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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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Imperfect Harmony by Stacy Horn

Imperfect Harmony: Singing Through Life's Sharps and FlatsPremise: Through life’s trials and disappointments, Stacy Horn found joy in in one aspect of her life: singing in a community choir. In this autobiographical account of her time spent in the Choral Society of Grace Church in New York she accounts for the constant encouragement and bliss found through singing with other people. In her constant search for companionship and happiness, Stacy’s one part of her life that regularly brings her joy is the community choir in her neighborhood. She walks to the same building every week during choral season to practice with other people in the community.

With a great amount of historical and scientific research, Stacy makes the convincing argument that singing with others in groups can not only make you feel better emotionally and spiritually, but physically as well. She also recounts her experiences, for better or worse, including insight into the music the choirs have sung and the people she has encountered because of her time at Grace Church.

Themes: Singing with others will make you feel happier and healthier. It is proven to lower blood pressure and positively affect the limbic system. Singing has been shown to cause euphoric and uplifting feelings, especially when it is done with other people. The quality of the singing doesn’t even matter. In fact, better singers have been shown to be more focused on hitting the right notes, lessening the overall positive effects than those of lower quality singers.

Singing in community can also bring you closer to those you are singing with, building friendships and relationships that would otherwise not have been there had it not been for the common interest and the action of singing in a choir or group.

Pros: Stacy Horn makes a great case for singing with other people. Stacy’s straightforward and humorous account of her years with the choir sound quite genuine, giving credence to her historical research. She backs up the historical and scientific statements with a good deal of evidence from multiple resources. Stacy lays her heart out there for everyone to examine, which makes Imperfect Harmony a very human and personal story. I can appreciate some of her favorite songs, as I have sung many of them. I can also relate to many of Horn’s experiences, especially the euphoria mixed with adrenaline when performing a heavily-practiced piece of emotional music. It is one of the greatest feelings in the world.

Cons: Stacy is very up front with not being religious, but sharing her derision for religion in this book is mostly unnecessary, especially considering it is the inspiration for much of the music she and her choir perform. Some of the songs she mentions about God’s wrath during Easter make me think their choir just needs to sing different songs. Even worse were the political infusions that really have nothing to do with the autobiographical story of music and community. The part where she talks about Barack Obama’s inauguration night is especially unnecessary, speaking about the joy of that occasion in such a way that it sounds almost like believers worshiping a deity. It really didn’t add anything to the story or even help make the point she was trying to make.

Recommendations: In spite of political and religious differences, Imperfect Harmony shares a visceral yet thoroughly-researched study of how singing with others can have a positive impact on a person’s life physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I only wish Stacy could personally experience the even greater joy of actually believing the words being sung when singing about God. In my experience singing in choirs and various a cappella singing groups I have found everything Horn says about the happiness found through singing in a community to be true. Accepting Horn’s words to be her honest perspective, singers and non-singers alike should take this book to heart and follow through; find people to sing with. Not only will reading Imperfect Harmony make you feel better, but it encourages you to sing, and that will make you feel better and happier regardless of how good a singer you think you are.

Stacy Horn’s website
Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness Singing with Others on Goodreads
Buy Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness Singing with Others on Amazon
Download Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness Singing with Others for your Kindle
I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on November 3, 2013 in Nonfiction

 

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The Troupe by Robert Jackson Bennett

The TroupePremise: Vaudevillian pianist George Carole has an amazing gift for his age. At sixteen he plays with a variety of artists, but he eventually catches up with the troupe leader he believes is his father: Heironomo Silenus. What he discovers is that, even for vaudeville, his father’s troupe performs strange acts that cannot really be explained, and that those performances change the people and the world around them in remarkable ways.

What George learns as he follows Silenus is that they too are on the run because George is not the only one chasing them. The troupe is toying with ancient and dangerous secrets, to the extent that the very fabric of existence is in danger. Light and music are important for the universe, and it is these things that Silenus seeks. But those chasing him want them too, and they will destroy everything in their way to get them.

George soon learns that his gift is more important than he thought, and the secrets the troupe is holding and chasing are of the utmost importance for everyone and everything.

Themes: As George seeks to know his father, the theme of family is explored in depth and from many angles. When he learns that Silenus is his father, the man turns out to be nothing he expected. His ideals of family are broken and the relationship he sought becomes more difficult to piece together.

With the bold task of explaining existence, The Troupe ponders the questions a creation has for its Creator, however that might look. Explaining life and death and the reasons for everything, this grand undertaking of the ultimate question becomes the reason for the troupe to continue their performances. Each member of Silenus’ troupe asks these questions in their own way.

Grief from loss simmers to the top as a theme of The Troupe. With strange occurrences around every corner, the motive becomes clear why the troupe continues on as is does, running from secrets and searching for answers. Silenus leads his crew on a seemingly wild goose chase for those answers.

Pros: Not only does Bennett create compelling characters, he infuses them with flaws and conflicts. But most of all he summons with them strong emotions. Robert Jackson Bennett does something in The Troupe that is uncommon: he made me feel things. At separate times, I laughed, I was fearful, and genuinely sad, all in the same book. We read realistic and common interactions between the characters, such as a boy’s infatuation with a girl for the first time, a father’s love for his child, and a man’s obsession for a goal. There are so many different magical elements here that the reader is left wondering if this really is the world we live in, with its dark corners and pinpoints of light.

Cons: There is quite a bit of profanity in The Troupe, most of it coming from Silenus, though it is fitting for the harshness of his character. There were so many fantastical things thrown into this magical book that there were a few times I got a bit lost and questioned the need for a couple of those elements. The story has some horror-like qualities that lead the reader into a somewhat depressing direction.

Recommendations: In The Troupe, Robert Jackson Bennett has done something that few authors have done with great success. I feel about The Troupe similar to the way I felt about reading Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell the first time. While not quite as comprehensively historical as Susanna Clarke’s masterpiece, the magical elements and complete characters created a similar-feeling world. It is a magical story with so many twists and turns with realistic, emotion-evoking interactions between characters, I was ready to go back and read it again as soon as I turned the last page.

Robert Jackson Bennett’s website
The Troupe on Goodreads
Buy The Troupe on Amazon
Download The Troupe for your Kindle

 
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Posted by on March 23, 2013 in Fantasy, Horror

 

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AcaPolitics: A Novel About College A Cappella by Stephen Harrison

AcaPolitics: A Novel About College A CappellaPremise: Ben Jensen is a freshman at Brighton University who wants to branch out into some new experiences in college. Why not try out for a college a cappella group? In the dorms he meets Caroline Cooper through an impromptu guitar jam session. When he finds out she can sing and that she is trying out for an a cappella group, his mind is made up: he simply must try out. However, Dani Behlman is the fiercely competitive president of the co-ed Harmoniums who might already have plans for both of them. Taylor Stuart is the TA from International Studies class who also happens to be the neurotic president of the Chorderoys, the other co-ed group on campus.

Not only are there these singing groups pitted against each other, but these a cappella people also encounter betrayal, find love, and discover who they really are. Caroline is the girl of Ben’s dreams, but she is still dating her hipster boyfriend from high school. Dani has plans to recruit Ben for her rise to stardom and is willing to do anything to get it, but ends up finding more in the process. Taylor discovers his true self, along with Nicole, Renee, Akash, and the rest of the college gang.

When it is learned that Student Government is going to have to cut singing groups due to budget cuts, the presidents go into overdrive to recruit the best singers, pick the best songs, and perform to their fullest. Dani pulls out no stops to make the Harmoniums safe from cuts, while pushing the Chorderoys closer to the chopping block. Of the six groups on campus who will come out on top, and will it matter after a year of forming friendships through music?

Themes: As said in my description of the book’s premise, this is a book about discovery. College is definitely a place of finding your true self, and these characters are no different. Especially with the freshmen like Ben, Akash, Nicole, Renee, and even Ben’s non-aca roommate Wilson, each character has to overcome their parents’ expectations to discover who they are and who they want to be while having new experiences, finding love, and shedding their past disappointments.

Forming strong bonds and finding your people in something like an a cappella group may seem silly, but I can attest that it is possible. When you come across something special you know it, and Ben spots it from the moment those first groups perform at the recruitment concert. Something may be geeky, but if it speaks to you it might just grab you by the heart and have you for life.

Dani gives us an example of the throes of ambition and the lengths someone is willing to go in order to achieve their goals. But when she encounters something better does that change her goals or does it give her perspective on the people around her that she might be hurting?

Pros: The main characters are interesting and their interactions were fun to read. I really started to hate Dani and her scheming until she became a real person with flaws and feelings. By the end of AcaPolitics I wanted to know more about her and Ben and Caroline and the possible love triangle there. The camaraderie between all the singers and their groups is palpable and, as I can attest to it, realistic.

Cons: Describing characters by their voice parts and their defining quality, such as “the petite soprano” and “the theatrical alto”, were sustained through the story and these character trope descriptions bordered on annoying. Many of the characters were defined well enough that these became unnecessary later in the story. Also, adding “aca” to anything does not necessarily make them special to the a cappella community. I still have no idea what “acaflirting” is.

Recommendations: As an avid a cappella junkie and reader I thought AcaPolitics was a fun and fresh novel, and the only story I can think of set in the college a cappella realm. While the book has its flaws, it is fun and flirty (but not acaflirty), and full of relational conflicts. A cappella fans will love AcaPolitics as they reminisce about their glory days, while this novel will make high school grads give a second thought about dismissing a cappella group auditions in college. Non-acas may not connect with the subject matter, but the characters make the story work. If the rumors I hear about a sequel are true, I am looking forward to knowing what will happen next on the Brighton University a cappella scene. But that’s easy for me to say because I am an acanerd.

Stephen Harrison’s AcaPolitics website
AcaPolitics on Goodreads
Buy AcaPolitics on Amazon
Buy ebook of AcaPolitics for your Kindle

 
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Posted by on December 29, 2011 in Fiction

 

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