The Redwall Series Review

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Review:

The Redwall series, by Brian Jacques, was one of my favorite series when I was growing up. Although I don’t remember for sure, I think I was about 8 when I stumbled upon Mossflower by accident in the library one day. By the time I was a teen, my brother (also a fan) and I had accumulated a whole shelf full of sturdy hardcover Redwall books, many of them dogeared from re-reading.

The series takes place mainly in and around Redwall Abbey, a sanctuary for woodland creatures such as mice, squirrels, moles, hares, and badgers. They clearly need such a sanctuary, because they’re constantly getting attacked by one foul band of evil-doers or another. High adventure ensues, and I’m warning you now, Brian Jacques is a master of cliffhanger chapter endings, so these books are very hard to put down once you start! For this reason, despite their length, they’re a great choice for reluctant readers. Though I wasn’t a reluctant reader myself, I remember receiving the third book, Mattimeo, for Christmas the year I discovered the series and being extremely proud of myself because I finished the whole thing – nearly 500 pages – in a single marathon reading session on the living room couch, while the rest of the family celebrated Christmas around me.

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In addition to being great adventure stories, the series has a lot of humor, and I also credit it with developing my early appreciation for great food descriptions in literature. The descriptions of the feasts are scrumptious. As an adult, I appreciate the many positive role models it contains for both boys and girls.

Eventually, the books started blurring together and becoming more repetitive, or maybe I just outgrew them, so I ultimately stopped reading in my late teens at book 11 (Marlfox), while the series eventually stretched to 23 books by the time of Jacques’s death in 2011. Despite this, I retain a big soft spot for Redwall Abbey and its furry inhabitants. They were some of the defining books of my childhood.

My favorite Redwall books include:

Mossflower

The prequel to Redwall, and the book that first hooked me on the story.  Martin the Warrior teams up with the woodland creatures to overthrow the cruel rule of the wildcat Tsarmina and found Redwall Abbey.

Mariel of Redwall

A young mouse maid must save her father from pirates. Mariel is one of the best of many great female characters in the Redwall series.

Salamandastron

This book focuses a lot on the badgers of Salamandastron and features another of my favorite Redwall heroines.

Martin the Warrior

More of Martin’s exciting backstory. I won’t lie, I cried like a baby over a certain scene.

The Pearls of Lutra

My favorite of the later books I read.

The series can be read chronologically or in order of publication:

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Game of Thrones Review

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Game of Thrones Review:

Seeing as A Song of Ice and Fire is one of my favorite fantasy series, I was super excited when I heard back in 2007 that HBO would be making a tv series out of it. I think they’re probably the only channel that could do the books justice. Unfortunately, with four full seasons already aired, I have to admit my feelings about the actual execution are more mixed than I had hoped they would be.

I love watching Westeros and Essos come to life on screen and the production quality of the show has been astounding. The amount of care and attention to every detail is reminiscent of the Lord of the Rings movies. For example, just check out these close ups of some of the costume embroidery created for the show.

The casting has also been almost universally perfect. There are a few roles that have gone to people that I don’t think are great actors, but the vast majority are not only good actors but embody their roles better than I ever dreamed. I want to give special kudos in this regard to Maisie Williams (Arya) and Sophie Turner (Sansa), who were both total unknowns before being cast in Game of Thrones and have knocked their respective roles completely out of the park, and to Jack Gleeson (Joffrey), who by all accounts is as nice a guy as they come yet who portrays a monster so convincingly he’ll probably be fending off people who want to punch him in the face for the rest of his life.

However, some of the plot changes have inordinately annoyed me. I’m not a purist – there have been plenty I liked. For example, I spend most of Ygritte’s scenes in the book wanting to punch her in the face (that is how annoying “You know nothing, Jon Snow” gets after awhile), but in the show they toned her down a bit and made her actually likable. I also loved the expansion of Bronn and Gendry’s roles, the greater insight we’re given into Margaery’s character and motivations, and the clever choice to have Arya be Tywin’s cup-bearer, which didn’t happen in the books at all. Some of the others, like swapping out the non-entity Jeyne Westerling for Talisa, I’ve been indifferent to, and still others I’m waiting to decide about – the changes to Tyrion and Jaime’s final scene together in A Storm of Swords/season 4, for example.

Unfortunately, there have also been too many that I’ve actively loathed. The worst include:

  • the changes to Danaerys and Khal Drogo’s wedding night
  • making Littlefinger, who is so close-mouthed in the books that you know almost nothing about him or his plans until the end of book three, into a talker, and not only that, but the kind of talker who would spill his deepest secrets to a pair of prostitutes(!)
  • the amount of totally gratuitous naked boobs in general
  • the changes to Jaime and Cersei’s scene in the sept

What’s bothered me even more than the changes themselves are how tone-deaf the writers (and in the case of the Jaime/Cersei scene, the director) have been in how the changes affected the ongoing plot and character development. For example, switching Dany and Drogo’s wedding night from consensual sex in the book to rape in the show means she falls in love with her rapist instead of a man who went out of his way to obtain her consent. (Given what a charming and reasonable fellow her brother is, the scene in the book may in fact have been the first time in her life that anybody gave Dany the power to declare what she wanted.) The changes made to the Jaime/Cersei scene were even worse – neither writers nor director seemed to realize that they’d just derailed Jaime’s redemption arc in the eyes of many viewers.

Overall, I enjoy the show, but I don’t love it as much as I expected and hoped to.

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My rating:3 Stars (3 / 5)

A Song of Ice and Fire Series Review

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Review:

A good friend recommended the A Song of Ice and Fire series, by George R.R. Martin, to me and my husband back in 2005, shortly before the release of the fourth book, A Feast For Crows. We both read the first three books in just a couple weeks, waited a couple months to read the fourth… and then were stuck with all the other book readers waiting nearly six years for the next! Your guess is probably as good as mine when next book, The Winds of Winter (book six out of the planned seven), will be published. I’m hoping we’ll at least have an announcement before the end of the year, but who knows?

The long waits between books notwithstanding, I think the series’ reputation as one of the best (if not THE best) fantasy series ever written is well deserved. The depth, breadth, and richness of the worldbuilding is exceptional even by epic fantasy standards. What I like most, however, is the characters. Although there’s SO many it can sometimes be hard to keep some of the minor ones straight, most of the primary and secondary characters are complex, well drawn, and very memorable.

I especially appreciate the diversity of Martin’s female characters. Although I think the extent to which he’s a feminist writer is sometimes overstated and the later books have several parts that I considered rather problematic from a feminist perspective, Martin undeniably has a whole bunch of the most complex and interesting female characters in the fantasy genre populating his books. I especially like and appreciate his ability to show different types of female strength. There are a number of classic tomboy-style “Strong Female Characters,” including Arya, Brienne, and Asha, but also many characters who are both strong and feminine, such as Catelyn, Olenna Tyrell, Arianne Martell, and (increasingly) Sansa. With such a large and diverse female cast, Martin also has the freedom to show women who are not “strong” by any definition of the word without being accused of misogyny or sexism, as well as female characters who are villainous, incompetent, or just plain unlikable.

I enjoy moral ambiguity and byzantine political intrigue, so I enjoy the plotting as well, although it sometimes gets a little too dark and relentless for me. My favorite book is the third, A Storm of Swords, largely because the grayer side of Westeros’s black-and-gray morality actually wins a few battles for once. A Storm of Swords is also packed with many of the series’ most memorable scenes, and some of its most interesting character development. It’s the literary embodiment of epic, and the fourth and fifth books were unfortunately a little bit of a let-down by comparison, but I’m hoping to do a full re-read when the sixth is released, and hopefully I’ll enjoy them more back-to-back than I did six years apart.

Aside from that, the only major complaint I have about the series is Martin’s tendency to overuse catch-phrases to the point of extreme irritation. “Winter is coming” and “You know nothing, Jon Snow” are probably the most famous, but far from the only.

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Book 3Book 4


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Book 5Box set


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My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India Movie Review

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Review:

I’ve seen a few Westernized Indian movies, like Bride and Prejudice and Monsoon Wedding, but Lagaan was my first experience with a real Bollywood film. I think it was a pretty lucky first choice.

The main plot of Lagaan revolves around a poor farming village in 19th century India, which is stricken by a horrific drought and unable to pay the taxes (lagaan) it owes to the British Raj. The hero, Bhuvan (Aamir Khan), makes a bet with the arrogant and cruel officer in charge of collecting the tax that if the villagers can beat the British in a game of cricket, their debt will be forgiven. But if they lose, their tax will be increased by three times.

What follows is good old-fashioned, feel-good fun. Although I’m not much of a sports fan and know almost nothing about cricket, I found it easy to get swept up in the film’s story, and it rarely lagged despite clocking in at nearly 4 hours of running time.

You always hear about Bollywood’s fantastic music and dance numbers, and several of the dances in Lagaan blew me away with how good they were. My favorite was Radha Kaise Na Jale:

Since there’s no subtitles in this copy of the clip, here’s what’s going on: Gauri (Gracy Singh) is in love with Bhuvan but fears he is falling in love with a British woman who has taken pity on the villagers and is coaching them at cricket. During a religious celebration in their village, Bhuvan and Gauri re-enact a ceremonial dance for the villagers (and the British woman) about a goddess (Radha) jealous of her flirtatious lover (Krishna), while Krishna tries to reassure her that his heart belongs only to her. Of course, there’s a double meaning in every line and gesture.

Great film! I highly recommend it.

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My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

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Rome: The Complete Series Review

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Review:

HBO’s Rome has been on my to-watch list for years, and I finally watched it, so I can now officially add my voice the the chorus declaring it a crying shame that the show was cancelled after just two seasons, rather than the intended five. At least they had enough warning to wrap up the storyline in a coherent and relatively satisfying way, but the second season felt rushed as a result of trying to squeeze everything in before the end. Fortunately, despite its premature cancellation, the quality of the acting and the production values remained outstanding throughout.

In particular, I thought both writers and actors did a great job making ancient Rome, ancient Egypt, and their inhabitants both clearly alien to the modern Western audience, yet also sympathetic and relatable. One of the things that especially stood out to me was how brave the Roman characters were in the face of death. Rome has a considerable number of both actual suicides and people preparing for the possibility that they might have to commit suicide (for “honor” or to save themselves from a worse fate), and pretty much every single one is conducted with calm and stoic determination. As were most of the assassinations.

The historical accuracy was mixed at best, and I thought that some of the writers’ choices about when to stick to historical fact and when to switch things up were more successful than others. On the side of the good choices, I especially enjoyed Atia, Octavia, and Servilia, who were all substantially more entertaining than their reportedly pious and matronly real-life counterparts. Most of the changes made to their stories were so fun I didn’t care about the inaccuracies. In fact, Atia of the Julii is one of my new favorite female characters ever. Horrible human being, but so entertaining! Kudos to the writers and Polly Walker for bringing her to such vivid life!

One of my favorite Atia moments

One of my favorite Atia moments

On the other hand, Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo had a much more mixed bag. I loved most of their interactions with the historical characters, and of course their interactions with each other (I’m always a sucker for a good bromance), but with the exception of Vorenus and Niobe’s complicated relationship in season one, most of their other non-historical relationships and storylines were kind of a mess. I didn’t like Pullo’s storylines with Eirene or Gaia at all, and the whole thing with Lucius Vorenus running the Aventine as a sort of ancient Roman mob boss also failed to hold a candle to anything he did with Caesar, Antony, or Octavian.

Another non-historical storyline I didn’t like was the incest. Though it was a minor plotline, it disproportionately annoyed me. I don’t have a problem with incest storylines per se, but they have to be justified very carefully for me to suspend disbelief. Incest is a nearly universal taboo, after all. Rome‘s incest seemed to come out of the blue for both characters. It certainly wasn’t as organic to the characters as the incest in The Borgias, which was set up from the very first scene they had together. As a result, it felt more like it was tossed in for shock value than anything else, which, in the context of a show with so much other shocking stuff going on all the time, just seemed cheap.

Overall, I thought that the first season was better than the second, partly because the second season was so rushed, and partly because too much of what little time was left in the second season was taken up by less interesting subplots like Vorenus in the Aventine and Timon the Jew’s fanatic brother. However, when season 2 was good, it was very, very good. The finale was especially spectacular, and a worthy ending to a great series.

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My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

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Gladiator Movie Review

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Review:

To be honest, I think this movie is over-rated, but I picked it out of the $5 movie bin because my husband likes it.

Gladiator has much to recommend it: excellent performances, impressive visuals, classic fight scenes, beautiful score, and cool costumes, among other things. However, I’ve always found the plot a bit paint-by-numbers and predictable to a degree that takes away from the movie as a whole, more so because guy-seeks-revenge-for-murdered-family is NOT a favorite trope of mine.

My rating:3 Stars (3 / 5)

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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Movie Review

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Review:

A strong second installment to The Hobbit trilogy, despite continued padding.

Smaug instantly took his place among the most spectacular CGI dragons ever committed to film.

My rating:3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Movie Review

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Review:

I wasn’t happy when I heard that Peter Jackson was breaking up The Hobbit into three films. I didn’t think there was enough plot to justify such a decision, and having seen two of the three films, I still don’t. Jackson had to do a lot of padding to fill out the extra hours and the movies do seems overlong and bloated as a result. ETA: If you agree, here’s one attempt to re-cut the films to something closer to the novel: The Hobbit (Tolkien Edit).

On the upside, Jackson keeps the action going enough to maintain interest, so they’re entertaining, if not entirely satisfying, and the casting is excellent, especially Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins.

My rating:3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

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The Lord of Rings: The Return of the King Movie Review

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Review:

The Return of the King is a truly epic conclusion to an epic trilogy. The Battle of Pelennor Fields is especially spectacular.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

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The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers Movie Review

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Review:

I think a lot of fans consider this the weakest of the three Lord of the Rings movies, because it’s stuck in the middle – neither set-up nor resolution. However, it has so many of my favorite scenes (Rohan, Gollum, the Ents, the Battle of Helm’s Deep, etc.) that it may be my favorite. (It’s a very close call between Two Towers and Return of the King.)

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

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