Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien - Before the One Ring There Was the Silmaril

Pros: Wow.
Cons: Whoa, confusing...

The Bottom Line: It's going to take more than one reading to get everything in this book - but it's worth it!

As usual, Tolkien's past work comes alive.

If you ever wanted to know how Middle Earth came to be (as well as it's inhabitants) then The Silmarillion will tell you. In a way, it is almost like the Bible of Middle Earth and Beleriand.

The book is broken down into several different sections. These sections are Ainulindale (The Music of the Ainur), Valaquenta (Account of the Valar), Quenta Silmarillion (History of the Silmarils) with the appendix of Akallabeth (The Downfall of Numenor) and one final piece, Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age.

Ainulindale is the very beginning. It begins with Eru, or Iluvatar (to be blunt, he is like God) who makes the Ainur (the Holy Ones), each one being a part of him. They are like lesser gods. Ainulindale deals with the Ainur and Iluvatar and the creation of Ea (the Universe) and Arda (Earth). This is done through the music the Ainur sings, and also visible are the beginnings of conflict between the Ainur and Melkor, one of the Ainur who desires to be like Iluvatar (and resembles Satan further in the future).

Note: Though I refer to Iluvatar here as God and Melkor to Satan, I am in not trying to suggest Tolkien meant this or anything else. I am simply giving you a something familiar to compare these characters to.

Valaquenta is a short section with small subheadings of "Account of the Valar and Maiar according to the lore of the Eldar, Of the Valar, Of the Maiar" and "Of the Enemies." The first piece is a brief summary of what has just been read, Ainulindale. "Of the Valar" describes the Ainur who entered the Earth, thus their name becoming the Valar. It discusses each of the Valar by name, what they do on Earth, and other tidbits of information. Though Melkor descended onto Earth with them, he is no longer counted among the Valar, and no one speaks of him. "Of the Maiar" deals with gods even lesser than the Valar. The Maiar are the Valar’s servants and helpers. Here brief pieces are written on them. "Of the Enemies" discusses Melkor, who is forever after known as Morgoth through the words of the Elves. He was given great power and knowledge by Iluvatar, but because of his desires to rule and gain power, they were taken for granted. Here is written about his frightening greatness and how Maiar were drawn to him from it, and this is what Sauron is – a Maiar. Blarogs, demons of terror and fire served him also.

Quenta Silmarillion (History of the Silmarils) is broken up into 24 chapters, each dealing with a specific topic. The events go in chronological order, but sometimes there are so many names of places and people (sometimes multiple names of one person or place) to remember, it can feel as though you’re going in circles. This is the meat of The Silmarillion. Here you will learn about The Beginning of Days, The Coming of the Elves (Elves are also known as the Firstborn because they came before Men), how Dwarves were made, the doings of Morgoth (Melkor), and a long story on the Elf Feanor and how his creations, the Silmarils, jewels that held the beauty and light of the two trees of the Valar, became a curse. These Silmarils are the reason for Elven kinslaying, wars between Elves, Men, and Morgoth, and the reason Dwarves and Elves hate each other. Also included are many other wars dealing with Morgoth and his servants against Elves, Men, and Dwarves, and occasionally the Valar who step in to put down Morgoth. Afterward, you will read how things came to an end…and yet not so.

Akallabeth (The Downfall of Numenor) is a long, detailed explanation on just what the title says – the downfall of the kingdom of Numenor. From its beginning to its end, you will find out why Numenor was created and why it was destroyed.

Finally there is Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age. This is simply a shortened version (a very shortened version!) of The Lord of the Rings with a little bit of prehistory to explain the reasons for the aforesaid book to have occurred.

After this are various tables and pieces of information. These include Genealogies (four of them), a table of the different forms of Elves (that’s right, they’re not all exactly the same!), Pronunciation lists, an Index of Names, and an appendix of Quenya and Sindarin names (Elvish names). In this book are also two maps for you to look at and perhaps use as you read.

This book contains stories of death, life, rebirth, betrayal, and true love. Most notably (as the title denotes) is the love between Beren and Luthien, found in the Quenta Silmarillion. Their love is many times referred to when it comes to Aragorn and Arwen in The Lord of the Rings. A Human and an Elf coming together against seemingly impossible odds to eventually live happily ever after - whether that be in death or life.

The Silmarillion is so rich in detail and information it is hard to even begin describing how amazing it is to see such worlds and people come to life through Tolkien's hand. It is without much dialogue, and the dialogue that does exist is within the paragraphs and not as a usual story. Though it make take some time to read, and maybe even a few times through, it's worth it. And besides, if you want to know even more information when reading The Lord of the Rings, then this is the only way to get it.

If you want to know a lot more about the third age, to take a gander at my review of The Lord of the Rings, where it all began.


Notes from the playlist: "Feast of Starlight" by Howard Shore

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Dog Loves Drawing by Louise Yates - So Cute!

Pros: Excellent illustrations, wonderful inspiration for imagination
Cons: None!
The Bottom Line: If you loved Dog Loves Books, wait until you see this one!
We have a lot of picture books at my store.  Oodles and oodles of them. And today was project day, which meant putting away a truckload of picture books.  While at the bottom shelf dealing with some pigeons, ducklings, and cookies, I spotted Dog Loves Drawing by Louise Yates.  Her first book, Dog Loves Books, was so adorable I immediately picked up this book and read it.  Sure, I had stuff to do, but how could I wait to find out what Dog does next?
The story begins almost where the last one left off – so to speak.  We learn that Dog loves books and opened up a successful bookstore.  One day his Aunt sent him a book – but it’s blank! His Aunt tells him to use his imagination.  Why, it’s a drawing book!  From there Dog gets out his pencils and brushes and after drawing a door to step through, discovers all the places and friends that he can discover through his imagination.
This book is delightful.  In fact, I made a point to put it on the Storytime list for January.  Louise Yates seems to be all about imagination, which is fantastic because she does such a great job both telling a simple yet fun story as well as illustrating it.  In fact, her illustrations are the best part!  Dog is adorable as usual, but as he draws things they are like what a child might draw so kids can relate to them (and let’s face it adults, most of us can’t draw either so Dog is probably better than us!).  All his drawings come alive and they go on fun adventures.  Think Harold and the Purple Crayon.  The things that Dog draws are bright and colorful and are done in all sorts of mediums, from crayons to colored pencil.
I highly recommend taking a peek at this book.  If it doesn’t make you smile then I don’t know what will.  With sneaky ducks, silly crabs, a stick man, and a cute little Dog, there’s all sorts of fun to be had.  It’s a great way to remind anyone about the power of imagination and maybe even inspire a future artist or two.
Notes from the playlist: "My Dear Frodo" by Howard Shore

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Illustrated Dream Dictionary by Russell Grant - What Does Naked at a Party Mean?


Pros: Kind of cute.
Cons: Some words are hard to find. I'll explain.
The Bottom Line: It's coloful, fun, not very accurate, but amusing to have on hand from time to time.
Ok the very first thing I would like to do is WARN YOU. You see, there is an introduction to this book, which is a very good one by the way, but I read it and then that night had a dream about practically everything the introduction talked about. It was ridiculous. So I’m warning you now – reading the interesting introduction might cause you to have dreams about it that night.
Moving on. In 2004 I got this book as a present on my birthday and thought, “Hey, cool, I needed one of these.”
I hate to seem rude or ungrateful (after all, it is just a dream dictionary), but there are definitely better dream dictionaries out there. Sure it’s illustrated, but man, it’s definitely not organized like a dictionary and it’s really hard to find what you want half the time.
Let’s start with the pictures. They’re very cute and colorful and just fun to look at. Actually the first thing I did with this was look through it and check out all the pictures. Each one depicts a possible dream, and will have the title beneath it in case you can’t figure it out. They look like they could be watercolor or something…
But to the actual dictionary part. I can’t say I know how accurate it is because, well, I don’t – I’m not a dream expert, that’s why I wanted a dictionary (doy). But I will say this. The words you want are hard to find in the first place. Sure the main words are in all capital letters, but everything behind them is in a block paragraph (not indented underneath if it’s long enough) format, which allows the main words to just fade in. That’s okay though, because you can still see them.
The second problem is the grouping of the words, which leads into the third problem of having a fun time trying to find the word you want. If you want to find “snake” you can’t just look up “snake.” You have to go to “Animals” and then look under there somewhere amongst the monkeys and dogs and find it. This poses a problem for other things. If I have something I want to look up and I can’t find it, I then have to either A.) think of a synonym for that word (i.e. I wanted “cup” but now I’ll try “glass”) or B.) try and think of what it could be under and look that up and possibly even find a synonym for that because I can’t remember which words will have more under them. The one I always seem to have problems with is the “Anger/Confrontation” heading because I always forget it’s called that because I just wanna look up what it means when I punch someone in the face – not that it happens all the time or anything…
But in all truth, they are just dreams and it can be just for fun. I’m not going to recommend it because I don’t think it’s impressive or important enough to really bother with. I think it's main problem is that it makes it seem as though your dreams are telling you the future instead of showing you how you feel right now. But hey, at least if you ever get it for a present, now you’ll know what to expect!
P.S. NAKEDNESS - Nakedness in a dream is quite common. If you see yourself naked then things are about to improve. You may even have a stroke of money luck.

Notes from the playlist: "Summertime Sadness" by Within Temptation

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay - Serial Killer Who Kills Killers. Works for Me.

Pros: Who doesn't want to see the bad guys get it?
Cons: Abrupt shift in ending left a few odd questions unanswered.
The Bottom Line: Proof that karma isn't a b*tch - it's a killer
I’d been meaning to pick this one up for quite some time. I’d seen a few episodes of the show and knew it was based off Jeff Lindsey’s novels.  And the books are always better, right?  And what’s not to like about a guy who offs sickos and murderers?
As we open, Dexter has already been doing this for quite some time.  He has a semi-moral code: only kill the bad guys.  He sticks to it and he’s good at what he does.  It helps that he works with the police department – gives him a lead on potential victims.  Except there’s a new guy in town and it’s almost like he could be Dexter’s clone.  In fact, he’s so good at what he does Dexter is in awe of his work.  But of course Dexter shouldn’t be looking to make friends, he’s supposed to be helping his sister the cop find this guy, right?
It’s interesting because it’s hard not to like Dexter yet at the same time it’s obvious he’s so far outside the “norm” of human behavior and thought processes that at some points you start thinking, “Whoa. Not cool.” Remember, this book is written from Dexter’s point of view, so you get some rather special insights into what is going on in his mind.  It’s interesting to see how Dexter ended up the way he is, although you don’t get the full picture until the very end of the story.  Still, it’s amazing what the right influences can do.  There’s an interesting, albeit creepy cat-and-mouse game going on between him and the killer and you’ll never know what exactly is going on until the end.  It is possible to guess although you may be like me and dismiss the thought when it comes into your head with a, “That’s silly.” Apparently it’s not and you’ll quickly learn why.  Some may argue that the end reveal is a bit cliché, but I think Lindsay pulls it off well enough that even if it does at first, it doesn’t stay that way.
My only issues were Dexter’s sister Deborah and the way the end was handled.  Deb seems as though she’s supposed to come off as this hardcore cop when to me she actually looks rather stupid in many cases.  At others when she speaks up in front of superiors, rather than looking confident and acting like she does the rest of the time, she’s meek and stumbles over what she’s wants to say.  Are you a tough cop or aren’t you?  Please pick a side and be consistent.
The other thing was the very abrupt shift in the end.  I know what Lindsey was trying to do, but I ended up with a lot of questions that didn’t get answered – some of which were rather important.  From the fate of the bad guy (er, so to speak), to what Deb’s reaction was to what went down (seems rather important to me), there’s no addressing of these things.  Maybe they get addressed in the second book though, so I’m willing to let that slide for now.
The question now is, will I read the second book?  Perhaps in the future, but I admit – as much as I enjoy seeing Dexter wipe icky people off the map, he’s going to face some equally icky people that the police force will have to catch.  And honestly, I can only read so many books about creepers killing women (because let’s face it, we women are always the targets of these sickos), you know?

Notes from the playlist: "Little Talks" by Of Monsters and Men

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Whoops! I completely forgot to mention this. Last month I reviewed Stephanie Garber's amazing book Caraval for the web blog I curre...