villains to ever be written. But they aren't the only ones I'm talking about. Their children, notably Eponine and Gavroche, live lives of hardship and tragedy, but push on and keep fighting until the end. I promise, if you haven't read this novel before, this family will elicit stronger emotions from the reader than you could ever imagine.

7. The French Atmosphere. The world all the magnificent characters inhabit is undeniably French in every way. The novel doesn't deny this at all, but instead uses it as a way to further enrich the story.

6. The Writing. As if all that weren't enough, Victor Hugo is one heck of a writer. When even the translations feel fluid and poetic, you know there is some fantastic talent present. I have been tempted to learn French just so I could read the novel in Hugo's own words.

5. Fantine. Perhaps the most tragic character the Greeks or Shakespeare didn't think up. Fantine is willing to give everything, go through anything, just to keep her daughter alive. Her selflessness in the face of insurmountable odds is inspiring, and her ability to weather through all the world throws at her will make your heart break.
4. Marius. Marius is the character most short-shrifted in any adaptation of Les Miserables I have ever seen. Everywhere else, he exists primarily as a love interest for Cosette, but in the actual novel he has a backstory, one that is rich and ties in with other plotlines and characters as well. Readers who have only known the musical will have a newfound respect for him before the book is halfway done.
3. Javert. It may seem strange to not list the characters as one point, but there is so much going on with each and every character that to group them all together would be a massive disservice. Take for example Javert, the prime antagonist of Les Miserables, the embodiment of the unjust law. Javert spends his whole life hunting after Valjean, and through this chase we discover his character is deeper than what he seems. He lives in constant inner turmoil, and Valjean brings into uncertainty everything he once thought was truth about human nature. His inability to reconcile the real world with his preconceptions provides for the driving force of later parts of the book.

2. The Raw Emotion. Another sign that this novel is indeed French is the sheer peaks and valleys the characters go through. Fantine's struggles, Valjean's sacrifices, Javert's epiphanies, Marius and Cosette's unrequited love, and the fierce passion of the barricade all hit the reader hard (or at least this reader). I found myself on multiple occasions reaching for a tissue when such an action seems unusual for me. It's all so stunning and beautiful, but at the same time like daggers to the heart. What more can I say? It's Les Miserables.

1. Jean Valjean. He is the focus of Les Miserables, the crux of the action, the reason the novel is the classic that it is. Released from jail on parole (he was there for nineteen years for stealing a loaf of bread), an encounter with a merciful bishop turns his life around. His goal is at first just to escape, but slowly he changes and wants to make a difference in the world. He strives to prove Javert wrong, that people can change, and he puts his life on the line time after time for other people when he has no reason to at all. His story is the entire point of Victor Hugo's novel, and it is an unforgettable one.

So there you have it. I don't have much more to say that wouldn't seem like mindless ramblings, although I could do those about the novel for hours. Now go read it. Enjoy it. I know you will.

My rating: 11/10. (I know, I know. It seems immature. So sue me.)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Chuck: Season 3

It's time for a new season of television to begin! That means it's time for me to stop being lazy and post some reviews for TV! I'll start with a show whose fourth season has its premiere tomorrow night: the imcomparable, unstoppable Chuck.

Chuck has survived being an on-the-bubble show for three seasons, and it's remained delightful the whole time. Season 3 was no change to the formula, while bringing major changes to the formula. How is this possible? Only in the nonsensical and addictive world of everybody's favorite Nerd Herder.

Chuck Bartowski has gotten an upgrade, downloading the Intersect 2.0 in his head in a last-ditch attempt to save his friends. It worked, and now he knows kung fu. The new Intersect allows Chuck to "flash" on skills as well as information. In other words, he can play the guitar on sight as part of a cover in a Mexican restaurant or perform feats of impressive acrobatic ability to retrieve a case for the CIA. But there are some problems with the new Chuck. Namely, the Intersect doesn't work when Chuck's emotions are in flux. And with Sarah around, that's a bit of a problem.

I know there was a lot of negative fan reaction to the series around Episodes 7 and 8, which slowed the romantic progression of a couple of characters down considerably. Looking back, it's not nearly as big a deal as the raving fanboys made it out to be, and the episodes are still fun on their own. Besides, this season had 2 finales (originally, Season 3 was given a 13-episode run, and by the time NBC extended it to 19, the 13th episode had been written), as well as the first major villain for Chuck to fight on his own. In addition to this, there are some great twists, and the finales aren't afraid to give the audiences some gut-punches.

One thing I liked about this season that I know a lot of people hated was the slightly darker tone. We're talking slightly here. There were still some hilarious gags, but the characters were dynamic enough that some of the darker moments of development hit hard. Personally, I'm glad that Chuck has changed a lot from where he started in Season 1, and while I doubt the darkness will be anywhere near as present in Season 4, I think this was a necessary step.

Now that that's said and done, here are my favorite episodes:

Chuck vs. First Class: Chuck goes on his first solo mission. On a plane to Paris, he finds out that his mission is sitting right next to him, in the form of Ring operative Stone Cold Steve Austin. Honestly, how do you top that? I'll tell you: fencing in the cargo hold of the plane.

Chuck vs. the Beard: Chuck's secret is getting a tad less secret, and when Ring operatives infiltrate Castle via the Buy More, Chuck is going to need some emotional help to flash. Also of note: the Buy More revolution is one of the best, most hilarious things I've ever seen on the show.

Chuck vs. the Other Guy: Chuck/Sarah shippers, your glorious moment has come! Seriously, though, the original Season 3 finale is full of great twists and character development, including a huge step in Chuck's character.

Chuck vs. the Honeymooners: Chuck and Sarah are thinking about quitting the spy life together on a train in Europe. However, they end up having to go behind each other's backs and then work together in a fantastically coreographed fight to solve one last case.

Chuck vs. the Subway: The first part of the 2-part finale is an earth-shattering one. Everything starts to fall apart. A recurring character is killed. Chuck goes to prison, and is in danger of losing his sanity. All in all, a great preparation for...

Chuck vs. the Ring, Part II: The finale. A bit of espionage work, a daring rescue, a massive twist, and a fight between two human Intersects with a Jeffster music video playing in the background. If this episode were a drink, it's be called Liquid Awesome.

So there you have it. I'll be tuning in tomorrow to see how this incredibly fun show continues for what could, unless ratings improve, be its final season. The antics of the lovable Nerd Herder may not always be new on TV, but they'll certainly be in my DVD collection, between LOST and Firefly, where I can relive the humor and action whenever I want.

My rating: 9.5/10

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Dean Koontz

It's time to spotlight a gaping hole in my reading: I've never experienced a Dean Koontz book. Never. I love a good thriller, but I for some reason haven't gotten around to him. Well, that needed to change. I decided to read two books by him, back to back. The books were selected at random (probably not smart), and read quickly, as per the norm with thrillers. My two-book experiment consisted of Relentless and Velocity.
While these titles sound related, they really aren't. The first is about an author who is pursued to point of near-insanity by an inhuman reviewer (which seems like a chance for Koontz to make himself feel better). The second is about a bartender who keeps getting notes with deadly choices for him, along the lines of, "Who would you rather die?" See, two very different books. Now let's get specific.

Relentless: This one is the more recent (and worse written) of the two. Now, I haven't read nearly enough to call myself an expert on Koontz, but I'm going to assume the style is a bit different from his usual thrillers. In Relentless, Koontz strives to keep things more tongue-in-cheek. The overall effect, however, is jarring considering the situations the characters find themselves in. Half the time, he seems to want us to take things seriously, be concerned for it all, and the other half of the time, he seems to be laughing at himself. In this volume, I'm not sure which works better, because the story is far-fetched enough to warrant many a raised eyebrow.

There are also too many things that are just weird for the sake of being weird. The genius I'm-not-Charles-Wallace-from-A-Wrinkle-in-Time-I swear kid, who makes something bizarre...because Koontz wills it. Then there's the certifiably insane in-laws, who have an underground booby-trapped lair in case of Armageddon that they really enjoy spending time in. I think they're supposed to be endearing, but it comes off as forced.

And yet... at the same time, I couldn't stop reading. Koontz's writing was fluent enough that I was able to get through all the rough spots and still have a decent time. Decent enough that I tried something more up his alley.

My rating: 6.5/10

Velocity: Now there's why this guy is so popular. Interesting moral dilemmas, dangerous situations, tense moments, and a anil-biting roller coaster ride all around. The protagonist is more normal this time around (except for the violent and traumatic backstory, which seems so far to be a Koontz staple), and his descent into paranoia and the gray areas of morality are extremely compelling and vivid. I couldn't put the book down, and I didn't want to.

There is a negative, though. The end, where the true villain is revealed, seems to exist for the sole purpose of being unexpected. The motivation seems beyond forced, and I was glad when the scene ended.

But the ride getting there was intense and awesome. I'll definitely be reading Dean Koontz again, just maybe not the most recent Dean Koontz.

My rating: 9/10

Coming Soon: The Way of Kings and more backlog reviews.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Old Man's War

I've had a bit of a backlog of books to review for a while, so I thought that while I read The Way of Kings (which is fantastic so far, but I'm trying not to read it too fast, and it's really long), I'd get through some of them. The first of these showcases a negligible hole in my reading: Sci-Fi. I love the genre on film, as well as the pseudo-sci-fi movies like STAR WARS, but in book form, I've read hardly any of it. I've read most of Orson Scott Card's Ender and Bean books at some time or another, with the exceptions of the most recent volumes. I've read some Asimov. A fair bit of Bradbury. A smidgen of Peter F. Hamilton, but not enough to formulate my opinions on the author. And that's it, for my entire life.

I've heard for years about the famous/infamous John Scalzi, especially in regards to his Whatever blog. However, one thing wasn't really disputed: he was a good writer. So I decided to pick up a copy of his debut, and dive in, after going years without reading a full sci-fi book.

It was awesome.

Old Man's War tells the story of John Perry, a 75-year-old man who, since his wife is dead, takes the most sensible course of action. He joins the army. Don't worry, this is centuries into the future, and this is how all wars are fought. The soldiers are given new bodies, shipped out to planets to win them over for human inhabitants, and never look back. By never look back, I mean there's a contract saying they'll never return to Earth. Which maks sense, bacause Perry's new body is green.

This book is full of fun touches and interesting details that serve to remind me that sci-fi needs worldbuilding, too. The characters, first person narrator John Perry especially, are dynamic and compelling from the start. I know it's been said before, but this is the closest thing I can think of to Stephen King writing in this genre. It's all about the characters, and the conversational style of the prose makes the pages fly. The book isn't too long either, unlike some Orson Scott Card books became (I'm looking at you, Xenocide!).

There are a number of scenes that stick in your head long after the reading. John first getting his new body, recognizing a member of the Ghost Brigades, and fighting an extremely aggressive yet tiny species of alien come to mind instantly. I cannot recommend it enough, even if sci-fi isn't your thing. You'll have fun, and the book won't take too long to read.

After getting through it, I can say with some certainty that I'll return to the genre soon. I'll definitely return to John Scalzi soon. A great, fun ride.

My rating: 9/10

Coming Soon: The Way of Kings and more backlog books!

Thursday, August 26, 2010


I'm writing this after taking only a few minutes to collect my thoughts on what is probably the biggest YA release of the past few years. Mockingjay brings to a close the events Suzanne Collins began in The Hunger Games and Catching Fire. By the way, before I launch in to review this book, which will undoubtedly be absurdly polarizing for its fans (how many times have I used that word this month?), I'd like to point out that there will be spoilers for the first couple of books. Unavoidable, I'm afraid, but you should really have read them by now. Go ahead. They're quick reads. You can finish the whole trilogy in a week without a problem.

Here we go.

Katniss Everdeen has survived the Hunger Games, not once, but twice, and is being torn every which way. She is in the mysterious District 13, the face of a full-scale revolution going on all across Panem. But it's not that simple. Can she really trust District 13? Can she trust Gale? Can she trust anyone?

That's all I'm willing to say, because what makes this novel so great is that it is full of twists. Suzanne Collins has deftly woven the plot to make it look like the entire trilogy was heading a certain direction, then masterfully switched its course. The Hunger Games, and their close-up violence is gone, replaced with a solid, moving war novel. A warning: this series veers more towards the "Adult" side of the YA market, and it goes some dark places that will rattle even older readers. Older meaning adults.

This isn't a perfect, polished story, but that's not what Collins wanted to write. Instead, she has given us a true war novel, delving into the psychological aspects of warfare and not being afraid to showcase some of the innocent lives lost on the sidelines. This is a book full of political manipulation, gray areas, and tough choices. (Speaking of choices, there is a certain one all the female readers are clamoring for. Don't worry, it gets answered, in perhaps the only way that it could.)

Because this isn't a perfect story, it isn't about tying up all the loose ends with a pretty bow. Actions have consequences, and war has repercussions. Anyone who's read Collins's excellent Underland Chronicles (starting with Gregor the Overlander) will know this is one of the themes she stresses. I'm pleased to say she handles it even better here than she did there, providing a truly strong conclusion.

There are a lot of people out there who will hate the ending. And I understand where they're coming from. Certainly it's not what any of us expected. But it's true to the characters and the spirit of the previous two volumes, as well as the confused narrator of Katniss, whose voice Collins absolutely nails. This story has a bite to it, yes, but it provides a bittersweet end to what will surely be remembered as a highlight of YA fiction.

My rating: 10/10

Coming Soon: More stuff. Eventually, after it comes out, The Way of Kings. But it doesn't come out till the 31st, so there might be something else in between.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Classic of the Month: East of Eden

This is certainly the longest Classic of the Month I've ever done here, but don't worry, it's by one of the greats. The book, not the review.

When I started Classic of the Month, it was to see which classics deserve to be read, which ones are timeless and beautiful in their own way. Some books are classics because of the writing itself, like F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, while others are there because of their ability to do something new, like Truman Capote's In Cold Blood. East of Eden by John Steinbeck deserves to be a classic because it tells a classic, familiar story in a new way that will speak to just about everybody.

East of Eden is a beautiful book, one Steinbeck called "the first book." The reason is obvious from the title: if you really want to know the plot, read the first few chapters of Genesis and imagine Steinbeck were writing them. It sounds like a simple exercise, but Steinbeck turns this project into a cyclical epic of both massive scope and intimate characters. The Trasks are all interesting characters, and the Hamiltons, whose story entwines with theirs, are the sort of the people you wish you knew.

This is where Steinbeck succeeds: he creates some of the most vivid and memorable characters of the 20th century. There is Adam Trask, whose life presents the main focus of the novel; Samuel Hamilton, the old man who helps guide him; Cal and Aron, the twins who reenact the story of Cain and Abel; Cathy Ames, perhaps the most vile and horrendous character in all literature; and Lee, the Chinaman who aspires to break free of the stereotypes that have plagued his kind and who knows the true meaning of the word timshel.

Coming away from this book, I felt as if I knew these people, and I didn't want them to leave. The beginning of East of Eden takes some time to crack into, and the book as a whole is a major time commitment, but it is worth every minute. The book spans all aspects of life, the good and the bad, and all the darkest corners of the human psyche. It shows the power to choose to do the right thing, though the way is far from easy. And in simple, conversational prose, Steinbeck weaves a tale that is timeless and true.

In a way, East of Eden is a good companion piece to The Grapes of Wrath. They show different time periods and characters, sure, but they make nice novels to compare and contrast. The Grapes of Wrath is a gritty novel about people trying to overcome what the world throws at them, while East of Eden is about people in a desperate struggle to overcome themselves. Both struggles are timeless, and both should be read by everyone. I cannot say this enough: read Steinbeck if you haven't already.

My rating: 10/10. A true classic.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Love Never Dies, Part Three: Act II

And now we're back after the intermission! My review of Love Never Dies, while only halfway done, has attracted a pinch of negative buzz, most notably from the musical's hate site, Love Should Die (LSD for short, and did I mention they sell T-shirts?). There are a couple of things I'd like to address:

First off, Andrew Lloyd Webber has not been overly polite in talking about Love Never Dies. This doesn't change the music itself, but my opinion of him has lessened. There is no reason to split the fandom in half, each side calling itself the "true phans" of the original. Despite what Webber and LSD say, true phans are the ones that love to watch and listen to the original Phantom of the Opera. Whether you enjoy the sequel or not, the original is still there, and a true phan will still be able to come back to it whenever they're in the mood for some music of the night.

Second, Love Never Dies shouldn't be compared to the original. It's easy for any critic to do so, but no new musical should be compared to a classic, especially the most popular musical of all time. To do so would be foolish and would only make you seriously hate the sequel.

Third, the ambiguity of the original Phantom's ending is gone now. There's no getting past that, and it's kind of sad. But Webber wanted a sequel, and if he didn't want said ambiguity to exist anymore, he's well within his rights to say what happened after. Personally, I'm very 50/50 about the whole thing, because while the original Phantom has a beautiful ending, there was always a slight nagging at the back of my mind as to how the frankly flimsy relationship between Christine and Raoul would last. And this is especially true because Raoul in the original was a very flat character. He sings great stuff, and "All I Ask of You" is still gorgeous (I listened to it again the other day; I told you I'm a phan), but he's not that interesting.

Moving on now, with Act II!
Entr'acte: It's exactly what it says it is, and it does its job quite well. The musical recap of Act I is tasteful, and the main themes soar quite nicely as it seques into the second half.

Why Does She Lone Me?: Raoul is in a bar, drunk and depressed, and asking himself this question. In walks Meg. And you'll never quess who's tending bar. This is a lovely somber piece, but not as infinitely sing-able as the start to the original's Act II (sorry, I said I shouldn't compare).

Devil Take the Hindmost: This is good stuff. Admit it, all of you have been wanting for a long time to hear a Phantom/Raoul duet, and this simple yet tense melody delivers. A fair bit of plot is exchanged amid insults, and the inner aggression is nicely channeled by both of the actors.

Heaven by the Sea (reprise): Nothing to say here that I haven't said before. I know what Webber's purpose is, but the same problems are here as before.

Ladies...Gents!/The Coney Island Waltz (reprise): Just more of the Trio announcing in their bizarre voices, which becomes oddly hypnotic after a few listenings, but is nothing special. A decided "meh" track.

Bathing Beauty: Hoo, boy, how far Meg has fallen. This cute, gaudy piece accomplishes its aforementioned goal in spades, but it certainly is painful to listen to. Especially disappointing after this act's stronger start.

"Mother, Did You Watch?": A very short track. The acting is nicely done by both Girys, and it moves the plot along, but it's got nothing new.

Before the Performance: The longest piece in the show thus far, we have reached the Holy Grail for phans. It's full of homages to the original, providing a nice symmetry for the original's climax, and it does the heart good to hear "Till I Hear You Sing" once more, especially with Christine's "Twisted Every Way" moment from the original.

Devil Take the Hindmost (Quartet): Yep, the song's still great, and the addition of new parts makes for a rich, tense track. I especially like the Phantom's new part, which soars, luscious and full, above the rest of the proceedings.

Love Never Dies: And at long last we arrive at the title track! It is the best the musical has to offer? No, that's "Till I Hear You Sing." Plus, it's been used before, in the period Webber thought he'd never make a sequel. But the piece works best here, and it's clear that this is the song's preferred home.

"Ah, Christine!...": I like this, but it's a bit rushed, especially in a letter at the end. Still, it's great to hear Karimloo inject his passion into the scene, even if he is rather young for the part of the Phantom ten years later.

"Gustave! Gustave!...": More just a string of events to get you to the final track, and while there's nothing particularly wrong with it, it's not all that special.

"Please Miss Giry, I Want to Go Back...": The death of a major character, a kidnapping, a kiss, and not in that order. It's not any "Down Once More" (sorry, I'm comparing it to the original again), but it's got some good emotion in it, even if the Phantom has a stupid line and a certain character takes an agonizingly slow time to die. An unusual way to end this saga of sorts, but this has been an unusual musical from the start.

So, what did I think? The music is really pretty good, with some spots that really soar above other musicals. However, it has the unfortunate fate of following the original Phantom. And it just can't compare. The story is weak, and while the original's was too, it didn't show quite so much. The character changes are interesting, but sometimes not the most desirable things in the world.

Yet... I find Love Never Dies to be a strangely addictive experience. There are some truly beautiful moments, and its reception was nowhere near as bad as LSD would have you think. Someday, after it's come to America, I might find myself seeing it. The truth of the matter is, if it wasn't a sequel, Love Never Dies could be great, something that could stick betten than this one probably will. I honestly don't know how it will do, but it carries the weight of the original around wherever it goes.

But I'll listen to the soundtrack from time to time, whether it continues to be profitable or sinks prematurely, because there's some really good stuff in there.

My rating: 8/10 (higher if I could view it as a separate entity)

Coming Soon: Classic of the Month.

Monday, August 16, 2010

A Cool Update from Patrick Rothfuss

Patrick Rothfuss-- you know, the guy who wrote that book everyone really liked called The Name of the Wind and has been working on its sequel ever since-- has just written a great new blog post about his revision process. In fact, he even revises the letter the fan sent him asking about it. Funny stuff, and very revealing.

My favorite part, however, is when he says The Wise Man's Fear is about 4,000 words shorter than The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. And that book (which is almost out, and my most fanboyish side is already drooling in anticipation) is almost 400,000 words long. So when we finally get out hands on The Wise Man's Fear, it's going to be really well edited, and really, REALLY long.

I can't wait till March 1, 2011.

On a side note, I've gotten some interesting and rather negative comments on my posts over Love Never Dies, and I see that this is more controversial than I had even originally thought. Then don't worry; the Act II post is coming soon.

The Writer

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Love Never Dies, Part Two: Act I

Every musical has to start somewhere. No, I'm not talking about the idea process. I'm referring to the actual beginning of it. I don't live in the UK and therefore haven't seen the West End performances of Love Never Dies, but I do have to soundtrack, and I know the story. What does that mean? It means I can go song by song, telling what I liked and disliked. This is gonna be a long one.

But first, the basic framework. It's been about ten years since The Phantom of the Opera, and in that time, a lot's happened. The Phantom was smuggled onto a ship headed for America, and the Girys went with him. Madame Giry and her daughter, Meg, went for their own ends, Meg wanting to catch the Phantom's eye and her mother wanting to get a slice of the Phantom's money. In the ten years, the Phantom and the Girys put their minds to work, creating Fantasma, a "little slice of heaven" on Coney Island. The Phantom is able to walk amongst the world because, let's face it, Coney Island is weird enough that a guy who walks around in a half mask won't get too many second glances.

This isn't enough for the Phantom. He desperately wants to see, and more importantly hear, Christine again, and nothing can keep him from his obsession. So he cooks up a plan to bring Christine to the performance hall inside Fantasma to sing an aria that he's composing. Christine arrives, Raoul and son Gustave in tow, and quickly discovers the true meaning of her invitation. Cue a jealous Raoul (who in those ten years has managed to gamble away his fortune and tried to drink the pain of that away), a confused Christine, and a Phantom who realizes he just may have the ace up his sleeve.

Be honest, Andrew Lloyd Webber's stories were never his strongest point, and Love Never Dies doesn't change any of that. So how's the music?

Prologue: A short intro. Tries to be creepy and atmospheric, but the show's just begun, and the odd choice of characters for the first scene don't help things.

Coney Island Waltz: A great instrumental piece that introduces many of the themes we'll hear throughout the course of the musical. Very smartly orchestrated, and it has atmosphere the Prologue never could achieve.

That's the Place That You Ruined, You Fool!: Same characters as the start, and this short piece doesn't impress any more than the Prologue did. All in all, a somewhat disappointing intro.

Heaven by the Sea: While I understand what this song is intended to do (show how base the visitors to Coney Island are), and it achieves it, it still feels out of place when compared to the rest of the music.

Only for Him/Only for You: I kind of like this one. It's the first glimpse we've ever really gotten into Meg's head, and the duality of it is likeable. It's also not nearly as overdone as the previous piece.

The Aerie: Another beautiful instrumental piece. Where the music is not always winning, the instrumentals are. Nuff said.

Till I Hear You Sing: Oh, Phantom, it's good to see you again! This piece is phantastic, and is surely a show-stopper on all accounts. Magnificent music of the night, one that's worthy of being lumped in with the original. Bravo!

Giry Confronts the Phantom/Till I Hear You Sing (reprise): This one's great too, if only to hear Karimloo soar his way through the melody again. I'd also like to point out that Liz Robertson does a splendid job as Giry.

Christine Disembarks: Not much to say about this one, no real music.

Arrival of the Trio/Are You Ready to Begin?: The trio is weird, and one of the weakest parts of the new show. They annoy me less and less as I go, but their melodies are sung in strange, off-putting voices, and it doesn't fit in too well.

What a Dreadful Town!...: A Raoul piece where it becomes clear how much the character has changed. A very different, mature Webber piece, and it's kind of good for something offbeat.

Look With Your Heart: A Christine and Gustave duet that makes for lovely listening. It's catchy and quite nice. It almost feels like it could be in The Sound of Music. Be sure to listen until the end, because there's a cool nod to the original in the final seconds after the song has finished.

Beneath a Moonless Sky: A Phantom and Christine duet! It's been too long since "Point of No Return." Webber gets across a lot of information in an emotional, soaring way, and it lays the groundwork for a nice twist.

Once Upon Another Time: Really a continuation of "Beneath a Moonless Sky," but it's beautiful. I greatly enjoy listening to Karimloo and Boggess singing together.

"Mother Please, I'm Scared!": Not much of a new piece, but there's a very cool moment when the Phantom and Gustave first meet. Otherwise, forgettable.

Dear Old Friend: This is a fun layered piece, and the veiled hostility is conveyed nicely. It's also a melody you won't really hear before or after, which makes it an interesting surprise.

Beautiful: Look out, there's a quick nod to the original, but it's only a few notes long! And then Gustave sings, and it makes the Phantom realize something, and makes him sing, which is always good. It transitions directly into...

The Beauty Underneath: This is the most polarizing piece in the whole show. You either like it or hate it. Either way, you can't deny that Gustave's part is awkward and for the most part unnecessary, and the song, while it rocks, is a bit over the top, even for Phantom.

The Phantom Confronts Christine: A secret gets out, the Phantom makes a resolution, and Giry overhears it all. All of it's important to have but doesn't really stick out.

So far, we've got a varied set of songs, much more so that the original, and when it works, it works. It's got some incredibly good moments, as well as some that don't fit. But what's my verdict? Now, now, don't be impatient, we still have Act II to get through!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Love Never Dies, Part One: An Introduction

I am a huge phan. For those of you not in the know, that means I love the Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical The Phantom of the Opera, which has been successfully playing for over 20 years on stage. It has gotten a lot of recognition, being perhaps the most popular musical around, and there was even a movie released several years ago, starring Gerard Butler as the Phantom.

Now, Phantom is a phenomenon if ever there was one, and it's a musical I know all the words to. But it had a huge growing process to get to where it is now. Lyrics were changed, songs were shortened, and roles were recast and recast and recast. But the effects have always been phabulous, the music has always been phantastic, and the cultural impact has been more phar-reaching (I know, it's a stretch) than anyone could have anticipated.

For example, every song has a multitude of interpretations, depending on who's involved with the production at the time. Take one of my favorites, "Music of the Night." Michael Crawford's version is vastly different from the version that Gerard Butler sings in the movie.

There is also something quite puzzling I've noticed over the years that I like to call "Phantom Creep." Namely, the disfiguration of the Phantom's face has lessened and lessened over the years. It's still shocking, yeah, but not as grotesque as in the good old days. There's Michael Crawford, and then there's Gerard Butler.

But, although the story is weakish and the characters are flatish, the Phantom excluded, the music keeps it all afloat, and it works wonderfully. On a side note, I'd like to say that Ramin Karimloo is probably my favorite Phantom, which weighs heavily on what will follow this post.

And then I heard that Andrew Lloyd Webber had made a sequel. Set ten years later. On Coney Island. My first reaction was as expected: "WHAT?!?!?" I became rather annoyed at Webber, because, let's be honest, while he had been talking about making one for a good decade or two, I never figured he had the guts to do so. Webber, however, thought differently, saying that the original sort of ended on a cliffhanger. I'm not lying here.

At the same time, I was intrigued, and I set out to get the gist of what Love Never Dies was all about. And I came upon a video of one of the songs from the production, "Till I Hear You Sing." Folks, if you don't click on another link in this post, click on that one. It was enough to persuade me to buy the soundtrack and see what it was all about. Yes, it's Ramin Karimloo himself singing, doing even better than he did with the original, and the song is beautiful.

So, I've now listened to the entire thing a few times, and what did I think? Coming next time, you'll find out.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

I gotta admit, the trailers for this movie, the source material for which I sadly haven't read, were enough to guarantee I saw it on opening day. I mean, just look at it! And it's directed by Edgar Wright, the man behind Hot Fuzz! And it's got Chris Evans and Brandon Routh as villains, along with a whole slew of others! And Michael Cera as a somewhat superhuman lead! And... well, just look at it!

Scott Pilgrim lives a happy little life as a bass player for a garage band on its way to some semblance of notoriety. His life is filled with animated excitement, complete with significantly younger girlfriend Knives Chau. But things get spun for a loop when Scott encounters Ramona Flowers. She's the girl of his dreams (Literally. She makes deliveries for using a subspace highway in his head. Don't ask, it's not really that big a deal.), and she agrees to go out with him. Scott quickly dumps Knives, and he and Ramona begin to experience "the L word" for each other.

And then things get spun for a loop again. Scott finds out first via e-mail, then attack, that Ramona has something of a violent past. Namely, seven evil exes who have formed a league to keep anyone else from dating Ramona. Cue energetic fight sequences in the spirit of classic video games!

This is a polarizing movie if I ever saw one. Half the audience in the theater couldn't stop laughing, and the other half barely laughed at all. It depends who you are, really. Or rather, how geeky you are. And I am geeky, I'll be the first to admit, so I had a blast.

The visuals are over the top and unique to a wonderful degree. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a saturated movie in every sense of the word. It's saturated with action, saturated with the visuals, and saturated with jokes, both in the foreground and the background. Combatants flash red when they are on low health. Baddies burst into coins when they are felled. Scott graps a 1-UP icon, saying he's "getting a life."

Scott Pilgrim's sense of fun is contagious. The action is delightful and comic-booky. The humor is ever-present. The acting is purposefully, enjoyably cheesy. The visuals pop like those of Speed Racer desperately wanted to. And it's probably one of the weirdest, most original movies you'll see this year. Do see it, by the way. It's great fun, and perhaps the only film which uses the line, "I'm in lesbians with you."

My rating: 9.5/10

Coming Soon: Ooh, a lot of stuff. But I'm not making any promises.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Desert Spear

Things have changed since the events of The Warded Man. Arlen goes about with Rojer and Leesha, giving the people they encounter methods to combat the demons that rise from the earth after night falls. He is rumored by many to be the Deliverer, the one who will lead humanity in a triumphant conquest over the demons.
Jardir now wields the Spear of Kaji, which he took from Arlen not long ago, leading his people with authority to fight demons in alagai'sharak. He proclaims himself to be Shar'Dama Ka, the Deliverer, the one who will unite humanity under his rule and lead them to destroy the demons in glory-filled combat.

The two most powerful and influential figures in the world are destined to collide, for there can only be one Deliverer. But, as tensions swell aboveground, below lurks a new kind of demon, one whose might is legendary.

Or something like that.

The Desert Spear rather controversially follows The Warded Man. Why controversial? Because Peter V. Brett's debut novel was fantastic, and it left me salivating for more. So I had to read the sequel, but I was afraid of the disappointment sequels usually bring. Let's get this out of the way: Is it as good as the first book? No. Is it still good? Heck yeah.

For about the first third of The Desert Spear Arlen is absent. So are Leesha and Rojer. In fact, the first 200 pages of this sizeable novel are devoted to building up the character of Jardir. Which I have to admit I wasn't exactly looking forward to, since he was a thoroughly unlikeable character in The Warded Man. But Brett makes it work. In fact, the first third is perhaps the best written part of the entire book, and better written than its predecessor. Brett made a bold move in how he started The Desert Spear, but thanks to his bulging, steroid-enhanced storytelling muscles, it made me seriously reevaluate my opinion of him.

In fact, this is probably the novel's strongest point: It fleshes out the characters to an extent where you fully understand the consequences of any interactions they have. Arlen is given an interesting scenario when he must face up to his past, and I enjoyed the growth is provided for his character. Renna, only briefly in The Warded Man, takes on a whole new dimension in this one. The viewpoint count jumps from three to-- I believe-- eight.

Unfortunately, this does have a side effect in that the pace is noticeably slower than its predecessor. The threads this time around are more numerous, and the story takes time to tell. And yet, here's the thing: the characters are interesting enough and the writing is good enough that The Desert Spear is a treat to read. The world, especially Krasia, is fleshed out nicely, which gave me moments of great laughter at the awkwardness of eventual culture clashes.

I have to say, Peter V. Brett set out to write a different book than The Warded Man, and he did so with talent and spirit, providing a nice counterpoint to a strong series starter. While the pace lags in comparison to its predecessor, The Desert Spear is more than worth a read. Seriously, read this series, if you haven't already. You'll thank me later.

My rating: 9/10

Coming Soon: That's a secret.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Thoughts While Writing... About Writing

Well, it's the tagline of the blog, and yet the only real glimpse I give into the mind of a novice, unpublished writer is my taste in books (and occasionally movies). It's time I gave some random thoughts that went through my head recently about writing. This is free-form, and in no particular order. Aren't experiments fun, kids?

I am fascinated by the relationship between story and ideas. Here's my thought: If the ideas come forth the moment you actively think about a story, the chances are the story's good.

I love it when a plan comes together, when it seems the answers to the questions my story raises are actually out there, not waiting to be invented, but instead discovered.

When you have an idea for a story that feels like a mix between The Spiderwick Chronicles and the TV show Chuck, it's time to start writing.

It's a scary moment when you have an idea for a story that seems simple-- but later on it becomes apparent that it really has to do with quantum physics.

Don't ever try to write the 700 page fantasy epic first. I've tried it. Believe me: It will be very rough, and you will want to die.

On another token, don't write a story that takes place simultaneously in three time lines. If such a story rears its head, run like the devil himself is on your tail. Whatever you do, do NOT proceed to map out the story over six books. To do such would be madness.

When your hand cramps from writing, it means the story's getting good.

And lastly:

If you have a vivid dream, it's your mind telling you to get up and write NOW.

Until The Desert Spear review, which should be soon, since I've finished the book,

The Writer

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Carrie and Cujo (the books)

It's time for yet another double-feature, boys and girls, Constant Readers all! A Stephen King two-fer. It'll be pretty brief, just the basics here. We're taking a look at two of his big 3 C's. Sorry, car fans, no Christine for you yet. Someday.

Carrie: Well, ladies and gents, it's time to go back. Way back. All the way back to the beginning. That's right. The very first Stephen King novel ever published, all the way back in the 1970s. The one that started it all. It's the novel about the little telekinetic girl that could, and the prom night that no one will ever forget. We all know a Carrie White, so be warned...

For a first novel, this is a really solid effort. The pages turn with ease, and Stephen King's telltale style shines through brightly. I enjoyed this lovely festival of horror, especially since it has a different method of unspooling from the rest of King's works. The amalgamation of multiple sources, mixed in with traditional narrative text, gives Carrie a unique feel, something akin to Avi's Nothing But the Truth, but much, much darker. It's not King's best, but it'll give you chills nonetheless.

My rating: 9/10

Cujo: Man's best friend is about to become his worst enemy. When a normally lovable dog comes into contact with the shadows, the lives of a family will never be the same. Simple in premise, yet multifaceted in its approach, this one bites.

Rarely has any Stephen King story been so basic: Mother and son are trapped in an overheating car by a rabid dog. But King tells it differently than just a straight-up scare-fest. Which it could easily become. But the characters themselves lend the book drama. 400 pages of Cujo trying to break into a car might eventually get boring. King makes it more special. No book this basic should provide this much white-knuckle enjoyment. And yet, King makes this one into a winner. Not as good as his best, but still an excellent, different, read.

My rating: 9/10

Coming Soon: The Desert Spear and more.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Sorcerer's Apprentice and Inception

That's right, I've been to the movies again! This time, I'm taking a look at the blockbusters of July (or modest earners, in the case of Sorcerer's Apprentice). And I've got some expensive news for you: you should see both these movies. Of course, I mean that on different levels, but let's dive in.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice: It's a movie about that classic story of boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, boy gets involved in long-standing wizard's feud, boy has a nervous breakdown, etc. In all seriousness, This is a movie about Dave (Jay Baruchel), a hopelessly geeky kid-- which doesn't at all remind me of myself-- who becomes a major player in the plans of Balthazar Blake (Nicolas Cage), a powerful sorcerer and former apprentice to Merlin. Dave is also hunted, however, by a darker sorcerer, Maxim Horvath (scenes stolen by Alfred Molina), who wants to raise an evil sorceress from the grave.

There was no way I should have enjoyed the movie as much as I did, except for the fact that Bruckheimer and co. were having an absurd amount of fun making it. Sorcerer is not afraid to poke fun at itself, and it never takes itself too seriously. Some of the action setpieces are creative and kinetic without resorting to Bourne-esque shaky cam. And the scene that pays homage to the Fantasia short is great. It's not going to be one of the best movies of the year, or even most profitable, but it is a good time at the cinema for the whole family.

My rating: 8.5/10

Inception: Hoo, boy. The big one. The one we've been waiting for since the bizarre teasers last year. Especially since it's from Christopher Nolan, the mastermind behind Memento. And The Prestige. And Batman Begins. And The Dark Knight (ever heard of that one?). I can't explain this film. To do so would take ages, and I just wouldn't be that good at it. Can I just say see it?

No, I don't think it's quite as good as The Dark Knight, and it's impact on a genre won't be like the aforementioned film. But it's still really, really good. It's a multilayered (literally) tale about dreams, with Leonardo DiCaprio's best performance to date. Actually, almost all of the actors give their best performances to date. Hans Zimmer's score is unique and suits the film. The action is nail-biting and some of the best I've seen this year. The story makes you think, but you never get tired of constantly focusing on this two-and-a-half hour film. The world it creates is fantastic, and it raises some great questions about the nature of dreaming. Now go see it. Seriously, there's at least a few things in there for everybody.

My rating: 9.5/10

Coming Soon: Steven King and The Desert Spear.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Classic of the Month: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Well, buckle up, ladies and gents. This blog post is gonna get a little trippy.

Why is that, you ask? Well, Constant Reader, it's time for another Classic of the Month! And this time, we're not looking at Gatsby, but rather something a little more recent. 1962, to be precise. And this time, the review's going insane... literally. That's right, it's Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. The one that was made not too long after into a movie starring Jack Nicholson, considered a classic in its own rights. The one about crazy people.

Patrick Randle MacMurphy enters the ward, guns blazing, ready to change things from the start. He's a boistrous fellow, a fan of both gambling and women, and he's not ready to give up either. He'll do anything to keep things interesting, despite the intimidating presence of Nurse Ratched. Throw in a colorful cast of other loonies, and have the book be narrated by a Native American who only pretends to be deaf and dumb, and you've got the gist of the story. Just as long as you realize Nurse Ratched isn't willing to give up without a fight, and it's easy to keep fighting when you hold all the cards.

Where can I start? The characters are mesmerizing. It's never really revealed whether or not MacMurphy is legitimately insane, but Kesey tells the story in such a way that it doesn't matter. Also, Kesey has a good grasp of the surreal and bizarre, presumably aided by the LSD he went around in a bus distributing shortly after. Kesey was one of the Merry Pranksters, subject of the book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

Additionally, it's fascinating to look at Chief Bromden's transformation over the course of the novel. MacMurphy's presence is the catalyst in every character's change, and it's Bromden's narration that keeps the novel from having a totally depressing ending. Ratched is genuinely threatening, and despicable in a three-dimensional way. The climactic confrontation between her and MacMurphy is satisfying in the utmost.

To sum it up, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is an unusual, lively story told in an unusual, lively way. The writing is skillful, and it's a pity Kesey didn't write regularly. The dialogue is snappy and realistic. The book is in every was a success, and one that I would certainly recommend, if not for everybody.

My rating: 9.5/10

Coming Soon: Some Stephen King and some movies, along with The Desert Spear and more. A lot of stuff.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Magicians

I'm back, at long last! For a while, I've been somewhere north of home, in a dark realm where no computer access lies. So now I'm back, and boy do I have a lot of stuff that needs to be reviewed! Before the month is out, I'll be looking at another Classic of the Month, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, in addition to a bunch of books. Oh, and a little movie, I don't know, called Inception. (By the way, see the movie now, if you haven't already. The review will just be me saying that in a thousand more words.)

Here we go, the first book I've ever read from pretty new author Lev Grossman, the book that made a huge splash last year... The Magicians.

Quentin Coldwater is an unremarkable genius. Sort of. Just go with it. He's absurdly attached to an old series of five novels set in the magical world of Fillory, and he's bored to tears with life as is. And then, one chilly day, he stumbles into a fantastic new reality, a reality that might be perfect for him. But the world of magic is not as pristine as what is depicted in the Fillory books, and Quentin is in for a rude awakening.

This book was too much fun to be expressed in words. Grossman wears his influences proudly, but never lets them become distracting to the overall effect. In fact, they contribute to the fun vibes. The Magicians is marketed as Harry Potter grown up, but it's more than that, a deeper character study set in a bizarre yet whimsical universe. The pace just whizzes by, much like The Warded Man, and yet Grossman gives the characters a lot of time to breathe. This seems like a paradox, but hey, it's magic.

There are a few nagging things that bring the book down in my estimation, however. The climax is far too heavy and melancholy for the rest of the book, and therefore makes the end feel almost incomplete. The emotional ebb and tide is a bit off, something I hope Grossman will fix in The Magician King, due out next year. And I will be buying it. Because stuff this much fun (the majority of the time) is hard to come by, it will be one of next year's most anticipated reads. It's not often such a quality mix of literary fiction and fantasy can be achieved.

My rating: 9/10

Coming Soon: Classic of the Month.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Fact That This Exists...

...leaves me shocked, but I'm not entirely sure if it's in a good way or a bad way. I mean, you don't really have a way of preparing yourself for THIS.
Until next time,
The Writer

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A Lord of the Rings Film Retrospective

One Ring to Rule Them All...

A few months ago, I went and watched all six STAR WARS movies back to back. This provided an unparalleled opportunity to review one of my all-time favorite film series as a whole. So, recently, I decided to go for a marathon viewing even more epic in scope: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. And I didn't cut corners-- these were the Extended Editions, the shortest of which is three and a half hours long. The Return of the King is over four. In other words, this viewing took almost as long as the one for STAR WARS. It's a big time commitment, but one that is ultimately extremely rewarding.

Here's a note beforehand: these films were released over three years' time, but they together comprise a single storyline. Watching them as such, the continuity is to die for, and the love for the source material from the filmmakers is overwhelming. You can feel the love in every frame, in the costumes and sets, in the editing, in the special effects, and in the brilliant score by an inspired Howard Shore.

It is the height that all book adaptations strive to reach, and the height that few, if any, others will. Sure, there are great adaptations out there, like Stardust, The Princess Bride, or To Kill a Mockingbird, but even these fantastic films cannot match the emotional weight of almost twelve hours of breathtaking story. I saw all of these films when they came out in the theater, and the memories of that first viewing are still clear in my mind: the audience sitting on the edge of their seats, cheering, and crying together. It was an experience, and one I'll never forget.

So, with that out of the way, here goes some EPIC.

The Fellowship of the Ring: Peter Jackson initially wows audiences with his nailing of the first third of J. R. R. Tolkien's classic story. Frodo, a hobbit, finds himself in possession of the One Ring, an object of great and sinister power forged by the dark lord Sauron in the fires of Mount Doom. He sets off to the mountain to destroy it, aided by Sam, his closest companion; Merry and Pippin, two hobbit friends; Gandalf, an ancient and wise wizard; Legolas, an elf; Gimli, a dwarf; Boromir, son of the steward of Gondor; and Aragorn, blood heir to the throne of men. But the Fellowship is being tracked by Sauron's forces of evil, and the road will not be easy...

What I Liked: The Prologue, which can bring even someone who has no idea of what Tolkien is talking about up to speed, and narrated by the lovely Cate Blanchett. The Shire, which Peter Jackson nailed, and graciously didn't speed through to get to the action. Rivendell is realized marvelously, as are all the environments and locales. New Zealand is truly the perfect place to shoot The Lord of the Rings. Boromir's arc was well-handled. Peter Jackson also gives a taste at what the Scouring of the Shire would have looked like. And in the Extended Edition, Bilbo's trolls from The Hobbit even make a brief appearance, as well as the rest of Galadriel's gifts.
What I Didn't Like: No Tom Bombadil, which makes me sad deep in my heart, but I understand why, for time reasons, it was cut. There are a few other changes, but most of them were made for understandable reasons, such as Arwen being the one who takes Frodo the last leg to Rivendell.

My rating: 9.5/10

The Two Towers: The Fellowship has been broken. Some have died, and the rest are spread out over no less than three locations. Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli track Merry and Pippin, but get sidetracked by trouble in Rohan, caused by the turncoat Saruman. Merry and Pippin, having been carried away by orcs, flee into Fangorn Forest and find something far older and stranger than they would have imagined. Meanwhile, Frodo and Sam receive the aid of an unlikely creature to help them on their way the the land of Mordor...

What I Liked: Rohan, especially Edoras. This set was beautifully constructed, and feels like an Alan Lee illustration come to life. The new additions to the cast fit in nicely. I think this is a good time to talk about Christopher Lee's pitch-perfect portrayal of Saruman. Lee says he reads The Lord of the Rings every year, and it shows. He's really, really good. And I can't write this review without talking about the marvelous Ents. Seriously, I giggle with fanboyish glee everytime I see them, and my father's worse. Gollum is a feat of groundbreaking motion capture that still holds up today and doesn't distract from the story. Also, in the Extended Edition, there is a scene that is a lovely homage to Tom Bombadil.

What I Didn't Like: Faramir. Peter Jackson, I know you wanted to add another dimension to him, but in doing so, you deprived him of his strength of character. I like him better in the book-- a lot better. Also, I know that Arwen is here mainly to be a reminder of her importance in Aragorn's life, but she doesn't actually do anything in this movie besides cry in a sexy way. And yet, the film is still fantastic.

My rating: 9.5/10

The Return of the King: Winner of 11 Oscars, this is the final part of the saga of The Lord of the Rings. Sauron unleashes his forces upon Gondor, and Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli struggle to combat it. They go into a haunted mountain in search of a secret weapon to turn the tide. Gandalf and Pippin ride fast to Gondor to bring a warning, but the steward, Denethor, has turned to madness, and they quickly become embroiled in the conflict. And Frodo, Sam, and Gollum journey the final stretch to Mordor, where Sauron waits to reclaim his prize.

What I Liked: Can I just say this film was practically perfect in every way? Howard Shore's score will move you to tears. The acting reaches new heights of success. The action is tense and epic in scope. The "Lighting the Beacons" sequence features jaw-dropping cinematography. Aragorn's speech is full of great literary value, and his final, "For Frodo" is exciting and dramatic. The entire Mount Doom sequence, one of my favorite scenes of all time, is emotionally charged and true to the book's heart. The Gray Havens WILL make you cry. If not, you have no soul. The very last line of the book has been preserved, something that makes me extremely happy. And, on the Extended Edition, there are a number of great additional sequences, such as one in Isengard that gives an element of the Scouring of the Shire, and the Houses of Healing.

What I Didn't Like: No Scouring of the Shire. I miss the Scouring of the Shire. I mean, the movie would have been nearing the five hour mark if it had been included, but still. I wouldn't have minded. Honestly, I just can't fault this movie.

My rating: 10/10

So there you have it. When put together, The Lord of the Rings is One Movie to Rule Them All, based upon One Book to Rule Them All, centered around One Ring to Rule Them All. It's just... awesome. I'm sorry, but I don't know what else to say. I love these movies so much, and and sincerely hope the movie version of The Hobbit gets made eventually. The world needs more Tolkien movies. Although I don't know how well The Silmarillion would go over with audiences. You know, regular, non-geeky audiences.

I will return again very soon with more Stephen King and Lev Grossman's The Magicians.

Until next time,

The Writer