How to Train Your Dragon, by Cressida Cowell

How to Train Your Dragon, Book 1
by Cressida Cowell
Narrated by David Tennant
Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III isn’t what you would call a Viking hero, He’s small and scrawny, and prefers scholarly entertainment rather than ruffian ones. However, he is the son of the tribe leader, so he must be a hero. When, in an initiation-to-tribe trial he must find a baby dragon to train, he ends up with the smallest, toothlessest dragon he could imagine. But he must persevere in order to be accepted into his tribe. Little does the tribe know that danger lurks near. 


This was the funniest book I’ve listened to in a long time. And, of course, it’s narrated by David Tennant, which makes it absolutely fantastic. This isn’t just a story for 5th graders, anybody can enjoy it. But don’t expect it to be anything at all like the movie. 

How to be a Pirate
by Cressida Cowell

Narrated by David Tennant
In order to learn to be pirates, Hiccup and his friend Fishlegs learn to sail ships and sword fight. But while sailing, they find, floating in the ocean, a coffin labeled “do not open.” Of course they open it, and when the dead rise, unlikely adventure ensues. I’m really enjoying this series so far. 

How to Speak Dragonese
by Cressida Cowell

Narrated by David Tennant

In this installment, Hiccup and Fishlegs must learn to board enemy ships.  But when they accidentally board a Roman ship, they are kidnapped. They must escape before they are killed in a tournament. Again, fantastically funny with wonderful narration. 

How to Cheat a Dragon’s Curse
by Cressida Cowell

Narrated by David Tennant
In the fourth installment of How to Train your Dragon, Hiccup find out Fishlegs has been bitten by a tiny poisonous dragon. Hiccup must steal the vegetable-that-must-not-be-named from a dangerous nearby tribe in order to save his friend. 

All four were hilarious. I loved Tennant’s narrations. I will certainly pick up the rest of the series soon.

5 stars for all of them


How to Train Your Dragon, Cressida Cowell

How to Train Your Dragon, by Cressida Cowell

Reason for Reading: Trying to keep up with my nephew’s reading. 🙂

Genre: Children’s Fantasy

Review
Hiccup Horrendous Haddock, the famous Dragon-whisperer of lore, had to learn about dragons somehow – and this book chronicles his growing pains. He and a team of similarly-aged kids must capture and train baby dragons in order to be accepted into their Viking clans as adults. They face expulsion if they fail! But Hiccup’s dragon simply isn’t cooperating. First of all, it’s tiny and toothless – which is humiliating for the dragon of the son of the Chief. Second, it has an attitude problem: it refuses to be trained. It looks like Hiccup might be expelled from his Viking clan! But then some sea-dragons emerge from the depths of the ocean – and only Hiccup (well, with help from his dragon and his friends) can save his people. 

This was a hilarious book. My nephew, who isn’t a fan of reading, just gobbled this one up. He even sounds excited to read the next one. 🙂 There are funny pictures drawn throughout the story, and the narration itself is laugh-out-loud funny it a childish way. I really enjoyed this book. 

I also loved the 2010 movie which was VERY loosely based on the book. The basic setting was the same – a Viking boy named Hiccup must save his clan from destruction at the teeth of hungry dragons – but that’s about all that’s the same. In the movie, dragons are creatures to be hunted. They aren’t kept as pets. Both the book and the movie are very cute and very funny. But in order to enjoy both, you need to be the type of person who is willing to accept that just because the plot is different, doesn’t mean the story is bad. (This is difficult for many people to admit!)

James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl

James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl

Reason for Reading: To keep up with my nephew’s book reports

Genre: Children’s Adventure / Fantasy

Review
After the tragic death of his parents, James has been living with his horrible neglectful, hateful aunts Sponge and Spiker. One day James is given a magical bag by a mysterious stranger – and in his excitement he trips on the root of a peach tree and dumps all the magic on the tree. Soon a peach larger than a house has grown out of the tree. James crawls into the peach and begins the adventure of a life-time. 

This is another classic kids story that I read as a child and haven’t picked up since. I’m glad I had a reason to pick it up again, because it was really funny and silly and it had a lot of nostalgia for me. Dahl has just the right amount of humor and whimsy in his books. 🙂



After reading the book, my nephew and I watched the 1996 stop-action movie. It was a cute movie that followed the basic story-line well enough. But it was a bit too sentimental and it lacked the dark humor of Roald Dahl’s story. Cute for an hour’s entertainment, but nothing I’m going to watch again and again. 
 

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl



Written by Roald Dahl and Narrated by Eric Idle

Reason for Reading: I’d watched the two movies with my nephew, who’d just read the book, and I decided that I wanted to know which one was more true to the book. 

Genre: Children’s Fantasy / Humor / Adventure

Review
When Willie Wonka announces that he’s hidden 5 golden tickets to his fantasticly famous, but very mysterious, chocolate factory, Charlie Bucket wishes more than anything that he could be one of the lucky 5 winners. But Charlie is very poor and can not afford to buy any of the chocolate bars that conceal the tickets. Luck knocks unexpectedly, though, and he’s up for the adventure of a life-time with 4 other kids – each of whom has at least one huge personality flaw. Violet Beauregarde is uber-competitive and has a nasty chewing-gum habit, Veruca Salt is spoiled rotten, Mike Teavee is a know-it-all who watches too much TV, and Augustus Gloop is grossly overweight and incredibly greedy. As the eccentric Willie Wonka takes the kids on a wild tour of his factory, each of the kids suffers dire consequences of their flaws. 

This is my FAVORITE Roald Dahl book. Hilarious and fun – and it has a classic movie that makes me even fonder of it. 🙂 I really enjoyed listening to Idle’s fantastic narration of the story – though I wish he’d sung the Oompa Loompa songs instead of just reading them. But no one’s perfect. 🙂 I think I enjoyed this book just as much as an adult as I had as a child. 

My nephew and I compared the two film adaptations. The first was the Gene Wilder version from 1971 and the second was the Johnny Depp version from 2005. I hadn’t seen the classic movie for many years, but I had watched the newer one when it came out. I remember being disappointed in the newer version, but this time around I rather enjoyed it. Yes. It was different than the classic movie, but they were both very interesting interpretations. They both took some artistic license – and each had some stronger points and weaker points. The 1971 version, of course, inserted all that stuff about Arthur Slugworth (not to be confused with Horace Slughorn) and the 2005 version inserted all that stuff about Wonka’s father. Other than that, there were only minor tweaks to the story in either one, and I was surprised to realize that they both were equally true to the book, in their own way.


So, who’s my favorite Willie Wonka? I don’t know! That’s really hard to decide. The character was acted QUITE well both by Wilder and by Depp, though in very different ways. Wilder’s was eccentric in a crazy-scary sort of way. Depp was eccentric in a wacky-vulnerable-creepy sort of way. These were very different interpretations  but I was surprised to realize that they were more similar to each other in some ways than they were to the book character (as read by Idle). Both of Depp and Wilder (especially Wilder) seemed almost to encourage the nasty little kids to misbehave. Willie Wonka of the book seemed mostly unconcerned with the consequences of misbehavior, but seemed to genuinely warn them not to misbehave. 
Charlie Bucket was cute in both movies, and the interpretations of the actors was fairly similar. I think Peter Gardner, of the 1971 version, sparkled just a tab bit more. Look at that cute expression when he finds the ticket. 🙂
Violet Beauregarde was modernized in the 2005 version. She was still the over-competitive gum-chewing brat written by Dahl, but she was the daughter of a win-or-die beauty queen and was totally kick-butt in a losing-isn’t-an-option-because-you’re-better-than-them sort of way. Basically, it’s making fun of a certain stereotype of over-competitive girls that didn’t exist when Dahl wrote the book. So, the Violet of the 1971 version was more true to the kid in the book, but  I could better relate to the stereotype portrayed in the 2005 version – and I think this modernization was spot-on with the message Dahl portrayed in his book.
Veruca Salt was cuter in the 2005 version, but she had SO much more attitude in the 1971 version. Look at that “I want it NOW!” face. Definitely a bad egg.

Mike Teavee was obnoxious in both versions. He was modernized a bit in the 2005 version – he was addicted to video games rather than TV – but their interpretations of the character were pretty similar and I don’t see any reason to think one did a better job than the other.
The first thing my nephew said when he saw Augustus Gloop in the 2005 version is “he’s even fatter in this one!” Indeed, the only character trait Augustus had in the 2005 version is that he was severely obese. To the point of it being a little too much, I feel. Augustus Gloop in the 1971 version is quite fat enough to get the point across, and he has a lot more personality. 

Which movie did you like better, and why?

John Dies at the End, by David Wong

 John Dies at the End

Written by David Wong, Narrated by Stephen R. Thorne

Reason for Reading: Real Life bookclub

Genre: Quirky adult horror


Review
This book is the king of unreliable narration. Presumably, this book is about David and John, two friends in a Midwestern town who need to fight off evil forces when a new drug (soy sauce)  opens a door to a parallel universe. Although it’s clear that David exaggerates a good deal for the sake of story-telling, it is up to interpretation whether David and John are really kicking the EF from PU butt, or if they’re hallucinating. Either way, it’s a wild, crazy, and very humorous ride. The humor is very dark, dry, and sometimes witty. It was my favorite part of the book. The plot was fairly non-existent, though. The book was more about action and weirdness – the story was just too wild to actually have a coherent plot. During the middle of the book, I was starting to regret that it was so long because I’m more of a plot-driven than situational-driven reader. But I’m glad I hung in there, because I got some great laughs and may view the world a tiny bit differently after listening to this book. 

You wouldn’t think this book would lend itself well to audio format, but Stephen R. Thorne did an amazing job. His delivery of the dry humor and action was spot on. I’m happy that I took the risk on audio. 🙂

Something Rotten, by Alan M. Gratz

 Something Rotten

Written by Alan M. Gratz, narrated by Erik Davies

Reason for Reading: I plan on reading a few Hamlet retellings, and this is the first I picked up. (Now if only I would pick Hamlet up again – what’s with me?! I still have two more acts!)



Review
In this hard-boiled teen retelling of Hamlet, Horatio Wilkes spends a summer in the small-town home of his buddy Hamilton Prince. The Prince family runs a paper plant which is currently undergoing scrutiny for pollution. On top of that controversy, Hamilton’s father has just passed away, and his mother just married her dead husband’s brother. When Hamilton gets a video from his dead father claiming that he’d been poisoned, Horatio promises to root out the murderer. Something is rotten in the town of Denmark, Tennessee. 🙂

This little mystery was funny (though neo-noir isn’t my usual type of humor, I still got a few chuckles). The plot is pretty straight-forward if you already know the story of Hamlet, so I felt very little suspense – on the other hand, it was interesting to see how Gratz played around with the story to make it more appropriate to younger audiences. He managed to stay true to the events in the play, but made it more realistic and less tragic. There are a few Shakespeare quotes thrown in which made me roll my eyes and groan, but in a “good” way. 🙂 I’d say this book is appropriate for 11-15 year olds.

Warm Bodies, by Isaac Marion

Warm Bodies, by Isaac Marion

Reason for Reading: Loved the movie and trying to kill reading slump.

Review
R is an above-average-intelligence zombie (he can speak 4-6 syllable sentences!) who is living a doll-drum life in an abandoned airplane – but his un-life gets a sharp slap in the face when he meets Julie, who by all rights he should have eaten. Instead, he takes Julie home and tries to communicate with her. This small act of curiosity on R’s part ignites a chain event of new perceptions. The world must crawl out of it’s stagnant existence and remember what it was to live.

I admit that I watched the movie first. I generally don’t do that, but it just happened that way. I LOVED the movie and had to rush out to get the book. This is one example where I’d say I liked the movie and the book equally. 🙂 Warm Bodies is unquestionably a retelling of Romeo and Juliet (right down to the balcony scene), but it was certainly the most unique retelling I’ve read. Additionally, I interpreted the book as a parody of YA paranormal romance – I took it very tounge-in-cheek. So I got a LOT of laughs while reading it. But what I thought was most interesting was the allegory. The zombies symbolized passionless people who have simply accepted life as directed by the ruling body (Bonies, in this case). And R was a zombie who just couldn’t quite conform. I loved the idea that a renewal of passion (and I don’t just mean romantic passion) could revive R’s potential as an individual. One simple act of individuality could change the course of history. On the other hand, I got a little tired at the end of the book of the cheesy internal dialog (and I DO mean internal dialog and not monologue). I think Marion was laying on his philosophy a little too thick. It would have been much more elegant to leave these philosophical discussions out – anybody who was willing to see Marion’s philosophy would be able to do so without cheesy dialog. But that was my only complaint about this funny, quirky, and delightful story. 🙂