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Book Review: Rambler: A family pushes through the fog of mental illness



Title: Rambler: A family pushes through the fog of mental illness

Author: Linda K. Schmitmeyer

Published: September 25, 2018

Pages: 374

Genre: Memoir/Nonfiction

Synopsis: When Steve, a successful young engineer, suddenly quits his job after a fight with his boss and begins exhibiting troubling signs of mental illness, a family’s seemingly idyllic middle-class life is thrown into chaos. Rambler takes the reader on an incredible 10-year quest of a family to stick together through the worst of his troubles and find answers from a medical community whose understanding of mental illness was lagging in the 1990s.



Final Thoughts:

In the realm of memoirs and nonfiction books based on medical issues, sometimes there are Important books, and there are Good Reads, and they do not always overlap. Many readers know the experience of trying to plod through an book just because they feel they should. The end result may be gratifying, but the doing is not. Or the act of reading a book whose narrative breezes along, but in the end, nothing of value remains.

This book is one of the fortunate few that exist in both spheres. Linda’s long career as a journalist and writing instructor is apparent, as events are presented in an engaging and easy-to-understand style. Despite the seriousness of a family struggling with the weight of bipolar disorder and schizoaffective disorder, Linda is self-aware enough to find a dark humor in her life, through things like her husband’s idiosyncratic obsession with Rambler automobiles, and an odd sequence of events that led to the cover photo of Steve standing triumphantly atop a Rambler half-sunk in the middle of a pond.

These are counterbalanced by heart-rending details of events occurring while Steve was having an episode and the family’s ensuing struggle to cope with all of the chaos that entailed, emotionally, socially, medically, and financially. Steve’s personal battle would reach an apex when, after losing his engineering job, he was arrested and placed in a psychiatric hold during an engineering conference in Detroit, Michigan. Unfortunately, it would still be several years before the medical community caught up with Steve’s issues and figured out both an appropriate diagnosis and a mixture of medications that could quiet his mind. These years were a trying time for a family who had effectively lost their primary source of income, and for whom medical answers were not readily forthcoming.

Although the family very humanly experienced wistful despair and even anger at their situation, through all of the struggles is an undercurrent of love. Childrens’ love for their father. A wife’s love for her husband. A father’s love for his family. Each are strained to their limit in turn and for different reasons, but their resiliency and dedication to holding together as a unit is truly uplifting.

Rambler is a worthy companion to recent popular nonfiction books regarding mental illness, like Brain on Fire, by Susannah Calahan (encephalitis); and fictional entries like Still Alice, by Lisa Genova (Alzheimer’s). Especially given that this books offers something that many others do not: the first-person perspective of a family member.

The book is now available on Amazon, here.

On a final, personal note, I know the Schmitmeyer family, although not especially well. Linda and Steve were a part of a “card club” including my parents when I was growing up, and their children were a frequent part of the cast of characters at a pool belonging to a mutual neighborhood friend in the summers. Although much of the events of this book took place before I was in high school and thus my understanding of both mental illnesses and the family lives of others was extremely limited, I was very surprised upon reading at how much of the Schmitmeyer’s struggle was kept quiet within the neighborhood community. I knew Steve to be a charismatic and fun-loving person, who had a 1000-megawatt smile and an eager laugh. The family’s reasons for their reticence to share are eminently understandable: the stigmas surrounding mental illness are still very real, and even today’s relative state of enlightenment is a far cry from society’s general views in the late 90s. But, I think this is an important lesson; not that we should pry into the lives of others where it is not wanted, but that we should be aware that we may not know what our friends are going through at a particular time, and to do what we can to offer a hand or even an ear when we sense a need, because the issues may run far deeper than we realize.



Thanks for reading.

knauff13

Book Review: The Underland Chronicles (5-book series)

Series: The Underland Chronicles
Titles: Gregor the Overlander; Gregor and the Prophesy of Bane; Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods; Gregor and the Marks of Secret; Gregor and the Code of Claw

Author: Suzanne Collins

Published: 2003 – 2007

Pages: 336; 320; 304; 352; 416 (from Amazon data, but I think these are based on small pages with a large type-face)

Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy/Adventure

Kid Friendly Rating: 9+ Swearing and sexual content is basically non-existent, but the books get progressively scarier and more violent. Click here for the Common Sense Media Guide!

Synopsis:

Gregor is an ordinary 11-year-old boy who lives in a run-down apartment building in New York City with his mom. Gregor’s father disappeared from his life two years prior, leaving behind Gregor, his mom, and his two younger sisters, Lizzie (7), and Boots (2). As the oldest child, Gregor feels immense pressure to help his mother care for his sisters while he watches bills pile up and the family struggles to eat.

One day, while helping with laundry in the basement of the building with his baby sister Boots, Gregor observes that she is playing perilously close to an old air duct. Too late, he dives after her, and just like that, they both find themselves plummeting… but the fall lasts far longer than it should. At long last, Gregor and Boots arrive unharmed in a cave at some unknown depth. Before he can stop her, Boots sets off exploring, and she abruptly finds some very strange company. Before he can catch his breath, Gregor and Boots are caught up in the midst of a prophesy, with the fate of thousands hanging in the balance. And maybe, just maybe, the possibility of a reunion with his long lost father.

Gregor soon learns that he and Boots have landed in the Underland, a realm where cockroaches are nearly as big as humans, and rats are a great deal larger. Not to mention vicious. And they hate humans.

The Underland is home to a lost race of humans who have been underground for thousands of years. The humans have been at war with the rats on and off for generations. Upon arriving at the human kingdom, Gregor learns that the rats have a particular aversion to “Overlanders” due to an ancient prophesy predicting that one would essentially bring about the end of the rat kingdom.

When the human  leaders learn that Gregor’s father had mysteriously vanished two years prior, speculation abounds that his father had been captured by rats, which means that Gregor may be “The Warrior” referenced in the prophesy who could save the human race. An expedition is launched (owing much to The Fellowship of the Ring and The Hobbit) to find Gregor’s father, fulfill the prophesy, and save the Underland human race in the process.

Joining Gregor in his quest are Luxa, the young heiress to the human throne, her cousin Henry, their two bats Aurora and Ares (who are bonded to their human partners sort of like Han and Chewie, but in an official capacity), two cockroaches named Tick and Temp, and a gigantic rogue rat named Ripred.

Unfortunately for Gregor, his adventures in the Underland do not end with one simple quest. No sooner has he found himself home than he is drawn unexpectedly into further adventures, with ever more complications, as Gregor’s friendships and stature in the Underland both develop and deepen.

Final Thoughts:

While Suzanne Collins is now far better known for her popular dystopian Hunger Games series, she kicked off her published writing career with the Underland Chronicles back in 2003. This is a different type of story, but built on a framework with some obvious parallels.

Like Katniss, Gregor is constantly driven by his love for his family and his desire to protect them at all costs. Also like Katniss, Gregor’s extreme selflessness in furtherance of this goal sometimes lends him a mythical quality to those around him, even though his inward thoughts show his fear and innocence. Both characters have lost their father and felt the need to step up in his absence. Gregor is perhaps more reserved in his acceptance of violence as a means to an end. When Gregor discovers that he has a particular talent for fighting, he is sickened, literally, by the idea, and wants nothing to do with any prophesy that could refer to him as a “warrior.”

In the sarcastic and battle-toughened rat Ripred, we see perhaps an early template for Haymitch. In the cold and calculating human leader Solovet are shades of President Coin.

To me, where this series diverges sharply from Hunger Games is in world-building. Pan-Em was an almost completely abstract representation of society with its rigid lines defining zones with ultra-specific economic purposes. The Underland is not a post-apocalyptic vestige of mankind. It is a fully mature civilization existing alongside ours. While Underland areas are divided mostly by species, each species functions independently and apart from the others except for profitable trade exchanges. While the humans and rats appear perpetually at war with each other, creatures like the cockroaches spiders, and numerous others fall into something of a neutral territory. The idea of impartial observers in a global conflict is something that is generally absent in Hunger Games.

At times, Gregor’s indifference for his own well-being and efforts to help others belie his tender age and strain credulity. But, perhaps his years spent without a father have toughened him and forced him to mature far faster than an ordinary pre-teen. Again and again Gregor willingly throws himself into danger to save Boots, to help the rest of his family, and, later, to do right by his friends in the Underland. As an adult reader I could not help rolling my eyes at times when Gregor took on the aura of a superhero, and adults in the Underland willingly sent him into extreme danger for their benefit, as if no one at all is on hand to say, “Hey, isn’t this kid, you know, like 11 or 12? Maybe we should help… a little?” And yet, the earnestness with which Gregor engages in his adventures is constantly endearing, and makes this an appropriate venture for younger readers. We never lose sight of exactly why Gregor is doing what he is doing, and neither does Gregor waver from his sense of what is Right and Just in furtherance of his goals. It doesn’t make his decisions throughout seem terribly complex or weighty, but sometimes it’s nice to have a simple read, in a world of black and white.

Romance is almost completely absent in books 1-4, but it does make an appearance in book 5. Unfortunately, these passages are rushed and underdeveloped, and feel almost as if they were shoe-horned in to add some emotional stakes and provide some additional ties for Gregor to The Underland rather than his family. On the other hand, keeping in mind that Gregor is still only 12 at the conclusion of book 5, I’m not sure increasing the romance is the answer. Perhaps simply an unbreakable friendship would have worked better and developed more organically over the course of all 5 books.

Ah, well, but I am nitpicking here, because I did greatly enjoy my time with Gregor in the Underland, and I would gladly venture back if ever Collins opens the door to return. I read the series over a couple months and found it to be a fun and refreshing diversion from more serious novels. I give the series 3.5* out of 5 stars.

Have you read this series? Let me know your thoughts!

 

 

*For reference, I’d have given Hunger Games a 4.

Book Review: Starship Troopers

Originally posted on Geeks and Geeklets

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Title: Starship Troopers

Author: Robert Heinlein

Published: 1959

Pages: 263

Genre: Science Fiction

Kid Friendly Rating: 13+ The inner workings of outer space warfare might be a little advanced for younger readers, but Heinlein goes easy on the gory details.

Synopsis:

In a flimsily-justified effort to “be his own man,” Juan “Johnnie” Rico turns his back on his father’s successful business and joins the Federation military for a contractual two-year term of service. However, as tensions mount between the Federation and the “Bug” species, Rico finds himself drawn further into military life than he ever intended.

Final Thoughts:

Most people today are probably more familiar with the 1997 movie of the same name… Oh, god. I’ve just had a thought. That was almost 20 years ago. Are you younger Millennials out there even aware of this movie? That is depressing.

Anyway, it was a movie directed by Paul Verhoeven (Total Recall, Robocop, Basic Instinct), starring Casper Van Dien, Denise Richards, Dina Meyer, and Dougie Howser Barney Stinson Neil Patrick Harris. I saw it in theaters at an outrageously inappropriate 11 years old, and it was completely full of swearing, blood, violence, and nudity. It was incredible.

Fast-forward 19 years, and I still remember it fondly, although I do respect that it is not the masterpiece of modern cinema that I once believed. It’s got sort of a small cult status now. I see memes and gifs pop up periodically, ironically or not.

 

 

In the interest of rounding out this review, I watched the movie again this week, and I did not feel let down. Possibly the single most remarkable thing about this movie, nearly twenty years on, is that the special effects actually hold up pretty well. Many sci-fi movies from the 90’s are burdened by an over-reliance on under-developed CGI effects, but this movie, either through the use of scale models and animatronics, clever lighting, or just well-thought-out usage of CGI, has largely managed to avoid that.

This is not to say you’ll think you’re watching a movie that was released yesterday. Scene transitions and some effects, particularly those used for outer space scenes, do show a bit of their age. I’d put the effects about on par with a well-produced HBO show, like Game of Thrones.

This should also go without saying, but please don’t go into this movie expecting an Oscar winner. This is a fun sci-fi action movie. Full stop. It does have a little tongue-in-cheek social and political commentary to class up the place, but the thrust of the movie is Man vs. Bug. If you can get behind that, you’re in.

If I were to register a single complaint, it would be, man, Casper Van Dien was the best they could come up with for Johnnie Rico? His acting is a little, ah, wooden. To be completely fair to Van Dien, I think the script somewhat calls for it. Johnnie Rico is a painfully earnest and rah-rah character, very much in the vein of Chris Evans’ Captain America. And boy, Van Dien sure is purdy to look at.

Now, as for the book. I did not know this book existed until a few years ago, and even after learning about it, I was not especially interested. I liked the movie. Why should I need to re-hash it in literary form? I could just watch the movie that I like again. Well, much like the lark that took Rico into military service, I finally gave it a shot, and found a surprising number of differences.

The movie was not a standard book-to-script adaptation. The love triangle between Rico, Carmen, and Dizzy which provides the narrative thrust of the movie is really nowhere to be found. Carmen exists, but only as a distant friend rather than a love interest, and Dizzy is merely a fellow male boot camp cadet who plays a minuscule role.

The movie is largely an action movie split between the perspectives of Rico and Carmen, but the book is entirely Rico’s first person narrative, and combat scenes, while present, account for a very small percentage of the book. Much of the novel focuses on Rico’s various experiences in boot camp and beyond that serve to shape him into the person and soldier he will become. The novel really doesn’t read like an action story, or even a largely sci-fi story, despite the exotic settings. With the detailed descriptions of boot camp proceedings and how infantry rankings are assigned either by recommendation, officer training, and necessity in the field, it reads almost like a real historical war account.

The book manages to be remarkably prescient for a book authored in 1959, although it is also a book of its times. One of the most strikingly dated things about the book is the treatment of female characters, along with Rico’s general viewpoints on women. Heinlein manages to be both forward-looking and endearingly chivalrous. On one hand, he has placed the majority of the female characters in his book in leadership roles within the military. By Rico’s words, women have faster reflexes and reaction times, and their superior scores in math make them prime candidates for space naval pilot and officer positions. On the other hand, Heinlein did not write a single female character placed in the Mobile Infantry, the implication being that it is the job of strong men to stand on the front lines and sacrifice themselves to protect the women. It’s sort of a dichotomy, right? Of course, one could also argue that Rico made it clear that the M.I. was his absolute last choice for military assignments, so if there were no women there, perhaps it was because they simply scored out of it.

The film treated men and women soldiers as equals without fanfare or commentary, both in the navy and within the mobile infantry, although it should be said that the majority of M.I. troopers remained men. One thing even more interesting to me about the book’s gender setup is another sharp departure from the movie. In the book, the M.I. enters combat zones within fully equipped power armor, which more or less renders the wearer’s physical strength moot (although it is reinforced several times that a soldier who is compromised physically through sickness or weariness is of no use to his fellow soldiers, power armor or not). It is interesting that even though this power armor should have theoretically leveled the playing field for all body types, the film’s depiction of lightly armored traditional ground troopers had far more diversity.

The book also seems a bit dated in its conception of soldier motivation, as Rico at one point opines that there is no greater motivation for a group of M.I.s than knowing that on every combat drop, a ship full of women is waiting behind, both depending on them and watching their backs. The idea of a female M.I., or even an M.I. who is not particularly interested in the affections of a woman, is really not even contemplated.

But, when I read a book from another time period, I believe that it is healthier to both a) accept that the book exists as a manifestation of the time period in which it was written, and b) the author’s view points are not my own, and that is OK. I understand that this particular book was controversial even when it was released for some social ideas suggested throughout the narrative, including military sovereignty in government and the nobility self-sacrifice for the betterment of society. I take these ideas as the suggestions of the characters in the book, nothing more.

In other small negatives, some readers may turned off by relatively dry passages explaining the complexities of Federation military organization and the operation of the M.I. power armor. I personally found the military rankings a bit dense hard to follow, and I consider myself somewhat interested in the subject (although I am also fairly unschooled in general real-world military rankings and procedures).

In sum, I think this was a really interesting read. I give it 4/5 stars!

Have you read this book? Let me know what you think!

 

Chapter 6: Breaktop

Amy was nearly in a blind panic.

Her freedom from the four dogs, so recently earned, was purchased with exhaustion. She’d found refuge from the dogs, but even after a night and change of solid sleep, her nerves felt frayed and her thoughts came through quickly, disjointed and out of order.

Noises. I have my backpack again. But no carrots. Noises. So tired. My gun. Which gun?

This house, the onetime bastion of safe refuge, was no longer secure, and Amy mourned for its loss.

Harsh, thumping and scrabbling noises from above. Amy could feel the hair on both arms raised as her heart pounded uncomfortably through her chest. Her lungs felt small and closed, and she gasped as if the very oxygen had left the room.

Get a hold of yourself. Breathe. Breeeaathe.

Her shoulders lowered slightly as she caught her breath, but her body still felt tense, tight, alert.

What the hell was that?

Amy tried to marshal her mind and push it forth into rational analysis of the situation. The sounds had a weight to them. Too heavy for a raccoon, but she couldn’t discount the possibility of a slightly larger animal, like a dog.

It could just be a door, swinging on its hinges in the wind. You did see at least one broken window upstairs.

Amy shook her right hand awake and grasped at the zippered hip pocket of her jacket, where the .32 resided, loaded and waiting. She was less than confident in the integrity of the gun. The hammer seemed to work fine when she pulled the trigger, unloaded, but she’d been reticent to fire a test shot, both for the noise and attention it might bring, and the possibility that the thing might literally blow up in her face.

She had no idea how old the bullets were, for one. They might not even fire. The gun had nickel plating that was worn off in several places, which did not give her great vibes about the structural integrity of the steel. On top of all of that, the gun was an ancient-looking breaktop revolver. I small button on the top of the gun made the whole thing pop up and open for easy loading. Convenient, yes, but she wondered how this technology would be viewed in terms of modern safety standards.

Well, good luck finding a gunsmith out here, girlfriend.

Kicking herself one final time for being too afraid to test out the gun, she crept away from the front door and started to make her way toward the maroon-carpeted staircase on her left, right hand outstretched and ready with the revolver.

The staircase came down from the second floor in a wood-banistered U shape. Two steps led up to a wide landing. Turn to the right and seven more steps led to a second landing with a picture window. Turn right again and several more steps led to the second floor. Unfortunately, as Amy drew close to the lower landing, she could see that the upper set of stair was blocked by a large desk and a sofa, jammed together into the passageway. Amy walked up to the second landing to examine the odd configuration of furniture.

There was a small gap on the lower left hand side of the desk through which Amy could see up into the dark interior of the second floor hallway, but it looked barely large enough for a small dog to slip through. A quick nudge with her toe told Amy all she needed to know about the weight of the objects blocking her path.

Maybe there’s another way up.

With a last, distrustful glance at the small gap beside the desk, Amy backed down the staircase. She held out the gun in front of her as she moved back down toward the entryway. She thought this was how they did it on Cops, and she hoped she wasn’t leaving out some crucial detail like remembering not to lock your elbows, or holding your breath when you pull the trigger.

She turned left at the entryway, easing down a hallway that bisected the house on the first floor. Blue and pink floral patterns surrounded her.

This wallpaper: horrific.

A formal dining room appeared through a doorway on Amy’s left. She glanced in, but the two other doorways in the room both opened along the right side wall, along the direction of the hallway. Amy moved back to the hallway. on the other side of the hall were three doors. The first opened into a large bathroom. The second was a closet. The third opened into a black staircase, descending into the bowels of the house.

No thanks.

Amy continued down the hallway and arrived in a kitchen. It was dated, but with several pleasant-looking sets of built in shelves, cabinets, and doorways that looked original to the old house. In the far right corner, a door with a window looked out into the back yard. In the left far corner, there was a refrigerator inset in the wall beside a walk-in pantry.

The kitchen, and really the house as a whole, were in remarkably good shape considering the end of the world. But for the layer of dust dulling the shine of the counters, the kitchen looked ready for the next meal. Amy couldn’t help imagining some cute middle-aged couple preparing dinner and dancing to whatever music old people listen to. Something doo-wop-y.

It was so strange that the one significant thing out of place in the house was the only apparent passageway up to the second floor, where she’d heard a noise. But she didn’t see any way an adult could have fit past the desk, and the furniture looked like it would have taken a tremendous amount of strength and effort to push into place.

Amy crossed the kitchen, hovering briefly in front of the refrigerator before the remembered the smell with which she was assaulted back in her own home a few days ago.

No more fridges.

She turned instead to the pantry door beside the refrigerator, hoping that she might find some supplies before she looked outside at the back of the house for a way up. To her surprise, she found not a room packed with dry and canned goods, but a narrow staircase, twisting steeply up to the second floor.

Amy’s gun, which had drifted toward the floor during her exploration, was pointed up the dark staircase with renewed vigor. She could not see the top of the stairs, though. The staircase was very dark and twisted around to the left. Amy figured there must be another door shut at the top of the staircase.

Please don’t be blocked.

Amy crept slowly up the stairs, feeling her way, and cringing at every tiny creak. Finally, after what seemed to her like an hours long journey, she arrived at a door. She grasped with her empty left hand for a handle and found one. Applying careful force, she was surprised to find that the handle relented easily and the door slid open silently under her gentle control.

Amy eased into a dim hallway lit by one small curtained window beside her, looking out at the back yard. Looking down the hallway toward the front of the house, Amy thought she made out more ugly wallpaper with an odd large floral pattern. On the right side of the hall, she could see the outline of the sofa and desk jammed into the staircase. It still seemed bizarre, given the rest of the house, to see the furniture positioned thus, as if it was blocking off entry to the first floor from the second, or vice versa.

Amy turned to the window and drew the curtains so she could better see the desk and sofa, and the other doorways lining the hallway, which she planned to examine for the noise she’d heard. She had no heard a thing since she crashed back through the front door, and she was beginning to think that her frayed nerves had merely played a cruel trick on her mind, but she was devoted now to the idea of getting to the bottom of the mystery. She turned back to the hallway to pick the first door to open.

Her heart immediately leaped up to her throat.

All along both walls of the hallway, what Amy had mistaken in the dim light for ugly wallpaper was actually messy handwriting in a dark brown ink. The wall was absolutely covered, from ceiling to floor, in the letters.

Amy felt the hallway closing in around her as she broke out in a cold sweat and found it suddenly hard to breathe. Her legs felt weak and she backed into the wall below the window, and stared, wide-eyed and slack-jawed.

On the portion of the wall closest to her, she tried to pick out a few words amid the madness. At first she thought she was looking at a foreign language, but after a few moments of focusing on the characters, a few of them resolved into words. But the words were madness. Just random words jumbled together in no particular order. A select few words seemed to jump out with more frequency: fear. dark. mad. bomb. queen. water. There was just no discernible pattern.

Curiosity momentarily conquering her fear, Amy roused herself from the wall and took a few steps down the hallway. Now that she knew what she was looking at generally, she began to realize that there was one pattern in the writing. A group of large lines on the left side of the hall that she’d initially taken for a series of scratched out words were actually letters overlaying the wild ramblings on the wall. Amy took a few more steps to get a closer look. TRUHSUSKAMRETAWKABOGRVEN.

Amy was disappointed at first. She’d hoped to find some message, a clue about what she could hope to find when she reached Pittsburgh and the remainder of local civilization. She almost dropped it completely and moved on, but something was tickling the back of her mind. She was suddenly thinking of high school and the stupid games that she and her friends used to play. Find the grossest eater in the cafeteria. Who has worn the same clothes a few days in a row. How many ribbons of tape can we stick in the new girl’s hair.

It was embarrassing, thinking about the person she’d been. Amy shuddered at herself and said a silent prayer of apology to anyone who might still be around that she’d hurt. She never considered herself a bad person, even then, but peer pressure was a hell of a thing, even subconsciously. It was amazing the situations you could find yourself in before you so much as realized how you got there.

But no, this was something more innocent. A game she’d played for her own enjoyment. She read the letters again.

TRUHSUSKAMRETAWKABOGRVEN. What is that? There is something there.

Suddenly, it hit her.

It’s backwards. How many times did you sound out words backward in your head back in school? You used to think you were so damn clever spouting them off to people.

After a few seconds of puzzling over it, she tried saying it aloud.

“Nev-rgo-bak-wat-erm-aks-ush-urt. Nevrgobakwatermaksushurt. Never go back. Water makes us hurt. HA!”

In the excitement of the mystery, Amy had forgotten her true mission on the second floor and spoken a little louder than she intended. Not a half second after she uttered, “HA!” she heard a sudden rustling movement from down the hall. Amy froze, muscles tensed for what seemed like the hundredth time in the past hour. And as she focused again on her mission, the dark theme behind the writing on the wall impressed itself upon her. Never go back. Water makes us hurt. Never go back to what? Never go back to the room in this house? The desk and couch wedged into the stairway suddenly seemed so much more ominous.

Should I go back? WHAT DOES IT MEAN?? No. I have a gun. I can do this. If it’s a wild animal, maybe I have fresh food.

As if she’d ever cooked a wild animal. Still, she figured there couldn’t be too much to it. Build a fire. Heat it up. The end, right?

The sound had come from the left hand side of the hallway. There were two doors on that side, side by side. Amy slid stealthily up to the first, and gently turned the door handle with her left hand, right hand outstretched and ready to shoot. She let the door swing open while she ducked behind the wall. Stealing a glance into the room, she found that it appeared to be completely empty. Pink walls. A small bed. Surprisingly vibrant cream carpet.

Now there was no doubt. Whatever, or whomever was in this house was behind the second door. Amy looked doubtfully down her arm again at the .32 and its fragile-looking break top. She prayed it would hold together if need be.

Amy moved as silently as possible to the neighboring door, sweating out each minuscule creak of the floorboards beneath her.

I’m going in hot. Surprise is on my side.

Amy grasped the doorknob, and with one swift movement and a bloodcurdling scream, she turned the doorknob and flung the door into the room, flying in after it.

She could not have been more shocked to find a handsome yet odd looking young pale boy with a green-mottled face blinking back at her, and she paused, mentally disarmed by the unexpected sight. But in that brief moment, the boy’s countenance changed completely. Suddenly, he was red with rage, teeth bared and rushing at her.

Amy’s gun was still held at arm’s length, finger tense on the trigger, and she pulled it, more as a reaction to the sudden thing rushing toward her than out of fear, although of that there was plenty. The shot was deafening, and Amy dropped the gun instantly, surprised beyond belief that the ancient bullets had fired, and afraid that the noise was the gun blowing up in her hand.

The boy looked down himself, felt for holes, found none, then glanced behind himself, where he spotten a small hole in the wall where the bullet had punctured. Truthfully, it had not come close to hitting him.

Amy was still wincing at the ringing in her ears as she observed the boy checking himself for wounds. She looked down for the gun. It had bounced several feet away toward the interior of the room. She was just beginning to move to recover it, but the boy was on her in a flash, bashing her from all sides, with hands and arms and shins and feet and teeth and who knows what else. The strikes were coming fast and forcefully, but not especially painfully. Just enough to get her moving backward out of the maelstrom. The boy was small but he seemed irrationally powerful with sinewy strength. He quickly backed Amy out of the room with a series of quick shoves and blows.

Presently, Amy found herself nose-to-door in the hallway, wondering just what the hell had happened. She wanted the gun back, but there was no way she was going back in the room with that… thing. Nor was she going to stay in the house with it. She raced down the hallway toward the back stairwell, back down through the kitchen, down the lower hallway, and out the front door, pausing only to grab her backpack and bolt action rifle.

Amy ran through the snow for as long and hard as she could, turning randomly so as to lose herself and anyone who followed. Eventually, she found herself in a forest, leaning against a fallen tree and gasping for breath. Night was falling, but Amy had no particular desire to find shelter.

To hell with houses. Seriously.

Amy looked about the fallen tree and began gathering some sticks for a fire. She didn’t really want to draw any attention to herself or her whereabouts, but she wasn’t about to spend all night out here, freezing to death, either. She’d take her chances with a fire. After a few frustrating attempts with her lighter, Amy finally caught fire to some dried birch bark, and pretty soon she had a respectable fire going.

Amy opened a can of Hormel chili and set it in the fire to warm up. After a few minutes, she rubbed her fingers in the snow, then pulled out the can as quickly as she could and set it down. Dipping her fingers in, she found that the Chili was barely lukewarm in the center although the can itself seemed unbearably hot. It was just as well seeing as she had no silverware. After scarfing down most of the can, Amy made a bed of bark and leaves, and was just leaning back on her backpack as a pillow when she heard a stick crack nearby.

Whirling around and grabbing the rifle from the ground, Amy hopped to her feet and pointed the gun in the direction of the sound. At first she saw nothing, but then she detected a low, loping form coming at her from the dark. Her nerves frayed, Amy nearly pulled the trigger, but something stayed her hand. She would find out later that she had not properly cocked the rifle even if she’d wanted to shoot.

As the form came closer, Amy started to laugh with relief. It was the Pit Bull. She’d nearly forgotten it among the events in the house, but it must have followed her when she left. She grabbed the remaining Chili and offered it to the dog. The dog did not pause to consider. It jogged happily over to the can and chowed down, tail wagging vigorously.

Amy laid back down on her makeshift bed as the dog licked the can clean. She was just beginning to drift off when she felt the dog draw close and lay down beside her. Amy beckoned the dog closer, patting the ground by her midsection, and the dog nestled in. And for the first time since she’d gone underground, Amy felt just a little bit happy.

(Originally posted on Geeks and Geeklets)

Book Review: Bridge to Terabithia

Originally posted on Geeks and Geeklets

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Title: Bridge to Terabithia

Author: Katherine Paterson

Published: 1977

Pages: 144

Genre: Drama/Friendship

Kid Friendly Rating: 9+ This book has a sad moment or two, but it is an appropriate book for any child capable of reading it. Click here for the Common Sense Media Guide!

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Synopsis:

As the summer before 5th grade draws to a close, Jess Aaron’s thoughts are singularly focused. He wants to prove that he is the fastest runner in the entire 5th grade. He practices daily to achieve his goal, running all over his family farm in between various chores. The new girl who has moved in next door is barely more than a fleck of dust in the wind to him.

Imagine his consternation, then, when his neighbor outpaces Jess and every other boy on the first day of school. And a girl, of all things! Jess is basically heartbroken.

Fortunately for Jess, his neighbor, Leslie Burke, sees through his frustration to the creative and sensitive boy underneath, and they eventually strike up a fast friendship. Soon, Jess and Leslie spend basically all of their free time together.

One of their favorite activities is to journey to an imaginary land they name Terabithia. In their adventures, Leslie often challenges Jess to use his creativity and his artistic talents, while at home Leslie’s parents are especially impressed by Jess’ industrious-ness and practical know-how.

Everything is going great for the young pair’s budding friendship, until one fateful day.

Final Thoughts:

I remember when this movie came out in 2007. Being in college at the time, I was a little old for it, and I never made time to catch it, but I remember being intrigued by the previews. The fantasy world of Terabithia was right up my alley, and I instantly made connections to other childhood favorites, like Jumanji and Hook (I don’t care about your ratings, critics. I LIKED IT, okay?)

Well, the fantasy world isn’t really a major part of the book. That’s not a complaint, just an observation. It is, however, a vital part of the friendship and connection between Jess and Leslie. They have a shared vision for the place, and even though they both know they are just playing “pretend,” in their explicit trust for each other they do journey together to their own special place in their minds.

I’m very sorry that I missed this book as a child, and I wish someone had handed it to me and ordered me to read it. it’s a wonderful story of young friendship, overcoming prejudices, and, tragically, dealing with loss.

Jess learns that real emotions can be horribly complicated, and there is no one way to immediately react that is any more appropriate than others. As Jess sorts out his feelings, he finds a way to turn his own heartache into a small positive, which is a beautiful and uplifting conclusion to a deservedly beloved short novel.

As so often happens with my book reviews, I have a movie to for you to check out. This one was released back in February 2007. The movie stars a young Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), AnnaSophia Robb, and Zooey Deschanel. With a Metascore of 74, I’d venture to say it may not rock your world. but there are probably worse ways to spend a rainy day. Check out the preview below.

Overall, I think this is a great story for impressionable children, and adults will find it well-written and heart-wrenching. I give it 4/5 stars!

Book Review: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Originally posted on Geeks and Geeklets

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Title: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Series: Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children (Book 1)

Author: Ransom Riggs

Published: 2011

Pages: 382

Genre: Horror/Adventure

Kid Friendly Rating: 14+ Lots of spooky monsters and some adult subjects that may be just a little bit inappropriate for younger children. Click here for the Common Sense Media Guide!

Synopsis:

When Jacob Portman was a small child, his grandfather often regaled him with tales of the orphanage that “saved his life” during World War II. Abraham Portman’s stories were colorful, to say the least. They were populated by amazing children with special talents, like a girl who could float like a balloon on a string, and a boy who was so strong that he could toss a boulder as easily as a basketball. Jacob listened with awe to his grandfather’s stories as a young boy, but with the passing of time came a growing cynicism. Eventually, Jacob dismissed the stories as mere fairy tales, and they fell into the dark recesses of his mind, alongside Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.

At the age of 16, a gruesome discovery at Jacob’s grandfather’s home shakes Jacob to the very core, and he is forced to challenge his beliefs regarding reality and fantasy. The discovery sets Jacob off on a mission to investigate the site of his grandfather’s former orphanage. He soon realizes that his grandfather’s stories were far more literal than he ever expected.

Final Thoughts:

Well, here I am at 30 years old and reading yet another Young Adult novel. You know what? It’s fine. 30 is still pretty young for an adult. I don’t feel like an adult. Why should I read like one all the time?

A Young Adult novel is comforting. Themes and conflicts are simple and easy to understand. You rarely need to check the dictionary when you read the sentences. It’s nice. If that’s what you want, Miss Peregrine is probably for you.

If it sounds like I’m qualifying my praise, it’s because I am. For me, there was just something missing in this book. I’m not quite sure I can put my finger on it, but I’m briefly going to try.

Perhaps the main thing is the ending. I’m not going to heavily divulge spoilers here, but suffice to say that it is unsatisfying. I have nothing against cliffhanger endings. Love them, in fact. There is nothing that makes me want to keep reading more than a final couple chapters that blister my fingers as I read them only to have the rug pulled out from under me. It’s exhilarating.

But when the book builds slowly but surely, and then, just, meh… Oh my god, is that disappointing or what? It’s criminal. I feel victimized!

I get that Riggs was setting up for a series of books, and he has since continued the story, but this particular book peters out in such an unsatisfying way that I really have no desire to find out what happens. There is no culminating moment to make me feel, “Okay, I’m really glad I read this.” It’s not that the stakes are low. The world is basically at stake (isn’t it always?), but there is something missing.

That being said, I place this book firmly above what I experienced in Veronica Roth’s Divergent universe. The romance in particular, which is still light and somewhat juvenile, is a bit more nuanced. Oh, who am I kidding? Hey guys, this book is not another shameless ripoff of Hunger Games (which is itself an amalgamation of other work)!

So it’s better! But honestly, if you’re treading around in this genre and you haven’t read The Giver, just go do that, OK? That’s the one you need.

Let’s see here… some other positives. The world Riggs builds is really a pretty original and interesting one. We get into a bit of light time travel, which is always good for some fish-out-of-water fun, by way of Marty McFly.

Riggs does a great job with descriptive passages. You can really feel the claustrophobically secluded atmosphere and the damp countryside soaking your bones. Given the disparate settings within the book, the story seems to take on different ambient temperatures throughout.

Overall, I thought this was a fine diversion. While I’m not sold on reading the sequels as of yet, I think Riggs has created an interesting mythology and cast of characters, and it is an easy read. I give it 3/5 stars.

Have you read this book? Let us know what you think!

MIss Peregrine is currently scheduled to hit theaters on September 30, 2016. Directed by Tim Burton, the movie stars Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Ella Purnell, and Samuel L. Jackson. So, read the book now so you can watch it come to life this fall!

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Game Review: Vault-Tec Workshop (Fallout 4 DLC)

Originally posted on Geeks and Geeklets

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Title: Vault-Tec Workshop (Fallout 4 DLC)

Developer: Bethesda Game Studios

Platforms: PS4, XBox One, PC

Release Dates: July 26, 2016

Genre: Action RPG

Players: Single player

ESRB Rating: M

Kid Friendly Rating: 17+ Ultra-violence, gore, swearing, sadistic activities.

Personal Rating: 3/5

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Synopsis:

Bethesda’s Fifth DLC for Fallout 4 is an interesting one. Once the wastleland wanderer reaches Level 20, they detect a new radio beacon. Tuning to this frequency triggers the start of the DLC. The beacon draws the wanderer to a vault buried beneath Quincy Quarries.

Upon arriving at the Quarries, the wanderer must fight their way through a horde of Raiders and heavy rads before arriving at the underground vault entrance for Vault 88. Once inside the vault, the wanderer meets Overseer Barstow, a ghoul who claims she was appointed overseer of Vault 88 long ago, but due to a series of mishaps and delays, the vault never properly got underway. In the intervening years, the Vault caverns have become overrun with all manner of wasteland creatures, including feral ghouls, mirelurks, molerats, and deathclaws.

Barstow tasks the wanderer with clearing out the vault caverns so that the vault can be inhabited and put to its original purpose, which was (according to Barstow) to conduct “experiments” on the vault dwellers.

I was pleasantly surprised to find a handful of story missions included in this DLC, as I was expecting nothing more than a brief “Hello,” and “Here are your vault tools. Have fun!” All told, there are eight missions here:

  • Vault-Tec Calling
  • Better Living Underground
  • A Model Citizen
  • Explore Vault 88
  • Power to the People
  • The Watering Hole
  • Vision of the Future
  • Lady Luck

Unfortunately, only the first four missions include what I would regard as substantive content (i.e. missions involving core gameplay action, like shooting bad guys and looting containers). The final four missions basically boil down to teaching tools for how to run the “experimental” vault facilities.

There’s no getting around the fact that this DLC contains, in large part, a bunch of “fluff,” as one of my co-wrkers would put it. For longtime Fallout gamers who have been turned off by the extensive people-managing and crafting found in Fallout 4, this will be disappointing overall. It contains a lot of it, and even the core gameplay pieces are mixed in with some tedious bits.

My gameplay falls somewhere in the middle. I enjoy the crafting, and I take a perverse pleasure in stripping down a settlement to its bare bones in a materials-gathering frenzy. The building of things, not so much. So why strip things down if I don’t like building much? BECAUSE I HAS SO MUCH MANY MATERIALS.

There is plenty to tear down in the vault tunnels, so lots to scratch that itch, and along the way, the wanderer encounters a fair amount of high-level foes, like legendary ghouls, a mirelurk queen, a deathclaw king, etc. That stuff is fun if you like the game overall. But, the DLC tails off in a collection of Sims-like activities, until finally the wanderer is presented with the vault, to use as sort of a blank canvas. This is where it loses me. And I’m not sure I’ll go back. But it was fun while it lasted!

A quick tip… The wanderer will find Vault 88 equipped with a pretty hardcore amount of power, but there is no obvious way to access it. Bethesda is amazing at not explaining things. They’re pretty much the best at it. The power is in the vault walls. All you need to do is install a vault conduit in the wall to access it. HOWEVER, in their infinite wisdom, the level designers did not provide power to wall pieces already installed in the vault. So you’ll need to strip down everything in the atrium and rebuild it before you can use it. Notice I said atrium. You can’t conduit the walls in the vault entrance, even though they have lights. Don’t ask me why.

Movie Review: Inside Out

Originally posted on Geeks and Geeklets

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Title: Inside Out

Director: Pete Docter, Ronnie Del Carmen

Release Date: June 19, 2015

Genre: Adventure, Comedy

MPAA Rating: PG

Running Time: 95 minutes

Starring:

  • Amy Poehler
  • Phyllis Smith
  • Bill Hader
  • Lewis Black
  • Mindy Kaling
  • Richard Kind

Kid Friendly Rating: A few moments may be scary for some children, but mostly the movie is firmly in imagination-land. There are some sad scenes, but that’s sort of the point. Recommended 6+. Click here for the Parent Rating Guide!

Personal Rating: 4/5

Synopsis:

Reilly is an eleven-year-old girl whose life is upturned when her parents move from Minnesota to San Francisco for a new job opportunity. While she tries to make the best of the situation, the stressful situation combined with her developing emotional maturity quickly sour on Reilly, and she is left feeling lost and out of place.

Inside Reilly’s mind, Joy is the leader of Reilly’s five key emotions, also including Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust. Together, Reilly’s emotions work in “headquarters” to guide Reilly through her day-to-day life. In the midst of the tumultuous changes in Reilly’s life, Joy and Sadness suddenly find themselves sucked out of headquarters and lost in the vast stacks of Reilly’s memory banks. Together, they work to find their way back to headquarters to help Fear, Anger, and Disgust, who are floundering with Reilly in their absence.

Pictures:

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Memorable Quotes:

  • Congratulations San Francisco, you’ve ruined pizza! First the Hawaiians, and now YOU!
  • All these facts and opinions look the same. I can’t tell them apart.
  • Your dad’s under a lot of pressure, but if you and I can keep smiling, it would be a big help. We can do that for him. Right?
  • Things couldn’t be better. After all, Riley’s twelve now. What could happen?

Fun Fact:

According to director Pete Docter, each emotion is based on a shape: Joy is based on a star, Sadness is a teardrop, Anger is a fire brick, Fear is a raw nerve, and Disgust is broccoli.

Final Thoughts:

This movie has quickly become one of my 2.5-year-old daughter’s favorites, probably due mostly to the beautiful artwork, physical comedy, and superb voice acting by the lead characters. However, the thoughtfully written and layered innuendo which has become something of a trademark of Pixar movies ensures that there is something here to enjoy for every age group. Older audience members may find the movie somewhat more emotional than the kiddos, because there is a lot of wistful nostalgia regarding the process of growing up and maturing emotionally. There are a few laugh-out-loud situations that I don’t want to spoil, but suffice to say the actors were well-cast for their comedic roles.

If there is one real drawback to the movie, it is that there is not a ton of educational value. The various areas of the brain are cleverly plotted, but don’t offer a lot of insight on brain functions or psychology, but, perhaps this is really not the appropriate venue for those topics. On the other hand, there is one central lesson; the idea that as we get older, our emotions become less clear, and opinions about what once was simply good-or-bad, true-or-false, tasty-or-gross, may end up somewhere in the middle. And this lesson may hit home stronger with growing children than some denser educational content, anyway.

Short Story: Mordred

When first I arrived, they made believe at being happy. Living meaningless lives, doing trivial deeds for small moments of levity. Truly loving no one but themselves. In their vanity, they all looked right through me, as if I were nothing more than metaphysical dust, sprinkled far and loose in the dark unseen spaces.

So I took away the sun.

Their reaction was swift, yet impotent. And how could it be anything more? They cannot fight what they do not see. What they do not even truly believe.

They came in droves with their war machines, wasting away their precious fuels in search of a cosmic Kraken. They found only death. Of course, they did not need me to serve it. I merely laughed at their impudence.

Such pathetic creatures, with their weapons of carbon and metal. What are these to me? A joke. Nothing more.

But I was merciful. I left them light, though it was a dark, bleak memory of sunshine. And I left them heat, though it was a faint cousin of warmth.

Their world grew cold, dark, and withdrawn.

For a time, there was respect. And for respect, properly shown, I do grant small favors. I am not unkind. A precious few became my blessed ones. I gave them far-seeing eyes, with which to enjoy the slow death-march of their kind.

But in others, there remained discontent. After several centuries, they adapted their infantile technology in an absurd attempt to master their lessened world. For them, their achievements were remarkable. Their lives approached a past normalcy and I was nearly forgotten.

So I took away the rest of the fuel.

How amusing, as the once-proud masses huddled in their once-proud homes for some last vestige of warmth. Seeking refuge from an unforgiving landscape in the only way they remembered how. Many did not remember. Their hands and their minds were too soft, and they withered away on the vine of their former lives.

But I am not unforgiving. I left them their wind. How amusing to watch their futile attempts to capture its energy, to warm themselves by the very thing making them cold.

For a time, their fear sustained them. A few blessed ones again found small favors of my affection. To them I granted heightened hearing, so that they could delight in the death-rattle of industry.

For a millennium, the tales of my power rang strong and true. Until an insolent few found their errant courage again. Though they did not know my name, they sailed out in massive ships of wood to lay me low, with vague ideas of recapturing their pathetic former glory. They screamed at the skies and stabbed with their knives. How silly they are. I stagnated the wind, but they rowed on. In search of what? Death? I was happy to provide it. But only on my terms.

So I poisoned the great seas.

I watched with rapturous delight as their boats slowly sprang leaks, disintegrated by the acidwater. They sank as they rowed to nowhere, and their cries of anguish turned to shrieks of pain and terror as their flesh melted away into the once life-giving water.

Those left behind on the shores were mostly the young, the weak, the infirm. Driven by the stagnant, fetid air and the evil waters, they sought shelter, cowering in the deep crypts of the world. There, they felt safe. Protected from the soured world by their comforting walls of dirt. So there I left them, minds and bodies rotting while they repented.

And I am merciful. I did not sentence them to death. I left them their underground aquifers.

For a time, there was respect. To a blessed few I granted unnatural sense of smell, so that they may sniff out the last gasps of civilization, and watch as it crumbled.

After two millennia, they again forgot my lessons. A few dug deep into the ground, hoping to find me unawares. They had not lost their senses of humor. I let them dig for a long time, enjoying the show as they dug tunnels deep, far, and wide. Rudimentary tools and conviction they had, but it was a slow affair, with thousands of meaningless deaths. At length, I grew bored of their pointless display.

So I sent the worms.

Great monstrous beasts of slime, hair, and scales, they woke from the depths and swallowed everything in their paths. The degenerates were driven from their precious earthen holes and back into the fetid air from which they’d sheltered. They found the air thick, and impenetrable. Many perished, lungs unable to cope with the prolonged effort.

But I am not unmerciful. I left their bodies intact, with which to enjoy the bleak, poisoned world that I allowed them to keep, in my generosity. To properly take in the fruits of their foul efforts against me.

But still some looked with disdain on the landscape. Unable to appreciate the world I had left them. They were blind to the brilliant gift of life that I allowed.

So I took their eyes.

How hilarious their dead, milky orbs looked, gazing aimlessly about. They would see no more. Do not think me unkind. I left them their ears, with which to hear each other speak to my glory.

But still some spoke out against me. Seeking to do with words what their creations could not. To defile my aura.

So I took their tongues.

I observed their sightless stumbles and as their shapeless cries of anguish faded into shapeless resigned mumbles, I knew that they had finally learned.

Then, they knew me as Mother.

(Originally posted on Geeks and Geeklets)

Book Review: Tarzan of the Apes

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Title: Tarzan of the Apes

Author: Edgar Rice Burroughs

Published: 1914

Pages: 279

Genre: Action/Adventure

Kid Friendly Rating: 11+ Parents may (or may not be) surprised to learn that the original work contains considerably more violence and racism than expected for a pop-culture touchstone. Click here for the Common Sense Media Guide!

Synopsis:

A cruel twist of fate cursed the English lord John Clayton and his pregnant wife to be stranded in the wild jungle of the southern African coast, with little hope of rescue. Miraculously, the young couple gives birth to a healthy baby boy, but further tragedy strikes, and the child is left alone, abandoned and parent-less.

When a grieving mother ape happens upon the young boy, she adopts him as her own, names him Tarzan, and raises him among the ape tribe. As Tarzan grows both in stature and intelligence, he begins to question his place in the world. In his adulthood, a chance meeting with a marooned group of English people sets Tarzan upon a course of self-discovery, heroism, and romance.

Final Thoughts:

Typically, I would hesitate to write a review for a hundred-year-old book, but as I read this one, I couldn’t help but notice that this book either directly or indirectly inspired many of the massive summer blockbusters and comic books of today. Tarzan of the Apes predates the late 1930’s debuts of popular DC comics like Superman and Batman by over a quarter century. While he is not the first “superhero,” having been predated at least by Spring-heeled Jack, The Scarlet Pimpernel, and Burroughs’ own John Carter of Mars, he is certainly among the earliest and most enduring literary hero figures.

But is Tarzan truly a superhero in the traditional sense? The answer, to me, is unequivocally yes. Tarzan’s abilities manifest at two different levels, depending on his company. Among the apes, he is physically outmatched, but he is as quick and agile as any ape due to both his quick reflexes and his ability to process information quickly. His advanced mental acuity saves him from several sticky situations with rival apes. This first occurs when, as a child, he teaches himself how to swim, to the astonishment of other apes who are typically afraid of water. The divide between man and ape irrevocably widens when Tarzan discovers knives and rope, and quickly becomes the most fearsome hunter in the jungle.

It takes other humans to arrive in the jungle for Tarzan and the reader to realize his superiority over fellow man. While Tarzan’s intellect and intuition still appears remarkably strong (although raw) among other humans, his real advantage over other people is his prodigious strength, coupled with his intimate knowledge of the jungle animals and tribes. Fellow characters observe Tarzan’s incredible strength and grace with awe, as Tarzan rescues people time and again. At one point, Captain Dufranne, a hardened sailor in his own right, refers to Tarzan as a “superman,” long before this word entered the popular lexicon.

Of course, as with any superhero story, there are moments that defy logic for the benefit of the narrative. Tarzan rather improbably teaches himself to read, progressing from observing “little bugs” in children’s books he finds to becoming a rather adept reader before he ever meets an Englishman. Despite being unable to understand spoken English, he somehow manages to piece together how to spell “Tarzan,” the name given him by his ape mother.

Nevertheless, it is very easy to overlook these little details for what is a very readable and interesting story. Burroughs excels at describing tense moments of action in vivid detail. Tarzan’s jungle fights are violent, bloody, and merciless. As action abounds throughout the story, it is mostly fast-paced, although it takes a few chapters for the narrative to really hit its stride.

Some readers may be turned off by a few racist passages, particularly regarding Jane Porter’s servant Esmeralda, and the African tribe that frequently runs afoul of Tarzan in his adventures, but the story is not aggressively racist. These brief moments largely seem to be a product of the less-enlightened time in which the book was written.

Overall, I found this book to be a truly enjoyable read. For me, this was the type of surprise, in terms of the readability and action, that keeps me returning to well-known older books periodically. These books are just sitting out there, waiting to be read, for free! You never know what you might fall in love with.

I give it 4/5 stars.

The book is available to read for free at Project Gutenberg; free Audiobook versions at Gutenberg and Librivox; and if you have a Kindle or the Kindle reader, you can find a free no-hassle version onAmazon.

Tarzan of the Apes is set for yet another movie adaptation, this one a live-action release scheduled for July 1, 2016, starring Alexander Skarsgård, Margot Robbie, and Christoph Waltz. Read the original work now so you can watch it come to life!

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