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William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back by Ian Doescher

William Shakespeare's The Empire Striketh Back (William Shakespeare's Star Wars, #2)Premise: The Rebellion seems to be gaining strength ever since Luke Skywalker destroyed the Death Star, but the base on Hoth is discovered by the Empire, so they must find refuge elsewhere. The rebels scatter and the Empire continues their pursuit of crushing the opposition. Luke seeks one of the last living Jedi in order to take up the mantle himself. It is in a remote swamp that Luke begins his Jedi training with the Jedi master Yoda.

Han, Leia, and crew go to Han’s scoundrel friend Lando for protection, but the Empire’s reach is long and they are found in the Cloud City and captured. Han is given over to the bounty hunter Boba Fett and the rest are held as bait for Luke to rescue. Will Luke come to the rescue or will new revelations destroy any hope the Rebellion had for victory?

Themes: In The Empire Striketh Back, we begin to see the feelings between Leia and Han blossom through their tumultuous interactions. The romance builds as their feelings are laid bare for the reader but held close to themselves until they can no longer contain their feelings. But it isn’t until Han’s life is forfeit that Leia expresses her true feelings to him.

People can change, including the biggest scoundrels, but sometimes they fall into their old ways. When Han Solo falls in with the Rebellion, he does his best to put his past life as a rogue and a smuggler behind him. It manages to catch up to him when he trusts Lando Calrissian to protect him and his friends. Lando’s betrayal only enforces Han’s lifestyle choices, but perhaps at that point it is too late.

Temptation and confronting fears play a large role in The Empire Striketh Back. Luke faces his fears first in the swamps of Dagobah when tested by Yoda in becoming a Jedi. Luke learns the dangers of giving in to the dark side, but he learns the true temptation of the dark side when confronted by Darth Vader with the truth of his father.

Pros: Doescher continues showing his fine grasp of Shakespearean language in The Empire Striketh Back while making some interesting character choices through their dialogue. The choices that stand out are with making Boba Fett speak in prose instead of iambic pentameter to show his lower class and with Yoda speaking in haiku to show his different speaking style. Doescher infuses more emotion into Empire than he did with Star Wars, done so with a lot of monologue asides that aren’t really in the movie but I felt actually added to the story. This is especially true for Leia and Han but includes other characters like Lando of which we don’t get as much character development. The author also makes sure to include important lines, like Han’s famous response to Leia professing her love for him: “I know.”

Cons: I did catch a handful of times where the meter dropped or added an extra beat, which isn’t necessarily unheard of in Shakespeare’s work. Probably the most famous instance of this is “to be or not to be, that is the question” with its extra beat. My Shakespeare isn’t nearly as refined as it probably should be, but I know that he used this to express extra emphasis and emotion. Whether or not Doescher did this for the same reason, I’m unsure. I do know that it made my reading of Empire more difficult. While I appreciate the need to give each character their own representation, I didn’t think giving the Wampa a voice was entirely necessary. I also liked the space battle sequence in Verily, A New Hope better than how the battle was executed on Hoth. It felt more epic while keeping within the restraints of a play. Also, making the AT-ATs into characters just seemed silly.

Recommendations: One of the things I like most about The Empire Striketh Back is that Doescher manages to continue with the humor necessary to make something like this work while capturing the more tragic ending of the movie with Han being frozen in carbonite. Doescher makes more artistic choices in The Empire Striketh Back than he did with Star Wars, and they mostly pay off except for a couple I didn’t care for (see Wampa and AT-ATs). Still, The Empire Striketh Back continues the Star Wars trilogy in strong fashion, and in some ways mirrors the movies by being superior to Verily, A New Hope in that it is infused with more emotion, more peril, and more humanity. If you liked William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, don’t stop there or else you’ll miss out. While you can appreciate the book wearing a scholarly Shakespeare hat, keep in mind that these are supposed to be fun.

Ian Doescher’s website
William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back on Goodreads
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Download William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back for your Kindle
I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on June 16, 2014 in Humor, Science Fiction

 

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A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition by Charles M. Schulz

A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a TraditionPremise: A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition is a biographical tribute to the animated television classic. With stories about how the Christmas special came together, readers will learn about producer Lee Mendelson, animator Bill Melendez, musician Vince Guaraldi, and creator Charles Schulz.

The book includes the script of A Charlie Brown Christmas, Guaraldi’s original score and publication notes for songs “Christmas Time Is Here” and “Linus and Lucy,” and original animation art from the special. Lee Mendelson and Bill Melendez give their perspective of their relationships with each of the contributors and with the Peanuts characters, along with how the special came to fruition.

Themes: Charles Schultz’s comics tell grown-up problems from the perspective of children. With deep theological and cultural insight, the Peanuts kids share wisdom about life through the simplicity of their story.

A Charlie Brown Christmas shares the true meaning of the holiday in a very literal sense. In sharing in the nostalgia of this Christmas classic, the topics of life, faith, friendship, and love are brought forth through the classic Peanuts comics.

Pros: A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition told me so much about the people behind the cartoons that I didn’t know, but it also revealed to me more about the Peanuts creator. I like how they share how the cartoon eventually came to be, seemingly slapped together and lacking in content, but beloved to this day for its simplicity. I love that the book includes the full script and the original score of “Christmas Time is Here” and “Linus and Lucy.” The way the book is put together, sharing the different perspectives of the cartoon’s creators along with the artwork makes the book more than a keepsake. It really does feel more like a biography.

Cons: Knowing this was only about the Christmas special, I would have liked a more in depth look into Charles Schulz’s beliefs. I think it would have added to the meaning Schulz wanted to create through his work. And though there is a lot of original art, I would also have liked the A Charlie Brown Christmas to include more animation cells and storyboard sketches.

Recommendations: If you’re looking for biography and nostalgia, A Charlie Brown Christmas has plenty of both. I learned things not only about the Christmas special but about the people behind creating it. With a realistic view of how television shows are (or at least used to be) made, this book romanticizes how things came together to develop this classic cartoon loved by many. Great to pick up in bites or to read all the way through, lovers of the Peanuts gang and of the Charlie Brown Christmas special would do themselves well to pick up a copy of A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition to understand how it all came together.

Charles M. Schulz museum
A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition on Goodreads
Buy A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition on Amazon
I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on November 24, 2013 in Nonfiction

 

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Quotes Every Man Should Know by Nick Mamatas (editor)

Quotes Every Man Should KnowPremise: Have you ever been at a party with nothing to add to the conversation? Or perhaps you have been engaged in debate and at a loss for a witty retort. Quotes Every Man Should Know is a collection of quotes that allows you to insert a bit of wisdom or humor into just about any setting. Just don’t be that guy who obviously memorized a book of quotes to randomly throw them into every conversation to make himself appear smarter than he actually is.

Themes: Quotes Every Man Should Know covers topics ranging from politics, religion, philosophy, humor, and even quotes about quotes. With the intent to provide quips for an array of situations, the content can be geared for many occasions.

Pros: There is certainly a good assortment of quotes in this collection. The topics are separated out into chapters and delineated clearly into these groups for easy access. Nick Mamatas even takes the time to point out quotes inaccurately attributed to people on the internet and clarify their true or probable origins. The dueling quotes at the end show us that wisdom can seemingly be found to support any argument, especially on controversial topics. Mamatas does a good job summarizing and providing some commentary in each section.

Cons: Quotes Every Man Should know is in no way a comprehensive selection of quotes, nor is every quote in the book necessarily useful. I point specifically the somewhat sparse and random selection of quotes from the Bible picked from Proverbs, but also include the useless quotes from people such as U.S. presidential candidate Vermin Supreme and comedian Sarah Silverman. There were some places where I felt Mamatas’ commentary was unnecessary, or in the case of some of the competing quotes added his personal bias toward one of the two.

Recommendations: As a gift for a birthday, bar mitzvah, or recent graduation, Quotes Every Man Should know is a fun way to encourage a boy growing into a man to seek wisdom by providing tidbits from others to guide him. Don’t attempt to use it to find wisdom for every situation, but merely as a way in add spice into conversations. As Mamatas points out, the internet is a source of endless inaccurately attributed quotations, so make sure your sources are correct when doing so to avoid putting words into Abraham Lincoln’s mouth.

Nick Mamatas’ LiveJournal
Quotes Every Man Should Know on Goodreads
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I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on September 2, 2013 in Nonfiction, Philosophy

 

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Like Mind by James T. Wood

Like MindPremise: Corey Tosh is a slacker in Portland, Oregon who gets by on just enough work to survive, making sure to put out minimal effort in everything he does. That is why he responds to a Craigslist ad looking for medical test subjects in exchange for fifty bucks. Of course things go terribly wrong when people begin following him and trying to kill him. But in the process he discovers he has an amazing new ability.

Thankfully, the cute redhead from the medical office is there to help him. Anka is the prettiest girl who has ever talked to him, but she’s not really a nurse. She works for the NSA. She also doesn’t really find Corey’s continual pop culture references to be incredibly endearing, at least not at first. But Corey’s understanding of women is about as obscure as his constant movie quotes are to Anka.

Now they must find the doctor who performed the experiment on Corey’s brain because whatever the doctor did is killing him. They also learn that, of all the people trying to kill or kidnap Corey, nobody can be trusted, not even Anka’s boss at the NSA.

Themes: How do you learn new things? Do you need to see them done first or do you work through trial and error? Corey is forced to learn new things instantly, and with it comes the shock of being able to do many new things without the understanding of why or how.

Meeting Anka not only makes Corey evaluate his own understanding of women, but it also makes him look at himself and his past romantic relationships, or lack thereof. Corey does some soul searching on why all his relationships failed and what part he played in making them fail. It also helps him to understand what it is that some women find attractive, especially when it comes to Anka.

Like Mind also touches on government conspiracies, international spying, and terrorism through intertwined plots that quickly spiral downward in a race for their lives. Corey and Anka discover that who they can trust might not be those they first expected.

Pros: Like Mind is laced with humor that helps to make an otherwise typical chased-by-the-governments-trying-to-kill-you story into something more unique and fun to read. This book is pretty short, so the pacing is quick and the character exchanges are crisp. And if you have never been to Portland, Oregon or driven up through Washington, Like Mind is spot on, giving references to local landmarks and places to see such as Powell’s Books, the hipster culture, even down to the terrible traffic on I-5 and I-84 (the Banfield). I’m glad I got most of the movie and television references because most of them add to the comedic tone of the story. The editing is actually very good, especially for a self-published book.

Cons: Some of the humor will be lost on many readers as obscure movie and television quotes are thrown out mercilessly. I am certain that few will get every pop culture reference in Like Mind and will perhaps even find themselves connecting with Anka more than Corey in her constant eyebrow raising at his lame jokes. With it being Anka’s first assignment her nervousness and questionable abilities make sense, but I figured her training would have made up for some of these things. The one thing I noticed most with the editing was some missing or misplaced comma usage. We don’t learn the protagonist’s name until the third chapter, which makes the front end seem clipped, like there is something missing. And being a short book might not be a positive for some readers.

Recommendations: Like Mind is a quick, fun romp through Portland, Oregon with a local slacker making light of a government trying to kill him. I thought of the television show Chuck as I read Like Mind, but instead of a database implanted into Corey’s brain it is the triggering of mirror neurons allowing him to imitate everything he sees. I only wish the story was a little longer with some more context into why Anka would be interested in someone like Corey in such a short period of time, even with the stressful things they go through together. Like Mind actually gave me some hope that not all self-published books are terrible. In fact, this one is actually pretty good.

James T. Wood’s website
Like Mind on Goodreads
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I received a copy from the author to write this honest review. We also used to be roommates.

 
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Posted by on August 4, 2013 in Fiction, Romance, Science Fiction

 

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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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