Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

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In 2012, a survey revealed that 28% of all Young Adult books (conventionally categorized as fiction for 12-17 year-olds) was purchased by adults aged between 30 and 44. I thought this was a fascinating sign of the times (Gen-X anyway); like forty-year old cosplayers at Comicon or CEOs skateboarding to work or hipster moms folding up their Bugaboo strollers before jumping into the mosh pit. None of us want to grow up!

* CONTAINS SPOILERS

THE BOOK
Adapted from J.M. Barrie’s play of the same name, Peter Pan is the much beloved story about a boy who refuses to grow up. We meet Peter and his fairy friend, Tinker Bell, thanks to the three Darling children: Wendy, John and Michael. When Peter comes to the Darling home one night to retrieve the shadow he left behind, the children awaken and he convinces them to fly with him to Neverland so that Wendy can become his mother. On the mysterious island, the Darling children are introduced to the Lost Boys, a rascaly band of five who have lost their parents, and eventually the children form their own family. The Darling children enjoy many adventures while on Neverland, including encounters with mermaids, the Piccaninny native tribe and a gripping confrontation with Peter’s archenemy, Captain Hook and his gang of pirates. Eventually the Darling children realize they have been away from home for too long and decide to return to their parents. Peter promises Wendy he will come back once a year for her, but he often forgets and one day when he returns to the Darling household, he is devastated to discover that Wendy has grown up.

THE MOVIE
A favourite from my childhood, I thought I would introduce the kids to the classic Disney adaptation of Peter Pan from 1953. The movie sticks closely to the original story, although unfortunately this includes some of the cringe-worthy sexist and racial stereotyping. I was worried about some of the violence, but felt the level was acceptable for my kids. As a musical, the movie is very entertaining and includes the very popular “You Can Fly” which my enchanted kids into wishing they could fly too. I thought it was interesting that in the opening credits, Disney acknowledges that the J.M. Barrie bequeathed the rights to Peter Pan to the Hospital for Sick Children in London.

THE GOOD
Unlike some other children’s classics I have read as an adult, I relished Peter Pan’s energy and contagious spirit of adventure both in the book and the movie. Now that we’ve watched the movie, I can’t wait to read the book with my kids.

THE BAD
What stood out for me the most in Peter Pan was how Wendy Darling immediately took on a domestic role for all of the males. She was not only expected to be a motherly figure, telling bedtime stories and tucking Lost Boys into bed, but a housekeeper. Sometimes she never leaves the Neverland home because she’s too busy mending and misses out on some of the gallivanting Peter and the boys enjoy. Wendy happily takes on this role, but I suspect it is only because she hopes to win Peter’s love. Of course, Peter is too immature and busy being irresponsible to notice. At least in the movie, Wendy is not depicted in this manner.

CONCLUSION
Hard to believe over a hundred years after its publication in 1911, Peter Pan continues to excite the imagination of both young and old with the idea of a never-ending childhood. Although Peter Pan is a delightful classic book written for children, I think it can be enjoyed both by kids and grown-ups. What kid wouldn’t want to live on an island, swimming with mermaids and fighting pirates, with no adults and no expectation to grow up? Heck, what adult wouldn’t?

3/5 Stars

I read and watched Peter Pan as part of Doing Dewey’s Books 2 Movies Challenge.

Landline by Rainbow Rowell

landline

I always wonder whether it’s a good idea to start with a new-to-me author’s latest novel or go with one of their popular, older novels. I’ve been curious about Rainbow Rowell and Eleanor and Park, in particular, but new releases are always in my face and ready to go at the library. So here we go with Landline!

* CONTAINS SPOILERS

THE STORY
Georgie McCool has always wanted to be TV sitcom writer and she’s living that dream in Los Angeles alongside her long-time best friend, Seth. She works long hours and sometimes has to break her promises. Unfortunately, this does not sit well with her husband, Neal, who is a stay-at-home dad to their two daughters. When an opportunity arises for Seth and Georgie to create their own TV show, Georgie decides not to travel with her family to Omaha for Christmas with Neal’s parents. As a result, an emotional rift that had been threatening her and Neal for some time rips wide open. In a huff, Neal takes the kids and leaves Georgie behind. Devastated, Georgie starts to unravel emotionally. Has Neal left her? Is her marriage over? She desperately tries to reach him by phone but can’t get through. Georgie flees to her mother’s home and hides in her former bedroom to obsess over her marriage. Here she find her old, yellow phone and soon discovers that when she dials his number, the phone magically connects her with Neal. But not her forty-something husband, the much younger Neal she dated in college!

THE GOOD
The first half of Landline is quite funny, as Seth, Georgie and their sidekick, Scotty, work frantically on scripts for their secret TV show presentation. Georgie and Seth’s friendship is the highlight of the book for me. Seth would immediately raise any sensible girl’s red flag, as he is attention hungry, vain and snarky, and yet I still adored him and loved his banter with Georgie. The book subtly suggests that Seth has always had romantic feelings for Georgie and at one stage, I thought he actually might be a better match for her than Neal.

THE BAD
The novelty of a magical telephone was underwhelming for me. Georgie could have easily reminisced about her relationship with Neal without it. But thanks to that phone, young Neal and Georgie speak quite frequently resulting in pages and pages of what I call “young love conversation”, as in when couples have nothing left to talk about, but don’t want to hang up and just speak drivel. Bored me to tears!

CONCLUSION
Landline was a good story and there were many things I liked about it, such as the humour and pop culture references to 80s and 90s TV shows, and Georgie’s friendship with Seth as mentioned above. Georgie is a hopelessly overwhelmed working mom who wanted to do better by her family, and for this reason I found her character likeable in the beginning. However, I quickly grew tired of her floundering and inability to get her act together. And while I appreciated her comedic last-ditch attempt to save her marriage, save Christmas, etc., even getting a bit choked up reading the ending, I had emotionally checked out of Landline many many chapters ago.

3/5 Stars

Did you like Landline? What Rainbow Rowell books have you read?

Claudine by Barbara Palmer

claudine

I have to admit that some of the allure about Claudine is the mystery surrounding the author. Barbara Palmer is a pseudonym and chosen by the author because she wished to distinguish Claudine from her famous body of work. She chose Barbara Palmer after a famous English courtesan who was the mistress and confidant of King Charles II. Her decision also seems to be a nod towards the traditional use of pseudonyms by classic erotica authors.

Otherwise, we are simply left with this description of her: …“a bestselling, international award-winning Canadian novelist whose work has been published in many countries.”

I’m going to go out on a limb and say I think it is Margaret Atwood.

* CONTAINS SPOILERS

THE STORY
By day, Maria Lantos is a pretty and intelligent grad student working on her erotic literature thesis at Yale. But away from campus, she transforms into the glamourous call girl known as Claudine, jet-setting around the world to satisfy the sexual appetites of her clients. The keepers of her secret include her gruff business manager/bodyguard, Andrei, and petite stylist, Lillian. Both are fiercely loyal to Claudine and to helping to protect her identity. However, Claudine’s tragic past as a Romanian orphan comes back to haunt her when the body of a prostitute that looks like her turns up, the police begin poking into her affairs and worst of all, she begins to receive anonymous threats by text. Claudine is troubled by this disruption to her life, but she refuses to let anything get in the way of her dreams. She continues her double life and even allows a handsome professor at the university to woo her. Claudine is determined to have it all, but at what cost?

THE GOOD
Like all good erotica or romance novels, Claudine is pure escapism. The story provides a tantalizing and richly detailed look into the life of a high-class courtesan as she travels to exotic destinations, parties with the stinking rich and engages in (many many) sexual acts that will make you go “hmm”. Men and women can’t get enough of Claudine and vicariously experiencing their insatiable desire for this woman certainly made for a sizzling reading experience.

THE BAD
Claudine is dedicated to author, Joseph Kessel, and his novel, Belle du Jour, which is about a happily married, but sexually frustrated housewife named Séverine who joins a brothel and gets to act out her deepest fantasies. In comparison, I can’t help thinking of how the dramatic tension of how and when Séverine’s secret will be discovered is missing from Claudine’s story. Since almost everyone, including her mother, knows that she is a call girl, Claudine doesn’t have much to lose so what does it matter? Also, while Séverine enters the dangerous world of prostitution to seek sexual fulfillment, Claudine is driven by a need for power over men and, of course, the all-mighty dollar. She becomes less of a sympathetic character when you know she hopes to fornicate her way to fortune.

CONCLUSION
While Claudine is full of sexually explicit scenes, there are plenty of tender moments for romantics too. For someone who is worshipped by countless men, I liked that Maria/Claudine realized in the end that she wanted to be loved by one person who was special to her. In her National Post article about the history of erotic novels, Barbara Palmer discusses how women both in the past and in the present flock to erotic romance to get some much needed stimulation in our monotonous sexual and emotional lives. Readers certainly can’t avoid being stimulated when reading Claudine, but the experience also includes the pleasure of falling in love.

3.5/5 Stars

NOTE: I received a review copy of Claudine thanks to Penguin Canada, but this in no way influenced the thoughts and opinions expressed in my review.

What are your thoughts on erotic romance novels?

A Beautiful Truth by Colin McAdam

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By coincidence, I watched Rise of the Planet of the Apes shortly after finishing A Beautiful Truth. In both cases, chimpanzees are held in cages and used by scientists conducting medical research for “the greater good”, as in the hope of finding a cure for human diseases. After reading A Beautiful Truth, I felt baffled, sad and depressed. Somehow Rise of the Planet of the Apes with its tale of intelligent chimps revolting against cruel and stupid humans was just the balm I needed at the time.

* CONTAINS SPOILERS

THE STORY
A Beautiful Truth criss-crosses between different narratives. Mostly we follow the story of Walt and Judy, a Vermont couple who are unable to have children and adopt a chimpanzee they name Looee. As Looee grows up, he learns how to act like a person and he wears clothes, eats with a knife and fork and watches TV. The question of whether they are doing the right thing weighs on them, but Walt and Judy can’t imagine life without Looee. The second story readers follow takes place at the Girdish Institute in Florida, a medical research facility where a number of chimpanzees are held. Sometimes the story is told from the perspective of the chimps as they interact as a colony in an outside enclosure or from the cages they inhabit inside the facility. The chimps have their own unique dialect and way of describing the world they see. At other times, one of the facility’s staff will tell the story, such as Dr. David Kennedy, a scientist who is determined to prove chimpanzees can learn language and are capable of empathy. However, with all their good intentions, whether in a loving home or subjects in a research project, chimpanzees living to such an extreme degree away from their natural environment are not destined for a happy ending.

THE GOOD
What I enjoyed about A Beautiful Truth is the touching story of how Walt, Judy and Looee became a family.  In their eyes, Looee was their son and a person. Looee taught Walt and Judy how much they are alike despite being different species. It was a pleasure reading about their lives together and how Looee lived day-to-day. Imagining a chimp eating spaghetti, watching Blue Lagoon and going hunting with Walt made me smile.

THE BAD
I have a really bad habit of skimming book descriptions. For some foolish reason, I thought the story was only about Walt, Judy and Looee. I wasn’t prepared to read about the chimps at the research facility. Yes, I could have stopped reading the book, but I didn’t and that’s my bad. It was heartbreaking to read how much stress the chimps endure between trying to survive a vicious existence with other chimps and the violation of medical tests. In one part of the book, a chimp is so broken he just lies down and holds out his arm for the needle.

CONCLUSION
What is the truth author Colin McAdam wants us to glean from A Beautiful Truth? I think he wanted us to see that humans and chimpanzees have more in common than we realize. But truthfully (no pun intended), I don’t think he was entirely successful with this odd mishmash of narratives and strange descriptions like Looee moans “like a woman surprised by how good something feels” or the chimp tried to put his penis on her face “like husbands do to wives on their birthday”(!). When you read a book about a chimp maiming the humans that love him because he can’t hold back his true nature or healthy chimps injected with HIV that become chronically sick in the name of science there is no beautiful truth; only that the truth sucks.

My apologies, I realize this is depressing. Writing this review makes me relive the experience of reading the book. Again, it’s my own fault for reading the whole thing. I badly hoped there would be a Hollywood moment where Walt, Judy and Looee would be reunited as a family. Nope.

2/5 Stars

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

murakami

If I were to tweet a summary of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki And His Years Of Pilgrimage in 140 characters it would go something like this:

Young man is dumped by high school friends resulting in heartbreak and self-esteem issues. Spends rest of novel feeling sorry for himself.

I know I’m being harsh and in no way do I want to make light of suicidal feelings or depression, but it was difficult for me to connect with the main character despite his justifiable misery.

* CONTAINS SPOILERS

THE STORY
When he is a young man in college, Tsukuru Tazaki is inexplicably cut off from his tight-knit group of high school friends. He is devastated, but has no clue why his friends no longer want to see him. Years go by and Tsukuru suffers from depression and low self-esteem. He has no friends, but gets by with work and his weekly swims. While swimming, he meets Haida and they quickly become good friends, but even that friendship is not meant to last. It isn’t until he is in his thirties and his girlfriend convinces him that Tsukuru decides to meet his old high school friends and finally understand their actions from sixteen years ago.

THE GOOD
Um, the cover? Actually, there is a very good story within this story about a young man working at a mountain resort who meets an old man who is going to die. However, it wasn’t clear to me what the purpose of the story is meant to be because it doesn’t lead to anything.

THE BAD
Tsukuru feels sorry for himself through the whole book and it turned me off his character. I commiserate with the loss of his friends and the depression he suffered, but didn’t he consider that if he stopped navel-gazing for a minute, he might make some new friends? He didn’t even bother to delve into the mystery of why his friends cut him off until his girlfriend refused to have sex with him. Overall, it was hard for me to relate to Tsukuru with his weird sexual dreams and emasculating thoughts.

CONCLUSION
As I read Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki And His Years Of Pilgrimage, I kept hoping something would happen to redeem the story in my eyes and there were times when I thought that might happen, such as when Tsukuru surmised that he might have a darker self out in the world. But for all the symbolism and occasional beautiful phrase in Colorless, I found this book boring and a disappointing first experience with Murakami. But I won’t stop here. I’ve heard too many good things about his writing not to want to try another book.

2.5/5 Stars

What book by Haruki Murakami should I try next?