Book Review: Gaiman’s NORSE MYTHOLOGY brings new life

I love reading mythology, and especially the Norse myths. I was first introduced to them as part of a world mythology book I read as a kid. The intricacies of fantasy universes like Redwall and Middle Earth would each serve as a form of mythos for me, providing me with clear moral codes and heroes and beings of immense power to admire and emulate.

A few years ago, I read The Norse Myths, a collection of the mythos collected by Kevin Crossley-Holland, pulling primarily from Snorri Sturluson’s recordings of them in 13th-century Iceland. This annotated compendium exposed me to a much more academic view of mythology, which was just as enthralling as the children’s stories I’d read previously.

This is all to say that Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology is not my first pass at these stories, and it will certainly not be my last. Even still, I cannot emphasize how much pleasure I took from this particular telling

I listened to the audiobook version of this, and I don’t know how anyone can read Gaiman any other way. He is a master storyteller as both a writer and a narrator, and his inflection, his voices, and his enthusiasm for the story enliven everything he narrates. Listening to Gaiman tell a story is like someone lighting a candle in pitch black that illuminates the book in your mind for the first time.

Gaiman presents the Norse myths in a style that is remarkably accessible to the modern reader but does not detract in any way from the power, the wonder, and the downright strangeness of these stories. His chapters are renamed as well to appeal to a modern audience. Rather than regaling us in epic-style prose in “The Lay of Thrym”, Gaiman instead recounts a fireside tale of “Thor’s Journey to the Land of the Giants”, which he describes with a nod both to the hilarity and the foreshadowed danger of Thor allowing Loki to dress him as the goddess Freya in order to trick the powerful giant Thrym.

As is expected with any Gaiman story, the dialogue is punchy and entertaining, and his dry sense of humor permeates both the absurdity and the fatalism of the Norse myths.

By the time the reader reaches “The Last Days of Loki” and “Ragnarok”, the weight of the end times lends greater meaning to Gaiman’s words, and to the hopefulness with which he describes what comes after the end times.

I thoroughly enjoyed this listen and will absolutely be listening to it again… perhaps on a road trip with my kids as part of their introduction to the Norse myths.

Steve D

Book Review: STARDUST, a perfect fairy tale for adults

Stardust by Neil Gaiman, cover illustration, fantasy, fairy tale story, short stories

Stardust is the first book I’ve read by Neil Gaiman, and hearing the Audible version that he narrates was a real treat. Gaiman is one of those authors who I’ve seen a lot of references to online, but I could not have named one of his stories. Now I’m kicking myself for never looking up his work before.

Stardust is an incredibly enjoyable story in an authentic setting. The typical English village of Wall where the story begins feels completely mundane in the best possible way, from the little farmhouses that sit on its outskirts to the tavern where the locals pass gossip and the general store where they place their orders for the proprietor to pick up in the nearest large town.

Sitting just outside the village, however, is a stone wall with a gap in it, which is always guarded by two of the villagers, and which the residents of Wall are not allowed to pass through. Through this gap every nine years comes a market of bizarre beings from the land of Faerie, the land beyond the wall. Tristan Thorn, a young lad from Wall, one day decides that he must journey into Faerie to find a fallen star.

Thus begins Tristan’s journey with an intriguing cast of characters and intricate plot building. Even though there is not a ton of world-building or exposition, the world around Tristan feels like it’s full of history, both everyday and fantastical. Every character speaks and acts with such quirks that you can’t help but think that there are unique stories behind each of them — an incredible example of the writers’ adage that each character is the hero of their own story.

The plot was compelling and the arc of the characters felt very natural. Tristan was quite a savvy protagonist, especially for a teenager who had never left his village before, but I think this is established well enough early in the story that it doesn’t feel out of place.

Gaiman is a wonderful narrator whose cadence enhanced the listening experience, more so because he narrates it in the style in which he intended it to sound. The voices he creates for each character are distinct enough while keeping the listener immersed in the story.

I already have a couple more Gaiman stories queued up on Audible, including his telling of Norse Mythology, which — come on. How can I not read that?

Steve D

Book Review: THE GRAND DESIGN and thinking about the cosmos

I recently finished listening to The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow on Audible. This is one of those books that had appeared in my recommendations, and it seemed like an accessible introduction to physics, cosmology, and quantum theory. Continue reading “Book Review: THE GRAND DESIGN and thinking about the cosmos”

#Review AGENT 355 – Revolutionary spies and one remarkable woman

Agent 355 by Marie Benedict, cover illustration, book review, short storyAnother Audible Original short story!

I recently listened to “Agent 355” by Marie Benedict, the fictionalized story of a New York woman who became an integral part of General Washington’s famed spy ring in and around New York and Long Island. I liked it! Continue reading “#Review AGENT 355 – Revolutionary spies and one remarkable woman”

Book Review: “The Minuteman” versus Nazis in America

The Minuteman by Greg DoanhueThis will be a short review for a short book, but I just wanted to draw attention to another Audible Original: Greg Donahue’s “The Minuteman, The Forgotten Legacy of Nat Arno and the Fight against Newark’s Nazis”.

A brief overview of the life of professional boxer-turned mob enforcer Nat Arno, “The Minuteman” describes how a New Jersey street tough became one of the most outspoken resistor’s of the Nazi presence in the US before World War II. Continue reading “Book Review: “The Minuteman” versus Nazis in America”

Book Review: Diving into H.P. Lovecraft

Back in December I started a 23-hour collection of H.P. Lovecraft’s prose work on Audible. This seemed like a not-crazy idea at the time because I had a forty-minute commute home from work every day.

I’ve been working from home for over two months, which means far less designated audiobook listening time. Anyway, I finally finished this collection last week. This review is not about the work of Lovecraft himself, but more about how this collection was put together and narrated, and what I’ve taken from it as my first true introduction to Lovecraft’s work. Continue reading “Book Review: Diving into H.P. Lovecraft”

Mini Movie Reviews #2: Deceit, Discovery, and Disney

Another week in quarantine, another crop of movies to talk about. Like last week, none of these movies are particularly new, but they once again show a weird range of genres.

Vice, 2018, streamed on Hulu

Christian Bale in Vice (2018)This movie, featuring Christian Bale as Vice President Dick Cheney both before and during his time in the White House, had intrigued me when it first came out, so it didn’t take long for Hulu to convince me to watch it.

Spoiler-free review

This film was really well done. Bale and Steve Carell (as Donald Rumsfeld) were incredible. I also found it funny in an incredibly cynical, laugh-as-the-world-burns kinda way. I always had the feeling that Cheney was the NeoCon mastermind behind the W. Bush administration. If Vice is even partially true, he was more of a shadow-president than I realized.

The Planets, 2019, streamed on Amazon Prime

The Planets (2019)This was a documentary series we found originally produced by the BBC. The US version was narrated by Zachary Quinto, of Star Trek fame, who was fantastic. It took us less than one episode to get hooked.

Spoiler-free review…?

There’s nothing really to spoil here. If you have even a passing interest in science, the universe, or why Pluto is not technically a planet, go watch this series.

Through six episodes, it tells the story of how the worlds in our solar system were formed. Simultaneously, it tells the story of all of the probes and rovers we have used over the decades to get this information. Cassini, Galileo, Voyager; the engineers, scientists, and others who participated in these exploration projects are interviewed throughout the series to discuss what they learned about each planet their spacecraft explored, and what new questions it rose.

Not only do they provide visually stunning computer-generated renderings of what each planet looks like, but they also provide actual footage of each mission, where available. I really can’t rave about this series enough. I want to watch it again.

Frozen II, 2019, rented on Amazon Prime

Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Josh Gad, and Jonathan Groff in Frozen II (2019)We had my son at home for the last two weeks in self-isolation, since there was a chance we had been exposed to COVID-19. All is well, but after working from home with a toddler for two-plus weeks, I cannot count the number of times I have heard the soundtracks of FrozenMoana, and The Lion King, in their entirety over that span.

Don’t get me wrong, all of that music is great, but it was a lot.

We decided to rent both Frozen movies on Amazon Prime last weekend, because I hadn’t seen either, and I felt like I already knew the gist of the stories from the music anyway.

Spoiler-free review

I genuinely enjoy Disney movies, so it’s not hard to convince me to watch one. The first Frozen was good. I can see why it was so popular with kids, and it definitely has some great messages, but nothing about it really jumped out aside from Kristen Bell’s and Idina Menzel’s vocals.

But guys… Frozen II is a great film. The story of how Elsa got her powers and what it means for her and the kingdom of Arendelle is compelling, the story is not quite so predictable as its predecessor, and the artwork is unbelievable. Every scene with rushing water or waves in this film is gorgeous.

Anna still gets her heroic moments while Elsa gets to show off some of her powers, and the other characters are interesting without bogging the movie down. I really enjoyed this, and I wish I had watched it again before our rental expired.

More Recommendations!

I’m really enjoying how many movies and series I’ve had the chance to watch recently. It’s one of my favorite things to do and just haven’t had much chance to do it in recent months. I’m looking forward to a new batch of movies over the coming weeks.

What have you been watching?

Steve D

Mini Movie Reviews #1: Medieval Action and Modern Music Dramedy

I’ve managed to watch a number of movies/documentaries over the last few weeks that I hadn’t seen before. None of them blew me away, but I have some thoughts, so I thought I’d touch on each one.

None of these are particularly new, so many of you may have seen them already, but they were new to me. I’ll share two today and two in the near future. And maybe I’ll have watched even more movies by then, too. Continue reading “Mini Movie Reviews #1: Medieval Action and Modern Music Dramedy”

#Review: “The Price of Inequality” is Heavy on Rhetoric, Light on Much Else

The Price of Inequality: How Today’s Divided Society Endangers Our Future by economist Joseph E. Stiglitz is in many ways a reaction to the Great Recession of 2008 and the US’s response to it.

I listened to this book on Audible, which likely impacts the way I feel about it. In short, I probably could have used the footnotes available in the print version. Continue reading “#Review: “The Price of Inequality” is Heavy on Rhetoric, Light on Much Else”

Book Review: ‘The Hate U Give’ by Angie Thomas, Matters

I just finished listening to The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas on Audible, and I highly recommend it to anyone who cares about modern American society.

A ton of people have read it already, but this book provides a vital window into race relations and socioeconomic issues in the US — in how they impact one family. Continue reading “Book Review: ‘The Hate U Give’ by Angie Thomas, Matters”