The World According to Bob

Written By: James Bowen

Published By: Thomas Dunne Books

Reviewed By: Melissa Minners

               Years ago, I learned about a man who credited his street cat rescue for saving his own life.  James Bowen truly believed that he and his cat Bob were meant to meet.  Bowen was at an all-time low, getting high on heroine and busking for his next score.  Bob was a street cat who accidently found his way into James’ life.  Taking Bob in was the catalyst that helped turn James’ life around and the two thrived in each other’s company, James eventually getting off the drugs and finding steady work and Bob learning what it was like to be an indoor/outdoor cat.  James even wrote a book about it and A Street Cat Named Bob became a bookstore sensation, becoming the inspiration for a movie with the same name.  But that couldn’t be the end of James and Bob’s story, right?

               In The World According to Bob, we learn that James had more stories to tell about his adventures with Bob.  In this book, we learn just why James was willing to accept an offer to write a book about his and Bob’s life and relationship.  James was growing tired of the perils of life out on the streets.  The responsibility he felt for Bob, which had already helped James give up drugs, was once again inspiring James to make some improvements in his life.  He knew that selling The Big Issue and busking weren’t going to bring in a steady income, especially when emergencies arose that could keep him from working the streets.  James faced the daunting, and sometimes embarrassing, task of writing about some of the lowest points in his life and how a former street cat helped him rise up and take control of his life.  Would people take to his tale or would he fail once again at a venture he was starting to truly believe in?

               The World According to Bob is proof that one can never hear enough stories about James and Bob’s life together.  One might think that this book is a copy of the original with a few new tales added in, but except for some explaining regarding how he and Bob met, James Bowen offers his readers new insight into their lives and how things weren’t perfectly rosy once he quit drugs and started selling The Big Issue.  There was definitely more to the story and James gives us the high and low points with the same humility he offered up in his first book.  And Bob, well, who doesn’t love stories about Bob? 

               I found myself completely absorbed in James’ tales, especially when it came to his decision that he needed a steadier source of income and how he went about achieving this goal.  James is an excellent storyteller and his writing is detailed enough to allow me to feel as if I was right there, accompanying him in his experiences.  Perhaps James hasn’t realized it yet, but writing may very well be a new career for him. 

               In the end, The World According to Bob should be seen as a companion book to A Street Cat Named Bob as it delves deeper into the story we fell in love with in the first book.  Bob has been gone almost two years now and I, for one, can’t get enough stories about him and his special relationship with his human James.  I definitely recommend this book to each and every pet owner out there as it perfectly represents our relationships with those special animals who enrich our lives every day of their existence.  As I understand it, there is another book by James Bowen out there entitled A Gift from Bob, about how this loveable former street cat changed James’ view of Christmas.  I can’t wait to get my hands on it!

Check out The World According to Bob at Amazon

#CommissionsEarned

A Street Cat Named Bob

Distributed by: Sony Pictures

 Reviewed by Melissa Minners

                Years ago, I heard about A Street Cat Named Bob, a memoir written by a man who credits his survival to a cat.  It was not the first time I had heard about someone with an addiction problem crediting an animal with helping them kick the habit and get their life back on track.  Look at Jackson Galaxy, for example.  Cats often get a bad rap as being aloof and independent, but they can also be very loving and get very attached to the human they choose as their own.  I haven’t read this book, but when I found I could rent the film based on the story, I jumped at the opportunity.

                To say he is down on his luck when we first meet James Bowen (Luke Treadaway) is an understatement.  A homeless musician with only the clothes on his back, a beat-up guitar and a drug addiction, James is trying to stick with the methadone program, but depression is seeping in.  When he runs into his friend Baz (Darren Evans) on a particularly chilly, rainy night and he offers to share some of his score and the car he just happened to find unlocked, it’s not surprising that James decides to partake in both.

                Mixing methadone and heroin is never a good idea and James finds himself in the hospital.  Val (Joanne Froggatt), his drug support worker, sees something in James that makes her believe he should get another chance at life.  She finds him housing and gets him to promise to commit to the program wholeheartedly.  He continues busking in London, hoping to build a new life for himself, but nervous all the same.

                In walks Bob…quite literally – while James is taking a bath, he hears a crashing sound in the apartment.  Searching for what he believes to be a human intruder, he instead finds one of the feline variety chowing down on his Corn Flakes.  James finds the cat friendly, so much so that he doesn’t seem to want to leave.  He allows him to stay the night and finds him ensconced beside him in bed.  James searches for his newfound friend’s owner in vain.

                Heading off to work, he leaves the cat outdoors, but returns to find him injured.  A neighbor named Betty (Ruta Gedmintas) directs him to a free vet clinic she volunteers at but, though the initial treatment is free, the medication costs money.  He decides to use money he just received from his estranged father (Anthony Head) to pay for the medication, thus sealing the bond between James and Bob. 

                Though he continues to call Bob a stray, the link between the two only becomes stronger, especially when Bob follows James onto the bus to London and helps him earn more money busking than he ever made before.  Bob teaches James responsibility and gives him something to care about other than his habit.  But life is never that simple and James finds himself hurdling obstacles thrown in his path, clinging to sobriety with Bob as his constant reminder of what a good life can be like.

                One might think that a film about a man who credits his new life to a street cat he took in to be a little above and beyond.  I would disagree.  Whenever I was at my lowest, it was always a cat that lifted my spirits, knowing just what to do to keep me going.  Whenever I felt like I was lost or out of control, I would look at my kitty companion and realize I had a responsibility towards this animal.  It could only go so far to take care of itself and it had come to rely on me for care and also companionship.  I couldn’t walk away from that responsibility.  Now look at James’ life – he wanted to turn it around, but he kept giving into addiction rather than dealing with his emotions and what made him want to use.  While he is using, everyone shuns him, especially people he loves. 

                In walks this unpresuming cat that decides James is not some kind of pariah.  When James allows him to eat his food and even gives him milk instead of shooing him away, Bob decides this human is okay in his book.  He attaches himself to him.  Over the years, I have also noticed that cats also have a sixth sense about illness in humans.  He may have sensed that there was something not quite right with James and wanted to repay the favor of offering him food and shelter, especially after he gets hurt and James spends his only food money on medicine for him.

                The responsibility of caring for Bob gives James something to focus on…something important to keep him on the straight and narrow, because if he’s high, he can’t properly care for his new friend.  Plus, with Bob being the source of the increase in his busking income, James begins to look at the cat as something more than just another stray.  The cat was helping him make his way in life in more ways than one.  There was less stress and, when he couldn’t busk, James found a job to make certain that he could feed Bob.  His bond with this cat did even more for James – it showed him how to love, how to trust and be trusted, how to grow emotional bonds with others and more.

                Now I hear you saying this is a sappy movie.  Hey, if you love animals and appreciate what they can do for you, you’ll get it.  You will also appreciate the acting by Luke Treadway, who does a tremendous job.  Kudos go out to Ruta Gedmintas for her gut-wrenching scene in which she discussed her brother and his addiction and how she couldn’t be around this sort of thing, despite the fact that she was falling in love with James.  Anthony Head did an excellent job as the distraught father who has troubles expressing emotions.  And really huge kudos go out to Bob.  The movie folks tried to get a cat that looked and acted like Bob, but in the end, Bob actually played himself in the film and did an absolute job in doing so.

                I also want to call out the cinematographers who gave us the opportunity to see the world through Bob’s eyes – clever bit of genius there, letting us get a taste of what it is like to be so small in such a big world.  And – I already said this in my soundtrack review, I loved the songs in the film, which are best described as upbeat and uplifting acoustic folk songs.

                The entire film is a rollercoaster of emotions, a mix of ups and downs and funny moments and the best part about it is that it’s based on real events.  In fact, if you pay close attention to the end of the film and the book signing, you will see the real James Bowen make an appearance in a rather clever manner.  A Street Cat Named Bob is a great film for anyone looking for an upbeat, feel good, dramatic film.  Especially for those who can understand just how much influence a pet has on our lives, our moods and our actions.

Check out A Street Cat Named Bob at Amazon

A Street Cat Named Bob

Written by: James Bowen

Published By: Thomas Dunne Books

Reviewed by Melissa Minners

               Years ago, I heard about a young man in London who wrote a book about how a street cat helped save his life.  James Bowen was a drug-addicted musician who couldn’t get straight until he met a street cat who needed him more than James needed drugs.  He credits Bob with giving him the strength to get sober.  I was incredibly interested in the story, having read similar stories in the past and knowing just how much a cat can mean in any individual’s life, regardless of what they are going through.  I saw the movie, but I was really interested in reading the book that inspired it and just got around to doing so this past week.

               A Street Cat Named Bob begins with James Bowen meeting a ginger tom in the hallway outside his flat.  Believing the cat belonged to someone else, James passed it by.  He had work to do – busking (playing music on the streets) so he can earn enough money for the flat he was living in.  James had been embarking on the methadone program in hopes of eventually kicking the heroin habit he had developed.  The flat he was currently staying in was arranged for him as part of the program and he didn’t want to lose it.

               After a while, James realized that the ginger cat didn’t belong to anyone.  Realizing that he must be hungry and noting his poor condition, James took him in.  And so begins James’ journey toward a responsibility that would eventually lead to him becoming sober.  As it would turn out, his new friend, now named Bob, would need his help getting over a street injury.  But once Bob was well, he would help James with his busking, attracting extra attention and extra money. 

               As time wears on and a brush with the law leads James to realize that busking isn’t enough.  He is responsible for another life other than his own now and he needs to have steadier work.  A new job leads to some other difficulties, but through it all, Bob is James’ constant and his sense of responsibility towards this cat leads James further down the road to recovery.

               As I read this book, I thought about rough patches in my life that I had gone through – luckily nothing as bad as James Bowen, but rough nonetheless.  I realized that through many of these rough patches, it was the love of a cat that got me through.  I could definitely relate to the feeling of responsibility James had toward Bob and how being responsible for someone else could help him be more responsible towards his own life.  There’s that feeling that you don’t want to let that other individual down after all the affection and trust they have shown you. 

And yet, I’m still amazed at how much James was able to do with his life after meeting Bob.  Sure, James was already moving toward recovery, but it was Bob who kept him on the straight and narrow during this difficult journey and you could hear the love and respect James has for his ginger friend in his writing.  Do I think Bob is the sole reason behind James getting clean?  No, I think deep down, James was ready.  I think Bob helped him stay the path, though, and that’s important enough to make Bob a very special being in James’ life.

               A Street Cat Named Bob is a fast, engrossing and uplifting tale of how one cat helped a man turn his whole life around for the better.  Fans of the movie should definitely check out the book – movies are always a bit sensationalized and this book tells things a tad more realistically, without the bits of romance thrown in.  I loved every minute of the book and can’t wait to read the sequel, The World According to Bob!

Check out A Street Cat Named Bob at Amazon

Lily’s Promise

Written By: Lily Ebert and Dov Forman

Published By: HarperOne

Reviewed By: Melissa Minners

               When I first heard of Lily Ebert and Dov Forman, the world was at an all time low.  The pandemic was raging and our President was a hateful man whose propaganda campaign was reminiscent of that of Adolf Hitler.  Worst yet, antisemitism was at an all-time high and Holocaust deniers seemed to be everywhere.  Hope seemed to be a rarity at that time.  And then Good Morning America featured a piece on a survivor who was getting her message about the Holocaust out to millions of people, thanks to some social media help from her great-grandson.  Lily Ebert had survived Auschwitz and she had vowed to tell others what had happened to her and her people.  Dov Forman helped her spread those words to more people than she could have ever imagined. They had recently published a book and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.

               Lily’s promise began on the high holy day of Yom Kippur, when Lily Ebert was a young woman struggling to survive in Auschwitz after the Nazis killed her mother and young brother and sister: she would survive and tell the world what happened to her and her family.  Together with her two sisters, Lily did somehow survive.  She even was able to find another brother who had been sent to a work camp before she and her family were taken and placed in cattle cars on their long journey to the concentration camp.  She moved to Israel, married and had children, but she still hadn’t made good on her promise.

               Why?  Simply because the world wasn’t ready to hear it.  Those who hadn’t suffered in the camps were not very receptive to hear about that suffering.  Those who had experienced it really didn’t want to talk about it anymore.  And Lily was suffering from PTSD, often unable to relive the horrific experiences she witnessed in the camps.  Thus, she went years before she discussed losing her home in Hungary, her family, her friends, her hair, everything that made her innocent, until she moved to London with her ailing husband and found a survivors’ support group.

               By now, many people wanted to know about the Holocaust and not just a polished overview, but what really happened in those concentration camps.  And now, at last, Lily was finally able to tell her story.  She was horrified at those who would deny what happened at the hands of the Nazis and she was determined to educate everyone by talking about her own experience.  She traveled to schools and memorials, even to Auschwitz itself, to tell her tale.  But the pandemic put a damper on her travels and she could only get the message to so many people this way.

               Then her eighteen-year-old great-grandson Dov had a wonderful idea, creating social media pages for his safta and making Lily a TikTok sensation.  Now, Lily could reach millions more people than she ever could on the road, at a time when spreading the word about what happened during the Holocaust was more important than ever.  With many survivors having passed away, Lily, no spring chicken herself, didn’t want the horrors of those years to be lost on the living.

               Lily’s Promise tells us the tale of a determined young woman who somehow managed to survive such horrors many people today could not even fathom, each day, wondering if it would be her turn to die or if she might have to watch her surviving sisters be led off to die as she had her mother and two youngest siblings.  It tells us the tale of the woman who, once freed, still had trials to endure and a constant reminder of her ordeal in the visible form of a tattooed number on her arm and the less visible emotional strife that befalls survivors of great tragedies.  But it also tells of a woman who was courageous enough to rise up and tell her story in the face of some great skepticism and antisemitism so that others should know the truth, hoping to prevent such genocide from ever happening again.  Hers is a lofty goal, one not easily met in these days of denial and hate. 

In my opinion, Lily’s Promise may be the most important book you read all year.  When you do get the chance to read this incredibly captivating story of survival and perseverance (and my hope is you don’t wait), I challenge you not to just put it down when you’re done.  Instead, gain inspiration from the story as I did and tell others about it.  Spreading the word about the Holocaust and the genocide committed by the Nazis is the only way we can prevent history from being lost.  Without the knowledge of what has happened in the past, history will be doomed to repeat itself.

Get Lily’s Promise at Amazon

Star Wars: Kenobi

Author: John Jackson Miller

Published By: Del Rey Books

Reviewed by Melissa Minners

                Thanks to George Lucas and his Star Wars prequels, we all now know how Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa came into existence, how Luke arrived on Tatooine and was placed in the care of Owen and Beru Lars and how a Jedi known as Obi-Wan Kenobi just happened to be on the planet when Luke came into possession of an astromech droid with a message from an old friend.  But what happened to all the time between?  What happened to Obi-Wan once he dropped off his charge with the Lars Family?  John Jackson Miller aims to clue us in with his new novel Star Wars: Kenobi.

                In the last scenes in Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, we see Obi-Wan Kenobi bringing Anakin and Padme’s son to Tatooine, placing him in the care of Owen and Beru Lars.  Star Wars: Kenobi begins just before that moment, starting off with Obi-Wan’s eventful arrival on the planet.  For someone in hiding, Obi-Wan seems to attract a great deal of attention to him wherever he goes.  That’s an underlying theme in this novel and probably a good reason for Owen Lars to want Luke to stay away from that crazy old hermit.

                Fast forward a couple of months and we find Obi-Wan trying his best to keep a low profile, taking shelter in an old abandoned hovel of a home out in the Jundland Wastes.  Obi-Wan is resourceful, but even a Jedi needs supplies now and then.  After once again drawing attention to himself by rescuing a teenage girl and her mother from certain disaster, Obi-Wan finds himself invited to gather supplies at their local store.  Realizing that The Oasis is a lot easier for a former Jedi and his eopie ride to get to and a lot less distant than the city of Anchorhead, Obi-Wan decides to take them up on their offer.  After all, Annileen Calwell is an unsurmising, hardworking, welcoming woman with two teenagers to care for.  What danger could there be in collecting supplies from her store?

                Posing as “Ben” to the locals at The Oasis, Obi-Wan seeks out the supplies he will need for his meager existence in Tatooine while keeping an eye on Luke at the Lars Homestead.  Unfortunately, tales of his heroics have been circulated by Kallie Calwell, attracting the attention of Orrin Gault, moisture farmer, investor and leader of the Settler’s Call, a militia made up of local merchants and moisture farmers who protect other members from Tusken Raider attacks.  At first, Obi-Wan toys with the idea of hiring the Settler’s Call to protect the Lars Homestead, but as time passes, Obi-Wan believes that there is something about the Settler’s Call that Gault isn’t being completely honest about the Call’s abilities or their modus operandi.

                To make matters worse, Obi-Wan’s recent adventures have not only attracted the attention of the settlers at The Oasis, but of the settlers that existed long before The Oasis ever came to be.  That’s right, settling in the Jundland Wastes is not something that would go unnoticed by the Tusken Raiders, but moreover, Obi-Wan’s “abilities” have not gone unnoticed either.  To one band of Raiders in particular, these abilities can spell danger to the tribe…or can perhaps be the mark of a new savior arriving to bring the Tusken Raiders back to a time when their greatness was respected and their warrior skills were unparalleled.

                Obi-Wan Kenobi can’t seem to stay out of the limelight for very long, even on a backwater planet like Tatooine.  What’s a former Jedi to do when everyone seems to want a piece of him and all be wants to do is lay low and meditate while keeping his charge safe from afar?

                Star wars: Kenobi is meant to fill in the gaps between the prequels and the original trilogy by presenting us with the tale of one of its major characters.  Sometimes these fill-in-the-gap tales don’t work out so well, but Kenobi is a credible exception.  John Jackson Miller has perfectly captured the proud, yet humble Jedi forced to go into hiding while keeping a promise to keep the son of Anakin Skywalker safe.

                I’ve always wanted to know more about Obi-Wan “Ben” Kenobi, particularly his feelings after the disastrous moments when he was forced to face and battle his former padawan and friend, Anakin Skywalker.  Through Obi-Wan’s meditations in which he speaks to his former master Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan expresses his guilt at what happened to Anakin, his anguish at not being able to stop him from turning to the Dark Side, his pain at having to strike him down as an enemy, his indecision as to how to protect Luke Skywalker and more, thus giving the reader a unique insight into the mind of Obi-Wan Kenobi after the events of Revenge of the Sith

                Tatooine is a desert planet and just begs the story to be told in old western format.  So, that’s just what Miller does.  We have a damsel in distress rescued by a mysterious drifter.  That drifter causes the damsel’s trusty “partner” to become jealous and suspicious.  One can see the Tusken Raiders as a Native American tribe, looking on the moisture farmers and merchants as settlers on their sacred land…settlers to be turned away at all costs.  George Lucas has always said that he based a lot of Star Wars on westerns he had watched as a kid.  Miller takes that tidbit of information and runs with it in this novel.

                Star Wars: Kenobi was a well-written fast read with plenty of action and adventure and a bit of mystery to boot.  There is a lot of soul-searching by the main characters, something I like as it gives the reader a bit more perspective as to the character’s behavior and interaction with others.  I’ve found that John Jackson Miller has a good handle on what it means to write a Star Wars Expanded Universe novel and Star Wars: Kenobi is no exception.  Kudos on a job well done!

Get Star Wars: Kenobi at Amazon


#CommissionsEarned

Star Wars: Doctor Aphra

Written By: Sarah Kuhn

Published By: Del Rey

Reviewed By: Melissa Minners

               I had some gift card money to spend.  What better way than to buy one of the new Star Wars novels.  They’re a little pricey and I needed to save some dough.  Free is a great price!  So, I decided to pick up a couple of Star Wars books.  One of those picks was Star Wars: Doctor Aphra by Sarah Kuhn.

               In this novel, we are introduced to Dr. Cheli Lona Aphra, an archeologist who doesn’t like to follow the rules.  Curious about all things electronic, Dr. Aphra believes in unearthing these things to discover their potential, even if that potential can be deadly.  Her work has caught the attention of a certain Dark Lord of the Sith who seeks her assistance in getting back into the good graces of Emperor Palpatine after the destruction of the Death Star.  She is intrigued by Darth Vader and decides to take on a few jobs for him.

               As she completes tasks for her new boss, she begins to learn things about him…things he might not really want her to know, such as who this mysterious Luke Skywalker that Vader has been searching for really is.  Soon, Aphra finds herself on Vader’s bad side.  For one thing, Aphra has started to piece together the Skywalker puzzle.  And then there is that whole getting captured by the Rebels and running into her old girlfriend.  When Dr. Aphra does something, she does it full on, and when she gets in trouble, that trouble is usually something most won’t come back from.  Has Aphra finally taken on more than she can handle?

               First, I want to warn readers about some things regarding this book.  Star Wars: Doctor Aphra is actually written in screenplay fashion.  Had I known that I probably would have left it on the shelf.  Not that I mind screenplays all that much, but they aren’t really my cup of tea.  Of course, this is no one’s fault.  Buyer beware – open the book and really check it out before you make the purchase.  My second warning: if you are looking for a serious Star Wars novel, look elsewhere.  Dr. Aphra is a comedy for the most part.  This definitely was not something I was expecting.

               That’s not to say that Sarah Kuhn didn’t come up with an interesting read.  Dr. Aphra is a rather intriguing character – super intelligent, obsessed with technology and puzzle solving, hard on the outside with a soft spot on the inside.  The story is full of chases, fights, explosions and the like for all those action fans out there and tagging along as Aphra solves the puzzle of who Luke Skywalker is to Vader is somewhat fun.  We even get to learn about Aphra’s romantic side, something she shows almost no one. 

               And yet, I couldn’t really root for Aphra the way I do most Star Wars characters.  I actually cringed at all the silly parts of the novel…sorry, screenplay.  Being a screenplay, the read was fast, but the characters didn’t draw me in.  Another thing that bothered me was how quickly and often Luke Skywalker was neutralized and kidnapped in this book.  A little hard to believe if you ask me.  Completists will want to get Star Wars: Doctor Aphra for their collection, but serious Star Wars fans could probably skip this adventure without regret.

Get Star Wars Doctor Aphra at Amazon

#CommissionsEarned

Dune

Written By: Frank Herbert

Published By: Ace

Reviewed By: Melissa Minners

               When the latest film version of the Frank Herbert science fiction novel, Dune, hit the theaters, I listened to my friends’ enthusiasm and wondered at it.  My father had this book on our shelves when I was a kid and even though he let me read all of the J.R.R. Tolkien, Clive Cussler, and more, he never offered me Dune.  My friends wondered how I could be a science fiction fan without reading any of Herbert’s Dune series.  I commented on this to my significant other and, lo and behold, Dune ended up under the Christmas tree this year.

               Dune takes us to the desert planet of Arrakis, a dangerous planet whose chief export of spice is a lucrative business.  Spice can be used in many different ways: as fuel, as medicine, and more.  It is often used as a recreational drug that can offer heightened awareness.  For years, the Harkonnens have controlled the mining of spice, a rather difficult task as the greatest veins are often in the most dangerous areas of the desert, subject to raids by the desert people known as the Fremen and to spice worms, giant creatures attracted by noise and energy shields.  Unfortunately, it is due to those very issues that the Emperor decides to make a change.

               Liet Atreides and his family are chosen to journey from their water world of Caladan to Arrakis, a land where water is precious.  Liet is very wary of this new assignment.  He has a feeling that treachery is about and perhaps the Harkonnens will not let go of their spice operation willingly.  He has no idea how deep and how high up the treachery goes, but he has men in place that he can trust, a concubine with special Bene Gesserrit powers and their son, Paul, heir to the Atreides fortune and, if the Bene Gesserrit prophecies are to be believed, a very powerful young man.  Liet goes about attempting to fix what the Harkonnen’s have destroyed and earn the trust of the Fremen in an effort to create a better life for all living on Arrakis.

               But, alas, it isn’t meant to be.  Liet and most of his people are killed and Paul finds himself and his mother, Jessica, on the run.  They are discovered and saved by the Fremen, who believe that Paul is the one that has been prophesized about – the one that will bring balance to the planet of Arrakis.  The longer Paul is on Arrakis, the more expansive his powers become, offering him the ability to see into the future with his new spice-induced heightened awareness.  But bringing balance to Arrakis also means finding water in the most impossible places without letting the Harkonnens know that he is still alive.  Can Paul help the Fremen recreate their planet in their vision or will the Harkonnens and those they conspire with find and destroy all he has fought to build?

               As I first started reading this, I wondered what I had gotten myself into.  At over 900 pages, Dune is a rather daunting brick-like novel to get through, especially the first few chapters which contain words and phrases lost on simple Earth creatures like myself.  As I got further into the novel, I began to see parallels between the people in the novel, their beliefs and the world around me.  That helped a bit.  Then the action took over and I was hooked.  Frank Herbert’s writing is extremely descriptive, and the action scenes were quite easy to picture in my mind’s eye.  Herbert has a way of writing his characters that gets the reader invested in their outcomes – the biggest to the smallest roles are important to the reader.  He weaves quite the web of deceit in this novel and one is never quite sure who Paul should trust, but we root for him to succeed at every twist and turn of the storyline. 

               Dune is more than a science fiction novel with a bit of action and suspense.  It is a social commentary on how human greed and consumption can destroy the very planet we live in.  The release of the film adaptation of this novel is quite timely.  One only hopes that the movie closely follows the book and that the lessons taught in the novel are not lost in translation.  I may never know why my father didn’t offer this book to read when I was younger, but I am truly glad I had the chance to read it now.  My friends were right – I never knew what I was missing.  Now that I do, I’ll have to get my hands on Frank Herbert’s other Dune novels! 

Buy Dune at Amazon

#CommissionsEarned

Upgrade

Written By: Blake Crouch

Published By: Ballantine Books

Reviewed By: Melissa Minners

               I am a very fast reader and love reading new and exciting books from authors I haven’t sampled before.  Recently, I was offered an opportunity to review a science fiction novel by Blake Crouch called Upgrade.  I wasn’t entirely certain what it was about, but I knew it involved fiddling around with the human genome to create a “better” human.  Based on the goings on in the world today, I was definitely interested in reading this book.

               Upgrade takes place in a future Earth in which the science of genetic engineering is considered dangerous thanks to past mistakes that have led to planetary devastation.  Logan Ramsay knows all about it firsthand – he was involved in his mother’s genetic engineering experiment that was designed to save the world’s grains but ended up destroying them instead.  Years later, Logan is now a member of a law enforcement agency that hunts down scientists performing illegal genetic engineering experiments as penance for his mother’s deeds. 

               While on one such hunt for illegal genetic scientist activity, Logan is ambushed.  When he comes to, he discovers that he has changed – his cognitive functions have been heightened and his healing powers have increased exponentially.  It isn’t long before Logan realizes that his genome has been hacked, but to what end?  Logan soon learns that his genetic upgrade has something to do with his mother’s legacy.  What’s worse – his upgrade is just the start of something big she had planned for the fate of humanity.  Should Logan intervene and prevent the evolution that is about to take place, or should he just lay back and enjoy the ride?

               As with a great many science fiction novels I have read in the past, Upgrade deals with the ethics of genetic engineering and the arrogance of humans.  This book is a tad different though based on the time in which it has been published.  This is an Earth that has endured COVID-19 and the various theories surrounding the virus.  At one point, it was thought that COVID-19 was genetically engineered, and this has yet to be proven or disproven.  We are living in a world where scientists are viewed with skepticism and distrust and Blake Crouch perfectly incorporates this all in his book.  He also does a great job displaying the arrogance that some higher intellects have – generally believing that they are the only ones with the right answers – that nurtures the skepticism and distrust in average citizens.

               Upgrade is an intelligent reader’s novel.  There are some complex ideas at play in this book and some readers might get lost in all of the genome, RNA, DNA, etc. talk if they are not up on the latest in genetic science.  That being said, there is great deal of action and intrigue to be had as well thanks to Logan’s law enforcement background, his sister’s military background and the unknown factor behind the upgrade.  No one can be trusted and everyone is a potential enemy until the final moments of the book. 

               I was left on the edge of my seat while Logan hunted down who was behind his upgrade and then tried to stop the upgrade from spreading.  You just never knew who was willing to go along with the conspiracy or what kind of new dangers Logan would find himself in while trying to level the playing field.  I read this book in a matter of a couple of days and loved every minute of it – perfect testimony to the exciting and descriptive writing style and storyline created by Blake Crouch.  Upgrade was definitely a fun read!

Check out Upgrade at Amazon

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The Dune Sketchbook

(Music from the Soundtrack)

Score By: Hans Zimmer

Distributed By: WaterTower Music

Reviewed By: Melissa Minners

               It’s been a while since I reviewed soundtrack music.  When I received an offer from WaterTower Music to review The Dune Sketchbook, I was hesitant.  I knew nothing about Dune – hadn’t read the book by Frank Herbert, hadn’t seen the movie.  However, things have changed.  I’m currently reading the novel and, as I hear it, the film this music was composed follows the book very closely.  I decided to check out the score.

               Dune is a science fiction film starring Timothee Chalamet as Paul Atreides, son of the Duke of Atreides (Oscar Isaac).  Having just moved to the desert planet of Arrakis, Paul is not quite sure what to make of his new home.  The land is harsh, but produces one of the world’s most sought after substances – spice, a substance that can be used as a number of things, including fuel, healing remedies and heightened cognition.  Paul has dreamed of things to come on this planet, but he could have never known that his family would be betrayed by the very people who placed them on this planet.  Now, Paul is on the run, hoping that an alliance with the people of the deep desert known as Fremen can keep him and his mother alive.  In the end, it may be that this alliance will bring revenge against the people who killed his father and seek to enslave the Fremen.

               The musical score of Dune was created by Hans Zimmer, an award-winning composer who has created musical scores for such notable films as Interstellar, Gladiator, The Dark Knight Trilogy, The Lion King, the Pirates of the Caribbean and more.  Having worked with filmmaker Denis Villenueve before on Blade Runner 2049, Zimmer knew that their bond over the Dune novel would help them create the perfect film and score.  According to Zimmer, “I absolutely love working with Denis. He has an incredible imagination and offers so much soul within the complexity of making a film of this magnitude, and our aesthetic is very comparable. Dune has always been very close to both of our hearts. The task was to figure out how we were going to interpret something we truly loved and admired, and invite the audience to come and have their own personal experience. That was, for us, the reason to make this film.” 

               The Dune Sketchbook is one of three albums released in conjunction with the film.  Dune (The Original Musical Score) features music from the movie itself.  The Art and Soul of Dune is a companion soundtrack that features reimagined versions of the main themes of the film score.  The Dune Sketchbook features extended versions of the film score.

               The first track, Song of the Sisters, is quite the experience, featuring haunting female vocals singing in an unknown language.  The track sends chills up your spine as first you hear chanting, then full on singing that elevates as the track moves forward.  House Atreides is another one of those tracks that will captivate you, featuring a celtic style complete with bagpipes and celtic drumming.  It is a score that perfectly represents the House of Atreides, a family rich in history and pride.  The music used to describe the Fremen features the sound of shifting grains of sand, ethnic horns, mystical and sometimes harsh vocals and tribal drumming.  There is a hint of danger present among the Fremen and their lands and that is quite evident in the track Grains of Sand

               As I listened to The Dune Sketchbook, I tried to match it to the ideas I had of the Fremen, the Atreides and Arrakis in my mind gleaned from my reading of the novel.  I found that Hans Zimmer had done a great job in interpreting the characters, terrain and emotions of the novel into music that, I have no doubt, perfectly accompanies the visuals of the film.  Another excellent soundtrack from Hans Zimmer.

Buy The Dune Sketchbook at Amazon

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At the End of the Matinee

Written By: Keiichiro Hirano

Translated By: Juliet Winters Carpenter

Published By: Amazon Crossing

Reviewed By: Melissa Minners

               Last year, I was looking for something different to read.  Happily, Amazon was offering a bunch of books for free that I might want to check out.  They were by authors I had never heard of and varied in topic.  Score!  One of those novels was At the End of the Matinee by Keiichiro Hirano.

               World-renowned classical guitarist Satoshi Makino was not looking for love.  In fact, he never expected to find it.  So in tune was he with his musical world, that Satoshi was not really looking forward to settling down and starting a family.  Then, Satoshi met Yoko Komine, a respected journalist who was attending his Tokyo concert.  As luck would have it, a mutual friend would invite Yoko to meet Satoshi and an amazing thing would take place.  The two would spend all evening into the morning discussing their views of the world, amongst other things.  When the night was over, they went their separate ways, but their thoughts lingered over that night.

               Yoko certainly wasn’t looking for love – she thought she had already found it and was engaged to marry a terrific man with a job in finance that would provide a much stable life than the one she was leading.  Yet, as she headed back towards her journalist job, covering the military action in Afghanistan, Yoko couldn’t seem to stop thinking of Satoshi.  Listening to his music during her downtime made her extremely happy and capable of forgetting the horrors she covered daily.  They continue to keep in touch, neither of them vocalizing their love for one another, perhaps not even realizing they were in love to begin with.

               Eventually, they would finally be brought together.  Realizing how they feel for one another, they begin making plans.  But both are haunted by recent experiences that hamper their happiness at beginning a life together.  And when a missed meeting ends up in a misunderstanding orchestrated by Satoshi’s secret admirer, is it possible that two people destined to be together will be forever kept apart?

               When I began reading this novel, I was surprised and a bit put off by the flowery writing style of Kelichiro Hirano, as interpreted by Juliet Winters Carpenter.  I suppose I shouldn’t have been – many Japanese writers have a flowery and descriptive writing style, but I was not expecting this from a romance novel.  I was also more than a little perturbed by the ending.  In fact, I put off reviewing this book after I read it, because I wasn’t quite sure how to take some of the content.  Then, I put the book aside, sat down and truly started to think about what I had just read.  I analyzed what the author was trying to convey to the audience and I realized something: I was looking at this book all wrong.

               The fact of the matter is that At the End of the Matinee was not simply a romance novel.  This was a philosopher’s romance novel with a message.  The novel invited the reader to debate with oneself the validity of love, a soulmate and whether events can conspire to keep one from actually being with their soulmate and still inspire happiness.  The open ending of this novel forces the reader to think about whether Satoshi and Yoko are truly soulmates and whether there is such a thing as destiny.  It forces one to think about the repercussions of love and those of love unrequited.  Can love be the object of one’s pain?  Shouldn’t love bring about one’s happiness?  All of these questions come to mind after putting the book down.

               In short, if you are looking for that easy-to-read straight forward romance novel, At the End of the Matinee is not what you are looking for.  But if you are looking for a romance novel that challenges you to think about all aspects of love – its best and worst attributes – then At the End of the Matinee is just what the doctor ordered.  My initial reaction after putting the book down was, “What did I just read?”  My thoughts after really analyzing what I read: “Wow, Kelichiro Hirnao is a genious!”

Check out At the End of the Matinee at Amazon

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