Book Review: The Princess Bride

The Princess Bride
by William Goldman

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Fantasy adventure, romance, humor

This was my first reading of Goldman’s “good parts version” of the S. Morgenstern classic. I’ve seen the movie, of course, enough times to appreciate how similar it is to the book, and the following review will include some comparisons. Overall, I liked the book, though it did have some downsides for me. In fact, I almost called it quits in the first chapter. Fortunately, I stuck with it, and really enjoyed the book once it took off.

I’ll start with what I liked. Both Inigo and Fezzik had full backstories that I thought at first would be dry to read about, but I was wrong! They gave those characters so much more depth. In fact, there’s more information giving in a lot of areas (not surprising when a book is turned into a movie, even when done well). Humperdinck is even more villainous than he is in the movie, the Zoo of Death being quite dark and a great setting for The Machine. To be honest, I don’t know what I would have thought about the book if I had read it before seeing the movie, since I’m sure some of what made it more enjoyable was having the well-chosen actors in mind when reading.

The story-within-a-story framework for this book is quite inventive. I’m sure Goldman fooled (and possibly still fools) many people into believing that there really was an original book written by S. Morgenstern that he then abridged. The fictional version of himself that he puts into the story, though, is pretty terrible. I struggled through the intro section in which he explains how he tried to track down the original book for his son, due mostly to the fact that during that part, he calls his son fat, blames his wife for his son being fat, and wants us to know how much he wants to cheat on his wife. Boy, am I glad the framework in the movie is just a kid and his grandpa. Then we get into the book and there’s so much focus on physical looks regarding Buttercup and other women for so many pages, after how disheartening the intro was…I put the book down and told my husband (who strongly wanted me to read it, whose favorite movie is The Princess Bride, and who also really liked the book when he read it some time ago) that I didn’t think I could go on. But I did. And I’m really glad I did. The book is really fun overall, but when I go back and read it again someday, I may start at chapter 2.

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Book Review: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Book #1
by Douglas Adams
read by Stephen Fry

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Science fiction

This will probably be my shortest review ever, because I just don’t have a lot to say. I really wanted to like this book, to find it humorous and enjoyable like so many people I know. But I didn’t. I could see where the humor was supposed to be, but most of the time I didn’t find it particularly funny. Maybe a little clever, and I do remember laughing out loud once. I think part of this is that the humor was a bit too British for me, though I’ve enjoyed plenty of British comedy in the past, and part of it is because it just felt forced a lot of the time.

There was barely a plot, until maybe the last third or so, but not nearly soon enough to hook me. And from early in the book, I got the distinct impression that Douglas Adams does not hold much regard at all for humankind. It left me feeling a bit sad, really. I listened to the audiobook read by Stephen Fry and at times would just zone out when descriptions of insignificant things went on at length. As strange as it might sound after I gave it 2 stars, I might (might) read it again in the future, but this time read the actual book, and going into it knowing what kind of book it is, maybe I’ll be able to appreciate it more. But in the end, it’s probably just not the type of book for me.

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Book Review: Dad Is Fat

Dad Is Fat
by Jim Gaffigan

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Parenting humor

Comedian Jim Gaffigan shares what he’s learned about parenting in his time so far as a dad of 5 kids, living in NYC, in a 2-bedroom apartment. There is plenty of opportunity to see the humor in that situation.

While a lot of what he deals with doesn’t really relate to me (I have 2 kids in a 3-bedroom house in rural Indiana), it’s still a fun read. It’s basically a series of essays with a range of topics from pregnancy to playdates to the sheer noise involved with having a house full of kids.

I’ve liked Jim Gaffigan’s comedy for quite a few years, and I think that seeing a lot of his stand-up helped with the enjoyment of the book. Make sure you read the Foreward with Gaffigan’s “audience member” voice in mind, for example. I wouldn’t say you have to have seen his stand-up to appreciate the book, but if you haven’t, you should just check him out anyway.

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Book Review: Redshirts

Redshirts
by Ernest Cline

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Sci-fi comedy

As one of the new transfers to the Universal Union flagship Intrepid, Andy Dahl has a lot to learn. Including how to avoid being sent on an away mission at all costs, because the low-ranking members of the crew have a high mortality rate on away missions. There’s a pattern surrounding five particular high-ranking officers, though, who seem to be able to defy the laws of physics and biology. But while other crew members simply do their best to stay alive, Andy is determined to find the cause for this phenomenon and put a stop to it. And he can’t do it alone.

For a character writer/reader reading a book with not much in the way of character development, I really enjoyed this book. The humor that comes from seeing it all as characters in a scripted TV show being real people, especially for a fan of the Star Trek franchise, is what drives this ship. And it’s great! This book takes meta to a whole new level and had me laughing several times, especially during the first third.

It probably helps a lot, too, that I don’t mind the shallowness of the scenes. When I read my first Scalzi novel, Lock In, I noted that his writing style suited me–no frivolity, not much description. This is the case in this book as well, which I think turned a lot of people off. I didn’t mind.

My biggest complaint is two-fold: Too many characters had too similar of names (Dahl & Duvall, Hanson & Hester), which, combined with the lack of character development meant that I usually didn’t fully retain which character was talking at any given time. So basically, they were mostly interchangeable. Add to that terribly repetitive dialog tags, and conversations were difficult to get into.

The three codas were a little strange to me. I didn’t understand the need for the 1st person, 2nd person, 3rd person–the 2nd person one especially was awkward from that POV, and would probably have been better as 3rd person. I did appreciate getting some of this information, but only the 3rd coda really meant much to me.

This book seems to be a hit-or-miss kind of thing, even for fans of sci-fi/Trek shows. For me, it was a hit. I enjoyed it for what it was meant to be, and really liked the way it all turned out. I do recommend that any fans of formulaic sci-fi in the ilk of Star Trek give this book a try.

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Book Review: The Truth about Us

The Truth about Us
by Brant Hansen

read by the author

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Christian living

The truth about us is that we are not all “basically good, deep down inside.” We are flawed, sinful humans. Yet we tend to believe at some level that we are better than average. We are biased towards ourselves, whether we consciously recognize it or not. Starting with this and going on to other cognitive biases, radio show host Brant Hansen challenges us to examine the way we view ourselves and the world around us and to maybe, just possibly, admit that we’re not “good” and that we need help from the only One who is.

This book intrigued me, entertained me, and challenged me. He has a way of getting to the heart of the matter, and he infuses insight and humor into the points he makes along the way. Early in the book Brant describes various studies that show how our brains work. I was fascinated, and at times astounded, by these studies. It’s surprising, really, to learn how little we actually observe and retain, and how we can fool ourselves. And yet, when someone who isn’t me forgets something important, how often do I give them grace?

Though I have more of an inferiority complex in some of the areas he talked about, there were some that were right on point for me. One easy example is about driving speed. I am one who tends to think that if I come up on you on the road, you’re driving too slowly (and sometimes you’re also ruining my day). But if you come up behind me, or pass me on the road, you’re driving entirely too fast. Clearly my chosen speed is the perfect speed (and no, it’s not usually exactly the speed limit), and while I don’t usually think about it more than in the moment (and no, I don’t get road rage), I can easily recognize this bias in myself. This book changed my viewpoint in a lot of areas, hopefully for the better.

One of the biggest take-aways from this book is the need for humility. We’re truly not as amazing or good as we think we are, but that’s okay! It’s good news, and understanding how it’s good news can be very freeing. I think everyone can benefit from this book, even those who hear about it and think they don’t need it, or think about others they know who need it. In fact, maybe the ones who are thinking those things are the people who need to read it the most. No matter who you are or what you’re thinking about this book, though, I suggest you check out The Brant & Sherri Oddcast.

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Book Review: Unoffendable

Unoffendable
by Brant Hansen

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Christian living

Unoffendable

Radio show host Brant Hansen counters the common opinion that Christians are entitled to “righteous anger,” while also making a case about how learning to let go of our “right” to be offended can change our lives. He uses scripture as well as examples from both Christian and secular writers and thinkers to back up his claims.

This is the kind of book that you can get a lot out of, or you can dismiss as not for you, or even dismiss as flat-out wrong. One of the biggest arguments people seem to have for anger being all right (even a good thing) is that Jesus himself got angry. But I think one of the most important things to remember is that Jesus is God. He was perfect and sinless when he threw out the money changers. We need to remember that when we get angry about the sin of others…we’re just as bad, even when we find a way to feel like we aren’t.

It’s also important to note that Brant is not necessarily claiming that we should be able to find it easy to never get angry. We’re human; we get angry. The issue is feeling justified in holding onto that anger. In letting it drive us, and especially, in letting it drive us to sin.

More than just anger, Brant also addresses self-righteousness and hypocrisy. I think some of these areas convicted me more than the issue about anger. Not that I don’t get angry, but I definitely am guilty of letting myself believe I’m “not as bad as that other person.” I’m not going to pretend I’m all better now, but I’m noticing these things more in myself and I think that’s the first step to letting God get rid of them in me.

When I first started reading this, I really wondered how Brant could write an entire book about anger. But there were a lot more facets to it than I realized. He speaks simply and honestly, makes some really good points, and I can see from my personal life that there is a lot of truth in the claim that learning to be unoffendable can make your life better. I recommend this book for all Christians; even if you don’t feel like you need it, I’ll bet you can find some understanding here. I also believe, and see from reviews of others, that non-Christians can find some truth in this book as well. And no matter who you are, I suggest you check out The Brant & Sherri Oddcast.

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Book Review: Blessed Are the Misfits

Blessed Are the Misfits
by Brant Hansen

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Christian living

Blessed

Maybe you’re an extrovert. Maybe you go to church and totally fit in, never wonder if you don’t belong, never feel like others must be closer to God than you are. Radio show host Brant Hansen wrote this book for the rest of us. If you don’t understand modern church culture, feel like you must be missing something because you don’t feel the emotions others feel, maybe you’re not a good enough Christian, this book might just help. For the introverts, the outcasts, the spiritually numb, the misfits–this book might just change your life.

I knew from Brant’s radio show & podcast that he knows exactly what its like to feel out of touch with Christian church culture. In the book, he shows even more that he has every reason to feel disenfranchised and skeptical about even the existence of God. And yet, that is exactly what has led him to believe and trust in God. He shares some stories from his life, some of which had me laughing so much! (Seriously, the flute & folding chair incident never gets old, even though I’m sure it must have been terrible for him in the moment.)

One of my favorite things that he talks about in the book is the concept of “together, yet apart” in regards to our relationship with God. There’s so much about the Bible that we don’t really get because we don’t understand the culture back then, the people it was initially addressed to, or even the geography. Brant explains the betrothal period for Jewish couples, and equates that to us and God, and it can put your entire life into a whole new perspective!

More than just making me feel better knowing that I’m not alone in feeling like a misfit in church culture (and even in non-church culture), some of what Brant has to say really opened my eyes to my responsibility. For example, as an Aspie (someone who has Asperger’s syndrome), Brant has much more cause to stay away from people than I do–more reason to not fit in, not understand. And yet, he explains how he has to make a conscious effort to interact. To love people. I’ve never really bothered to do that. There’s also a whole section about bumping up against someone and seeing what kind of “fruit” falls off them, which can show you who they really are, not who they claim to be. I know that the responses I produce in moments like that are not always positive. I want my fruit to be loving, generous, and kind.

There’s so much more than I can go into in my review, but trust me, if any of this makes any kind of sense to you, make sure you read this book. He speaks simply and honestly, makes some really good points, and uses the Bible to back it all up. I recommend this book for all Christians, because even if you don’t feel like a misfit, it might help you to understand those around you who do. And even if you’re not a Christian or just don’t think the book will be for you, I suggest you check out The Brant & Sherri Oddcast.

Side note: My paperback is actually signed by Brant. My family went to a book event with both him and Producer Sherri. I asked him to sign as Tostare (Latin for toast).

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Book Review: Pawnee: The Greatest Town in America

Finished Reading: Pawnee: The Greatest Town in America
by Leslie Knope

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: TV tie-in, humor

Pawnee

In season 4 of the show Parks and Recreation, the main character Leslie Knope (played by Amy Poehler) writes a book about her hometown of Pawnee. This is that book. Sort of. Filled with many show references and articles written by several other characters as well, this book showcases the best and worst of Pawnee. Mostly the worst.

Okay, I love Parks and Recreation. Honestly, it’s one of my absolute favorite comedies. Goodness knows why, though, considering the way it paints my neck of the woods as a bunch of racist, backwards idiots. At its best, it is laugh-out-loud funny, with hilarious characters brilliantly portrayed by some great actors. At its worst, it makes me cringe, roll my eyes, and sigh at the mockery it makes of small cities in the Midwest. Unfortunately, the book has plenty of the worst, but not enough of the best.

I think the book might be better read in snippets over time. The kind of thing you pick up, turn to a random spot, and read what’s there, then put it down and come back to it later. Reading it all the through over the course of a few weeks only highlights the fact that the city of Pawnee is just terrible. The people who Leslie touts as the best department in their city’s government are completely apathetic about the assignments she gives them for the book.

There are a few gems (an article written by Chris Traeger that had to be severely cut down for length, for example), and it did bring a smile to see references to some of my favorite aspects of the show. But overall, as a pretty hardcore fan, I think this just could have been better. Though the sad thing is that maybe it couldn’t have been, because Pawnee really is that bad. It’s just less obvious spread out over the show, which focuses more on the Parks Department than on the rest of the ridiculously dysfunctional town.

I would say that for fans of the show, it’s worth reading the book, but again, I’d suggest reading it as vignettes now and then, rather than cover to cover in only a few weeks.

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Book Review: I Want to Punch You in the Face But I Love Jesus

I Want to Punch You in the Face But I Love Jesus
by Sherri Lynn

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Humor, Christian

Radio show producer Sherri Lynn breaks the cultural taboo to not only discuss PMS, but to help women understand that they are not alone. Rather than pretend it doesn’t happen, or act like it’s not that big of a deal, or even accept that we women just need to handle it on our own, Sherri assures us that what is happening is real, it is a physical strain on our bodies, and it’s okay to acknowledge that.

I have been looking forward to reading this ever since I first heard about it, and it did not disappoint. Sherri Lynn is so funny even when she’s not talking about something that I relate so well to. The book is also filled with plenty of interesting insight as Sherri covers the basic topics associated with PMS like anger, tears, and cravings.

She speculates about PMS-influenced actions in the Bible, which I would love to know the truth about some day, because she makes some very good points. And there’s even a chapter about the men in our lives and how they don’t get it (but it’s not their fault) and often just want to help.

I really loved this book and while I didn’t relate to everything (I don’t lose control quite as badly as she does, for example), it was still on point. I have a feeling I will re-read it many times, and I will definitely pass it on to my female family members and friends. I recommend this to every woman, and honestly would suggest it be read by any man who wishes he could understand just a bit more and wants to know how he can help the woman in his life.

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Book Review: Skipping Christmas

Skipping Christmas
by John Grisham

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Christmas farce

With their adult daughter gone for a year near the beginning of the Christmas season, Luther and Nora Krank get it into their minds that they don’t need to do Christmas this year. Instead, they plan a Caribbean cruise, set to leave on Christmas day. But they find out that it’s not so easy to remove themselves from all of the trappings of Christmas and will have a difficult time making it to their cruise without giving in to at least some of the seasonal traditions.

This was a quick, easy read that was mostly enjoyable. I can’t really say I connected with the main characters, but I did identify with them in some areas. There were some parts near the end that I didn’t predict, though I suspect many would, and one thing that I saw coming a mile away. Probably the most frustrating thing about the book is how unrealistic it seems.

To be fair, I can’t personally judge how realistic some parts of the book are, because the Kranks live in a type of neighborhood that I’ve never been part of, and run in circles the likes of which are foreign to me. However, much of what happened seemed quite over the top. But where that was a huge problem for others, I took it as a farce. Even if it is exaggerated, I think a lot of this might not be far from how a family (one that normally celebrates Christmas) would be treated if they tried to completely skip the holiday. There were also some things that the Kranks did in their quest to completely cut out all things Christmas that I felt were a bit ridiculous. However, I also agree with some of the commentary this book offers on how commercial Christmas has gotten, and how people seem to think that they can push certain boundaries during this season, just because it’s Christmas.

In the end, I am glad I read the book. The ending made me smile, even while I knew that it was trite and a bit too easy. There were some heartfelt moments in there. I do recommend this to anyone who wants a decent Christmas-themed read, especially for those who want to avoid the romance and sap of the more prevalent stories. I plan to watch the movie that was based on this book, Christmas with the Kranks, with my husband soon, and to be honest, I think he’s going to hate it. But who knows.

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