ivy-treeBook Review:  The Ivy Tree by Mary Stewart A young woman is relaxing and daydreaming with her back against Hadrian’s wall in scenic Northumberland when her peaceful afternoon is shattered by an angry young man who yells the name Annabel and proceeds to threaten her.  She manages to convince him that she is not the cousin who ran away eight years ago, and his anger transitions into careful consideration.  The resemblance is so uncanny and their meeting so timely that he rapidly forms a plan, which he assures her will benefit both of them while hurting no one.

Mary allows herself to be persuaded. Mary’s conscience threatens the perfect plan, almost from the start.  She finds that what she agreed to is much harder to do once she’s among the people Annabel cared about — and who cared about Annabel.  Why did Annabel run away?  And how far will Con go to keep Mary in line?

There’s more than one mystery afoot in this novel and I can promise you that if you read it, you’ll do exactly what I’m doing now — re-read it to fully appreciate Stewart’s subtlety.  I love it when an author can legitimately surprise me.  For the most part, Stewart gives the reader everything needed to see the whole picture — for the most part.  She did cheat, just a bit, I think with one scene and slipped in another.  But the bulk of it is right there, if one is quick enough to spot it.  And it’s beautifully written — Stewart has an easy narrative style, and a gift with description.  Atmospheric suspense at its best.  Highly recommended.

April 23rd is Shakespeare Day, the day when all of the fans of literature the world over celebrate the man who brought us so many archetypal and memorable characters and stories that we are still performing, studying, and enjoying them nearly 400 years after his death.  In order to celebrate the Bard my own way, I’ve decided to recommend a few interesting adaptations of his plays into the world of film.  However, a simple article would not suffice to honor this man, so what I bring are several movie recommendations in verse!  Hopefully you’ve brushed up on your pentameter because it’s about to get iambic up in here.  Without further ado, a few choice film adaptations of Shakespeare:


Much Ado About Nothingmcuhado

While Whedon’s name gets thrown around most oft

When speaking of Avengers and the like,

He used that film’s success to float aloft

His passion projects; This film quite unlike

his many sci-fi works is rather plain,

occurring at his richly furnished manse.

Chromatic’ly, it features only ane,

Which lends a classic air to the romance.

With script well crafted by The Bard’s own hand.

It lends itself to modern film quite well,

This prototype for RomCom hijinks, and

A cast which quickly charms you with its spell.

Alexis Denisof plays Benedick,

Whose face from Angel you may recognize,

And Amy Acker stars as Beatrice,

Another Joss alum; what a surprise!

The physicality here really shines,

And laughs are more abundant than you’d think.

Except for several slightly altered lines,

The dialogue stays true to Shakespeare’s ink.

If William’s work has left you once bemused,

Try this; I bet you’ll find yourself amused!

Tromeo and Juliet


For those who fancy shlock, I give to you

The strangest adaptation through and through.

Lloyd Kaufman and his Troma troop regale

The audience with content to assail

The sense of decency.  But in this mess

of bovine beasts and punk rock tone of dress

There’s something purely Shakespeare in a way.

The Bard was quite a rock star in his day,

Performing not in front of royal chairs

But in the streets where peasants baited bears.

His plays, although they featured priests and kings,

Were bloody, bawdy, really ribald things.

This film seeks to offend, but in good fun,

And manages to gross out everyone.

The writer’s name be damned? A fallacy!

He just helmed Guardians of the Galaxy!

The screenplay earned him merely fifteen tens,

But I would say he made out in the end.

If in the mood to cringe and shake your head,

Say to this star-crossed film, “I do thee wed.”


The Lion King


Though Hamlet sounds like it refers to Babe,

To Simba’s story it donates its plot.

As murd’rous uncle takes his unearned throne,

The rightful prince absconds o’er grassy wabe,

And finds comfort in Hakuna Matat-a

Adage of friends Pumbaa and Timon,

Not he of Athens, merely meerkat here

And warthog; Guildenstern and Rosencrantz

To guide our hero out of his despair.

Though Disneyfied, some scenes are flush with fear

Like goosestepping hyenas’ song and dance,

But Simba’s madness never comes to bear,

Nor Nala follow in Ophelia’s fate.

One excised song links Scar to Claudius

Who aims to claim his brother’s wife as well.

Now Simba swoops in to reclaim his state

More regal now than young and haughty cuss,

More hero than his tragic parallel.

If you think Shakespeare needed a baboon,

Then grab your kids and watch this great cartoon!




To some, it’s Kurosawa’s masterpiece,

Adapted from the tragedy King Leer.

A royal tale where squabbles never cease,

Between backstabbing brothers; Father dear

Divides his kingdom, but does not foresee

The ruthless countenance within each son

That he has bred through ruling cruelly,

The method same by which his power won.

The warlord’s makeup serves to underline

That he displays Noh softer tendency.

In chaos, man lets go of the divine

Succumbing to the clouds of lunacy.

Whilst stronger is the arrow three-in-one,

With time all plans of men are come undone.

Have I evoked any of those high school classroom headaches?  Be that as it may, if you’ve read this far it means I’ve successfully gotten you to read a sonnet on Shakespeare Day.  If you don’t wish to read any verse until next year, I completely understand.

What’s your favorite film adaptation of a Shakespeare play?  Are there any movies you loved that unknowingly turned out to be derived from Shakespeare?  Let us know in the comments below!  As always, if you enjoyed the read, please share this with your friends.


Adventures of Augie March

The 15-Minute Pulitzer

The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow is way better thought of than I realized.  I went into Bellow’s book esteeming it as only a “near-Pulitzer” (no Pulitzer Prize for Fiction was awarded in 1954, but Bellow’s book was one of six that were suggested), an early work by a soon-to-become eminent writer given minimal notice by a divided public and Pulitzer jury.  IT WON THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FOR FICTION IN 1954!  It’s been listed by Time and the Modern Library Board as residing within the best 100 novels written in English!  Boy!  Am I ever glad I liked it.  It makes me feel like I’ve got some amount of taste and critical instinct.

I began with low expectations, OK, but before I had finished the novel — a long one let me tell you at 536 pages — I was formulating semi-positive thoughts about it.  I came into this blog and wrote three words, “wordy”, “yet”, and “incisive”, and to those three words, that should actually be read as a phrase, I hold.  Truthfully, some of Bellow’s sentences left me in the dark.  The syntax was conflicted and the grammar was questionable, but it felt like a choice, part of his voice.  So, I pressed past that occasional sentence and mined the novel for its more comprehensible bits, and in the end, I was won over to Bellow.  I hadn’t been sure how I’d feel about him for a long time.  I mean he’s a very decorated literary figure, but then, so is Faulkner (Bwahaha!) and I have yet to crack one of his “classics” since college.   Anyway, I look forward to reading more of Saul’s books, though I need to finish these Pulitzer and not-so-Pulitzer books first.   These things take time.  Someday I will have more of that commodity … someday after I get past the Faulkner Pulitzers … and, oh yeah … he won two … big surprise, huh?

I laughed!

Wicked, My Love, by Susanna Ives, was a breath of fresh air. At last, a 9781402283604_p0_v2_s260x420book with humor in it! Before I continue, let me preface all of this by saying comedy/humor/funny is very subjective and what tickles one person’s funny bone will only make another person groan disgustedly. Wicked My Love is the second book in Ms. Ives’ Wicked Little Secret series, and I confess I sort of forgot the first book, although I did read it. So, when I had a laugh-so-hard-I-cried moment in the beginning of this book, I stopped. I was a little afraid that having laughed so hard at the beginning I might run into problems later — so I checked out my review of her other book and then I remembered. I remembered there were a few what I call Jerry Lewis syndrome moments in that book (that is not knowing when to stop), so I crossed my fingers. I have to say that Ms. Ives’ writing has entered a new level. Was it silly? Was it farcical? Was the humor sometimes over the top? Yes, yes and yes, but I smiled alllll the way through the book because not only was there some funny stuff in this book but the characters were more than just something to bounce humor off of. Both Isabella and Randall were well-developed, interesting characters, and that proved a counterbalance to some of the silliness. It was a very enjoyable book.

Isabella and Randall have known each other since they were children, and as children there was a strong animosity between them — they just didn’t get along. Always trying to get the better of each other, always trying to be the one who is right. That doesn’t change much as they grow older; however, now there is sexual tension just below the surface. Isabella is a shy person. She keeps all of her emotions bottled up inside and she believes that at 29 she will never have a fulfilling life. That fulfilling life includes a husband and children. She has a mind that understands finance, and through the encouragement of her aunt Judith she has written a bestselling book. Now this book has made her sort of a folk hero to a lot of women; in fact she has quite a fan base. However, because of her shyness she is not all that eager to meet her fans, and sometimes she is embarrassed with their enthusiasm. She is also a partner in a banking venture and one of her partners is Randall.

Randall, on the other hand, is all about emotions. He is a politician, and he just exudes charm. He comes to Isabella for some help in saving his career, and along the way they team up to find out who is passing fraudulent bonds. However, that plot is only an excuse to get these two together for a fun adventure. Along the way we get to meet a variety of great supporting characters, especially Isabella’s maiden Aunt Judith. Aunt Judith isn’t all that fond of men. She has founded the Mary Wollstonecraft Society Against the Injurious Treatment of Women Whose Rights Have Been Unjustly Usurped by the Tyrannical and Ignorant Regime of the Male Kind. She has educated Isabella in the ways of a woman’s “sacred vessel” and a “man’s dangly parts.” So, Isabella’s outlook on biology is a tad bit slanted — but don’t worry, Randall helps her sort through most of it.

If you want a laugh or two you should pick up Wicked My Love. But, I think you will get more than just a few guffaws. This book has a very delightful couple in Isabella and Randall. Even with all of the chortles there are some emotional depths explored by both Isabella and Randall by the end of this tale. Wicked My Love was a pleasure to read.

Time/Place: 1847 England


The Tin DrumThough, one could say, I’ve had plenty of time, I’ve never read a book by Gunter Grass, who passed away this week.  I did once famously buy my friend, Dave, a copy of Grass’ best-known first novel, The Tin Drum, while on a walking tour of Chicago’s Wrigleyville.  (Dave, in return, bought me a copy of Graham Greene’s Monsignor Quixote if I remember correctly.)  Dave did not finish Grass’ book.  It is quite a tome, and I think he got frustrated with the stubborn banging of that drum (I’m being literal here) by the small child main character asserting himself in a world in the process of going mad.

I’ve only seen the movie, which I recommend.  As a piece of film I found it rather satisfying in its magical realistic depiction of the rise of Nazi Germany and all of those it gathered unto itself.  Besides, it’s only 2 or 3 hours long.  Not so with the book, though I do intend to read something by Gunter someday (I’ve still got time) who has left quite a legacy of grim moralization about the depravity that was the Nazis, revitalization of German literature with his 30 or so novels, plays, and poetry collections, and has been described as a “moral icon.”  Not to mention, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1999 and could claim to have influenced both John Irving and Salmon Rushdie.  I will probably go for The Tin Drum and perhaps the other two books comprising his “Danzig Trilogy” for a start on the coming review of his body of work in light of his death and the significant 2006 revelation about how he voluntarily enlisted with Nazi Germany’s military near the middle of WWII.  (That disclosure resulted in another pronouncement; “the end of a moral institution.”)

Now, perhaps, readers can begin to get perspective on Grass’ decision to enlist, his late-in-life-confession, and his body of work as an objective, finished entity that stands on its own.  I don’t know if that’s really my personal aim in reading Grass.  I just want to know something more about his writing.  Besides, that “objective review” of Grass’ legacy may be more under the next-next generation’s ambit.  And, as a man who just celebrated yet another birthday, aren’t they coming along so fast?  I’m sure they’ll be up to the challenge.

Unread Book“, a parody of Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” was created by Pogona Creative and the Orange Public Library in association with Chapman University.  Love this!

Question:  Is it just me or does the Guybrarian look like Neil Patrick Harris?

Here’s a quick look at some books we’ve recently added to the collection.  Something catch your eye?  Click on a book cover to check availability — it’s as easy as that!

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100 years  Frank Robinson  Gil Hodges
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