Thursday, January 30, 2014

Tara Road by Maeve Binchy--Dedication to the Wonderful People of the Ukraine


     This post is dedicated today to the wonderful people of the Ukraine. My heart goes out to you in your time of struggle and suffering. I wish I could fix this for you, but we all know I can't. What you are all going through right now is absolutely don't really need me to tell you that. But...please know that I keep you all in my heart and extend my arms to you in love. God bless you.

Tara Road book cover image is

TARA ROAD by Maeve Binchy

Book Review by Sharon Powers.

 Just as the Titanic, once thought to be a ship of dreams, sank and left survivors floundering and floating in lifeboats, Tara Road, is the hub around which Binchy sets the lives of the up-scale and exclusive families. They live, and seem to flounder through their lives on Tara Road, each surviving in their own individual lifeboat.   

  While Binchy utilizes a number of colorful and interesting characters, her focus is on Ria Lynch and the people around her that move out and away from her like the spokes on a wheel--not unlike the lifeboats floating out and away from the Titanic. As the story begins we see Ria and Danny (Ria's husband) buying a beautiful home in the upscale and trendy Tara Road district. They go to no ends to beautifully furnish the lovely home. Ria's forte is cooking; her food pleases everyone's palate except her husband Danny's. Danny separates from Ria; it seems his tastes run to a very pregnant young woman with whom he's had an affair.

Tara Road cover for DVD on Amazon.
  Ria--now foundering and alone--arranges, with an American woman, for an exchange of homes for the summer. Marilyn, with a talent for gardening (and a virtual green thumb), exchanges her beautifully gardened home in America with Ria's home in Dublin. Across an ocean and over the summer the women learn about each other's secrets and the consequences of involving themselves in each other's life. 

  Binchy ties everything up by the end in a surprising, albeit satisfying manner. Binchy's stories tend to be didactic, but not blatently so. They entertain and instruct and seem to convey a rich truth to the reader (without being preachy). The word allegory comes to mind, here. We don't see happy, romantic endings in her work, but rather, as in Tara Road, two women who learn truths about their lives, namely, that after you lose someone you love, you can learn to live again. Ria doesn't reunite with her husband (as she fantasizes) and Marilyn learns to accept her loss (that she's been trying to avoid), as well. They are only able to learn these things by each of them secretly helping the other.

  This wonderful and poignant book was an Oprah's Book Club selection in 1999. Then, in 2005, Tara Road came to the big screen as a a movie with the same name. The movie starred Andie McDowell and Olivia Williams, Johnny Brennan, Iain Glen, Jennifer Buckley, and the director was Gillies MacKinnon; it was released to DVD October 9, 2007.

I am delighted to have found a trailer of the movie, Tara Road, for you to enjoy. Here it is:

About the Author: Maeve Binchy is a well-known, and very well-loved, Irish author focusing on the life of women and their families, generally, in smallish towns and cities in Ireland. She also wrote short stories and was a speaker, columnist and playwright. The endings of many of her books were characterized by surprise endings cleverly done and often humorous. She completed sixteen novels, one play, novella(s), and four collections of short-stories. For her work she won the British Book Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1999, a People of the Year Award in 2000, the W.H. Smith Book Award for Fiction in 2001, the Irish PEN Award, in 2007, an Irish Book Award for lifetime achievement, and in 2012 another Irish Book Award in the Irish Popular Fiction category. Three of her works went to film: Circle of Friends, Tara Road, and How About You (an Irish film). Some of her work has also appeared on radio and television. Well-known and beloved author Maeve Binchy passed away at the age of 72 on July 30, 2012 after a short illness.

What Do I Think About Tara Road?
  I loved the story. Binchy immediately gets the reader interested (and invested in) the character of Ria (and Marilyn when she is introduced). Binchy lets the story gently unfold--it seems to grow like the plants in Marilyn's garden warmed by the sun opening to its rays. I loved the metaphors of cooking and gardening. Ria nurtures everyone with her magnificent cooking. Marilyn tends her garden beautifully until (metaphorically speaking) one of her plants dies.

     Once the women exchange houses for the summer, Marilyn begins tending Ria's garden; she begins by cutting away the dead wood and putting things to right [Snicker, snicker.]. In America, Ria is also involving herself in Marilyn's life and "cooks up" (sorry for the shameless puns) her own solutions for Marilyn's problems. Binchy is thoroughly delightful in the way she utilizes the disparate talents of the two women. If you haven't read this book yet, when you do, be sure to look for the cooking and gardening themes throughout the book. I loved the book. My rating for this beautiful book is 4.0 Stars out of 5.

My Rating:    4.0 Stars out of 5  

Amazon Rating     4 Stars (407 Reviewers)
GoodReads          3.8 Stars (1,244 Reviewers)
Google Books      4.0 Stars (60 Reviewers)

Book Information:
ISBN 0440235596 (ISBN13: 9780440235590)
Pages: 656
Publisher: Dell; Oprah's Book Club Edition (09-04-07)
Sold by: Random House LLC
Language: English

ASIN: B000W969EK

It has been delightful being with you today. I hope you enjoyed my review of Maeve Binchy's, Tara Road. Until next time...

...many happy pages of reading.

__________________________________________________ - TARA ROAD (book and book cover) by Maeve Binchy on Amazon; - Oprah's Book Club selection, 1999, Tara Road - Tara Road, big screen 2005; - Tara Road DVD cover; - Tara Road Trailer; - Amazon Ratings; - Google Books; - 4 Stars out of 5; - About the Author and photograph; - white rose.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Pompeii, From the Ashes . . . Rediscovering Pompeii in Books, Movies, and Games.

UPDATE TO BLOG POST, 06-10-14: This update is just to let you know that for all those interested in purchasing the movie, Pompeii, it is now available on Blu-ray/DVD. As of this day, 06-10-14, average Amazon viewers of the movie, Pompeii, rate it 2.9 stars out of 5. A fairly poor rating. Having read all the books, below, and viewed documentaries, played the video and board games, and studied the maps, I find the movie inaccurate and  fanciful. Although the movie had that artistic, big-screen feel to it, glamorous and beautiful, it just left me dissatisfied. If you are uncertain whether or not to purchase the movie, try renting it before buying. My best to you all.
Book Review by:
Sharon Powers.

     Pompeii, the newest movie, about the fateful city by the same name, has garnered so much interest that I felt compelled to do a posting. The movie, however, was not based on a book, but on a screen play. So...I decided to do the post on the topic of Pompeii, including several nonfiction books on Pompeii as a tie-in to the movie. 

     First, as I said, the upcoming release of Pompeii has stirred up interest in all things Pompeii. I'm talking about the the real deal--yes, Pompeii, the city in ruins from the volcanic eruption on August 24/25 AD 79. To that end, I have selected perhaps, not definitive works on Pompeii, but books that I found attractive and interesting and, of course, I hope you do, too.

     But first, let's see the trailer of the movie, Pompeii, from which the almost manic interest about Pompeii has been kindled. The movie debuts 02-21-14. The trailer is short, so please enjoy this beautifully crafted trailer, then read about the books I selected for review, just below the trailer.

     The movie is about a gladiator (Milo, played by Kit Harington) who races to save the woman he loves, Cassia (played by Emily Browning). Milo fights to get out of the arena and races against time as Pompeii is being buried under ash and rock (and in the movie version, lava) to save Cassia. She is engaged to corrupt Roman Senator Corvus, who is played by Kiefer Sutherland; Milo's friend, Atticus, is played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje. The screenplay writers consisted of Janet Scott Batchler, Lee Batchler, Julian Fellowes, and Michael Robert Johnson; Paul W.S. Anderson, Directed the picture. RELEASE DATE: 02-21-14.
BODIES FROM THE ASH: Life and Death in Ancient Pompeii.
     The first book I have for you today, is a fascinating hardcover book, Bodies From the Ash: Life and Death in Ancient Pompeii. The book gives detailed information about the lives of Pompeii's citizens, the chronology of the eruption of Vesuvius, and striking analysis of events as they likely took place.  As James M. Deem chronicles the fact-driven book, he utilizes photographs of architecture, art, and plaster (molds of) bodies fallen in the ruins. 
by James M. Deem. Available from in 
hardcover for $12.76, paperback for $14.29, 
USED: in hardcover and paperback from
$1.56 to $14.29. For those who have Amazon
Prime, you get free two day shipping.

     Deem relates things that archaeologists have learned through examining the site and shows just how endangered Pompeii is to both the ravages of the elements and to the potential threat of another eruption of Vesuvius. Breem explains that Vesuvius is one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world since over one million people live in its shadow.

     I found many of the photographs very moving. The reader observes--in the mold of the plaster cast of the person's body--the very last moments of that person's life. We see how each person faced death. Then, seeing the architecture and streets where people lived and walked and worked everyday, just made their poignant lives real to me.

     I really, really liked this book. That is why I selected it to lead off today's offerings for you. If you only have time for one of the items I present today, this is it. It is very informative, poignant, and everything is beautifully presented.
This book, Pompeii Reconstructed, by
Maria Antonietta Lozzi, was imported from
Italy, and is in English. The book has
overlays so you can see what Pompeii
looked like before the devastation and what
it looks like now. A DVD, included, gives
you a virtual tour of Pompeii. The book
also contains maps to show you all the
important locations--then and now.
Recommended, if you have plans
to visit Pompeii, or if you have been there.
Pompeii: Reconstructed.
     This hardcover book on Pompeii I chose because it is all about the architecture of the famous city. And boy, is there a lot of architecture to cover. This book is somewhat unique in that some pages have been constructed utilizing cutout overlays so the reader can see what Pompeii looked like before the Vesuvial eruption and what it looks like now.

     As I indicated in the caption beneath the book cover image, I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is planning a trip to Pompeii or to someone who has already visited the ancient city. I probably should add, if you are like me and just want to learn more about Pompeii, the book would also fill the bill.

     This book contains tons of information about the architecture. For example, the book explains that some of the buildings that had been damaged in the huge earthquake in AD 62 were still in the process of being restored when Mt. Vesuvius erupted and destroyed the city. The Eumachia Building is a prime example of partial reconstruction prior to the volcanic eruption. The book also gives important background information about the founding of the city and the influences the various groups had on architecture and painting. Importantly, the Pompeian house floor styles are explained, and shown, so the reader understands when specific terms are used later in the book, for example, peristyles (courtyards surrounded by columns).

     Pompeii Reconstructed also does a wonderful job explaining about the four styles of Pompeian painting used in the buildings as frescoes or as mosaics. It explains that knowing the four styles not only helps the viewer appreciate the beauty of the art and to understand about the lives of Pompeii's citizens, but is an invaluable tool in dating the building, reconstruction and remodeling done in various periods.

     The book has also included information about visiting the excavation, construction materials and building techniques, the gateways into/out of the city, the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, information gleaned from writings (Strabone--who considered the volcano extinct, and Pliny the Younger who chronicled the events of the eruption and sent them to Tacitus.), information about the "New Excavations," and a fold out map of Pompeii then and now. The book covers some 46 specific public and private buildings individually, providing detailed information on each (including a picture, often with overlays to see the before and after). The DVD gives you a short, virtual tour of the city.
The Downfall of Pompeii,
the board game by MayFair Games.
Available from,
starting at: $29.00

    The Downfall of Pompeii. As I was looking for a new book on Pompeii, I spotted this unique-looking board game and, on a whim, ordered it. I played it with my family over the Christmas Holidays. The set up is easy and only took a few minutes. The rules, however, took a little longer to understand. Figuring out the shuffling and dealing instructions for the cards took a few minutes. Once that was done, play was easy and fun.
Both the box and the board are have a beautiful feel because
of the linen finish used. Also in the picture are the cards, real
wood game pieces (yellow, blue, black & red) portraying the
citizens, the cone used to form the volcano (Vesuvius), the
heavy duty square cardboard tiles (blue and red) and the
cloth bag from which they are drawn, and the colorful game
instructions pamphlet. 
     The game goes in stages. First, get as many citizens (your game pieces) onto the board as possible. The number on the card you draw determines where your citizens get placed on the board. Each player continues placing citizens onto the board each turn until the first of two AD 79 cards are drawn.

     Stage Two: If an "Omen Card" is drawn (not shown), the player can choose to remove another player's game piece from the board. Players continue to add pieces to the board on each turn until the second of the two AD 79 cards are drawn.
A real game in process: the turning point in the game comes when the second AD 79 card (Vesuvius erupting) is drawn.  You can no longer put citizens (game pieces) into the city...they all must flee in order to save their lives. The citizens attempt to flee through one of the seven gates...but, they could be blocked or killed by pyroclastic flow before they are able to get out the gate. The winner will be determined by who has saved the most citizens (game pieces). At this point, the cards are set aside and the blue and red square cardboard tiles are brought out (see photo below).  
Porta di Sano gate (center right) is closed off--with a tile of pyroclastic ash
(or lava) in front of it, as is Porta Nocera (right bottom). Citizens dressed in
yellow and blue are still alive and trying to flee through Porta di Nola (top
right), as is one citizen in yellow at the Porta di Stabia gate (bottom center).
     The bag with the blue and red tiles are passed around and on each turn every player takes a tile and places it on the board. If a tile lands on top a citizen (game piece), the citizen is dead and put into the volcano. You move your pieces towards the closest gate to get them out the gate and to safety. In this game, the citizens dressed in red (see bottom left of photo) have been saved and are out of the city.

     I asked each of the players to rate the game. Three gave it a score of 4 stars out of 5 and one gave it a score of 3 stars out of 5. The average turned out to be 3.75 stars out of 5. However, the person who scored it 3 stars later asked me if we could all play the game again this upcoming weekend. Hmmmm.? Everyone said it was a fun game. I especially like that we can play a game in 45 to 60 minutes, unlike Monopoly that can sometimes take hours to play.

From the History Channel,
Ancient Discoveries [Ancient
Civilizations], Pompeii: Buried
Alive (DVD and book set).
Available from

    Another Pompeii-related item, today, is a book with a DVD to accompany it. The book's cover is strikingly beautiful and terrifying at the same time. This book provides a lot of facts in a relatively small space. After you've read the book, take the quiz at the end to see just how much you can recall. Then, put the DVD on and watch fifty minutes of interesting documentary information presented by the History Channel.

    The History Channel put out a fifty-two volume set of different Ancient Discoveries locations. This particular volume, #8, is about Pompeii. I have owned the complete set since 2008. I checked the website for you and discovered that it is no longer for sale. I did, however, find that the book/DVD combo of this title, Pompeii (#8), is still available on Amazon. You might find it elsewhere, with a little looking.
    This informative little book also has provided a few websites that you can visit on your computer. I went to all three web sites and found them fascinating and informative. The photographs on the web sites were striking! So, if you want to learn more about Pompeii, here are the three suggested sites, as listed on page 24 of the book:

(1) The English version of the official site for the National Archaeological Museum of Naples where most of the Pompeii finds are kept; includes images and descriptions of artifacts.
(2) A glimpse of everyday life of the Romans in Pompeii with photo gallery and information on artifacts from Pompeii, including very rare finds such as  food items.
(3) An interesting article on the making and exhibiting of casts of the victims of Pompeii.
     The following documentary is somewhat lengthy, almost an hour. Seeing the facial reconstructions, alone, would be worth your time. I also found the explanation about pyroclastic flow absolutely fascinating. I must say that the thing I most enjoyed from the documentary was the facial reconstruction of two of Vesuvius's victims from the ash--one man, one woman. The process was amazing, and absolutely fascinating. I loved the reconstructions because it brought two people back to life, so to speak.


This screen shot is from the video game, Darkest of Days,
a time travel game where the player goes back in time
to rescue certain individuals from harm or destruction.
Here, Father Time needs to be rescued by the player.
You can see  Mt. Vesuvius erupting in the background.

    I promised you a video game that features Pompeii--well, here it is: Darkest of Days. Two screen shots from within the game. You can see Mt. Vesuvius erupting in the background in the first shot, and people running in the second, with ash falling all around.

     The reason I have this section (about a video game) in my blog today is merely to show that the mythos of Pompeii has invaded almost every corner of our society. For whatever reason, Pompeii has captured the imagination and interest of many, many people. And . . . it has been stirred up again, thanks to the the movie makers putting "The City" in front of us in the form of the new movie, Pompeii, being released on February 21, 2014.

Another screen shot from Darkest of Days, this time you can
see Pompeians running to escape...the time traveler has a
gun in preparation for meeting the bad guys...a gun? Yes, I
know...but remember, this is time travel and the time traveler
is from the distant future. You can also see clumps of
volcanic ash falling from the skies from the eruption.

ABOUT THE GAME: In this computer game the player travels back and forth through time to relive and complete quests involved in that unique time period. The game takes you through such time locations as the Civil War, World War I and II, and what we're focusing on today, Pompeii. 

     The game is a FPS (first person shooter) game, that goes beyond the typical shooting game. In Darkest of Days you have to be careful not to change time, to approach your quest (missions) with strategy and care in not killing the sought-after subject. 

Darkest of Days is available
on PC and Xbox 360 plat-
forms for $6.00, in stock as
of this date. Free two-day
shipping for Amazon Prime
members. Amazon rating is
3.4 stars (27 Reviewers). 
     The game falls within the action genre, and the Developer is 8monkey Labs, the Publisher, Phantom EFX (Release Date: September 2009). The game comes in English, French, German, Italian, Russian and Spanish interfaces. Online forums exist, Community Groups and an Official Game Group. 

The Official Site for the game can be located here: The Rating is: M [ESRB Descriptors: Blood, Strong Language, Violence]. Importantly, the metascore (from is 51/100 (which, in reality, is not that high--I prefer a metascore of 80+). [Note: The metascore is based on the average reviews of 20 critics.] The User Score is 6.0 and is based on the average reviews of 96 separate user ratings. 

     Although I don't use cheat codes in my gaming, for those who do care, Cheat Codes do exist for this game--just follow this link to learn more about cheat codes for the game: Darkest of Days may be purchased at various locations including Amazon and STEAM (Valve network). 

The Last Days of Pompeii.
The 1935 version by Director Merian C.
Cooper. Notable actors include the
following: Preston Foster, Alan Hale,
Basil Rathbone, Dorothy Wilson,
and Director, Ernest B Schoedsack.
     Legendary producer, Merian Cooper and Director, Ernest Schoedsack, teamed up to bring The Last Days of Pompeii to the silver screen. Year: 1935. The movie is loosely based on the Bulwer-Lytton book which I have not reviewed in this posting.

     The story has been created using a Christian/gladiatorial theme, one in which its star, Preston Foster, who was originally a peace-loving blacksmith loses his wife and falls on hard times. Preston goes to the arena to fight and after killing a man in the arena, adopts the man's son and raises him. After a series of (mis)adventures, Preston's son meets Jesus and his life is changed forever; Preston's life is not. Years pass and then the eventful day comes when Mt. Vesuvius erupts.

     If you can get past laughing at the flabby gladiators...well, don't. The movie is slow, and laughing at all that flab will keep you amused until the story reaches the climatic part--the eruption of Vesuvius and destruction of Pompeii. The eruption scenes take about twenty minutes, so, just be patient until you get to them. I think watching this film was worth my time because even though it was slow, compared to today's new movies, we not only get a see how people viewed the destruction of Pompeii in the '30s, but the climatic scenes are wonderful. On Amazon, this movie is rated 4.4 stars out of 5 (23 reviewers) and costs $9.79 (free two-day shipping with Amazon Prime); it comes in a 1-disc DVD version and can be purchased used from $4.70. 

The Pompeii Pop-up by David
Hawcock, Peter Riley,
and Dr. Thorston Opper.

    The final Pompeii-related item today is, yes, you guessed it, a pop-up book. I believe that anything that can stimulate interest in reading is GREAT! This lovely pop-up book does that, and...about one of my favorite topics, Pompeii. I have owned this beautiful book since February 5, 2009 (and my Pompeii: Buried Alive book, above, since 2008), so you see my interest in Pompeii is not new. I have not been to visit Pompeii, yet, but I dearly want to go. Until then, I must find satisfaction in my books.

     As expected, the book is hardcover and may be purchased new for $10.83 or used from $9.39 at Amazon. As you can see, the star of the show, is the largest pop-up in the book (just below), Mt. Vesuvius erupting over the City of Pompeii while the citizens flee. This three-dimensional picture recreates the horror of the disaster that took place on August 24/25 AD 79.

     The six beautiful full-color pop-up spreads, include a pop-up ship on the Mediterranean Sea showing Pompeii's importance in trading goods and a fold-out map of Italy. Two full pages are dedicated to "City Life" (including work, money, amphorae, markets and bakeries, religion and the gods, statuary, almost a full page pop-up Forum, leisure, theater and music, gladiators, and a secondary pop-up amphitheater.). 

     Two more pages show a pop-up Roman villa (with a cutaway so you can see the inside), with a secondary pop-up of the Roman baths, information about water, food, clothing, slaves, and growing up in Pompeii. 

     The third full two page spread shows Mt. Vesuvius erupting (to the right) with text on the left and right (not shown) about the hail of rocks, the pyroclastic flow, avalanches, stages of the eruption, the explosion and cloud shape and the sad story of Pliny the Older (by Pliny the Younger). 

     The fourth two page spread boasts two pop-ups, shown here just below, and is entitled, "End of Days." The first pop-up shows the pumice hailstorms and talks about how the ground shook and the seas raged. It also talks about the death toll and how Pompeii's citizens tried to flee the city carrying their possessions.

     The second pop-up on the "End of Days" page (to the right) talks about how the pumice and ash nearly buried the city and all that could be seen were the very tops of some houses and buildings. And then it talks about the avalanches (pyroclastic flow) that brought the end to any who were left alive.

     The final two page spread contains three mini-pop-ups of The House of the Faun, The Bakery of Modesto, and The Inn of Asellina. Also, a street map of Pompeii is shown with all the famous locations like the mosaic of The Battle of Alexander the Great (House of the Faun) and the "Beware of the Dog" mosaic.  The page also talks about the bodies and skeletons of the deceased citizens and of the mosaics and frescoes that adorned their homes. A pull-out drawer holds a booklet about the City of Herculaneum, a 3-D Gladiator mask, and a 3-D Roman amphitheater.

     I greatly enjoyed perusing the pages of the Pompeii Pop-up book. The information included was amazingly detailed as well as informative. Moreover, the scope of themes in the book were expansive and the writers and paper engineers are to be commended for their excellence in putting the book together for their reading audiences. I give this book a 5.0 stars out of 5 stars rating.

Pompeii: The Last Day
and Colosseum: A
Gladiator's Story
 is a
DVD available on Ama-
zon for $5.49 (free 2-day
sh/h for Prime Members).
     As I was preparing the blog post for Pompeii, I ordered a number of new Pompeii-related items to be shipped to me in the mail. This DVD came just after I finished drafting the above-related information, so I added it, here, at the end. What I have for you is, Pompeii: The Last Day, a well-known 2003 BBC production about Pompeii's last day. The DVD also contains a bonus 50-minute program, Colosseum: A Gladiator's Story (a true-to-life story about a famous Roman gladiator, Verus). 

     In preparing this blog post, I read and reviewed a number of books, documentaries, movies, and games. This DVD may be the best production out there when it comes to helping us understand what it was like to live in Pompeii and what it was like on the last day in Pompeii.

     The DVD is very informative, but perhaps the best thing it does is to bring the residents of Pompeii to reality, to life. Parts of the story are very poignant and made me feel so sad for those poor people. If you want to understand Pompeii better, watch the documentary. I highly recommend this 50 minute show, with the caveat, that sensitive viewers or children, might choose a different program to view. I have found for you the YouTube posting of the program, Pompeii: The Last Day; please enjoy.


A frescoe from the House
of Centenario
   The reason I have included items such as games, movies, documentaries, and pop-up books to this book review is that I've learned that looking at these things can not only excite the imagination, it, most importantly, can stimulate the desire to learn something more of the topic--here, Pompeii. 

     The person then goes to a library, on-line source, e-book, or book to obtain more information about the object of their desire (say, frescoes, like the one on the left, here). That is exactly what happened, to me. I saw the trailer for the movie, and I ran to my books about Pompeii and then ordered more from Amazon; I also did other research into books and websites about Pompeii. The result is what I have brought you today. I hope you have a similar experience. 

Glass from Pompeii.
     I know that I feel enriched by learning even more than I already knew about Pompeii (and volcanos)! I appreciate life more. I appreciate the information age I live in more. So . . . anything that can stimulate a person to read more, I am all for it. Reading doesn't have to be dull and lifeless. If art isn't your thing (like the statuary, frescoes and mosaics of Pompeii), what about fighting and swords (like the gladiators)? or Baking (like the bread baked in the Modesto Bakery, in Pompeii)? Love the ocean? Then what about the ships, trading, ocean life, sea food or recreation in Pompeii? How about archaeology or vulcanology? 

Architecture--a street in Pompeii.
     None of that interests you? What about animals, like dogs (they were a part of the life of Pompeians.). Pompeii had a large and thriving glass blowing industry--do you like hand blown glass? There are so many things, like architecture, politics, fashion, make-up and make-up techniques for women, theater, religion . . . or prostitution, slavery, bath houses, and fast food joints--yes, they had fast food joints in Pompeii! 
The Bulwer-Lytton story
in comic book form--see
Classics Illustrated, #35:
The Last Days of Pompeii
by Edward Bulwer-Lytton.

     There are so many exciting things about Pompeii, and the world, to read about. Find something. And, if you need a movie, game, documentary, on-line surfing, a Classics Illustrated comic book, or a trip to the theater to see the upcoming movie, Pompeii (opening in theaters on 02-21-14) to stimulate your reading desire--go for it! I give you permission.

     Enough, for now. My sincerest hope is that you pick up a book and read it--hopefully, this week, it is something about Pompeii. Learn something. Enjoy something. Read something! I love my books . . . and what I find inside them--I know you will, too.

Until next time...
White Rose.

...many happy pages of reading.



_______________________________________________________ - Pompeii movie poster banner (2014); - Pompeii (teaser trailer) from YouTube; - Bodies From the Ash: Life and Death in Ancient Pompeii (hardcover edition); - Pompeii: Reconstructed; - The Downfall of Pompeii by MayFair Games; -Pompeii: Buried Alive; - Body molded from Pompeii; - Mold of person in death; - Carbonized bread from Pompeii; - YouTube Documentary about Pompeii; - Screenshot from Darkest of Days; - Screenshot #2 from Darkest of Days; - Darkest of Days from Amazon; - The Last Days of Pompeii (1935) in DVD from Amazon; - The Pompeii Pop-up Book; - The Last Days of Pompeii (1935) DVD, Director: Merian C. Cooper; - Pompeii: The Last Day DVD (Amazon); - YouTube video of Pompeii: The Last Day; - Fresco from the House of Centenario; - glass from Pompeii; - Architecture, a street in Pompeii; - Classics Illustrated: The Last Days of Pompeii (Kindle Edition); - White Rose.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin--Winter's Tale Now Available on Blu-ray and DVD!

The novel, Winter's Tale, by Mark Helprin
is available in hardcover, paperback,
Audio, CD, Audiobook, Audible Edition,
and mass market paperback.
Book Review by:
Sharon Powers.

     I balked at picking up this hefty tome since it comes in at 768 pages! I put off reading it because of its size. I remembered the time commitment to read other sizable novels like The Count of Monte Cristo (1276 pages), and Atlas Shrugged (1200 pages). I put off reading the book. I heard that it was a masterpiece by writer, Mark Helprin. I heard that it was beautiful, ethereal, and...beautiful, again. I put off reading the book. 

     One weekend, for relaxation with my family, I went to the theater to see a movie. While we were waiting for the start of the featured film, we were shown many movie trailers of upcoming movies. It all stopped for me when I saw the trailer for Winter's Tale. The trailer mesmerized me. I ran home and, yes, without even contemplating the size of the book, opened its "magical" pages.

A different book cover for the novel,
Winter's Tale, by Mark Helprin. This
cover shows the horse (from the book)
flying through the sky, almost as a
constellation. In fact, many scenes
exist in the book where the stars and
night sky are utilized to set the
magical atmosphere and references
made to the constellations. In this
story, Athansor actually does fly
through the air, and towards the
end of the book he flys up to
join the stars.
     The basic plot of Winter's Tale is relatively straight forward, easy to describe. It is the story of an orphan, Peter Lake, who grows up on the streets of New York to become a master mechanic and a master thief. Peter Lake runs with the "Short Tails" crime gang for ten years; later, Pearly Somes, the crime boss, tries to kill Peter--at every turn. In an attempt to burglarize a mansion, Peter Lake runs into a dying woman, Beverly Penn. The two fall for each other. Peter struggles to understand the love he has been given; nonetheless, he gives into it thoroughly. Beverly's father gives his blessing and the two marry, but unfortunately, not happily ever after. Beverly dies, leaving Peter bereft. Peter is so entrenched in this mysterious love for Beverly, he feels driven to stop time to bring back the dead. After Beverly's funeral, Peter disappears onto the streets of New York. But this short description of the basic plot falls far short of describing Mark Helprin's book.

     As I said, the basic plot is easy enough to describe. What is not so easy, is how the story unfolds and is then resolved. Helprin creates this story through use of the language that is at once, esoteric and complex, and some of the most beautiful prose I have ever read. He starts by setting his story, not in a fictionalized, created world, but in New York. While the city is an ordinary, perhaps mundane environment, Helprin introduces elements that invade the story. Things that we know cannot be true. They seem geared to disorient or disquiet us.

     One of the major examples of elements invading the story that cannot be true is that Peter Lake lives well beyond his years, and yet, does not appear to age. Other people around him die, like Beverly and later her father, and others, but he goes on and new generations of people appear.

     Other fantastical elements appear, as well. A huge white horse, named Athansor, can jump five blocks in one bound and can evade and defeat all enemies--later the horse can even fly. We are introduced to this white horse in the opening pages of the book as the horse escapes from a small stable in Brooklyn. The horse meets Peter as Peter runs from death at the hands of the "Short Tails" gang. Then, the horse carries Peter away, running "...faster than any racehorse could have run [covering] half a block in one stride..." and jumping over one whole block of people  (Kindle Ed. Location 1205).

     To aid in the development of the over all story, Helprin witholds information from the reader, never providing explanations about the fantastical elements in this disquieting world. Never explaining how the horse can do all the fantastic things it can do. Never explaining how or why Peter Lake doesn't seem to age.

    And yet these, and other magical elements, are presented as if they are ordinary, everyday occurrences. Doing so, enables the reader to accept the extraordinary, magical elements in relationship to the ordinary, mundane, even gritty, world of New York.
Is Winter's Tale Magic Realism or Romanticism? Briefly,
Romanticism is an 18th Century artistic and intellectual
movement characterized by a heightened interest in nature,
and individual expression of the emotion and imagination
(departing from classicism). Romanticism, as a
term, seems to be very broadly applied to literature
and also differs from that used in visual arts.

     So, what is going on with Helprin utilizing the fantastical story elements and a realistic setting? One good explanation could be magic realism. Some of the more notable qualities of magic realism are as follows:

(1) Use of fantastical elements; 
(2) the author's use of a real-world setting; and,
(3) the author's withholding of information or explanations about the fantastical elements from the reader. 

     I've covered these three aspects just above, but there are other attributes that are often seen in works that are classified as Magic Realism. Let's continue the list and look at a few more attributes: 

Winter's Tale comes to the silver screen
on Valentine's Day, February 14, 2014.
Seen here, on the poster for the movie,
the poster utilizes the ethereal qualities
from the book. The themes of the stars
and bridges. The stars lend it the look
of being of  "another world," that the
bridge will allow you to cross over to.
Related to this movie poster, check out
My Favorite Quote from the book,
just below, about gates into the city.
(4) Plenitude--meaning, that everything that can happen will happen--eventually; 

(5) the author's use of multiple planes of reality (For example, urban and rural--in this novel, New York and--a place you can't get to unless you are a "resident"--the Coheeries (a secret town, not on any map); or the N.Y. city dwellers and the mysterious Bayonne Marsh dwellers--each with their own mythos, fables, tales and...apparently, secrets.);

(6) the author's use of sense of mystery, meaning the author wants you to look for connections and hidden meanings--he's not about to hand them to you on a platter, you've got to set aside your preconceived notions about plot advancement, exposition, and linear time structure (truly, a MAJOR feature of this Winter's Tale); and,

(7) the author's use of the story as a criticism of society, perhaps politicians or the elite (Helprin utilizes this technique extensively in Winter's Tale.).

     Please note that while I've given you the basics of Magic Realism, this is just the 101 version. I suppose I could write a whole blog post on the topic, but I really prefer talking about specific books. So, if you are interested in learning more about Magic Realism, here is a link to an article by Alberto Rios entitled, Magical Realism: Definitions

Jessica Brown-Findlay, actress,
plays "Beverly," in the upcoming
movie, Winter's Tale. In the book,
Beverly knows and loves the stars
and the night sky. She would lay on
the roof "...[w]ith her face open to the
bitter cold of the sky, she could track
across the Milky Way, ticking off
stars and constellations like a child
naming the states" (Kindle loc. 1466).
     Also, you can take a look at another blog post I did about a book that falls within the genre of Magic Realism, The Green Mile by Stephen King. But, please note, I did NOT address specifically the topic of Magic Realism in that post--it was just a very simple book review; actually, it was the very first book I reviewed on this blog. Nonetheless, The Green Mile is a great example of an American author writing in the genre of Magic Realism. In The Green Mile review, see which of the seven attributes you can find from those that I've listed above.

     I had a lot of trouble selecting only one. The book is filled with beautiful prose. In the end, I selected a passage around which I believe much of the book finds reference:
Four Gates to the City. Every city has its gates, which need not be of stone. Nor need soldiers be upon them or watchers before them....To enter a city intact it is necessary to pass through one of the new gates. They are far more difficult to find than their solid predecessors, for they are tests, mechanisms, devices, and implementations of justice....The east gate was that of acceptance of responsibility, the south gate that of the desire to explore, the west gate that of devotion to beauty, and the north gate that of selfless love (Kindle location 2973).    
     Everything mentioned in the quoted paragraph is found within the pages of the book. For example, in Peter Lake's talk with Beverly's father, Peter tells him he seeks responsibility. There are other passages, too, about beauty, passages about justice and passages about love. The passage also seems to be a Biblical reference that to enter heaven you must do so by entering by the narrow gate. In fact, a little earlier in the book, Helprin seemed to make the (living) City sentient and god-like as he says, "The city would take care. There was no choice but to trust the architect's dream..." (loc. 1963). I love the complexity and layering of themes and motifs within the paragraph...all concealed and revealed within the prose. Just...amazing!

     I will be going on opening day to see the feature film adaptation of Mark Helprin's book, Winter's Tale. I can hardly wait! Even so, one can never be sure about how well a book has been adapted to film. So many variables exist in its creation, that it is hard to predict what will be a success. I am sincerely hoping that the filmmakers do a great job with this film. Please have a quick look at the trailer that I obtained for you from YouTube of Winter's Tale.

     Colin Farrell stars as Peter Lake; Jessica Brown-Findlay stars as Beverly Penn; Russell Crowe as Pearly Soames; William Hurt as Isaac Penn (Beverly's Father); Will Smith as the Judge; Graham Greene as Humpstone John; Mat Bomer as Peter's Father and Lucy Griffiths as Mrs. Lake. The Movie is directed by Akiva Goldsman with writing credits going to Mark Helprin (novel), and Akiva Goldsman (screenplay).

     A truly wonderful book. I would, without a doubt, highly recommend this book to anyone who loves to read, especially those who love modern stories, language, or books specifically from the genre of Magic Realism. If you can't deal with mystery, ambiguity, or multiple planes of reality, then this book might not be for you. But for was a charming and thrilling journey into another world. 

     Secondly, Mark Helprin's prose is unparalleled in its execution. Nothing short of stunningly beautiful. 

     Thirdly, many themes exist in this book, almost too many to mention. Just a few of my favorites are listed, here. I loved the themes of "stars" (mentioned briefly, above); "lakes" (Peter, of course, but other lakes, too); and "mirrors" (for example, Isaac Pen is described as being the "man behind the city's mirror." Very interesting! for thought. (Kindle Location 2214) And, finally, "contests or tests" that pervade the book (for example, "staring contests"; also, see My Favorite Quote). And, by the way, read the prologue carefully! 

     Finally, in the "About the Author" section (below), I pointed out that Helprin grew up on the Hudson River. I love that he was able to incorporate his love for the Hudson River area into the book. Take a look at the first paragraph in the chapter, "Lake of the Coheeries," and you'll see what I mean. Again, it's beautiful prose.

5 Stars out of 5.
     I have absolutely no trouble giving this book 
5 stars out of 5. Thank you for joining me this week to look at Mark Helprin's book, Winter's Tale. Join me again next week for another new book blog post. 

     I am preparing a special post for you on the topic of Pompeii. I'll have information about multiple books on Pompeii as well as about the upcoming and much anticipated movie, Pompeii. So, join me next week, but don't forget to have a little fun reading. Pick up your favorite book, or try a new one. See, "About This Book", and "About the Author", just below the image of the white rose.

Until Next time...
White Rose.
...many happy pages of reading!


Pages: 768
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
(September 20, 1983)
Language: English

Kindle Version: 
File Size: 2509 KB
Sold by Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
X-Ray: Enabled
Lending: Not Enabled
ABOUT THE AUTHOR--Mark Helprin: Born in Manhattan, N.Y. in 1947, Helprin was raised on the Hudson River and later in the British West Indies. Helprin has earned degrees from Harvard (an A.B. in 1969), Harvard's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (A.M. in 1972); he did postgraduate study at Princeton and Magdalen College (Oxford, University of Oxford, 1976-77.). Helprin, a Jewish-American, became an Israeli citizen in the late 70s, served in the British Merchant Navy, the Israeli Infantry, and the Israeli Air Force. Helprin married Lisa Kennedy and, together, the couple have two daughters (Alexandra and Olivia). Helprin and family live on a 56-acre farm in Earlysville, Virginia.

AWARDS: He has been awarded the National Jewish Book Award and the Prix de Rome from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters; in 2006 Helprin received the Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award (presented annually by Tulsa Library Trust); 2010 Helprin received the 2010 Salvatori Prize in the American Founding by the Claremont Institute. In 2006 the New York Times Book Review compiled "The single best work of American Fiction Published in the Last 25 Years:" 22 books received multiple votes: Mark Helprin's, Winter's Tale was one of the 22.

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__________________________________________________________________ - Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin,;'s+tale&espv=210&es_sm=122&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=cjbKUtkVi_2gBNSsgZgF&ved=0CAkQ_AUoAQ&biw=1490&bih=825#facrc=_&imgdii=_& - Cover image;'s+tale+graphics&espv=210&es_sm=122&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=z3nUUozwB8XcoAT_4oLgCA&ved=0CAkQ_AUoAQ&biw=1092&bih=706#es_sm=122&espv=210&q=winter's+tale+by+Mark+Helprin+graphics&tbm=isch&imgdii=_ - Winter's Tale alternate book cover image;'s+Tale+Athansor&espv=210&es_sm=122&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=w3rVUrL1E9LuoATI2IHoBw&ved=0CAkQ_AUoAQ&biw=1502&bih=872#facrc=_&imgdii=_& - Athansor; - Magic Realism graphic;'s+tale+beverly&espv=210&es_sm=122&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=06HVUoXLK87goASX0IL4CQ&ved=0CAkQ_AUoAQ&biw=1502&bih=820#q=winter's+tale&tbm=isch&facrc=_&imgdii=_& - Winter's Tale Movie Poster; - "Plenitude"; - The Green Mile by Stephen King, example of Magic Realism;'s%20tale&tbm=isch&imgdii=_ - Beverly; - YouTube Trailer of Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin; - 5 stars out of 5; - White Rose; -About the Author; - Mark Helprin; - Awards.