Monday, June 30, 2014

A Review of 'Romeo and Juliet' by William Shakespeare

"Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy written early in the career of playwright William Shakespeare about two young 'star-cross'd lovers' whose deaths ultimately unite their feuding families.

I was among Shakespeare's most popular plays during his lifetime and, along with Hamlet and Macbeth, is one of his most frequently performed plays.  Today, the title characters are regarded as archetypal young lovers."

I'm taking a class that is all about Shakespeare this semester-- I love it!  I really like reading Shakespeare and feeling capable enough to read and understand Shakespeare!  It's glorious.

I originally read this book for my ninth grade English class, but now I'm back in my second year of college to read this book again.  I'm really glad that I got to read this again.  I understand it much better than I did when I was fourteen/fifteen years old (wow, ninth grade was six years ago... that's weird...).  Upon opening this book again, I realized how annoying Romeo is.  Half the time I wanted to smack Romeo for being so freaking love-sick and mopey all the time.  It was especially frustrating because even when he met Juliet, he was like this when things weren't working out so well.  He's know her for maybe a week or two by the end of the book.  It's a miracle that Romeo's life lasted this long if he falls in love so hard every time he sees a woman.  He's a ridiculous character...

But by the end of the play, I felt more sympathy for him.  I could see that his pain was real.  Sure, maybe he's loved Juliet for less than a week and that's really weird to me, but by the end of the play, his desperation is just oozing out of him.  He sees no way around his suicide.  His speech about going to die is powerful.  I've decided to write my first paper about that particular speech in the context of the rest of the play.

Overall, I'm really happy that I read this play again.  I feel like I have a better understanding of the connections between the characters and of the general plot.  By the time I finished the play, I fell in love with the play-- more than I did in ninth grade.

I give 'Romeo and Juliet':
Thanks for Reading!


Monday, June 23, 2014

A Review of 'The Wolves in the Walls' by Neil Gaiman

"Lucy hears sneaking, creeping, crumpling noises coming from inside the walls.

She is sure there are wolves in the walls of her house."

I have a new life goal: read everything that Neil Gaiman has ever written.  No matter if it's a children's book like this one, a graphic novel, or a regular novel of all kinds.  I will read them all.

This is kind of a freaky children's book.  Not because there are wolves in the walls of young Lucy's house, but the pictures are verging on grotesque.  The pictures are what scared me a bit.  The art style is interesting, for sure.  It's like a mixture of illustration and photography... like collage.  It has a really eerie feel to it and I just enjoyed Dave McKean's work so much.  If I didn't like the writing, I would buy this book any way purely for the art.
But I do like the writing!  It's witty and sometimes it sets my teeth on edge.  To me, it felt like everyone was in on a secret while Lucy was stuck outside.  They all knew that when the wolves leave the walls, then that's it-- that's the end.  But Lucy had never heard this before.  Does the rest of her family know that there are wolves living in their walls?  Are they just biding their time until the wolves finally come out of the walls?

If you're a fan of Neil Gaiman, dark stories, and charming children's books, The Wolves in the Walls is definitely a good pick for you.

I give 'The Wolves in the Walls':
Thanks for Reading!


Monday, June 16, 2014

A Review of 'The Lost Boy' by Greg Ruth

"Nate's not happy about his family moving to a new house in a new town.  After all, nobody asked him if he wanted to move in the first place.  But when he discovers a tape recorder and note addressed to him under the floorboards of his bedroom, Nate is thrust into a dark mystery about a boy who went missing many, many years ago.  Now, as strange happening and weird creatures begin to track Nate, he must partner with Tabitha, a local girl, to find out what they want with him.  But time is running out, for a powerful force is gathering strength int he woods at the edge of town, and before long Nate and Tabitha will be forced to confront a terrifying foe, and uncover the truth about the Lost Boy."

I went to a mini book convention that took place on my college campus.  I got a book called Journey there as well.  I finally got around to reading this one after having a dry spell with graphic novels.

My favorite part of this book was the illustrations.  I'm not sure how to describe what they're like, so here are a few examples (click the pictures for larger views):

It's like a cross between a photograph and fantasy.  I'm not sure if I can explain it better than that.  No matter what the explanation is, I really like the style.

But there's still a story to be told alongside these images.  I think the story has potential, but it wasn't executed as well as it could have been.  I don't think, any way.  The overall story is an intriguing one.  I like the idea of a tape recorder being left in the floor filled with clues.  I like the idea of small animals and insects being the go-between for humans and this magical land.  What I didn't like was how there were a few parts that took me by complete surprise.  Like, there was no lead-up to what would happen next.  I was in the control of the author and I didn't like that.  When it comes to books, I want a chance to be able to figure out what happens next.  There were no clues as to who this tree guy was that kept popping up randomly.  I would have read a longer graphic novel if it meant that those loose ends could be tied up a little more.

That being said, I'll be keeping my copy mainly for the illustrations and also for the rare gold nugget in the story itself.

I give 'The Lost Boy':
Thanks for Reading!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Predeparture: Start Learning Dutch

One of my goals is to learn (some) Dutch while I'll abroad in the Netherlands.  But I don't want to be a blank slate as soon as I set foot in Amsterdam, I want to be able to say some useful phrases or at least have a very basic understanding of how the language works.  So here are some things that I've been doing to start learning Dutch:

1. Listening to Dutch Speakers on CDs.  I got a set of CDs that's supposed to help you learn the basics of Dutch and eventually master it.  I think my CDs are intended for people traveling to the Netherlands on business, which is unfortunate, because while I'll make transactions in businesses (buying food, probably making an IKEA run, buying a bike and a phone, etc.), that's the extent of my involvement in business.  I don't need to know how to run a board meeting in Dutch.  The CDs are helpful, but they haven't been my go-to method of starting out in Dutch.

2. Watching and Listening to Dutch speakers on YouTube.  There's a book-tuber that I absolutely adore (who responded to me via GoodReads, which I was really excited to see!  She gave me great tips about the Netherlands and Dutch people.  I'm eternally grateful) who happens to be Dutch.  She's great to listen to when she speaks Dutch because she speaks slowly and enunciates so that I can hear practically every letter.  That's exactly what I want!

3. Listening to Music in Dutch.  I've had trouble finding authentic Dutch music that isn't considered traditional, but a lot of the movie music that I like in English, I've also been able to find in Dutch!

Laat Het Los (Let It Go) as sung by Willemijn Verkaik has been a favorite lately.  I love that this is a lyrics video because I can see the word, I can hear it, and since I love to sing, I can say the words almost up to the speed Willemijn has set.  Willemijn has also played Elphaba from Wicked three times in English, German, and Dutch.  She's my hero.

I currently don't have close relationships with anyone who is Dutch, so this is what I do to practice without having a speaking partner!

Thanks for Reading!


Monday, June 9, 2014

A Review of 'Radio Shangri-La: What I Learned in Bhutan, the Happiest Kingdom on Earth' by Lisa Napoli

"Lisa Napoli was in the grip of a crisis, dissatisfied with her life and her work as a radio journalist.  When a chance encounter with a handsome stranger presented her with an opportunity to move halfway around the world, Lisa left behind cosmopolitan Los Angeles for a new adventure in the ancient Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan-- said to be one of the happiest places on earth.

Long isolated from industrialization and just beginning to open its doors to the modern world, Bhutan is a deeply spiritual place, devoted to environmental conservation and committed to the happiness of its people-- in fact, Bhutan measures its success in Gross National Happiness rather than in GNP.  In a country without a single traffic light, its citizens are believed to be among the most content in the world.  To Lisa, it seemed to be a place that offered the opposite of her fast-paced life in the United States, where the noisy din of sound-bite news and cell phones dominate our days, and meaningful conversation is a rare commodity; where everyone is plugged in digitally, yet rarely connects with the people around them.

Thousands of miles away from everything and everyone she knows, Lisa creates a new community for herself.  As she helps to start Bhutan's first youth-oriented radio station, Kuzoo FM, she must come to terms with her conflicting feelings about the impact of the medium on a country that has been shielded from its effects.  Immersing herself in Bhutan's rapidly changing culture, Lisa realizes that her own perspective on life is changing as well-- and that she is discovering the sense of purpose and joy that she has been yearning for.

In this smart, heartfelt, and beautifully written book, sure to please fans of transporting travel narratives and personal memoirs alike Lisa Napoli discovers that the world is a beautiful and complicated place-- and comes to appreciate her life for the adventure it is."

Lately, I've taken to doing an online quiz that tests how many countries/nations of the world that you know.  I have been able to name about 160 of those countries and Bhutan is one of them.  So I'm happy to say that I knew where Bhutan was prior to reading this book!  What I didn't know was: absolutely everything about Bhutan.  So I'm really happy that I read this memoir of Lisa Napoli's experiences with Bhutan and the Bhutanese people.

I like that this book is unlike Eat, Pray, Love in that Lisa wasn't super desperate when she went off to Bhutan.  She is divorced and she's not very into her job any more.  She she rolls with the punches.  When she's presented with an opportunity to go to Bhutan, she goes.  Not necessarily because she has to, but because she wants to.  I like that Lisa's journey was purposeful (at least to begin with).

I also like that while Lisa is in Bhutan, she makes observations and compares those observations with what she knows about the U.S.  What I like even more is that she observed with a level head-- she wasn't in-your-face pro-America (saying that the United States way is the only way), but she picked out things from Bhutan that she loved.  She recognized what she could bring home with her and what would be best left in Bhutan.  This shows her personal growth and also makes what she's writing accessible to her reader.

One more thing that I liked was how Lisa experienced the real Bhutan.  One of my favorite parts of this book was when she flew back to the U.S. after her first visit to Bhutan.  She meets with a woman who went through Bhutan the way tourists do.  This other woman paid a ton of money to live in luxury for two weeks for a family vacation.  They visited Buddhist temples and lived in relaxation.  Lisa, on the other hand, met and befriended Bhutanese people and lived as they did (although, probably a little better, to be honest).  It was interesting to see that stark contrast.

My one complaint was that this book, after Lisa returned from her first time in Bhutan, kind of dragged on.  I think this is because I was anticipating this book to end when she re-entered the U.S., but that wasn't the case.  There was no warning for this (that I found) and it just threw me off.  I think if I read it again, it wouldn't bother me.  I think including more than one stint in this book is beneficial.  Lisa has a really broad knowledge of Bhutan now and by visiting more than once and hosting a Bhutanese girl in her home, she really shows this.

Overall, this book is good for those who like memoirs, travel, and other cultures.

I give 'Radio Shangri-La':
Thanks for Reading!


Monday, June 2, 2014

A Review of 'Number the Stars' by Lois Lowry

"Ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen and her best friend Ellen Rosen often think of life before the war.  It's now 1943 and their life in Copenhagen is filled with school, food shortages, and the Nazi soldiers marching through town.  When the Jews of Denmark are 'relocated,' Ellen moves in with the Johansens and pretends to be on of the family.  Soon Annemarie is asked to go on a dangerous mission to save Ellen's life."

For a long time, I thought I had read this book, but I'm not sure that I have anymore.  Glad I read it now!

It's nice to get a look at what it was like during World War II in a place that isn't Germany or Poland.  Honestly, when I think WWII, I don't think of Denmark, even though they're right on top of Germany, geographically speaking.

I liked that this book provided information on what happened to those who weren't Jewish and living in the vicinity of Nazi Germany and also talked about what European Jews were going through at the time.  This was a well-rounded reading experience.  Great for those who are being introduced to what the Holocaust was for the first time.  There's tension of course, but it can't be categorized as horror.  That's why it's a good starting place.

I give 'Number the Stars':
Thanks for Reading!