Friday, February 27, 2009

The Tales of Beedle the Bard (J. K. Rowling)

Sorry for the delay, but I'm trying to get through another book and it's taking forever, so I read this fun little Harry Potter spin-off last night so that I could get a review out. And I'm glad I did. I really enjoyed the book and the way it's presented, renewing my interest in Rowling post-Deathly Hallows.

Actually, a few months before this book came out, a version of the individual stories it includes were put online for all to read/share, and since I'm a huge Harry Potter fan, I couldn't help but take a look. So for the most part I had already read the book. I believe that at the time an original, handwritten manuscript was being auctioned off for charity, and the interest was so high as to what was contained in the manuscript that The Tales were leaked online, and then officially released to the public.


The Tales of Beedle the Bard is a fairy tale collection "translated from the Ancient Runes by Hermione Granger" with a "commentary by Albus Dumbledore," so even though four of the five tales have no direct correlation to Harry Potter himself (the final story of the book is actually taken from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows), through references to events in Harry Potter's life and allusions to other familiar wizarding books and terms, Rowling keeps everything nicely connected. The "commentary" is an addition from the online version that I read originally, so it was a pleasant surprise to see new content. If you've read Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by Newt Scamander or Quidditch Through the Ages by Kennilworthy Whisp, two other books Rowling has written as companions to the larger series, you'll be familiar with the overall tone and style.

The stories themselves are straight up fairy tales, which is an innovative way to introduce new stories into this well-established world. They deal with classic fairy tale themes like poverty, pride, greed, royalty, justice, and the rewarding of wisdom and kindness. They may not all contain groundbreaking insights for hardcore fans of the series, but they certainly feel like stories that wizarding parents might tell to their young children before bed (and the commentaries for each story actually do expand upon some of the characters and events from the main books). On top of this genuine fairy tale quality, Rowling very deftly maneuvers her writing so as not to include words like "muggle" in the tales, saving that and other exclusively HP-related terms for the commentaries. So even though they contain magical situations and characters, Beedle's stories have their own voice, distinct from the modern wizarding voice of Dumbledore that most readers are probably familiar with by now.


The Tales of Beedle the Bard
by J. K. Rowling

The stories are cute and fun, but also have clear-cut morals and memorable characters, so they stick with you for a while. It's a very enjoyable read.

The added commentaries by Albus Dumbledore do a lot to make the book more interesting as a whole. Some of his notes refer to later notes, and others to memorable HP moments, which really brings up the quality.

I wouldn't necessarily recommend The Tales to anyone who isn't a fan of Harry and his world, because they probably won't get as much from it, but it's possible that some readers would still find the individual stories intriguing. If you enjoy the main series, though, I'd say it's safe to bet that you'll have a great time with this one.


I would say that the rating would drop a point, maybe even a point and a half, if you haven't read any of the Harry Potter books, but not much lower than that. The commentaries wouldn't be as interesting, but the actual tales are still great and can hold their own against any fairy tales.

Keep reading, Genoshans!

Friday, February 13, 2009

He's Just Not That Into You (Greg Behrendt & Liz Tuccillo)

Surprise! As a special Valentine's Day treat I am reviewing a second book this week, He's Just Not That Into. HJNTIY is not only special because it is the second book of the week, however, it is also a) another #1 New York Times Bestseller, b) my first review of a nonfiction book, and c) a recently released full length motion picture ***shameless plug shameless plug*** (my company did A LOT of work for that film and its dvd, including the in-character interviews that run over the end credits, so everyone should go see it). This may not be the best book to review for Valentine's Day, seeing as it mostly tells girls that their boyfriends don't like them, but it's hard finding a book that is specifically V-Day themed and isn't titled Roses Are Pink, Your Feet Really Stink. And who knows, maybe this will make someone's Valentine's Day better NEXT year.


Some nonfiction books are like really good documentaries, and have plot arcs and characters and tell the story of some great historical figure's life. He's Just Not That Into You is more of a self-help book, which in this particular case means it spends 187 pages yelling the same six words at you over and over again. It's put together utilizing some fun and interesting little devices, such as chapter notes and workbooks, so you can sum up everything you've learned so far. The only problem is that there's no point, since the answer to every question is the same: he's just not that into you. Your boyfriend forgot to call you on his lunch break? He's just not that into you. Your fiance hasn't settled on a date for the wedding? He's just not that into you. The guy you gave your number to at your sorority sister's bbq just got out of a really serious relationship? He's just not that into you. Alright, I get it. The basic premise for the argument is that women make excuses for their men on a daily basis, lying to themselves and everyone else about how much the guys really care. Ok, I can see how this could be true sometimes. I can even understand that the writers are correct in all of their examples. I'm a guy, and I agree with almost everything in the book. If I really like a girl, I enjoy spending time with her and talking to her and occasionally getting her fun and romantic things. Ladies, if your guy is acting shady, he probably IS shady, and maybe not that into you. That's fine, I'm right there with you. But please, change it up a little.

The first few chapters are great. You open it up and see all of these truths about the male mind, and what guys really mean when they say "I'm just really busy lately." Finally, someone is doing us men a favor and telling the women how it is, plain and simple, so we're all on the same page. Tell them more! No, wait, hold on, you just told them that, I said tell them more! No, seriously, hold you, you're saying the same thing again, tell them other things, move on. Ok, come on now, it's Chapter 9, you've got to have something fresh and interesting to say. And so on. Here is a list of those chapter titles, actually, to further illustrate the absurd redundancy of this book:

1—He's Just Not That Into You If He's Not Asking You Out
2—He's Just Not That Into You If He's Not Calling You
3—He's Just Not That Into You If He's Not Dating You
4—He's Just Not That Into You If He's Not Having Sex With You
5—He's Just Not That Into You If He's Having Sex With Someone Else
6—He's Just Not That Into You If He Only Wants To See You When He's Drunk
7—He's Just Not That Into You If He Doesn't Want To Marry You
8—He's Just Not That Into You If He's Breaking Up With You
9—He's Just Not That Into You If He's Disappeared On You
10—He's Just Not That Into You If He's Married (and Other Insane Variations of Being Unavailable)
11—He's Just Not That Into You If He's a Selfish Jerk, a Bully, or a Really Big Freak

I would like to be able to say that each one of these chapters holds its own little mine of useful knowledge gems, but now that you've read those chapter titles, you've basically learned everything that the book could possibly teach you (and I know it's hard to come to terms with, but most of that stuff is common sense anyway). It's a good book to take a look at if you're in one of those horrible situations, and you need that extra little push to dump his sorry ass, or get over the jerk who you hooked up with once and never heard from again, or for some funny coffee table conversations. It is not a good book if you're boyfriend's phone really did die, or you're the kind of person who gets paranoid about things you have no business being paranoid about, or you have any common sense at all. By all means, read the first chapter or so, but don't feel the need to discover the truths in the remaining pages, you've already discovered them, and definitely don't waste the $22 they're charging for the hardcover.


He's Just Not That Into You
by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo

It's a self help book, there is no story.

It's great that there are chapter cheat sheets and fun little tests to see if your guy is into you or not. It's not as great to see the same exact response to every question and concern. It reads like a Ronco oven infomercial. Set it and forget that he's just not that into you!

I don't mean to beat up on this book. I'm sure that someone, somewhere, was influenced immensely by this book. To be fair, though, that can probably be said for episodes of Melrose Place.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: A Novel in Cartoons (Jeff Kinney)

Ever since I've begun The Daily Genoshan, everywhere I go I've been looking for new and exciting books to review. I am no longer reading for pleasure, but for the benefit of all mankind, so I've gotta be on the lookout. For example, I was in Target the other day, and saw Diary of a Wimpy Kid in the surprisingly large book section they've set up, so I decided to make it the very first book read specifically for all of you faithful Genoshans out there. All of the previous books reviewed I had either recently finished or recently begun at the time of TDG's creation.

This is a momentous day for us all, and could possibly be an official holiday in the future.


Diary of a Wimpy Kid: A Novel in Cartoons is an interesting little book. That second part of the title, "a novel in cartoons", is really what the book is all about. Jeff Kinney sets up the "novel" as the journal (diaries are for girls) of middle schooler Greg Heffley. Greg is a sometimes aspiring cartoonist, so the journal entries frequently include stick figure depictions of whatever event Greg is complaining about. The journal begins with the first day of school in September and ends with the last day of school in June, chronicling all of Greg's failed attempts at becoming popular—or just avoiding unpopularity—in the process.

So, it's a 12 year old's diary, with stick figures. Did I mention it's a #1 New York Times Bestseller? Yeah, it surprised me, too.

This book isn't bad, it's cute, and a lot of fun at times, but it's really not all that spectacular. I wouldn't even say that I might've enjoyed more if I was a little bit younger than I am, because I read a lot of children's/young adult books, have taken classes on children's literature, and have tried my hand at writing it a little as well. I enjoy reading children's literature, it's just not a great book. The premise is cool, the pictures are quirky, and some of the jokes from September come back in January or May, which is fun, but it's not a very compelling story, and there are times when I don't even like Greg all that much. Sometimes bad stuff happens to him and I feel bad, and other times he's just a little too angsty. He's a complete jerk to his best friend, but never really feels bad about it. His parents do something really nice for him, and he doesn't care that much. He always finds something to complain about, which might be realistic for the age of the character, but gets annoying after a while. There's never any character growth, or change, so it reads like a textbook that happens to be funny sometimes. It's okay for a little light reading or as an example of a way to present your own stories in a unique format, but it's not something I would necessarily recommend to anyone over the age of 15.

I liked the idea, but it disappoints. Bummer.


Diary of a Wimpy Kid: A Novel in Cartoons
by Jeff Kinney

Jeff Kinney hits most of the major highs and lows in the year of a middle school student, but does so with flat and often cliched characters.

I've never seen "a novel in cartoons," so it has that going for it. It's trying very hard to not be a comic book, and succeeding, theoretically. Too bad the idea is better than the actual writing.

Sometimes it's light and fun, sometimes it's boring and annoying. I wouldn't expect to see this one on any Top Ten lists.


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