As You Wish

AsYouWish

I don’t read much non-fiction. What can I say, I like stories. But As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes (Westley) with Joe Layden is a first class example of the best kind of non-fiction. It tells the story of real-life events.

Who doesn’t love The Princess Bride? It’s one of the greatest films ever. It turns out the magic we all saw on the screen was largely a result of some magic happening behind-the-scenes. The perfect script, director, cast, and crew all converged to create something special. And you don’t have to take just Elwes’s word for it. The main narrative from Elwes is broken up often by anecdotes from all of the film’s surviving cast members. Every last one of them looks back at the making of this picture as a highlight not just of their careers, but of their lives.

As You Wish is non-fiction but I flew through it like it was a compelling novel. I recommend this one, and my friend Will says it’s even better in audiobook. Regardless of which format you choose to read it in, have fun storming the castle.

The One and Only Ivan

TheOneAndOnlyIvan

I kept seeing The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate everywhere: the children’s section of the library, book stores, my library’s ebook website… One of the items on my bucket list is to read all of the Newbery Medal books and this book won that award in 2013 so I gave it a try.

I see why it won.

The One and Only Ivan is a silverback gorilla who lives in a shopping mall. In the middle of the mall, next to the food court, is a circus where shows are performed three times a day. Ivan paints pictures with crayons and finger paints and the mall gift shop sells them for twenty-five dollars framed. Ivan’s best friend is Stella, an elephant who lives in the domain (not cage) next door. One day a new baby elephant, Ruby, arrives.

Not long after that, Stella asks Ivan to make a promise.

This was a great story. I really loved it. I’m sure my kids will love reading it, too. I already plan to assign it to my two oldest for the upcoming school year. I also loved that it had a very balanced, pragmatic environmental message: animals don’t belong in cages, but there are very good zoos that take good care of animals and do good things for them.

Armada

ArmadaIt’s inevitable that Armada will be compared to Ready Player One. It’s Ernest Cline’s follow-up to that novel, it’s also about video games, it’s also liberally peppered with 80s references, it’s also about a young male protagonist coming of age. So here’s my comparison: it’s not as good as Ready Player One.

Now that the obligatory comparison is out of the way: Armada is one heck of a novel. I don’t want to say a word about the plot because the less you know going in, the better. Just know that it will give every SF trope in the book a turn in the spotlight, either to celebrate its greatness or to completely deconstruct it. And though the ending felt rushed, it was every bit as epic as the build-up to it demanded that it be.

I really loved this book. Highly recommended. Now I’m off to reconstruct and listen to Zack’s “Raid the Arcade” playlist.

Peter and the Starcatchers

Normally, for a book series I like, I’ll read one, then read other things, then come back to the next one in the series. But over the past two weeks, I decided to binge-read and finish the Peter and the Starcatchers series by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson.  Before this, I’d read — and thoroughly enjoyed — the first two books, Peter and the Starcatchers and the amazing Peter and the Shadow Thieves.

First up was Peter and the Secret of Rundoon, the final chapter in Barry and Pearson’s original trilogy about the origins of Peter Pan, Captain Hook, and Neverland. As seems to be common for me, I thought the final chapter of the trilogy waned a bit. This is my least favorite of the entire series, by far. I felt one of the most interesting plot threads (and I’m being vague about which one because my beloved Rose hasn’t read this yet) was only superficially addressed and left unresolved. Also, it was only when I finished the book that I realized the moment where Peter stopped the villain from carrying out a plot wasn’t just that, but was supposed to be that villain’s ultimate defeat.

Thank goodness the series didn’t stop there, because the next installment, Peter and the Sword of Mercy was fantastic, my definite favorite in the series. Set 20-some years after Secret of Rundoon, this installment showed old characters grown up and provided the first appearances of new ones: most notably Wendy, John, and Michael Darling. It felt like a celebration of everything that was great about the first three books while also being a worthy sequel and an epic adventure.  I couldn’t have asked for more.

The ending of Sword of Mercy would have been a fitting ending to the series, but thank goodness Barry and Pearson added Bridge to Neverland.  The authors say right in the Acknowledgments at the beginning of the book that they wanted to do something “different” with this one and boy did they ever.  Again, I don’t want to post spoilers because my wife hasn’t read this yet and she’s this blog’s #1 reader and fan, but what I kept telling her as I read this, over and over, was, “This is insane.  This is insane!”  And I said it all with a gleam in my eye as I delightfully dug into the next chapter.

Overall the Starcatchers series was absolutely wonderful and I can’t recommend it highly enough.  The series doesn’t always mesh perfectly with Disney’s animated Peter Pan or with JM Barrie’s source material, but I don’t care because this series is, to me, the definitive story of one of the greatest fairy tale characters of all time.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One had been on my geek radar for a long time but I’d never read it.  The recent news that Steven Spielberg just might direct the film adaptation reminded me of this oversight, so I spent three days correcting it.

Uh, wow!

I had to add this book to my list of all-time favorites as soon as I finished it.  I loved everything about it.  The final battle inside the OASIS was just awesome.  But then came the final scene of the entire book, and that was “I can’t carry the Ring but I can carry you” level awesome.

It looks like I’ll be reading Cline’s next book, Armada, pretty much as soon as it comes out later this year.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

If Neil Gaiman has published a bad book, I haven’t read it yet. I really liked this one and I think my wife will, too. I also recently read Gaiman’s The Day I Traded My Dad For Two Goldfish to my children and we all enjoyed it.

When I was in high school I met Gaiman at a signing at a comic book store. I asked him what the (then not yet published) Sandman story The Kindly Ones would be about and he said, “That’s the nasty one.” He signed my copy of Good Omens, “To Mike — have a NICE doomsday.” I still remember how big he smiled, and how warm and friendly he was, and how it somehow surprised me that the author of Sandman would be that way.