Archive for ‘Fiction’

November 2nd, 2012

The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien; Review

by Madeleine Rex

Title: The Fellowship of the Ring

Author: J. R. R. Tolkien

Published: 1954

Number of Pages: 398

Rating: 5/5


Frodo Baggins knew the Ringwraiths were searching for him – and the Ring of Power he bore that would enable Sauron to destroy all that was good in Middle-earth. Now it was up to Frodo and his faithful servant Sam to carry the Ring to where it could be detroyed – in the very center of Sauron’s dark kingdom. [From Goodreads]


‘It would be the death of you to come with me, Sam,’ said Frodo, ‘and I could not have borne that.’

‘Not as certain as being left behind,’ said Sam.

‘But I am going to Mordor.’

‘I know that well enough, Mr. Frodo. Of course you are. And I’m coming with you.’


There’s a problem with reviewing books like this – beloved, well-respected classics that have been popular and appreciated for years: I don’t feel I have a right to say anything critical. Who am I to critique someone like J. R. R. Tolkien? Quite fortunately in this case, I loved it. I may not feel I have the right to critique, but I surely have the right to gush.

The Fellowship of the Ring is undeniably a masterpiece. The very moment you begin (seriously – just the prologue could wow you), you know that an immense amount of dedication went into the creation of this work. It’s not just the descriptions of landscape and people that are inscrutable. The dates, languages, events, cultures… the entire land of Middle Earth has been created by a man who clearly loved what he was doing.

Some could argue that dedicating that much time and energy to a fictional world is foolish, when so many other things require attention. That “some” should pick up the book and read it. There is no question, in my opinion, that Tolkien was inspired to create this world, splendidly different yet so like our own.

This first installment begins in the Shire, where Bilbo Baggins has peacefully resided since the journey of The Hobbit, and where he has mentored his nephew, Frodo. And then Bilbo’s birthday comes. And then Gandalf reveals things to Frodo. And then Sam comes in. And then Frodo plans a celebration. And then it takes off.

Admittedly, it takes a while to get into the story. It’s laden with detail and not much happens until you’re a chunk of the way through. My advice to anyone struggling to pay attention is to keep in mind that The Lord of the Rings series is one of the most epic tales of all time. It’s beloved for a reason. So keep reading and find out why.

Frodo Baggins is everything I expected him to be (not a bad thing, either). I was more intrigued, however, by some of the other characters. Merry, Gandalf, and Sam were particularly nice surprises.

I saw the movies in fifth grade, so I had very vague impressions of who these characters were. However, the characters listed above were far more complex and interesting than I remember. Merry, for his intellect. Gandalf, for his humor. Sam for his brewing heroism. The Strider is one character I remember as being totally awesome, and he definitely delivers. Sam is possibly the most surprising of them all. Every event in the story brings with it a new side of Sam. I cannot tell you how wonderful it is to watch him as he delivers surprise after surprise, and I believe his character is developing the most swiftly. He truly is magnificent.

Aside from the characters, I appreciated Middle Earth and its intricacies. Places like Rivendale and Lothlorien are absolutely fantastic. The beauty and mystery of them are mindboggling, and I loved encountering them for the first time just as the hobbits did.

If one thing can be said with absolute certainty of The Fellowship of the Ring, it is that there is no end to the marvelousness of the world Tolkien has created. The languages are beautiful, the cultures specific and unique, the characters complex and constantly developing, and the lands and history constructed to give the feel of an entire other world, just as real and important as our own.

I can’t say that I was constantly excited while reading, or that this was a page-turner, but I can promise you that there is never a moment during which I forgot what the characters were striving for or the inevitable chaos to come. The Fellowship of the Ring sets the stage for what I’m sure will be one of the most epic tales I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.

August 30th, 2011

One Day by David Nicholls; Review

by Madeleine Rex

Title: One Day

Author: David Nicholls

(First) Published: August 28th, 2009

Number of Pages: 448

Rating: 4/5


It’s 1988 and Dexter Mayhew and Emma Morley have only just met. But after only one day together, they cannot stop thinking about one another. Over twenty years, snapshots of that relationship are revealed on the same day—July 15th—of each year. Dex and Em face squabbles and fights, hopes and missed opportunities, laughter and tears. And as the true meaning of this one crucial day is revealed, they must come to grips with the nature of love and life itself. [From Goodreads]


And it was at moments like this that she had to remind herself that she was in love with him, or had once been in love with him, a long time ago.


I wasn’t aware that One Day existed until I saw the movie preview. No, that’s a lie. It wasn’t until my dad was driving me somewhere and said something like, “There’s a new When Harry Met Sally with Anne Hathaway in it” that my attention was caught.

I am so pleased that I read the book before seeing the movie. It’s better by leaps and bounds, and my familiarity with the story made the movie better because I already knew these people – Dex and Em, Em and Dex. I felt that the movie failed to portray their characters well enough, specifically Emma’s development. This book relies heavily on the relationship, but the relationship relies so much upon their individual journeys, and I think the movie missed that memo.

One Day is hilarious. Its comedic tone is pretty sarcastic and can be kind of jarring at times, but it’s so much fun! I loved that Nicholls made their actions into subtle jokes that can be interpreted in whatever way the reader likes, and these jokes became more and more fun as I got to know Em and Dex better. I felt like some kind of insider, sharing all these personal jokes, feeling so familiar with these people and the way they are.

Unfortunately, I always felt closer to Dexter. I was surprised how endearing he could be while making the dumbest and lamest decisions imaginable. Really, he’s kind of a loser… but he’s my loser, you know? His childish, self-destructive, and admittedly selfish ways are simply a means to an end. I’m sure there was an easier way to get there, but after a few drinks and some illicit drugs, it’s difficult to see clearly. I was so anxious for him to pull his life together because, despite all the mistakes and the terrible consequences, he had so much potential to be incredible.

Emma is funny, witty, and a writer. I’ll admit that her interest in writing drew me to her. However, she often seemed bitter and cynical. Those faults, though, are certainly less detrimental than Dexter’s. I suppose the reason I didn’t feel as tender toward her was that she seemed less vulnerable and more distant. I simply didn’t feel the same excitement when “spending time with her” that I did when I was with Dexter.

The format that Nicholls has chosen – resuming the story on July 15th from 1988 to 2008 – was something I’d never seen before, and I loved it! I never knew what to expect from one year to the next. So much can change. So much did change. The years aren’t focused on equally, some chapters being shorter than others, but I never felt like I was missing anything. Nicholls did a stellar job of weaving the events and changes that occurred in the past year into the new chapter in order to keep the reader from feeling lost or left behind.

Nicholls also alternates between Dexter’s and Emma’s points-of-view. This is one of the few multi-POV books I’ve read that had voices that were easily distinguishable. I knew within the first two paragraphs who was narrating.
As the story and characters developed, I loved it more and more. Sure, there were a few particular events that made me sick to my stomach or deeply disapproving, but most of the time I was so invested in their lives I didn’t care. There came one point near the end, this sort of cataclysmic event, at which I was really irritated. The author seemed to throw in one of the most terribly cliché and “Hallmark-y” events imaginable, undoubtedly hoping for a deep emotional response. Instead, I was hardly affected. I was too caught up in how disappointing it was! To make matters worse, the event didn’t really lead to further character development, and I still don’t think its presence is really justified. Sure, sometimes events are random and serve no purpose in life, but this was too contrived to be excused.

Anyway… it did result in one of my favorite scenes, and that was heartbreaking. Jim Sturgess does such a fantastic job in the movie that I couldn’t help tearing up. I suppose I’ll just have to live with the hallmark-i-ness.

Ultimately, One Day is a comedic, blunt, and affecting novel that illustrates two people’s lives and the intricate way they’re weaved together in such an acute way that it’s difficult not to be hooked. Though it fell prey to some disappointing elements, I’d recommend it to anyone looking for something that captures both the most uplifting and degrading moments in two people’s lives. One Day is the story of how Emma Morely and Dexter Mayhew became Em and Dex.

P.S. Don’t forget to enter to win a signed copy of Paranormalcy!

May 10th, 2010

Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez; Review

by Madeleine Rex

Title: Wench

Author: Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Published: January 5th, 2010 by HarperCollins

Number of Pages: 304

Rating: 3/5

Review Sent to HarperCollins*:

Wench is a novel full of characters in situations you can relate to without having to experience them – a sign of spectacularly descriptive writing and words that are not superfluous, but necessary and truthful. The horror of what these slave wenches went through is only surpassed in power by the women’s strength and determination. Wench is a book that will empower its women readers and make evident all that they have to be thankful for. It’s an enlightening, heartwarming, and entirely surprising novel written by a woman who clearly cares immensely about womankind.


Wench was an intriguing book, but I can’t say that I loved it. It’s doubtful that I’d read it again. However, I found the strength of the slave mistresses inspiring. The history, the incredible atmosphere of the novel was wonderful, and I got a fascinating though slightly sickening view into life in the ol’ South. (The book isn’t actually set in the South, but you get the picture.)

The slave women meet year after year at a hotel in Ohio, where there masters bring them in the summer. The men are favored slaves for their strength, skills, and/or cooperation. The women are favored as well, in the way that any woman in her right mind would hate to be. The masters’ wives are entirely aware of why the men bring along these women. It’s horrific to think of how generally excepted the situations of these women were.

Anyway, it’s when a new woman who is not so accepting  joins the party that a spark of rebellion and wonder is sparked. From then on, no one’s quite as satisfied with their lifestyle as they were before. Some of the slaves learn to write. It was the typical downfall of parts of the slave structure: Once the enslaved people realized that they had the power, that they truly were deserving, that a better future was possible, they snatched at every opportunity to learn and better their situation. Thank goodness for that downfall.

I enjoyed reading from such an insightful view, where I could watch through clear eyes as the people were treated brutally or deceived. More importantly, I loved that I could be intimate with the women and watch first-hand as they gathered the strength that they hadn’t realized they had and took advantage of it. A few of them began to stand up for themselves, despite the thoughts nagging them, saying, “You’re ruining yourself. You’re ruining yourself.” They did what was right, they stood up for and were examples to the women around them, saying You can’t take me and not give anything back.

If you’re eager to read an empowering novel, one that speaks ardently of the strength, will-power, and value of women, this is the book for you. It would be an absolutely fabulous book club pick.

As I felt with The Girl Who Fell from the Sky (Review), I was a bit uncomfortable with parts of the novel. At the same time, however, it was usually an essential part of portraying the abuse. The brutal clarity rung in your mind and infused in you an indignation bordering on utter fury.

So, though the book was intriguing and  harbored a wonderful message, I didn’t love it as much as I hoped I would. I do believe, however, that many will find comfort and inspiration in this novel.

Just a reminder that tomorrow is the last day to enter to win ONE of FIVE copies of Sorta Like a Rock Star.

*Thanks for the book!