Belle’s Tale (Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, #1) and The Beast’s Tale (Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, #2) adapted by Mallory Reaves, illustrated by Studio Dice

When I was ten years old I became obsessed with fairy tales, visiting the public library and perusing as many books as I could find that were filled with tons of these stories from the past. One of my favorites was Beauty and the Beast, originally created by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve in 1740. However, the version I knew was adapted in 1889 by Andrew Lang in the Blue Fairy Book. The universal theme of finding love by uncovering the beauty within a person despite their outward appearance or misguided actions is appealing to all story tellers, so it’s not surprising that this is one tale that has gone through numerous reinventions over the years appearing in formats ranging from stage to screen to television to animation to written word and now – Manga style.

While I love Disney, in recent years their adaptations of many well known fairy tales only retain a teeny essence of the original such as Frozen (doesn’t even slightly resemble The Snow Queen), Tangled (well she did have really long hair), or The Princess and the Frog (not even close). However, many aspects of Disney’s animated Beauty and the Beast actually took components from the original, especially if you leave out that whole Gaston bit. While I haven’t seen the new live action Disney Movie, it is my understanding that several details were added to flesh out the story which at least have a footing in the French version.

Along with the artistic talents of Studio Dice, Mallory Reaves has created a manga graphic novel based on this movie. In order to provide some depth and present the points of view of both main charactors, Tokyo Pop has published twin companion books, Belle’s Tale: (Disney’s Beauty and and the Beast, #1) and The Beast’s Tale: (Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, #2). Their challenge was to retain the essence of the Disney renditions utilizing the Shojo Manga style which was beautifully accomplished with the location pieces superbly rich with details using line drawings to recreate various rooms in the castle and other locales. My favorite was the vast library which the Beast presents to Belle as her own. While it is difficult to capture all the nuances of a movie in a one dimensional drawing, the artist made a valiant attempt, helped along with our familiarity with the animation, stage, and movie versions so many of us have seen over the years.

As far as the plot is concerned, Belle’s point of view will be the most familiar to the readers, but the Beast’s tale is definitely a companion piece meant to be read in conjunction with the first. While Belle’s story could easily stand alone, too much is missing from the book featuring the Beast’s perceptions, despite the duplication of many panels. Yet I found it fascinating to listen in to the Beast’s thoughts and reactions as he experienced the same events as Belle, helping the reader undergo his transformation from Beast to man in a way which makes us root all the more for true love. While there are a few “holes” in both stories, the manga style necessitates brevity over explanation forcing the reader to interject their own aesthetics into the saga. It was clever how the artists were able to differentiate the character’s thoughts from the dialogue.

Both books contained several pages of concept art at the conclusion of the story.

A thank you to Netgalley and Tokyo Pop for providing this ARC in the exchange for an honest review. Four stars. This review also appears on my blog, Gotta Read.

The Little Mermaid by Metaphrog (John Chalmers and Sandra Marrs)

The Metaphrog team of John Chalmers and Sandra Marrs working out of Glasgow, Scotland have come up with a graphic non-Disney version of The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen. Utilizing Andersen’s rich, vivid descriptions of the land beneath the sea, their gloriously appealing, bright colored illustrations attempt to capture the essence of his words. The deep blue and green and orange templates are stunning in their beauty and detail.

This is not the feel-good, love-conquers-all fairy tale that has been sanitized for the general populace, but a sad story of sacrifice and unrequited love. The beautiful and talented youngest daughter of the Sea King finally gets a chance to peek at the human world on her fifteenth birthday. It is even more marvelous than her sisters and grandmother have related. Peering into a passing ship, she is mesmerized by a celebration in honor of a prince, but becomes horrified when a sudden storm destroys the vessel throwing the unconscious young man into the ocean. Realizing he cannot survive without her help, the young mermaid keeps his head above water and eventually gets him to a beach where others find and minister him back to health. Overcome with love for the man, she goes to the sea witch to find a way to become human, but it is a costly endeavor involving pain and the loss of her voice. Now in human form with two beautiful legs instead of a tail, the prince finds the Little Mermaid on the shore and brings her to live with him in the palace. Not realizing this is the one who saved him from drowning, the prince goes searching for the maiden he believes was his rescuer. While he cares for his mute companion, it is another woman he decides to marry. Unfortunately, without marriage to her true love, the Little Mermaid is destined to morph into the foam which floats upon the sea. In order to find a way to save her from this fate, her sisters sacrifice their lovely hair to the sea witch, but the Little Mermaid cannot bring herself to kill the man she loves and jumps overboard to become one with the foam.

Such a tragic ending, but not the intention of the author. In the original tale, the Little Mermaid is given a reprieve due to her unselfish sacrifice and finds herself lifted up by the Daughters of the Air and given a path towards immortality through her continued kindly actions.

The challenge Metaphrog faced was transforming the dense, comprehensive text of Andersen’s fairy tale into simple wording appropriate for a comic book format in order to tell the tale to the youngest of children, letting the graphics carry the plot. While some of the nuances and details of Andersen’s words were lost, the team did a credible job maintaining the integrity of the story. My main complaint is the dismal ending which could easily negate all hope for the future, when Andersen intended to provide a means of redemption for the young mermaid. While I wasn’t looking for a Disney style happily ever after ending, I also didn’t expect a narrative which depresses the anticipated audience of children, or for that matter, adults. Four stars.

A thank you to Netgalley and Papercutz for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul: How to Create a New You By Deepak Chopra

I can sum up this self-help/self-awareness book in three words – “mind over matter”. In Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul: How to Create a New You, Deepak Chopra examines all facets of a person’s life focusing on energy, ego, soul, and spirituality to highlight the way we should be perceiving our life goals. According to these writings, it’s as if we get in the way of our own happiness, but all this can be changed by following Chopra’s guidelines. The book concludes with a recommendation to utilize a detailed list of ten steps to wholeness.

Some of Chopra’s musings are intriguing, but the best part of this book is the anecdotal stories used to illustrate his premises. I was exposed to this work via an audiotape read by the author. Unfortunately, the subject matter was complex and at times I had difficulty understanding the material due to Chopra’s accent. In addition the tone of his voice was soft and soothing making me more inclined to take a nap than focus on the narration which required quite a bit of concentration.

While some aspects of the author’s theories seem reasonable, others could easily be debated. None the less, these assertions based on the author’s life experiences, including his career in medicine, are fascinating and thought provoking, although the text could have been shortened by eliminating some of the repetition.

However, my biggest take away from this book is the realization that I’m actually content with my life and while certain aspects of it could be improved, I just don’t want to work that hard.

This CD was given to me by the publisher and did not influence my review. I passed it on to my nephew, a psychology major, who is a deep thinker. Three stars.

This review also appears on Goodreads.

The Art of Losing Yourself by Katie Ganshert

If you enjoy Christian books with a capital C, then you might like The Art of Losing Yourself by Katie Ganshert, but don’t expect a squeaky clean story. This novel deals with issues such as alcoholism, failed relationships, sex before marriage, teen drinking and drug use, and swearing. Yet interspersed between these “sinful” behaviors are various scriptures and reflections about God and Jesus (which at times become a bit preachy). It’s easy to see why the main characters have doubts about their religion when they can relate better to the Book of Job than to the Gospels.

Two estranged half sisters end up together battling their personal demons. Carmen, a successful meteorologist on a local news channel, is numbed by her inability to have a child, lashing out while keeping her distance from a loving but clueless husband. Gracie is compulsive in her actions reflecting her anger at the world, but she gets a fresh start at a new high school and even begins to make friends despite her negative attitude.

Yet life is not fair and this is definitely not a fairy tale as even simple solutions are unattainable. Despite the hard work and dedication towards setting things right, more often than not failure is the result. Watching the hypocritical achieve their desired outcomes without a struggle, the sisters each wonder about God and why he doesn’t seem to be there for them.

A series of “coincidences” leads one sister to save the life of the other, but there is no resolution to their dilemmas, just more questions.

Three stars for an interesting, though depressing read.

Thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

It’s as if Carrie Fisher came to my house and initiated a conversation right in my living room. The free-falling intimacy-sharing format of her memoir, The Princess Diarist, brings the author to life, despite her fairly recent death.

This particular book touches on Fisher’s experiences as Princess Leia in the first of the Star Wars films. She takes us back to the seventies and relives those days of her teens. At that time she was naive and self conscious, despite growing up in a Show Biz family with mother Debbie Reynolds (and her divorced father Eddie Fisher).

Anyone aware of Carrie’s numerous books and talk show appearances knows about her transformation over the years from a shy, reticent girl to a pull-no-punches, shoot-straight-from-the-hip woman who faced life straight on, not dodging any bullets while sharing the truths in her life, including her drug addiction (or self-medicating to control her bi polar disorder).

But at nineteen, Carrie was fresh and talented and still a bit of a baby. Somehow she allowed herself to over imbibe at a cast party and almost got herself into a real mess with several of the rowdy crew when costar Harrison Ford “rescued” her right into the bedroom.

Thus began their location liaison lasting for three months until the last day of Ford’s filming when he left London to return home to his wife and two children.

Through the diaries which Carrie kept during that time frame, we hear the thoughts of a young girl who can’t believe that this handsome, older, more worldly man would choose her. Terrified she’d do or say the wrong thing, Carrie obsesses about her mostly silent partner as they spend their weekends together. She fantasizes about a future as a couple even while realizing that theirs is only an affair of convenience.

After thoroughly exploring this relationship, Carrie goes on to discuss the after effects of the Princess Leia role, including her interactions with the fans

Despite their instant fame, the young cast members had signed off all rights to the Star Wars merchandizing, so to fund her passion for shopping, Fisher found herself in need of ways to fill the coffers, including selling her signature (which she called the celebrity lap dance) at various events including Comic Cons.

While Fisher’s writing style is breezy and easy to read, full of anecdotes reflecting her twisted sense of humor and allusions to her youthful insecurities which spilled over into adulthood, too much time is spent on the “Carrington” affair (lots of attention, not too many details). The diary excerpts are difficult to read. I was nineteen once and I personally don’t want to read anyone else’s rambling reflections and anxieties involving their first love, especially this confusing relationship between Carrie and Harrison – two such disparate personalities. It’s just too personal.

The diary entries, especially the poetry, are often pretentious (although there are a few good lines) and embarrassingly over the top, although the reader gets an understanding of what Carrie was feeling during that interlude. Fisher is nothing if not open and honest, willing to kiss and tell while leaving out the actually sex (beyond a mention of their numerous make out sessions).

Despite the run on sentences and other flaws, Princess Leia fans will enjoy this trip down memory lane. An added bonus is the photographs interspersed throughout the book.

I’ve always been a Carrie Fisher fan (more the person, than the actual roles she portrayed), so this book was difficult to read knowing that she had tragically died of a heart attack at the age of sixty, not even old enough to collect social security. A close family, Carrie’s mom had a stroke and died while planning the funeral with her son. Fisher’s beautiful twenty five year old daughter is left to carry on the family tradition. Perhaps she’ll also have some stories to share so their family legacy lives on.

Check the internet for a tour of Carrie’s home full of amazing collectibles which are slated to be auctioned (along with items her mother/next door neighbor Debbie Reynolds accumulated over the years).

Three stars.

Thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodread.

Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich by Norman Ohler, translated by Shaun Whiteside

There is an expectation that the leadership of a country maintains good health and refrains from excessive drinking and drug use. We also assume that our doctors have the best interests of their patients in mind when suggesting appropriate treatments for their various maladies.

According to Norman Ohler in his book Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich (translated from German into English by Shaun Whiteside) both presumptions are misguided when referring to Nazi Germany.

It seems Hitler, who prided himself on maintaining a healthy lifestyle as a vegetarian, suffered from stomach upsets, abdominal cramps, constipation and insomnia. Seeking relief he called upon a doctor who was a favorite among those in the private sector, to see if he could help abate the symptoms. Dr Theodor Morell’s popularity was due to his liberal script writing practices, a skill which he exploited when he became Hitler’s personal physician. Ignoring the root cause of the complaints, Morell treated the symptoms with various “nutritional” shots which started with vitamin supplements but slowly progressed to designer injections including animal extracts as well as various highly addictive narcotics. As the victories of the Third Reich lessened, the health of the Fuhrer declined, necessitating higher and more frequent dosages of the injections to make him “feel more like himself”. This euphoria helped Hitler deny the inevitable as he continued to search for a secret weapon to finally defeat the Allies. Towards the end of the war when the pharmaceutical factories were destroyed by American bombs, Dr Morell could no longer give his addicted master the necessary fix so his role as drug dealer was terminated. When the inescapable take over of Berlin occurred Hitler’s final drug choice was a cyanid tablet which he freely passed around to his inner circle, including his dog and his girlfriend/wife.

In the beginning there were numerous pharmaceutical companies in Berlin which were producing heroin and cocaine, readily available as over the counter drugs. Remember during the 1920’s, cocaine was one of the ingredients in Coca Cola. When Hitler came to power, he wanted to purge Germany of those who had a dependency, so drug addicts were either put into rehab, neutered, or sent to the concentration camps for extermination. The Supreme Race had no room for flawed individuals.

But lessons about the results of indiscriminate drug use were not taken to heart. The army was looking for a chemical fix so that their soldiers could move forward without the need of sleep or rest. Thus began the prolific distribution of Pervitin, which uses the same chemical components found in crystal meth. It worked. The German Army moved like a battering ram, taking France under its control with little resistance. Who could fight an army of zombie-like creatures – hyped up on medication which banished the need for sleep or food, making the user feel invincible?

Throughout the war, the SS continued to search for and experiment with various drugs to increase their soldiers endurance without considering the eventual effects of their overuse. In other words, “What goes up, must come down”. Whether the abuse of stimulants led to the downfall of the Third Reich might be arguable, but it certainly didn’t help their cause.

The author backs up his claims with research, especially with the use of the extensive records/diary of the “good” doctor which were available in various archives in Germany as well as in the National Archives of Washington DC. This meticulous process of research (not everything is readily available on the Internet) led to Olney’s conclusions. In answer to why the Americans didn’t glom onto this information at the war’s end might be due to the sloppy penmanship of the Doctor, an insufficient grasp of German, and a lack of knowledge about the significance of the pharmaceutical industry. Patient A – Hitler – at one point was downing 120 to 150 tablets a week and receiving at least 8 injections including the highly addictive Eukodal and the opioid Eupaverin. Many of the doctors involved in the distribution of these medications, due to this oversight of the Allies, were able to take a stance of innocence when they should have been questioned as war criminals.

I found the whole premise fascinating, providing a plausible explanation for the occurrences of WWII, although appalling to read. One particular nightmarish story sticks in my mind. At Sachsenhsusen Concentration Camp there was a special track which the prisoners in the so-called walking unit were forced into an uninterrupted march to test out the endurance of various substances used to create shoes since leather was in short supply. The SS decided to use these inmates to test out various combinations of drugs to discover their effect on a soldier’s endurance to march through the night. Towards the end of the war, the Navy took several of these drugs to give to a new set of recruits from the Hitler Youth who were assigned to a mini sub which was supposed to go into the enemy harbor, torpedo English ships and then quickly retreat. The goal was to have the crew remain awake for the three to four day mission. Unfortunately, while these drugs increased endurance, they also decreased competency (an aspect which wasn’t tested). Most of the sailors perished when their hallucinations made navigation difficult and the muddied instructions too garbled to implement. One sub even surfaced and put up a white flag, ready to be put out of their misery.

If these stories aren’t horrid enough, after the war the Americans continued to study the effects of these drugs for their own potential use in warfare. It is difficult to be smug since, during that time period, our knowledge of the side effects of narcotics were rudimentary at best with uppers prescribed for weight loss and downers to assist insomniac patients. Even today, the pharmaceutical industry “experiments” on a society looking for a quick fix to better health, despite the lengthy process necessary for a drug’s approval for distribution. Every day there is an obituary for one or more people in any given community who has overdosed on heroin, with addictions to cocaine and crystal meth a continuing problem – even though these are illegal substances. We won’t mention the pervasive use of pot, legal in many states, for both medicinal and recreational use. This books gives a glimpse into the attitudes many still hold about the use of artificial means to reach a goal without regards to the predetermined resulting harm.

In picking up this particular book, one concern is the intent of a German author (this book was recently translated into English). Is Ohler trying to minimize the atrocities of Hitler and the Third Reich, blaming WWII on a rash of drug use? The answer is a resounding “no”, backed by his use of derogatory adjectives in describing the key players and the note that Hitler’s plan was clearly written in Mein Kamph years before the war, indicating his megalomaniac ways were ever present. While the drugs exaggerated the Fuhrer’s egotistical stubbornness, paranoia, and controlling manner, they didn’t create these character traits.

My one complaint is the author’s use of a fair bit of repetition as well as too much of a hard sell to prove his point. However, almost half the book contains notes for the various citations, resources, and illustrations/photos used to come up with this scenario. There is just too much evidence to dismiss this theory as ridiculous.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley and Houghton Mifflin for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review is also posted on Goodreads.

The Little Red Chairs by Edna O’Brien

The devastation of war leaves behind many victims consigned to clean up the mess that was once their life. Homeless, both literally and figuratively, they huddle together as refugees in their new countries trying to come to terms with an altered sense of self, brushing aside those clinging memories which must be left in the past if they are to survive in the future.

The title The Little Red Chairs by Edna O’Brien refers to the 11,541 red chairs placed in the center of the capital of Bosnia in 2012, representing each person who died during the 1992-1995 Siege of Sarajevo, small chairs (643) indicating the life of a child. Such a visualization can’t help but move the reader before a single page is even turned. O’Brien’s intent is to haunt us as the story unfolds.

A charismatic stranger, Dr Vladimir Dragan, enters a small town in Ireland, intriguing the locals as he worms his way into the community, setting up shop as an alternative healer. Using his knowledgable background, he mesmerizes the townspeople, gaining their trust, even taking their children out to the countryside to teach them about the natural habitat. Vlad’s expertise in literature and poetry endears him to the members of the book club, gaining him further acceptance. One lonely woman, Fidelma, in a frigid marriage to an older man, desperately wants a child and convinces Vlad to oblige her desires. He reluctantly agrees and during their brief affair he also introduces her to the romance she craves. Verifying her condition, she is left wondering how to explain her predicament to her husband when her lover, afraid of discovery, disappears. Several weeks pass and he reappears, rumpled and mangy, for a previously arranged poetry outing. On the bus filled with townspeople, he is arrested as a master war criminal to the horror of the entire village, but especially to the pregnant Fidelma. Vlad has been on the run for almost twenty years avoiding an arrest for the atrocities he ordered during the Bosnian War, especially during the Siege of Sarajevo. Responsible for the death of thousands in an attempt at ethnic cleansing to remove all the Muslims in Yugoslavia, this man is hated the world over.

Realizing she is carrying this monster’s child, Fidelma wonders how to rid herself of this affliction, but matters are taken out of her hands when she is kidnapped and brutalized for revenge by Vlad’s bodyguards who are livid that they couldn’t claim the huge reward for their former boss’s capture. Just barely escaping death, Fidelma is rejected by her husband and seeks refuge from the nuns at the nearby convent who help her escape to London where she becomes one of the homeless and disenfranchised.

Now a refugee from her own homeland where she no longer feels welcome she must find a new life which includes meeting and hearing the stories of others who also have heartbreaking tales to confess, a string of seemingly unrelated anecdotes sharing a common bond of crimes against humanity. Fidelma meanders through various jobs drifting from one location to another, finally seeing closure by going to The Hague to attend Vlad’s trial and confront her former lover who is unable to admit any responsibility for his actions. Hearing his blame game, she must accept her own guilt in this matter so she can move forward. In a way, she is another war victim of this man. Eventually Fidelma finds some sort of peace with the help of her “new kin”.

Don’t be fooled by the simplicity of this story which is full of literary references and an underlying message. There are many parallels with the author’s life. Edna O’Brien was a poet from a young age who felt a deep connection to literature and ran off with a writer to spite her parents and escape their disapproval, just as Fidelma left her parents to find a better life with an older, wealthier husband. O’Brien, who focuses on the truth, refusing to sugar coat her findings, has habitually found her books banned in Ireland due to the power and control of a church which prefers to deny the foibles of the average man prone to sin. O’Brien believes literature provides a means of escape and uses literary illusions as a parallel to Fidelma’s hardships, with references to classics such as Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse, The Heart of Darkness by William Conrad, The Aeneid by Virgil, and A Midsummer’s Night Dream by William Shakespeare. Including subtle underlying caveats, such as the name Fidelmas which means faithfulness and Vud (Vlad’s nickname) which means wolf, O’Brien’s true genius is in her vignettes revealing that each person has a tale to tell, no matter how reluctant the storyteller.

Carefully researched to bring an authenticity to her writing, O’Brien even attended the trial at The Hague of Radovan Karadzic, the true villain behind the ethnic cleansing in the Bosnian War who received a sentence of forty years about a year ago.

This seemingly straightforward book leaves the reader with more questions than answers. While I would have preferred a bit more expository transitions between events, The Little Red Chairs is a poignant narrative reminding us of the evil which still exists in our world manifested, but all too often ignored, in the mantra “Never Forget”.

Four stars.

This review also appears on Goodreads.

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