Book Review: As You Wish

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride
by Cary Elwes & Joe Layden
Read by the author

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Memoir

Twenty-five years after the release of The Princess Bride, a movie that was not much of a success in its time but later became a cult classic, Cary Elwes, who played the iconic Westley in the movie, writes about his time working on the set. With additions by many of Elwes’s co-stars, along with the director, the producer, and the screenplay writer (who also wrote the book the movie is based on), Elwes gives us a peek at the making of a movie in general, and this family favorite in particular.

As soon as I knew this book existed, I knew I’d be reading it, and I knew I’d enjoy it. I’ve seen the movie several times, but even more importantly, it is my husband’s all-time favorite movie. So I suggested we both listen to the audiobook, which is narrated by Elwes himself, an actor we have both really liked for a long time, which is exactly what we did. And we both loved it! We also loved that the bits added by other people who worked on the movie were mostly read by those people as well. I think the fact that they were willing to take the time to first write, and then narrate their own thoughts on the making of this movie illustrates exactly what Elwes says throughout the book, that this cast and crew became a lot like a family. Others who read this book seem to be looking for the seedy underbelly, assuming that Elwes left out anything negative in his rush to extol the virtues of his co-workers. And I can’t say that’s not the case, of course, but perhaps the reason this memoir is so friendly and upbeat is because that’s how it really was. It’s not like poor Wallace Shawn was brow-beaten into saying his time working on the movie was all sunshine and rainbows (he had some issues, but I won’t say more than that).

I loved hearing some of the accounts of things that happened throughout the months working on this film, and even in the time after. Some of them were described by multiple people, which added a nice depth to them. I had re-watched the movie in anticipation of reading this book, but still felt compelled to look up certain scenes to see something Elwes described, whether a specific way he moved during the scene due to an injury or a line that was improvised. For fans of The Princess Bride, this book may make you see the movie in a whole new light and, hopefully, a good one. If you’ve never seen the movie, I recommend it.

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Book Review: Schindler’s List

Schindler’s List
by Thomas Keneally

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Nonfiction historical novel

Most people have at least heard of this book, or the movie that was made from it, about the war profiteer turned savior of over a thousand Jews during WWII. I watched the movie in high school and then tried to read the book, but gave up due to how long and dry it was. That’s probably the biggest mark against the book for most people–it’s slow and plodding for at least the first several chapters. And throughout the entire book, the narrative is bogged down by so many names of locations and people, all of which are foreign to at least some of us (mostly Polish names, some German) and difficult to pronounce. However, I’m not sure Keneally should have done it differently, and if that is the only downside to the whole book, I would say there’s a lot of reason to push through it and keep going. It does pick up a little after some of the early chapters, and in the end, I’m really glad I read it.

One thing that’s always struck me about Schindler, and did even more so while reading this, is that he’s not necessarily the type of person you would picture as a “savior.” He was gruff, prone to fits of anger, and frankly had absolutely no respect for women at all. And yet, when he saw injustice and brutality happening, he was spurred into action. And while his motives for helping are examined multiple times in the book, it’s clear that it’s not just a matter of profit that he fights to keep his workers, considering the lengths he goes to at times to not just keep them but also to keep the SS from brutalizing them in his factory.

Though Schindler’s actions are the focal point, the book also takes an up-close look at some of the people eventually saved by him. The book reads like a series of vignettes about Schindler himself and various of the different Schindlerjuden (Schindler Jews). Keneally states that he did his best to include only facts, while filling in conversation here and there, but because he couldn’t possibly have every single detail, the story at times reads more like looking down on a scene, rather than being right there in it while it happens, as we’ve come to expect from novels. He makes it clear, though, when he couldn’t corroborate a story, that it might be more legend than fact, and even this only happens a few times. Overall, the book is a fascinating, heartbreaking, and clear picture of one man who was completely unextraordinary most of his life, yet did an incredibly extraordinary thing during a dark and terrifying time in human history. Whether you’ve seen the movie or not, I recommend reading this book to pretty much everyone who’s remotely interested in the subject matter, even if it does take you some time to get through it. It’s worth it.

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Book Review: Maus II

Maus II
Book #2
by Art Spiegelman

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Historical non-fiction graphic novel

The 1st volume of the story of Polish Jew Vladek Spiegelman took him right up to the gates of Auschwitz. In this second volume, Vladek and his wife survive the horrors of two of the deadliest camps the Nazis ran, but at what cost? As seen in their lives after the war, as well as in the life and psyche of their son, coming out alive at the end of the Holocaust was just the first battle (though granted, a very, very difficult battle).

The previous book was rough enough in some ways, but this one is like a gut punch. The images portrayed of Vladek and those around him, the death and torture, can be difficult to handle. Add to that the depression that Art Spiegelman himself goes through as he works on putting his father’s story on paper, and it is not a book to be taken lightly. Amidst the terror, I am still fascinated to read about Vladek’s ingenuity, the tricks he used to stay alive. Sometimes it was pure luck, but often it was intelligence and quick thinking.

The emotions were heavy when the separated Vladek and Anja manage to even simply hear word that each other is alive. That hit me hard, thinking about my husband and me being in a similar situation. When I finished the book, I was left with a feeling of heaviness that was hard to shake. There’s just no way to be able to imagine a fraction of what those involved in the Holocaust went through, living easy lives as we are. I think it’s important for us to never forget what humanity is capable of, lest we begin to believe something like this could never happen again. I would recommend this to be read by anyone interested in this part of history, even if you don’t normally read graphic novels. I don’t either, but these books have captivated me for years.

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Book Review: John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress

John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress
as retold by Gary D. Schmidt

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Christian allegory

I have long felt that I should read The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. I even started to once, but only made it a page before putting it down. So when I found this retelling, putting the story into contemporary language, I knew it was my chance to at least see what the book was all about. So understand going into my review that this is in no way a comparison of this retelling to the original. And my comments are specific to this version, because I can’t say what might be different from the original. With that being said, I do think that some of what I didn’t like about this story would extend back to the original source.

After I finished reading this, as I tried to analyze what I’d read and did some research to understand others’ views on the allegory, I flashed right back to high school. After reading The Great Gatsby, I wrote that I didn’t understand why my teacher would have us read a book that so glorified the drinking and partying in the book. She wrote back about her disappointment that I thought she’d promote those things, and that perhaps I didn’t really understand the book. That it’s the type of book one might have to read multiple times to grasp. That’s kind of how I feel about this book.

My first apparent misunderstanding is that it seemed to me that Christian had to essentially earn his salvation. He struggled with his burden on the way to the cross, after coming to an understanding that he had this burden and needed external help to release it. Others say that he was actually saved when entering through the gate that started this journey, and releasing his burden at the cross was simply an illustration about how we don’t often let go of our guilt upon salvation and have to still come to that understanding that Jesus wants to relieve us of that guilt. However, it was at the cross, after losing his burden, that Christian was handed the Roll, which seemed to be needed in order to enter the Celestial City. I took this as a symbol of his salvation, but then, when he was audacious enough to rest a little too long, he lost the Roll and later had to go back and look for it.

I won’t go into any other details, but for whatever this book might mean to some people, at least the people who “get it,” to me it looks like a book that could send the wrong message to new Christians or curious unbelievers, especially those who, like me, aren’t so great at understanding allegory. From start to finish, it makes me feel like a Christian walk is nothing but trial and tribulation. Constant struggling to stay on the right path, to stay good. Yes, some of that is true to a degree, because it can feel like a constant struggle to avoid temptation to sin, but where’s the other side? Why do we not see much of the joy and peace that can come, in this life, from following Christ? For that matter, why is God so completely absent until Christian reaches the Celestial City? If I were to write an allegory about a Christian journey, it would include God interacting with the pilgrim in a much more tangible way (or at all…).

I seem to be pretty hit-or-miss in my enjoyment of much-loved older books and classics, and this is another for my pile of misses. I’m glad I read it, though. Originally I thought it might end up being a stepping stone to going on and reading the original. I’ve decided to leave it right here, at this simplified version, and just be one of the few who’ve never read the original.

Find out more about this Pilgrim’s Progress retelling and its source material, The Pilgrim’s Progress

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Book Review: The Hiding Place

The Hiding Place
by Corrie ten Boom with John & Elizabeth Sherrill

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Memoir

At 50 years old, Corrie ten Boom lived a simple life with her older sister, both of them unmarried, and their elderly father in a small house in Holland. When the Nazis invaded and occupied their country, Corrie quickly saw the need around her as Jews began to be shipped out. The ten Boom house and watchmaker shop became part of the Dutch Underground, helping those who were persecuted find a safe place, even to the point of building a small hiding place in their own house. In this book, Corrie shares much of her life before the occupation, including the faith that led her and her family to help those in needs, culminating in the arrest and imprisonment of many members of her family, and later to her time in a concentration camp alongside her sister Betsie.

This book is incredible in so many ways. It’s inspirational, and not only because of what the ten Booms did to help others. It’s the reason behind their desire to help, the way that it really wasn’t even a question about whether or not they would help, and the way that they affected everyone around them, even in the darkest of places. The strong faith in God that Corrie’s parents had, exhibited, and passed on to their children shows through every page of this book. Corrie herself struggled the most in this area, constantly learning from her other family members and being surprised by their heart for the oppressors. Yet she never questioned whether or not she should help the Jews around her at the risk of her own well-being.

Not many Holocaust-related accounts that I have read are from a Christian perspective, and I really appreciated seeing the little and big ways that Corrie and Betsie could see God involved in their plight. Though they never demanded that He help them, they trusted Him (again, Betsie more than Corrie) and gave Him credit when they saw Him work. I can only hope that in my everyday life, and even moreso when times of difficulty come, I can have the wisdom of Mr. ten Boom, the love of Mrs. ten Boom, the hope of Betsie ten Boom, the courage of Corrie ten Boom, and the faith exhibited by all of them.

Below are some quotes from the book that I marked to remember.

Casper ten Boom (Corrie’s father) upon the realization that Holland would soon be invaded:

“…I am sorry for all Dutchmen now who do not know the power of God. For we will be beaten. But He will not.”

Corrie discovered that a large piece of sharp debris had landed on her pillow while she was out of bed:

“Betsie, if I hadn’t heard you in the kitchen–“

But Betsie put her finger on my mouth. “Don’t say it, Corrie! There are no ‘if’s’ in God’s world. And no places that are safer than other places. The center of His will is our only safety…”

And the one that stuck out to me the most, from an elderly member of Corrie’s family who spent much of her life running clubs, writing tracts, always trying to further God’s kingdom. When she learned she didn’t have long to live, her family members told her she was going to the Father with hands full, due to all of her work. She replied:

“Empty, empty! How can we bring anything to God? What does He care for our little tricks and trinkets?”

And then as we listened in disbelief she lowered her hands and with tears still coursing down her face whispered, “Dear Jesus, I thank You that You have done all–all–on the cross, and that all we need in life or death is to be sure of this.”

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Book Review: Awake & Alive to Truth

Awake & Alive to Truth
by John L. Cooper

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Christian nonfiction

Skillet lead singer John Cooper presents a thoughtful look at today’s culture, both from Christian and secular mindsets. The main focus is on truth–where does truth come from, how do we distort it, and what happens when we let each individual decide what’s true for them? With relativism pervading the society around us, is it any wonder so many are unhappy? Broken? Searching? This book provides some insight.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect with the book. It wasn’t published traditionally, though presumably Skillet’s John Cooper could have gotten a publishing deal if he wanted one. As he put it, “I decided to release this book myself so that I would have the freedom to write something that I believe in and know to be true. I didn’t want to be pressured to write the book that someone else wanted me to write, or to write things that I don’t believe in.” I respect that a lot; he didn’t want to compromise. It seems to be a common theme for him. As a result, it does have typos and errors throughout, but even for someone like me who really picks up on that kind of thing, it isn’t enough to distort the message.

I think that what is within this book could ruffle some feathers, but he doesn’t pull punches or water down what the Bible says. His lays out some hard truths about today’s culture making “love” a god, ignoring parts of the Bible we don’t like, and shying away from God as judge. Depending on where you are in your life, you may find this book unnecessary or too shallow. But if you’re unhappy with the noise and chaos around you and aren’t sure what voices to listen to, this is a great book to pick up. It also has a great message to unbelievers or those undecided about God. The only downside is that this book is not widely available. The only place I know of to buy it is here, and I believe it’s currently out of stock. If you’re interested, though, it’s really worth the wait.

Find out more about Awake & Alive to Truth and Cooper’s band Skillet

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January in Review

I read 12 books last month, which is on the high side for me. Though I do think my monthly numbers should be a little higher overall from here on, since I’ve started listening to a few audiobooks a month. I’m glad I managed to figure out how to make use of idle time and which types of books work best for me in audio format!

Here are the books I read in January:

Maus by Art Spiegelman (5 / 5)
The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien (4 / 5)
A Noble Masquerade by Kristi Ann Hunter (3 / 5)
The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas & Jennifer Graham (4.5 / 5)
The Haunting at Bonaventure Circus by Jaime Jo Wright (2 / 5)
Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders by Tessa Arlen (5 / 5)
Anne of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery (4 / 5)
The Warden and the Wolf King by Andrew Peterson (5 / 5)
There I Go Again by William Daniels (5 / 5)
Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics by Chris Grabenstein (4 / 5)
When Twilight Breaks by Sarah Sundin (4 / 5)
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (5 / 5)

This list includes 2 ARCs and 2 re-reads. My favorite book from January was There I Go Again. I finished 2 series, continued 2 series, and started 3 (short) series. My ever-changing short list of to-be-reads, as well as a flag for the book I’m currently reading and an ongoing list of those I’ve read and posted about can be found here.

*One of the re-reads involved listening to the author read a few chapters of his book every night live on Facebook/YouTube to beat the quarantine blues. I count it the same as listening to an audiobook.

I’m also keeping my Goodreads page updated with a more extensive list of to-be-reads. Despite my almost too-long TBR list, I’m always looking for more to add. Feel free to offer suggestions of your favorites or just recent reads you enjoyed.

Book Review: There I Go Again

There I Go Again: How I Came to Be Mr. Feeny, John Adams, Dr. Craig, KITT, and Many Others
by William Daniels

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Autobiography

I don’t normally put GIFs in my reviews, but it had to be done.

The long sub-title sums up what this book is about quite nicely. The way Mr. Daniels describes it, he sort of “fell” into show business, starting with the insistence of his mother, and just never could find his way out of it, not that he tried very hard. Eventually he came to realize that it was what he wanted to be doing. In this book, he tells the story of his most iconic roles, and everything in between–how he came to have them, and even what it was like to play them.

My interest in this book initially came from my love for Boy Meets World. I was 11 when that show first aired, which pretty much made me the same age as the main characters. My husband and I have quoted certain lines from the show to each other for so many years that our kids do it now too (and have both watched at least some of the show themselves, and my daughter loves Girl Meets World). Anyway, all that to say, Mr. Feeny is near and dear to my heart. Now I know that the man who plays Mr. Feeny (yes, present tense, because he’ll always be Mr. Feeny to me) is a real person and has faced some real struggles in his life, which has only deepened my appreciation of William Daniels.

Truth be told, I don’t know much about the rest of the roles he has played. I’ve never seen Knight Rider, 1776, or St. Elsewhere. And I did wonder if I would be lost or uninterested while reading most of this book. I wasn’t. Maybe a little, when he talked about other actors and actresses he worked with at different times, producers, directors, etc. But not enough to cause a lack of enjoyment in or understanding of the book.

My only difficulty in reading the book was due to the writing itself; a couple of times the stories left me confused because it seemed like it was missing just another line or two of explanation before moving on. The book wasn’t published by a big-name company (which surprises me, but kind of goes right along with how Daniels describes himself as never being a “big star,” while being recognizable as the characters he’s played), and I wonder if most of the people who edited or proofread it were close to Daniels, knew his stories or life well enough to not be confused by a slight lack of explanation. Or maybe it’s just me.

I am so glad that I read this book. And the chapter about Boy Meets World was pretty much what I would have wanted it to be and made me tear up just a little. I would suggest that if you know William Daniels from any of his roles, or are simply interested in memoirs of celebrities, you check out this autobiography.

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Book Review: Maus

Maus
Book #1
by Art Spiegelman

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Historical non-fiction graphic novel

The story of Polish Jew Vladek Spiegelman, as told to his son, is not an easy one. In this 1st volume of 2, we’re shown in images what Vladek’s life was in the time leading up to and in the early days of the Nazis’ suppression of Jews in Poland. In tandem, Art shows his research process with his father, as he tries to interview him about his past and get along with him at the same time. The 1st volume takes Vladek right up to the gates of Auschwitz, and takes Art to the brink of despair with his tormented father.

The horrific things that happened during the time leading up to the Holocaust (and some of the beginning) is difficult enough to read about, but to see it in this format can make it even more difficult. Spiegelman doesn’t pull any punches in his father’s account or his own. It’s a depressing story, yet I’ve always appreciated reading about the amazing ingenuity of survivors of the Holocaust. Even while we see the depths of human depravity, we also see a shining light as those who are basically safe (the Germans may not have been rounding up the average Polish citizen, but they weren’t exactly making life easy on them either) risk their own safety to help those who are being persecuted.

I’ve always been fascinated by stories like this, preferring real accounts to fictional ones, and it’s difficult not to imagine myself in that situation. While the characters in this book are depicted as animals, in a way, this adds another layer to the realism while also making it a little more palatable (though just a little). I would recommend this to be read by anyone interested in this part of history, even if you don’t normally read graphic novels. I don’t either, but this book, and it’s follow-up, have captivated me for years.

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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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