Wordless Wednesday: Hobbits and Weta!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

These are from the Weta Workshop in Wellington, New Zealand.
They are the real Hobbit feet and costumes 
used in the Lord of the Rings movies.
 In honor of the release of the final Hobbit movie today!

More Wordless Wednesday here.
Photo by moi.

The Chemical Garden Trilogy

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

(Book 1 of the Chemical Garden Trilogy) 
by Lauren DeStefano 

Dystopian YA trilogy, there are so many of them!!! After a while they all blur together and honestly this one falls somewhere in the middle of the pack. After reading quite a few heavy books I was in the mood for something quick and fun and this one worked well. 

The first book in the series sucks you in from the first page. Rhine, a teenager with wild hair and different colored eyes, is kidnapped from Manhattan where she lived with her twin brother Rowan. She, along with two other girls, is taken to become a child bride to a rich man, Linden. Even though she’s only 16-years-old, this practice is completely normal in the twisted society the world has become. 

Decades earlier geneticists found a cure for cancer, but in doing so they destroyed the human race. The “cured” generation seems almost immortal, but their children only live to be 20 if they are female and 25 if they are male. The world has been like this for years and the ensuing chaos and overwhelming number of orphans is heartbreaking. 

The two other brides, the aloof Jenna and ditzy Cecily live with Rhine in a mansion that’s more prison than paradise. As Rhine plans her escape she tries to understand the world around her. Although it seems almost harmless on the surface, her father-in-law, Vaughn, runs a darker world behind the scenes in the mansion. An attendant named Gabriel provides a source of comfort in the midst of her loneliness.

by Lauren DeStefano 

Fever picks up right where Wither drops off. Gabriel and Rhine are on the run. They find themselves at a macabre carnival full of things to fear. It felt like a filler book to me. The new characters made more sense after reading the third book, but at the time many of them feel random and over-the-top. I also felt like Rhine and Gabriel’s relationship was always tenuous at best. Fever made me feel even less invested in it somehow. I felt like the whole book could have been a few extra chapters at the end of Wither and the beginning of Sever. 

by Lauren DeStefano

This final installment dug into the meat of the history of this dystopia. Up to this point DeStefano has only ever hinted at the research that was being done to find a cure. In Sever she is able to fully explore the history of Rhine’s parents, the virus and even Linden and his father’s relationship. I loved having the chance to learn about the background of the characters. We also got the chance to see main characters, like Linden, deepen and show more layers. Cecily was such an insipid, annoying girl in the first two books, but in Sever she becomes a strong woman who stands up for herself and her family. 

For the first time I final cared about Linden, who waffled through the first two books, skimming the surface but rarely leaving a lasting impact. Seeing both Vaughn and Linden’s motivations lent a much-needed sympathy to the characters. I loved Reed, Vaughn’s prickly brother. I felt like Sever did so much to flesh out the characters. I was frustrated at times with Rhine’s passive nature. It seemed like she kept waiting for someone else to take action. She was along for the ride instead of fighting for what she wanted. She would hold her tongue in situations where it seemed vital that she explain why she was doing what she was doing. 

BOTTOM LINE: The trilogy was just what I wanted, fast reads with enthralling plots. There are definitely pieces that feel like they come straight from another dystopian trilogy, like the constant primping of the girls by attendants (Hunger Games) or the brother who becomes a supporter of the villains’ plans (Divergent), but overall I was entertained. I didn’t like them enough to ever re-read them. The characters were often too wooden, the plot too predictable, but they are great for a reading break when you need one. 

“I didn’t dare touch her. Loss is a knowledge I’m sorry to have. Perhaps the only thing worse than experiencing it is watching it reply anew in someone else – all its awful stages picking up like a chorus that has to be sung.”

Don Quixote

Monday, December 15, 2014

Don Quixote 
by Miguel De Cervantes 

Don Quixote has always intimidated me. The novel is a literary giant, my own windmill to conquer. This year, over the course of a couple months, I finally read it. I was surprised by the gentle nature and sincerity of the famous knight. I’d always thought of him as a bit clownish, but in reality he is the most human of men, if that makes sense. He’s deeply flawed and so he’s deeply relatable. 

I didn’t realize when I started the book that it consists of two separate volumes published 10 years apart. The first volume includes most of the well-known elements of the story, including Don Quixote’s famous attack on the windmills. In the second volume everyone knows who Don Quixote is because they've read the first volume. It adds an interesting element to the book, because he is now trying to live up to his own legend. He's become a celebrity and his cause and condition have become well known throughout the land.  

Alonso Quixano is Don Quixote’s true name. He reads book after book dealing with stories of chivalry throughout the ages. He then becomes convinced that he is in fact a knight errant and he must go on a crusade to help the people who are suffering in Spain. 

“It is not the responsibility of knights errant to discover whether the afflicted, the enchained and the oppressed whom they encounter on the road are reduced to these circumstances and suffer this distress for their vices, or for their virtues: the knight's sole responsibility is to succour them as people in need, having eyes only for their sufferings, not for their misdeeds.” 

He saddles up his horse, Rocinante, and recruits a local farmer named Sancho Panza to embark on his travels with him. Sancho becomes his faithful squire. The two set off and along the way they “help” those who cross their path. The problem is that Don Quixote is delusional about who actually needs his help. The famous windmill scene comes about because he thinks he is fighting giants. He fights for the honor of a woman who barely knows him, Dulcinea del Toboso. The first volume contains a strange mix of stories. Everyone is able to see the Don’s madness except himself and his proverb-spouting squire. Though this is tragic in some ways, it’s also beautiful. There’s something about having complete faith in another person that gives you strength in your own life. 

The first volume is entertaining, but lacks the depth I was expecting. It wasn’t until I got into the second volume that I really fell in love with the book. There’s such a wonderful exploration of motivation, delusion, loyalty, and more. Who is Don Quixote hurting with his quest? Is it wrong to allow him to remain convinced of his knighthood? The second volume also pokes playful fun at the first volume, joking that the author exaggerated stories, etc. 

“The truth may be stretched thin, but it never breaks, and it always surfaces above lies, as oil floats on water.” 

Don Quixote’s naïveté and earnestness about his field of knight errantry make him an easy target. People who want to play tricks on him or friendly jokes or even rob him are easily able to because they know exactly what his weaknesses are. He believes, without a doubt, in the code of knight errantry that he holds himself to. He's also wise about so many things while remaining blind to his own absurdity. 

At times he reminded me of Polonius from “Hamlet” spouting off wisdom to anyone who will listen. Sometimes it's good advice, sometimes not but he believes it wholeheartedly. There's a purity in living a life so full of earnestness that you believe in your dreams without faltering and you hold yourself to a higher standard. 

BOTTOM LINE: This isn’t a novel I’ll re-read every year or anything, but it was a richly rewarding experience for me. It made me want to believe in some of the magic in life and to not always question the motives of others. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza will be with me for years to come. 

"Then the very same thing, said the knight, happens in the comedy and commerce of this world, where one meets with some people playing the parts of emperors, others in the characters of popes, and finally, all the different personages that can be introduced in a comedy; but, when the play is done, that is, when life is at an end, death strips them of the robes that distinguished their stations, and they become all equal in the grave.” 

“Time ripens all things. No man is born wise.”