Sunday, February 19, 2012

Rabbit Ears Treasury of World Tales Volume 3: The Bremen Town Musicians and Koi and the Kola Nuts




Genre: Fairy Tales / Folktales


Year Published: 2007


Year Read: 2012


Series: Rabbit Ears Treasury: World Tales #3
Publisher:  Listening Library (Audio)



Now how many of these “Rabbit Ears Treasury” audio CDs will I have to listen to just to be satisfied?  All of them of course! So, imagine my surprise when I finally picked up another “Rabbit Ears Treasury” audio CD, which is called “Rabbit Ears Treasury of World Tales Volume 3: The Bremen Town Musicians” and “Koi and the Kola Nuts” and I definitely enjoyed both stories on this CD!  “Rabbit Ears Treasury of World Tales Volume 3” is definitely an audio CD that you will enjoy for many years to come!

I have pretty much already summarized both of these stories through their book counterparts, so I will just briefly summarize each story:

The Bremen Town Musicians
Told by: Bob Hoskins
Music by: Eugene Friesen


When a donkey is threatened with death because he had grown too old to work on the farm, he decides to run away to the town of Bremen and along the way, he meets a cat, a dog and a rooster who were also in the same predicament as he was.  Further down, the four friends meet up with a band of robbers and they prove to be a match for the unsuspecting robbers!

Koi and the Kola Nuts
Told by: Whoopi Goldberg
Music by: Herbie Hancock


When the youngest son of the former chief, Koi, only receives a Kola Nut tree after his father’s death, he decides to go to a village that would treat him with respect.  Unfortunately, Koi ends up in a village that wants to eat him and he must complete three impossible tasks in order to avoid being thrown into the cooking pot!

Wow! The “Rabbit Ears Treasury” series just keeps getting better and better!  These two tales are excellent to listen to and my favorite of the two stories is “Koi and the Kola Nuts” since Whoopi Goldberg does a brilliant job at narrating this ancient African folktale.  I loved the way that Herbie Hancock’s music just flows so well with this story as it contains an African beat that truly defines the African feel of this story and Whoopi Goldberg’s narration is smooth and regal as she narrates the story of a young prince who wants to be treated in a respectful manner, while meeting some great animal friends along the way.  In the other story “The Bremen Town Musicians,” Bob Hoskins has done an excellent job at narrating the classic Brothers Grimm tale as his narration is both hilarious and engaging to listen to.  Eugene Friesen’s music is both creative and hilarious to listen to as I find myself enjoying putting together the different instruments that go with each animal (the rooster has a voice that sounds like bagpipes and the cat has a voice that sounds like a violin) and Eugene Friesen’s music beautifully complements with these elements of each animal.

As with most of the audio CDs of the “Rabbit Ears Treasury” series, there is no book to accompany it and for readers who remembered reading the “Rabbit Ears” series during the 80s and 90s might be a bit disappointed with this.  This can be a problem especially if you wanted to show your children or your friends the stories so that way they could better understand the story, especially with “Koi and the Kola Nuts” that has many African terms that many small children might not understand very well with only an audio CD to go by.

Overall, “Rabbit Ears Treasury of World Tales Volume 3: The Bremen Town Musicians and Koi and the Kola Nuts” is definitely one collection of classic stories that both adults and children will enjoy for many years to come!

So go out and buy this fantastic series of popular children’s stories! I am sure that you will not be disappointed by these brilliant CDs!




X-Men: Days of Future Past by Chris Claremont




Genre: Superheroes / Action / Adventure

Year Published: 1981

Year Read: 2012

Series: Uncanny X-Men

Publisher: Marvel Comics
 



Brief Introduction:

As I read through these older X-Men stories originally written by Chris Claremont, I wondered to myself about how the X-Men stories were like back then versus how they are now.  The stories back then seemed to flow together nicely and the character interactions were fantastic and reading some of the newer X-Men stories currently being made, they seem to lose that magic that made them great in the first place.  But enough about my little rant on the state of the “X-Men” comics nowadays, this is about the most popular story in “X-Men” history since “The Dark Phoenix Saga,” “Days of Future Past.” This graphic novel does contain the popular story “Days of Future Past” written by Chris Claremont with artwork by John Byrne, but it also contains issues 138 – 143, so there are multiple stories in this collection that were quite enjoyable!

What is the story?

This collection of stories takes place after the events of “The Dark Phoenix Saga” and the X-Men get into more adventures which includes the inclusion of a young Kitty Pryde into the X-Men! There are a total of six issues in this collection and therefore there are six stories that include:

Elegy – After the events of “The Dark Phoenix Saga,” Cyclops decides to leave the X-Men in order to cope with Jean Grey’s unfortunate death.

Nightcrawler’s Inferno – When Nightcrawler’s soul is stolen by an evil force in the Inferno, the X-Men along with Doctor Strange journey to the Inferno to save Nightcrawler’s soul from the evil forces of the Inferno.

Something Wicked This Way Comes and Rage! – Wolverine and Nightcrawler journey to Canada and not only meet up with the mutant team Alpha Flight, but they also discovered that a monstrous beast named Wendigo is on the loose in the Canadian wilderness!

Days of Future Past and Mind out of Time! – In this classic tale, Kate Pryde (who is Kitty Pryde in the future) goes into the past and takes over Kitty Pryde’s mind in order to warn the X-Men about the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants’ attempt at assassinating Senator Robert Kelly that will unfortunately cause a terrible chain of events that will cause the Sentinels to kill all the mutants in the future.  The X-Men then try to stop the Brotherhood of Mutants from killing Senator Robert Kelly in order to prevent this terrible future from happening!

Demon – On Christmas Eve, all the X-Men left the Institute to spend the holidays with their families, leaving Kitty Pryde by herself.  Unfortunately, Kitty Pryde will soon realize that she is not alone in the Institute when a frightening demon comes to the Institute and tries to attack Kitty!

What I loved about this comic:

Chris Claremont’s writing: As usual with most of the older “X-Men” comics written by Chris Claremont, Chris Claremont’s writing was truly excellent and exciting!  I loved the way that Chris Claremont makes sure that the readers understand what was happening over the years that the characters spent their time as the X-Men, especially in the first story of Cyclops telling readers about the events that happened while he was with the X-Men from the day he first became an X-Men to the death of Jean Grey when she turned into the Dark Phoenix.  I also loved the way that Chris Claremont portrayed the relationships between the X-Men, especially between Storm, Kitty Pryde, Colossus, Wolverine and Nightcrawler as all of these members have an extremely close relationship with each other and it was hilarious seeing the witty banter that takes place between Colossus, Wolverine and Nightcrawler.  I especially loved the way that Chris Claremont wrote the story “Days of Future Past” as it was the first X-Men story where the X-Men deals with an apocalyptic future that would soon inspire many other apocalyptic themed stories in the future and the dark and dreary mood of the dystopian world that that X-Men would face in the future was done extremely well and I often felt so much remorse for the X-Men as they had to survive in a world where mutants were becoming extinct.  I also loved the story “Nightcrawler’s Inferno” as Chris Claremont clearly showed the close relationship between the X-Men and Colossus was just so awesome in that story!

John Byrne’s artwork:  John Byrne’s artwork was so fantastic and beautiful and I especially loved the appearances of most of the characters, especially of Kitty Pryde herself having a cute face and long and wavy brown hair (even though I often wonder why she is drawn with having a long face). I also loved the way that John Byrne illustrated the dystopian future in “Days of Future Past” as the world looks dark and dreary with images of buildings being worn down and Sentinels occupying everything in its mist.

What made me feel uncomfortable about this book:

The only problem with this collection of stories is that each story is a bit too long to read through as the pages are littered with information about what happened in past events and the characters are constantly talking about the limits of their powers and how they plan on defeating their enemies.  Now, I love stories where there is so much information about the characters, but in a graphic novel or comic format, it might be a bit too much for new readers to handle and you might get a “brain burn” after you try to read all the information about the characters and the story itself.

Final Thoughts:

Overall, “Days of Future Past” is easily one of the most memorable “X-Men” stories next to “The Dark Phoenix Saga” and “God Loves Man Kills” and I am definitely sure that “X-Men” fans will take delight in reading this story!



Thursday, February 16, 2012

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins



Genre: Contemporary Romance
Year Published: 2011
Number of Pages: 338 pages
Date Read: 2/15/2012
Series: Anna and the French Kiss #2   
Publisher: Dutton Books



  
“When you have a talented costume designer and a gifted inventor living next door to each other, what do you get?  You get one cute and thrilling teen romance of the century!”

I have been reading romance novels for a long time now, but I have never read a romance novel quite like this before!  “Lola and the Boy Next Door” is a teen romance novel by Stephanie Perkins and it proves that true love can be at the place where you least expected it to be.  “Lola and the Boy Next Door” is full of humor, drama, and cute teen romance that will have teen romance fans falling head over heels in love with this novel!

Dolores “Lola” Nolan is a regular teenage girl who enjoys creating beautiful costumes and wearing them to school.  To add to her wonderful life, she has a hot boyfriend who performs in a rock band named Max and she loves him to death.  One horrible day however, Lola finds out that her rival Calliope Bell and her twin brother, Cricket Bell are returning to her neighborhood and are now living next door to her!  Even though Lola denies her feelings for Cricket Bell after he hurt her years ago, Lola cannot help but feel like she and Cricket were meant for each other no matter what happened between them years ago.

You know when you read a certain book that after you finished reading it; you wish that the book never ended?  Well, that is what I got from “Lola and the Boy Next Door” since after I read this book, I was sad that it was over with so fast.  Stephanie Perkins has certainly done a wonderful job at writing this cute little story about the trials of seeing your first love reappear in your life again.  I loved the way that Stephanie Perkins wrote all the characters in this book, my favorite characters being Lola Nolan and Cricket Bell.  Lola Nolan is one of my favorite heroines ever because not only does she speak her mind and tries to do what is best for everyone, but she loves dressing up and getting creative! I loved Lola Nolan because she is always creating new styles for herself, even if it looks odd to other people and I loved this aspect of Lola Nolan because I also love creating new styles for myself since it makes me feel so creative about myself and I am glad that creating various designs for her costumes make Lola feel so good about herself.  Oh my goodness, I just fell in love with the hero, Cricket Bell!  Cricket Bell is one of those heroes that you just cannot help but fall in love with because he is such a sweet and brilliant teenage boy! I loved the way that Cricket Bell is portrayed as being a shy yet sweet natured boy who loves inventing various contraptions and I loved the way that he uses his inventing skills to impress Lola Nolan, even though his kind nature is what really made his character shine.  I really loved the way that Stephanie Perkins wrote the relationship between Cricket Bell and Lola Nolan as it is extremely sweet despite their terrible history with each other and I loved how they just communicate with each other through their windows every night, which makes me want to do the same thing with my neighbors!

Probably the only thing that might be troubling in this book is the strong language, especially for a teen novel.  If you do not like strong language in a novel, then it is probably best to skim over these words.

Overall, “Lola and the Boy Next Door” is easily one of the best teen romance novels I have ever read and I am definitely looking forward to reading more of Stephanie Perkins’ works in the future!




Sunday, February 12, 2012

Pecos Bill by Brian Gleeson




Genre: Western / Humor / Adventure / Tall Tale


Year Published: 1988


Year Read: 2007


Series: Storybook Classics
Publisher: Rabbit Ears Books

 


 In the 80’s Rabbit Ears had made their trademark as one of the most popular series for children. “Pecos Bill” is no exception as this story won numerous Grammy Awards. With Robin Williams’ narration, Tim Raglin’s drawings, and Ry Cooder’s music, “Pecos Bill” is surely a story you will want to watch over and over again.

Robin Williams’ narration, Ry Cooder’s music and Tim Raglin’s illustrations are the true highlights of this story. First off, Robin Williams narrates with high-energy and a cowboy accent to boot. Whenever, Pecos Bill goes through any peril, Robin Williams is loud and excited about the situation as if he was there when Bill performed these spectacular acts. Next on the list is Ry Cooder’s country music. Ry Cooder’s solo guitar performance has provided the perfect mood for the story, going from a light and happy tune highlighting Pecos Bill’s early adventures to dark and intense when Pecos Bill goes against the cyclone, which Cooder’s music may have foreshadowed Pecos Bill’s disappearance from Texas in this scene. Finally, Tim Raglin’s colorful illustrations have greatly influence the mood of this story. Raglin’s drawings are colorful and rich as he greatly details the plains and the cyclone in fluent colors. Raglin also illustrates Pecos Bill’s life in a humorous way, such as, the scene where Pecos Bill is shown throwing around the rattlesnake like a lasso. Tim Raglin’s highlighted illustration was of Pecos Bill himself, as Pecos Bill is drawn with white, fluffy pants, a polka-dotted handkerchief, and suave red hair that make him have the appearance of a true hero.

“Pecos Bill” was considered to be Rabbit Ears finest half-hour story. Well, I think that they were right about that. “Pecos Bill” has everything that you would expect from a natural cowboy movie. The story has loads of adventure, comedy, romance, and suspense and each scene describing these genres is greatly enhanced by the narration, drawings and illustrations. “Pecos Bill” is loads of laughs and shocks and is a perfect film for the entire family.





The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka




Genre: Humor / Remake / Fairy Tales / Magic


Year Published: 1992


Year Read: 2004
Publisher:  Viking Juvenile



Back in 1989, “The True Story of the Three Little Pigs” was the most popular children’s book ever written and that’s where the Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith team made their famous trademark as children’s book writers. In 1992, a new children’s book, made by the Scieszka/Smith team has proclaimed its hallmark of fame as one of the funniest books ever written. That book is called “The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fairly Stupid Tales,” and has became a classic in its own right and won numerous awards, including the 1993 Caldecott Honor Book.

“The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fairly Stupid Tales” is one of the few books that contain so much humor. The humor is sarcastic as it is witty and the humor gives each character in the story a very unique personality that makes the reader want to be like them. Jon Scieszka’s storytelling is probably the book’s major strong point as he fills the book with witty humor such as, the Little Red Hen continuously popping up as an interlude to the other stories and the giant trying to make his own story by sticking together an odd assortment of pictures and words together. Lane Smith’s illustrations are fantastic and humorous, especially of the image of the wolf and Little Red Running Shorts leaving the story as it seems that they were cut out of the image of the house and the woods leaving two white spaces in the image.

“The Stinky Cheese Man” is a pure classic that will make people laugh for many years. Its good sense of humor and creative drawings by the dynamic duo, Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith has made this book an international success. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in good humor and creativity from the Scieszka/Smith duo.

*Winner: 1993 Caldecott Honor
*Winner: 1994 Flicker Tale Children's Book Award
*Winner: 1995 Texas Bluebonnet Award
*Winner: 1995 Buckeye Children's Book Award for K-2








Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak







Genre: Monsters / Dream /  Adventure / Drama



Year Published: 1963



Year Read: 1992

Publisher:  Red Fox


“Where the Wild Things Are” is Maurice Sendak’s most popular children’s book and has won the Caldecott Medal for being the most distinguished picture book of the year. Many libraries across the country have dedicated themselves to this book because of its imaginative creatures and illustrations. This book deserves the title “best children’s book” that it gained over the years.

Maurice Sendak beautifully illustrates this book with pastel colors and occasional pencil scratching for the wild things’ hair. The illustrations that were the true highlights of this book were of the wild things having a party in six pages of the book and of Max sailing in his private boat at night when he comes back home from where the things are. Max’s character is also highlighted in this book as he responds to what a child would face if their reality is harsh and usually most children would try to imagine a world where they can do anything they want and not get in trouble with the things they do. However, when Max realizes that the wild things do not love him as much as his mother does; he decides to face reality when he returns home from where the wild things are.

Parents should know that for children who have not read “Where the Wild Things Are” might be frightened by the images of the monsters in this book. The monsters are portrayed as being half human, half animal, and half of other various creatures such as a monster on the cover of the book that has human feet and the body of a bull. These monsters may be too scary for small children as they appear to be extremely threatening towards the main character, Max, at the beginning of the book when they showed their terrible claws and teeth. However, as the book progresses, the monsters turned out to be a bit timid around Max which may lessen the fear that children would have for these monsters.

“Where the Wild Things Are” is clearly a distinguished children’s book ahead of its time and has remained to be one of the best picture books of all time. Its theme about how children use imagination to occasionally escape the perils of their lives is clearly defined in this book and would help many children realize how helpful imagination can be for their lives. However, parents may want to read this book before they show it to their children and see if their children like the monsters in this book. I would strongly recommend this book for ages five and over because while the book is easy to read, the monsters may be too much for children under five to handle.

*Winner: 1964 Caldecott Medal Award
*Winner: 2009 Indies Choice Book Award for Picture Book Hall of Fame
*Winner: American Library Association (ALA) Notable Book






Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Fray by Joss Whedon





Genre: Horror / Superheroes
Year Published: 2003
Year Read: 2012
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics


INGREDIENTS FOR THE PERFECT VAMPIRE SLAYER STORY:

* 2 cups of Joss Whedon’s writing

* 2 tablespoons of one tough heroine

* 2/4 teaspoons of demons and vampires

* 1 cup of pure action-packed fun!


And what do you get?  BUFFY!

Well actually, you get “Fray” this time, same premise but different character.

What is this story about?

One hundred years in the future, Manhattan has become a dark and crime ridden place and while various monsters run the streets under the notice of the police, there lives a young girl named Melaka Fray who happens to be a street thief stealing things for money.  One day however, a demon named Urkonn visits Melaka and tells her that she comes from a long line of forgotten slayers and that she is destined to save Manhattan from the invasion of demons.  Can Melaka save Manhattan from the demon invasion?

What I loved about this story:

Joss Whedon’s writing: Well, aside from the fact that this story is strongly related to one of my most favorite TV shows, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” Joss Whedon’s writing was extremely strong and even though there were too many elements relating to “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (tough heroine fighting vampires to save the world), the story felt like it was set in its own universe, even distancing itself from the world of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” as this story is set in a dystopian world where criminals rule the streets.  Joss Whedon has done an excellent job at setting this world in a dark futuristic world where crimes rule the street, sort of like how criminals rule the streets of Gotham City in the “Batman” comics. 
Melaka Fray: I just loved the portrayal that Joss Whedon has given the main heroine of this story, Melaka Fray!  Melaka Fray is like Buffy Summers from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” except she is a grittier version of Buffy since she is a thief and she loves to fight anyone for the thrill of it while Buffy Summers is tough but she always has a sweet personality that makes her a really likable person.  I loved the way that Joss Whedon unfolded her character throughout this book as she is not shown as an unsympathetic street thief since she became a thief because of the death of her brother where she constantly blames herself for his death, which provides more depth to her character.  Also, her estranged relationship with her law-abiding sister Erin, who happens to be a cop, also adds more depth to Melaka’s character.  Also, it was awesome seeing Melaka fighting vampires as she has some really impressive moves that rival Buffy’s moves when she is fighting vampires!

Karl Moline’s and Andy Owens’ artwork: Karl Moline and Andy Owens’ artwork is extremely phenomenal in this book!  I loved the way that Melaka Fray is drawn as she looks like a punk girl with blue hair that has pink tips at the ends and has purple lipstick which made her look extremely impressive and tough!  I also loved the images of the demons and vampires themselves as they are really creepy looking as they are pale and have sharp teeth and yellow eyes and since I am a huge fan of gory images, there are plenty of gory images of vampires getting their heads sliced off that drawn me in this book.

What made me feel uncomfortable about this story:

Since this book is about vampire slaying, there are many gory scenes where vampires are getting their heads cut off and also there are scenes of innocent people getting bitten by vampires that might make readers who are uncomfortable with blood and gore feel a bit disturbed.  Also, even though this does not become an issue for me after I finished reading this story, there are a lot of similarities to “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” that might make you think too much about “Buffy” throughout this book:

* Melaka Fray fights vampires (Buffy)
* There are demons and vampires terrorizing the town (Buffy)
* The heroine comes to terms with her destiny as a Slayer (Buffy)

But despite these similarities, I still think that this story stood out extremely well and I found myself being invested in the characters and the story itself!

Final Thoughts:

Overall, “Fray” was an awesome read for me and I would definitely read this book over and over again in the near future.  Unfortunately, there are no more books about “Fray” being made at this moment and after reading the ending of this book; I really wanted to see more of the book “Fray” and Melaka Fray’s endless battles with the vampires. I hope that Joss Whedon writes more stories about “Fray” in the future!




Helga's Dowry: A Troll Love Story by Tomie dePaola




Genre: Romance / Fairy Tale / Humor



Year Published: 1977



Year Read: 2012

Publisher:  HMH Books for Young Readers
 



I have always been a huge fan of Tomie dePaola’s works ever since I was a child, with my favorites being of his “Strega Nona” stories (favorites from this series are “Strega Nona” and “Strega Nona’s Magic Lessons”).  Now I have stumbled upon a new book I have read from Tomie dePaola called “Helga’s Dowry: A Troll Love Story” and I was absolutely blown away by this book!  “Helga’s Dowry” is about a young troll named Helga who wanted to marry a handsome troll named Lars, but because she was orphaned as a child, she has no rich dowry.  So Helga decides to get a rich dowry by doing some hard work in the Land of People.  “Helga’s Dowry” is a brilliant book about how hard work and determination really pays off at the end that many children will love for many years!

Helga was the loveliest Troll in three parishes, but because she was orphaned as a child, she had no dowry.  So, when Lars wanted her hand in marriage, Helga realized that she must get a rich dowry soon or else, Lars would have to marry Plain Inge since Inge has a much richer dowry than Helga does.  So, Helga decides to go to the land of people to get a job to earn her rich dowry.

Wow! I was so impressed with this book!  I actually wished that I had read this book when I was younger because the message about how hard work and determination gives its own rewards was done so brilliantly and cleverly!  Tomie dePaola has done a brilliant job with both illustrating and writing this tale about a young female troll who wanted to earn a rich dowry to marry a handsome troll, so she works hard to get the dowry she wanted.  I loved the way that Tomie dePaola made Helga into such an independent and strong female character as she tried to work hard to achieve the dowry she wanted while keeping her principles about marrying a person who accepts her for herself in check.  I also loved the twist at the end of this story as it was truly unexpected, but it was still a happy ending and it made me really root for Helga! I also loved the way that Tomie dePaola made the trolls in this book seem like regular good natured people, not as villains as they are usually portrayed in most fairy tales and folktales and that really helped me relate to the characters more while making them extremely interesting to read about.  Tomie dePaola’s illustrations as usual are extremely creative and hilarious to look at.  I loved how Tomie dePaola drew the trolls always grinning in every image and how he drew the trolls’ tails in being long and having hairy puffs at the tips.  I also loved the images of Helga herself as she is always grinning and wears a cute little white bonnet and a blue apron that really defined the times that her character was set in.

Overall, “Helga’s Dowry: A Troll Love Story” is a truly brilliant and hilarious book that children who want to learn about the importance of hard work and determination will definitely enjoy for years to come!  I would recommend this book to children ages four and up since there is nothing inappropriate in this book for smaller children.