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Category Archives: Classics

Who’s On First? by Abbott & Costello, John Martz (Illustrator)

Who's on First?Premise: Take comedy legends Abbott & Costello’s classic sketch explaining who is playing the different positions on a baseball team, illustrate it like a whimsical children’s book, and that’s what you get with Who’s On First?. Costello thinks Abbott is using pronouns when talking about baseball players, while Abbott thinks Costello understands that those are the actual names of the players.

Themes: Who’s On First? centers around the misunderstanding between two people confusing the proper names of baseball players with pronouns that have identical spellings and pronunciations. Hilarity ensues.

Pros: The illustrations of John Martz make Abbott and Costello’s interchange easier to understand without taking away from the humor between the two comedians. In fact, the art helps make it more accessible to a younger audience. I especially love the illustrations with arrows as the characters explain where the ball is traveling between the players. The comedic timing from the original sketch is kept very much in tact through the fun illustrations.

Cons: Even though Who’s On First? is marketed as a children’s picture book, children might get confused with this humorously confusing interaction, especially if they have little or no baseball knowledge. The text is basically lifted directly from the Abbott and Costello sketch with no new content other than the illustrations, which really isn’t much of a con unless you are looking for more.

Recommendations: Baseball and comedy fans will love Who’s On First? as they reminisce about Abbott and Costello’s famous comedy bit and enjoy this refreshing new take. The comic adaptation is done in a way that is helpful to young readers and adds a bit of cartoon humor into the mix. I will personally love reading this book over and over, and it is something I will love reading to my son as he grows a little older, perhaps even waiting until he can read it himself and knows a little more about the game of baseball to appreciate it fully. It will be fun to read it along with him out loud so he can get the full comedic effect. But Who’s On First? is not just for young readers, as most baseball fans will especially love this cartoon tribute to the comedy legends.

Abbott & Costello’s website
John Martz’s website
Who’s on First? on Goodreads
Buy Who’s on First? on Amazon
I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

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Posted by on February 18, 2013 in Childrens, Classics, Humor

 

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The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

The HobbitPremise: Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit, a race of small folksy people who keep to themselves, love to eat and make merry, and who never have adventures. That is, they never have adventures until the wizard Gandalf stops in for a visit. Gandalf invites thirteen dwarves to Bilbo’s under the hill home to set off on a journey, and little does Bilbo know that he has been roped into the adventure to go along with them. In fact, he has been given a special job by Gandalf as their burglar to capture the long lost dwarf treasure.

The party gets help along the way from Gandalf, Elrond and the elves of Rivendell, Beorn the skin-changer, the great eagles, and the men of Dale. The elves of Mirkwood prove to be challenging and a troublesome annoyance, but even with their mutual antipathy with the dwarves they may find opportunity to both battle with and alongside each other to face less graceful foes.

On their adventure, the group encounters trolls, wolves, spiders, elves, goblins, and other crafty creatures. Their ultimate goal is to find the treasure guarded by the dragon Smaug. It is here that Bilbo’s role as the burglar becomes most important. Even achieving victory can bring about its own unforeseen struggles, and no one could have predicted what might happen if the group were able to eventually gain the treasure.

Themes: Living a comfortable life where nothing exciting ever happens, an adventure is forced upon Bilbo. When faced with a seemingly impossible task filled with trials throughout the journey, Bilbo’s capabilities are put to the test. He becomes more decisive, with those decisions being increasingly infused with wisdom. It is through trials that a person learns their true character.

The goal of the dwarves to obtain their lost riches is wrought with peril, and not just from the dangers of the threat of harm from spiders and trolls. The obsession to gather treasure leads some to turn on Bilbo, the one without whom they would have all been lost, and to put even their own lives before releasing a portion of their wealth that they only had known for a short time.

Pros: Few books can span time and generations like The Hobbit. It lays the groundwork for arguably the greatest epic fantasy of all time in The Lord of the Rings, but it is a good stepping stone to make the much larger trilogy more accessible. The Hobbit is full of wit and playfulness in the face of danger, giving voice to the little guy and making the reader see new ways of accomplishing goals apart from brute force. An entire world is encapsulated in this compact story so masterfully that it makes the world building of The Lord of the Rings that much more impressive.

Cons: The pacing in The Hobbit is somewhat disjointed. We go from having tea and washing dishes in the first chapter to being captured by trolls in chapter two. The narrative changes gears too quickly at times, speeding through the mountains but dragging on and on through Mirkwood. Unfortunately, the popular culture references, while humorous, seem out of place in the story and can give this beautiful story a dated feel. I have always felt there were too many characters in The Hobbit, especially with so many dwarves to have to give each one a unique personality.

Recommendations: The Hobbit is a glorious tale of adventure written for children but it can be enjoyed by everyone. With today’s shorter attention spans it might be boring to some people, or seem childish because of its intended audience, however The Hobbit makes the reader take a second look at taking risks and enjoying life. It speaks volumes about the corruption of riches while decrying war and its horrors. In spite of its flaws, I can’t help but love The Hobbit and recommend everyone read it. Try reading it out loud to someone, preferably a child, and the magic it contains will more readily reveal itself.

The Tolkien Estate
The Hobbit on Goodreads
Buy The Hobbit on Amazon
Download The Hobbit for your Kindle

 
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Posted by on December 12, 2012 in Childrens, Classics, Fantasy

 

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A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

A Princess of MarsPremise: Captain John Carter is a Civil War veteran, and when his friend comes across a band of Indians the friend is killed. John Carter goes right into the middle of the Indian camp to find his friend, then heads into the hills to escape death. In the ensuing chase, John Carter enters a mysterious cave where he falls unconscious and he is transported to Mars.

On the Red Planet, or Barsoom as the locals call it, he encounters a savage green alien race and quickly becomes respected among them. Though he resembles the red men, he has incredible physical abilities that set him apart from all others on the planet. Because of a lower gravity and his muscles attuned to the pull of the Earth, he can leap great distances and has much greater strength than those around him. With these abilities he gains respect, but when he meets Dejah Thoris, princess of the red men of Helium, he immediately falls in love.

For the love of the princess, John Carter is willing to traverse a savage land, face strange creatures, and throw himself into battle against men, both red and green, in order to save her. It takes traveling to a planet millions of miles away for John Carter to find friendship and love, but it very well may cost him his life.

Themes: A Princess of Mars really is a love story. After spending most of his life without love, or any real close relationships at all, John Carter finds his love on another planet. It is for this love that he is willing to do anything and give everything, including his life.

Appearances are not what they seem on Barsoom. One cannot judge someone for being green or red, male or female, or even between creatures of varying size and ferocity. We discover that those coming from different tribes, or even within the same tribe, must be judged as individuals and not by the reputation or past of the entire group or race.

A Princess of Mars is also an adventure about sacrifice and loyalty. John Carter fights for himself and for his goal of protecting the princess and fighting for her love, but he also fights for friendship and the common good of all creatures on the planet. He must discern his allegiances within and between battling factions and the different races on Barsoom.

Pros: There is much swashbuckling adventure and excitement in A Princess of Mars. We also find chivalry that is difficult to find in today’s fiction. A Princess of Mars has an optimistic view of the world and sees the goodness in people. Burroughs’ writing is full of action and the pacing is great, even when it glosses over details at times. With a cliffhanger ending, it still felt complete and just the right length.

Cons: There are a few instances where things just so happen to move the plot along in favor of John Carter. Call it deus ex machina or coincidence, but at these points it seemed almost lazy on the part of Burroughs, though it did help the quickened pacing when used. It may be the time when A Princess of Mars was written, but it is thoroughly sexist. Even the savage green Martian women are considered fairer and weaker. For example, where perhaps a few of the green men could probably have dispatched an entire pack of wild dogs, a dozen females armed with daggers fare much worse.

Recommendations: With its quaint look at interplanetary travel and alien worlds, the ideas in A Princess of Mars are still grandiose and forward-thinking. Burroughs was well ahead of his time when he wrote the Barsoom series, perhaps if not in scientific terms, then in human nature and fantastical storytelling in general. His inspiration for other stories in the genre to follow make A Princess of Mars a groundbreaking work of fantasy and science fiction. This is a must read for fans of the genre.

Disney’s Edgar Rice Burroughs website
A Princess of Mars on Goodreads
Buy A Princess of Mars (Penguin Classics) on Amazon
Buy John Carter of Mars: The Collection (first 5 books in the series)
Download ebook of A Princess of Mars for your Kindle (free!)
Download ebook of A Princess of Mars in multiple formats from Project Gutenberg (free!)

 
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Posted by on March 25, 2012 in Classics, Fantasy, Science Fiction

 

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The Wendigo by Algernon Blackwood

The WendigoPremise: Dr. Cathcart and his nephew Mr. Simpson go on a moose hunting trip deep into the wilderness of northern Canada with their guides Hank Davis and the French Canadian Joseph Défago, along with their Indian cook, Punk. They split up to cover more ground, Dr. Cathcart with Hank and Simpson with Défago, but the rumor of a creature that wanders the wild where they are headed begins to stir in their minds.

When Défago takes off unexpectedly, Simpson attempts to follow him, but Défago is so swift that he is unable to keep up. The strange tracks he leaves, however, reveal that Défago was chasing something else, something with even stranger tracks. Stranger still is the lingering scent of something unexplainable that those who have smelled it can only describe as the “odor of lions.”

Simpson somehow is able to make it back to the original camp alone. Dr. Cathcart and Hank are surprised to see him, especially without his guide. But when Défago returns on his own, he is somehow changed. Dr. Cathcart might know something of his condition, but it is Punk’s response in the end that is most telling.

Themes: The Wendigo is a story of the unknown, not only the stories and rumors of something in the wilderness, but the sheer anxiety of going into unexplored territory and living off the land and by your wits. This is a classic monster tale that asks the question, “Who or what is the monster here?”

The changes someone goes through when facing uninhabited lands can be thrilling, but it can also take a toll on your mind. At least, that is what The Wendigo says to us. The “call of the wild” can bring about a ferocity in a man that makes him lose a little of himself in the wild. And when brought back into civilization, that part of himself may not come back.

Pros: With classic horror stories the suspense is built by simply not showing the monster and by contrasting the fantastic with the mundane. Even in such a short story The Wendigo is packed with the perfect amount of character development, a vast setting, and an unsettling chill of something watching you at every turn.

Cons: Many authors of classic horror risk belaboring points and drawing out suspenseful situations through repetition, and The Wendigo is no exception. It can be tedious at times, but only briefly, if there is such a thing as briefly tedious. Thankfully, it is short and those parts can easily be plowed through.

Recommendations: If you have read Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley and are looking for more authors of their ilk, look no further than Algernon Blackwood. The Wendigo gives us a look at the unknown and brings with it both fear and wonder, which many times both go hand in hand. It is authors like Blackwood with such a mastery of the craft of storytelling that make me enjoy reading classics. Go read this now, especially since it is fairly short and you can download the ebook for free.

The Wendigo on Goodreads
Download ebook of The Wendigo for your Kindle (free!)
Download ebook of The Wendigo in multiple formats from Project Gutenberg (also free!)

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2012 in Classics, Fantasy, Horror, Short Story

 

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