By Its Cover: Treasure Island

treasure islandTreasure Island is the true story of that one time my uncle took me on his boat. I was about eight, maybe ten – no more than eleven. Anyway, my uncle had a boat and said I could go out on the lake with him. It was in the summer. Growing up, my family took annual vacations to one lake. The water was clear and there weren’t a lot of people around. My uncle used to pop by every couple years or so. Usually he only visited with my parents. He didn’t like kids. But about the time I turned eight or eleven, he started paying attention to me. So, one day he offered to take me out on his little wooden boat.

At the time it was super exciting. I always thought my uncle was the coolest person. He had this neat hat, smoked a pipe. He kind of looked like a pirate.  And he had a pet parrot named Squalf. Coolest of all, he was missing leg. He lost it at the ‘ol saw plant to Barry the Buzzsaw.

We went about halfway across the lake and stopped. He let me use the telescope. It was fun, ya know, for a kid. Retrospectively, it wasn’t anything all that special. My uncle was pretty drunk the whole time (though I didn’t realize it until I was a few years older). And that was it. We turned around and went back to shore. He kept asking me if I had a lass, but young me thought he was abbreviating Lassie, and I thought he was asking if I had a dog. Of course I didn’t, so I told him no. “Every man’s gotta have a lass,” he’d say, then mumble in a drunken stupor before repeating the question.

Frankly, I don’t know why Robert Louis Stevenson approached me. I don’t know why he interviewed me on this story, or why he chose to turn it into a book. I read it. It was fairly accurate (he did add an ending where I got a Rough Collie and a girl friend, which I think makes the whole thing even more confusing). That’s it though. That’s the story. It’s a boy on a boat with his uncle. For whatever reason, Stevenson found that aspect of my life interesting enough to write a full length novel about it.

I don’t have any more to say on the matter. You’d have to know my uncle (my whole family for that matter) for this story to hold any kind of significance. It’s well written, I suppose, but there’s a reason it’s only sold 12 e-books on Amazon.

Also there’s no treasure in it. Maybe there’s some hidden lesson about real treasure being in our heart or family or something. I don’t know. I skimmed it.

For stone cold accuracy regarding a thoroughly dull event, Treasure Island receives a 7 out of 10.

By Its Cover: The Princess Bride

Princess BrideIt’s the team up of the century! Finally, after years of waiting, fans get the crossover novel they’ve been longing for. William Goldman combines his two most loved series – Zorro and Pirates of The Caribbean – pairing the aforementioned Zorro with POTC’s most loved heroin, Elizabeth Swan.

After years and years of relentless nagging and dozens of websites filled with fan fiction, William Goldman has finally folded and given his fans a novel that looks at what it would be like if those two characters met. Years of speculation and arguments have been put to rest by William Goldman’s latest novel, The Princess Bride, which documents their meeting quite well.

And what do you do when two beloved protagonists such as these are paired together? Why you have them fight an army of ghosts of course! True to William Goldman’s past works, his villains are as deep and varied as his heroes. The army of ghosts aren’t simply floating blobs or white sheets. Much like people, they come in all sorts. There are big ones with mustaches, small ones with swords, ghosts on horses, ghost boats. His fleshing out (irony intended) of all the phantoms really helps bring this story to life, and gives it that extra punch that Goldman so often provides his readers. Honestly, he could very well have just phoned this one in. After all, the fans only asked for an Elizabeth Swan/Zorro team up. But rather than giving his readers a rehashing of The Avengers, he instead gave them Civil War. I’m not exaggerating when I say he went all out on this story, so far as to provide the ghosts with afterlife currency, a socioeconomic structure, class, sex, and race tension. And that’s just the bad guys. The protagonists, as has been seen in his past series for both characters, have got depth beyond even the bourgeois poltergeists.

I’m sure the question on everyone’s mind is the same, “Is there romance?” And, if you’ll pardon the spoilers, I can tell you that there is so much romance it could be turned into a movie staring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. The sexual tension is through the roof (er… cover). Every other line is just dripping with implication and infatuation. I mean, kiss already!

Alas! The love in this story is only between the lines, as no smooching ever comes to fruition. Instead, readers are left to watch as Zorro and Elizabeth swap innuendos and slay ghosts all without a single physical representation of what must be an undying (ghost pun) love for one another. Frustrating, certainly. Yet, this could also be a blessing, as Goldman has left room for fan fiction to explore what might have been had Zorro only made a move.

Goldman has yet to confirm or deny the possibility of a sequel, leaving hope for his fans. Will this dynamic duo return in years to come, or will this be a one hit wonder? Only time will tell.

The Princess Bride is a great book. Pick it up, read it, love it. For a near perfect crossover story, The Princess Bride receives a 7 out of 10.

By Its Cover: Re-Entry

Re-Entry, by Peter Jordan, is a cherished children’s classic. By far the most popular of Peter Jordan’s picture books, this story follows Floyd McClung, his most beloved protagonist (appearing in over fifteen books). Having lasted the test of time (nearly 50 years!), no doubt many of us remember our parents reading this story at bedtime, and in turn, reading it to our own children. A multi-generational book that weaves both art and story (and the first picture book to be nominated for a Nobel Prize), it is a wonderful compendium of color and life lessons that almost certainly shaped the minds of growing children worldwide and across decades.

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As the cover suggests, this is the lighthearted tale of a boy (Floyd McClung) who makes a transition from missions to life at home. Coming back from his recent space mission with MI6, Floyd fights off the demons of restlessness, boredom, and PTSD, all while learning to adjust to his ‘happy’ life with his mother and father. Will he ever find happiness or purpose since losing his job for insubordination? Can the average, doldrum, lull of pedantic, every day life be fulfilling, or, as he suspects, will he be despaired until death by the meaninglessness of existence? And what about the bullets, the screams, the awful screeches of dying comrades, and the anxiety of his own impending death that wakes him at night? What of his fits which make close relationships near impossible? All of these questions arise along his bright, family friendly journey to find himself after a life of adventure.

It opens on that iconic scene, his reentry to earth. Leaving his former home behind – Moonbase Alpha – he returns home, straddling the tiny rocket between his legs. As we learned in an earlier story, Bye Bye Traitor Travis, the tiny rocket is used exclusively for agents no longer in her majesty’s service. It is a return of shame. He clings for dear life to the rocket with his thighs, carrying his only possessions in the world: His bag with a slice of pizza stuck to the front, and a copy of Christy – the worst book ever written and mandatory reading for all discharged agents.

There’s no need for me to talk about the minute details of the story, its characters, or its ending as, no doubt, everyone has read this book countless times while trying to send their children to dreamland. Hours and hours and hours of reading the same story over and over, slowly dropping your voice to a whisper, gently turning the pages so as to avoid the slightest sound that might pull them from their half-asleep states until TIMMY WALKS IN THE ROOM AND WAKES THEM UP! CONFOUND IT TIMMY THEY WERE ALMOST ASLEEP! NOW I HAVE TO START ALL OVER AGAIN! I TOLD YOU TO WAIT FOR ME IN YOUR ROOM AND I WOULD BE THERE AS SOON AS YOUR BROTHER AND SISTER WERE ASLEEP BUT NOW THE WHOLE NIGHT IS RUINED! NO YOU CAN’T HAVE A GLASS OF WATER YOU STUPID, STUPID BOY! GO! GO TO YOUR ROOM! NOW LOOK! YOUR SISTER IS CRYING AND SHE’S GOING TO BE UP ALL NIGHT FIGHTING OFF HER PTSD! I CAN’T DO IT, I CAN’T READ THAT BLASTED BOOK AGAIN! WHY GOD?! WHY?!

Re-Entry receives a 7 out of 10 for its endless readability and deeply profound message on the importance of properly treating mental illness and finding meaning in more places than your job. If by some chance you haven’t read it, go to your local bookstore, walk to the kids section and LEAVE TIMMY THERE BECAUSE HE WON’T GO TO BED LIKE I’VE TOLD HIM A HUNDRED TIMES ALREADY! YOU JUST USED THE BATHROOM FIVE MINUTES AGO! GET IN BED THIS INSTANT! GO! GO! Go! go! go. go…

By Its Cover: Crash The Chatterbox

Immediately, we are greeted with the phrase New York Times Best-Selling Author which is, frankly, an odd title for a book. As if this weren’t enough of a turn off, the unknown author, Steven Furtick, presents his name just below the title, in a font five times as large. Anyone can see from his shameless display that he’s a total egomaniac, but his arrogance is baseless. It’s not as though he was a Best-Selling author. A man so bold as to highlight his name over the name of the book he’s written is likely undeserving of anyones time.

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As if to provide contrast to his haughty display, the next few words look as though they were scribbled on by Mr. Furtick’s child, showing us that, no matter how great he thinks himself, he has no control over his life or children. What’s more, this phrase that his child has scrawled over his book is Crash The Chatterbox, which, thanks to a recent Q&A by Steven himself (on a low quality book review blog), we know as his child’s self-created cartoon character (picture provided below). Come on, Steve. Get ahold of your life.

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But thus far, I’ve only discussed the cover page. Delving into the meat of the book, the reader is greeted with far more issues. As we can guess from the title, this is the story of a New York Times best-belling author. The story picks up after he’s come to fame, making it clear this is no tale of a man’s climb to success. In fact, this isn’t the story of a man at all. Nor is it the story of a woman. No, Mr. Stevie Wonder has given us a look into the life of a genderless pair of dentures. While this is an interesting enough concept, Sampson Furcoat doesn’t even bother explaining how these dentures came to sentience, how they write, how they became a success, nor does he tell us anything of the authoring world and the challenges it holds for false teeth. Instead, we get a story akin to BoJack Horseman – a look into the life of a dissatisfied star and his search for meaning. This ‘search’ is primarily for God’s voice – which Sambo Furniture is arrogant enough to believe he can accurately emulate. As you may have already guessed, the narrator is God, and his voice is present throughout the denture’s journey. Insert cliché number 28 – you’re never alone, even when you are.

It’s all bogus, from front to back. The characters are shallow and hard to like, and they have no redeeming characteristics. In fact, the only interesting thing in the whole book is that the main character is disabled as it was born with a large chip on one of its upper front teeth. However, this disability isn’t explored, and instead all we get is a self-righteous attempt at marrying dentistry and spirituality – something mankind out to have given up on after the disaster that was Timmy the Tooth Considers Catholicism.

Don’t waste your time on this disaster of a book. Stovetop Funnel-cake’s, New York Times Best-Selling Author (sub titled: Crash The Chatterbox) receives a 7 out of 10 rating for its bizarre premise mixed with its unimaginative and shallow plot. Avoid it at all costs.

By Its Cover: The Way of Kings

Prolific fantasy writer, Brandon Sanderson, tackles his biggest story yet with The Way of Kings. Acclaimed author and rugby player, Brandon Sanderson shows us once more that he’s not one to shy away from a challenge – just as he did on the rugby field all those years ago. Sanderson, talented writer and bongo player, sets out to create a thick, juicy, sirloin world for his writers to bite into. Hardly the first rodeo for this decorated chef and father of nine, Brandon Sanderson accomplishes his goal in this epic novel, and still manages to have his adorable nonuplets in bed by eight. img_2879

What exactly is it that works so well in Sanderson’s book? Is it the strong characters, the handsome characters, or the characters with great ‘personalities?’ The answer is none of the above. What makes this story so strong is Sanderson’s open acknowledgment of the absurdity of the fantasy genre. “Fantasy is for nerds,” Sanderson said in a recent interview with Tome magazine. And he’s absolutely right. Fantasy is for nerds. Filthy, smelly, ugly, fat, socially awkward, acne ridden, voice crackling, video game completionist, greasy-hair-in-need-of-washing, waifu-pillow toting nerds. “You can write anything,” Sanderson goes on to say, “and so long as it’s a couple thousand pages or made in Japan, these fricken nerds will eat it up. It doesn’t even have to be good. I mean, look at Evangelion.” Of course, nobody knows what Evangelion is, nor is anyone willing to look it up, out of fear they be transformed into asthmatic, nearsighted, graphic-t collecting, fandom obsessive, baselessly opinionated nerds.

While not a brilliant story by any means, Sanderson’s concept is so hilariously poignant to the social barrier between normies and nerd-o-s that we can’t help but love him for it. The story revolves around a young man of twenty who frequently finds himself standing alone, cut off by a ‘chasm’ from those around him. At several points throughout the story, this man – who envisions himself dressed in armor, waves a stick (which he calls his sword) to get other’s attention. That’s right. At the core of this story we find a boy playing with a stick. What’s more, we find a boy who can’t differentiate fantasy from reality like some Trek-y, D&D playing, Magic the Gathering collecting, Naruto binging, parent disappointing, hikikomori nerd.

Typical to Sanderson’s style of story telling, this story ends tragically with the sad, pathetic, unsightly, neckbeard-ed, staff wielding, crude artist of dragons on every page of every notebook he’s ever owned, Totino’s pizza for every other meal, Super Smashing, wave-dashing nerd accepting his role as a social outcast and living the rest of his life in his parents basement. This in itself isn’t sad, per-say. Rather, the tragedy is with his parents – two attractive, well adjusted, golf on Saturday, church on Sunday, Honda driving, trendy, productive members of society. These two, near perfect, parents are forever trapped with a man-child who can’t set foot outside, for fear he’ll be affected by anything other than inspirational monologues from Gurren Lagann.

Yes, Sanderson’s story is a down to earth tale about hobbies and day dreams and the dangers they present. Sanderson, favored child of his mother and half-man/half-cyborg hybrid, had this to say about his story, “When I’m in some local book store doin’ some kinda book signing, and I see a filthy, chipmunk cheek, unibrow, Brony, manga reading, War Hammer expert nerd come up to me for my autograph, I’ll punch them right in their dumb, idiot, gross nerd face.”

Let me just say, thank you, Brandon Sanderson. Thank you for voicing the popular opinion like the cool, skateboard dude you are. Thank you for your unabashed bashing of those lowly nerds, reminding us of how important it is to maintain stereotypes and prevent those things which we don’t understand from influencing us. Brandon Sanderson, pro surfer and costar of Straight Out of Compton, receives a 7 out of 10 for his astounding display of confidence in declaring what everyone was already thinking, and doing so in a manner that really puts those nerds in their place.

The Way of Kings, on the other hand, receives a 7 out of 10 for its deep fantasy world that the main character takes way too seriously, and of which I only read forty pages.

By Its Cover: Gulliver’s Travels

Jonathan Swift’s most famous work, Gulliver’s Travels, holds its place in the literary canon as an instant classic. This historical fiction, more history than fiction, recounts the heroic battle of Japanese warriors and farmers as they take down history’s most notorious villain, giant Benjamin Franklin.

fullsizerender-1The story is as old as time itself. Ben Franklin is at the height of popularity when he gets word that Paul Bunyan has razed the west, and is heading straight for Virginia. Attempting to stop the menace, Franklin must enlarge himself to match Bunyan’s stature. While he would emerge victorious, Franklin is soon corrupted by his power, and hungers for more. No longer content with his rule over the west, he sets out to conquer Asia.

As Swift concludes the prologue, he introduces the protagonist, only referred to as The Hunter. The Hunter, history buffs may recall, is a middle aged, cabbage farmer, working under the watchful eyes of the samurai. With the declining popularity of cabbage, The Hunter fears no one will buy his crops come harvest season. Yet, he clings to the hope that cabbage will once again be in high demand.

The Hunter’s fate takes a turn when Benjamin Franklin emerges from the Pacific. As he crosses the landscape, he levels whole cities beneath his feet. Battles are waged against the great creature, all who stand against him are crushed. The Hunter finds himself amidst one battle, as Franklin strides through his cabbage field, ruining his crops. Thus begins a new chapter in The Hunter’s life. Vowing revenge on Benjamin Franklin, he gives up farming and becomes a samurai.

After numerous fights, several political speeches, and a rather bland romance between Benjamin Franklin and The Hunter’s daughter, the infamous battle of Franklin Hill is realized. Failure after failure, the samurai continue to face their enemy, but while their strength weakens, Franklin remains strong and gigantic. Yet, as the dwindling military force goes to meet the terror in this battle, he appears apathetic, and falls under the might of the samurai, now led by The Hunter.

Benjamin Franklin is tied, and The Hunter goes to meet him face to face. The long awaited confrontation is captured beautifully by Swift. He paints the bitter-sweet atmosphere of the victory with expertise. The samurai are victorious, but it is a hollow victory, as Franklin reveals he threw the battle. He is evil, hungry for power, cruel, but above all, in love.

The Hunter struggles against his hatred for Franklin and his love for his daughter, but he finally decides to cut the bonds on Franklin and set him free, much to the dismay of his military. Offering his daughter’s hand in marriage, The Hunter agrees to let Franklin return to America on the condition that he never come back to Japan. Contrary to history, Franklin accepts and goes back to America, where he lives out his life happily with his Japanese bride.

Swift retells the history of giant Franklin in great detail, presenting only (minute) bits of fiction. The happy ending seems a bit forced, as it goes against Benjamin Franklin’s ravenous, blood-thirsty character. However, in the context of the story, it works. Only when compared to historical facts does the ending fail to deliver. As a whole, the story is told beautifully, and it delivers interesting perspective into the life of The Hunter, as well as Benjamin Franklin’s war on Japan.

For an excellent blend of creative liberty and cold, hard facts, Gulliver’s Travels receives a 7 out of 10.

By Its Cover: Armada

Best selling author, Ernest Cline, is at it again with his newest publication, Armada. Breaking focus from his last story, an exhilarating tale of gamers on a treasure hunt, Cline’s new story gives less attention to complex, geeky characters with a love for 80’s pop culture, and instead focuses on several downward-facing triangles of varying shades of green. The main character, a series of white and blue triangles stacked in a pyramid, must face the big blue void alone as it struggles to find meaning in a world consisting of only three colors.

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The tension between the green triangles and the white and blue triangle is apparent from the beginning. They are shown to be in clear opposition of each other as the protagonist fights to move up in the world, while the green arrows keep pushing him down, attempting to preserve their place at the top. However, their struggle to keep things the same is met with equal tension from the white and blue triangle, who continually moves upwards.

At the climax of the story, Cline delivers a twist, revealing the white and blue triangle to be of green descent. Much to the surprise of the enemy, the protagonist displays its long green legs, a genetic gift from its mother. It explains that its mother had once sided with the green triangles, as she had been one herself, but had changed her ways after meeting the protagonists father, a checkered triangle. With this revelation, the green triangles accept the white and blue triangle into their community, allowing it to reach the top. In the end, it is not the protagonists skill and perseverance that lead it to success, but nepotism and racial bias.

Additionally, there is a subplot involving an R and A who constantly upstage a shy M, pushing it behind them. The last A is also in a relationship with a D, but feels smothered and moves out in search of a better spaced, less stylized font on the back cover. Overall, the subplots are unnecessary. The characters are underdeveloped and cliché, and they ultimately add nothing to the main story. Omitting them would have little to no impact.

Armada offers an interesting perspective into the upper-class, and the struggles the lower-class faces while climbing the ladder of success. Painting the cooperate world as a vast, blue wasteland, he presents his anti-capitalist propaganda through the eyes of real, struggling triangles with real, triangular problems.

Breaking the norms, Cline successfully weaves his unique tale, and does so through beautiful fonts and geometry. Despite a few underdeveloped characters and subplots, the main cast more than makes up for these short comings.

Armada receives a 7 out of 10.