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The next Blockbuster

Movie franchise

or

Just more Vampire fluff?

Justin Cronin has done what we writers dream about: getting paid an obscene amount of money for a story that will eventually be made into a movie while becoming a household name in the process.  According to his publicist, he’s already started writing the next book in the series of three, so the money will just keep rolling in. Good for him.  Lucky bastard.  

Spoilers Suck. 

Too much sharing!

My biggest problem in reviewing this book lies in how to tell you what I think about it without giving away too much.  When I tackled this daunting textbook-size beast, I hadn’t read any reviews.  Not one.  Much of my reaction to the storyline related to the changes in the narrative, style and landscape which erupted with little or no warning as I read.  This was important and I don’t want to rob my readers of those surprises by sacrificing them on the altar of my ego.  After reading the book, I went to sites and articles to see how others approached it.  Once again, I’m appalled by reviewer’s indelicate and thoughtless handling of details and easter eggs. Readers enjoy finding these for themselves.  If it pleases you, skip the other reviews and I’ll try to handle this without butchering your future enjoyment.  

 What’s the story?

This very expansive story has many components but basically boils down to a few things: secret government hanky-panky involving a virus, 12 death row criminals, a nun with a gift, a little girl destined to change the world and the FBI agent who takes her into his heart….at least the first part of the book is like that.  A third or more into the book and everything changes, from the time period, to the landscape and even Cronin’s approach to telling the story.  We find a post apocalyptic world with a walled-in village of people who have learned to survive in the midst of the “virals.”  It is in this pod of survivors that we find the new main characters and storyline, which take over from here to the end of the book.    

Did Cronin rip off other stories?

In The Passage,  Cronin gathers swatches of various horror, fantasy and sci-fi ideas and like a master tailor, stitches them together with literary craft.  This is not just a  patchwork of other people’s work but rather a new cloth woven from used pieces.  It’s difficult in this day and age to write a totally fresh story.  We have comics, pulp and novels.  Cable TV, and now the internet has a lot of self-published stories and video shows.  Even video games come replete with complex story lines.  Legions of movies come out every year.  They all compete for our attention.  A writer’s brain could melt trying not to visualize something they’ve seen before when crafting a new story.   This book does admittedly conjure images from other recent popular and literary works.  The Passage reads more like a zombie story than a classic vampire tale.  For awhile anyway.  Some comparisons could definitely be made to I Am Legend,  the Living Dead series, and even Zombieland.  I saw the new Resident Evil: Aftermath release and noticed big similarities in the visuals.  Having said that, it really is a vampire story and specific parts of the plot define it as such. 

Is being a derivative story a bad thing? 

Only if the book lacks originality of its own and simply rips off better written stories.  This is certainly not the case here.  Cronin got some serious skills, Dog.  Listen, everything is derivative these days.  Everything.  There’s nothing new under the sun, remember?  The goal is to keep the reader deeply engrossed and invested in the characters. The core of any great story lies in concepts and relationships.  The tools used to bring that don’t matter much.  

OMG… Vampires again?!?

Ok, ok…it is vampires again.  I know…and I wondered if Cronin isn’t squeezing the final vampire ooze from the billion-dollar entertainment tube. He says he started writing this in 2005, before the craze.  We keep thinking this vampire run has come to its end and then somebody else brings a new twist, and well, we pay the money and read and/or watch it.  Until the public shows utter boredom with this topic, vampires will probably continue to sell.   There’s something inherently interesting about the vampire lore that has developed.  Most recent vampire-related storylines never completely stray from the vampire basics.  The Passage uses some of the original lore and even references Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  The biggest difference is that Cronin uses the “secret government lab” bit to mark the creation of these vampires while using just about any other word but vampire to refer to them.  Are they actually “undead” or just live people afflicted with a virus who can be redeemed?  We end up asking ourselves about the definition of vampires.  Does a connection with an ancient creature from Transylvania define them?  Is it the pale human form with fangs, clean 2-hole blood-drinking, the seductive ability to enthrall women or sleeping in a coffin during the day that defines them?  If that’s our criteria, then, no, Cronin’s creatures are not vampires.  However, if you allow a more liberal definition that includes longevity, incredible strength, preying upon humans and animals for food, mental or psychic abilities,  and light sensitivity, then they are vampires. (Cronin presents them in his story as the real type of creatures that the ancient lore is based on.)  But wait.  If we use that definition, then the baddies in I Am Legend are 85% vampire and only 15% zombie.  My point is that storytellers continue to build on each others’ works until lines blur around our definitions and ideas about horror fiction.  This is good for the genre, freedom for writers and great for consumers.  I’m really bored with the same old vampire tale…honest…but present it with a new spin or twist that’s got a beat to it and I just might dance again.  

How good is the writing?  

The PASSAGE is full of elements from multiple genres.  Like I said, it’s long; 794 pages.  Reading this book is a committment.  The good news is that once you get acclimated to Cronin’s world, you happily read on, eager for the next stolen moment to dig out your bookmark and continue.  The characters are wonderful and I want to see them again.  Cronin’s language and writing is easily digested, though its density and complex storyline require going back to reread a few places.      

If you haven’t read the original manuscript for Dracula, you’ll miss the nod Cronin gives to Stoker’s narrative style.  The classic Dracula tale is conveyed via collection of fictional letters and articles, taken in sum as the story.  Cronin uses this more sparingly, but effectively.

I initially questioned Cronin’s self-editing process.  By the end of the book, some isolated scenes and details left me wondering why they were included at all.  Other apparently extraneous sections did become important factors in the very end,  so perhaps the remaining unused details will be explained in later books.   Regardless, Cronin did answer every question he made me ask in this first book and I was totally satisfied, though Cronin still managed to slip in a cliff-hanger at the end, anticipating the next book.   

Books two and three titled The Twelve and The City of Mirrors with The Twelve due out summer of 2012.

Why is Hollywood rabid over it and who’ll bring it to the big screen?

I can easily see studios salivating over The Passage, rubbing  hands together hoping for sweaty fistfuls of our movie dollars.  This book has amazing visuals. The storyline takes us to the American midwest, dark government facilities, deep jungles, vast barren landscapes and ruined cities.  How about cross-bow wielding, blade-slinging colonists, hand to hand combat and lots of military weapons going up against spiraling, flying exoskeletal creatures who spatter blood and invade your dreams?  The Passage is also replete with tender moments, believable relationships, ensemble casting and humor.  Yeah… line up for the popcorn.     

Cronin got a sweet book deal with Ballantine books for $3.75 million for the trilogy, of which The Passage is the first installment.  Ridley Scott’s production company coughed up $1.75 million for the movie rights.  Wikipedia says that Mr. Cronin first asked for a deal that included all three books’ movie rights for $3 million.  Apparently they went with the single movie option and Ridley Scott will direct.   I would’ve hoped for a JJ Abrams-type director but Mr Scott has a pretty impressive resume.  For scary  sci-fi, you can’t do much better than Alien and Blade Runner.  They were ground breaking movies that introduced concepts we now take for granted in modern movie making.  Scott gave us human-passable androids and the scariest killer alien to date.  Like a gritty smoke-filled detective novel, Blade Runner served up a homogenized culture where east and west are almost indistinguishable and a dirty future city lacking hope and appeal.  Alien set the tone for an average human woman turned bad-ass,  finally fighting back against a scary death-dealing creature. Today’s moviegoers might get bored with BR’s B grade script writing or Alien’s limited locations, but ya gotta respect the originals.    Let’s look at the epic stories Scott’s tackled: Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven, and Robin Hood.   Black Hawk Down had great military and action sequences.  There are more, but we can see Scott has a lot to offer.  I wonder if he’ll use Russel Crowe in yet another of his flicks.  I can’t think of a role for him in TP except maybe as Agent Wolgast.  They did contract the same screenwriter Scott used from Gladiator.  So far the story is in good hands.

My final impressions:  

I don’t think you need to be a vampire groupie or sci-fi lover to enjoy this epic story.  Time will probably hail The Passage as a literary classic and most of America will have read it or seen the movie incarnation.  I just hope the movie does the story justice.  Poor Stephen King has had storylines raped by screen productions. I can’t stand the movie version of Michael Crichton’s Timeline because the mediocre film barely retains any of the incredible story.  If Cronin can make sure this gets handled properly, his epic book has the makings of a historical movie event.  Just in case they do screw it up, be sure to read the book first so you aren’t totally ripped off. 

Book fuhst.  Movie aftah.  (Thank you Mr. Miyagi.)

Read it for yourself:

Published by Ballantine books, you can get your hands on a copy pretty easily.  Go to the book’s official website to see all the vendors that sell the hardback, ebook and audio CD versions.   http://enterthepassage.com/buy/  

To give you an idea of what this book is going for, it lists for $27 but I found it on Amazon.com for as little as $11.95 new and $10.92 used.  (Remember, they tack on $3.99 for shipping.)    The book came out in June and Justin Cronin finished touring.  Prices usually go down after that.  I paid around $19 for it a few months ago at Barnes and Noble so it might be less there now.

Ask the author:

Justin’s “people” at Random House/Ballantine told me he would not have time between touring and ComicCon to do an interview with me by my deadline.  (Deadline? what deadline? Oh, never mind.)  They wanted to take part in my review and offered up his publishers’ Q & A questions.  That was fine by me. I used what they sent me for the Ask the Author page, electing to incorporate it into my regular format.  A few of their questions weren’t on my list, but I liked the info the answer gave.   I did have other questions I wanted to ask, but that can wait until his next book, when hopefully I’ll talk to him directly.

Click here   https://wolfebets.wordpress.com/ask-the-authors/   to catch the Q & A session with Justin Cronin about The PASSAGE.

 Future Book Reviews:

  • I’m going to take a break from reviewing to work on my novel.  Please stay tuned  for info on the next reviews.   What do you want me to review next?

Until next time, feed the need.   

Betsy

Book review by Betsy Wolfe

UPDATES:

  • In the movie version of The Passage, Ridley Scott moved to being the producer while Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In) has signed on to direct.
  • My novel, previous working title of”the Projectionsts” is due to be released this summer.  The title is now PSION, to be marketed as psychological science fiction.  The story contains aspects of horror and drama as well as sci-fi, but without robots or spaceships.  It takes place in modern-day Chicagoland. The book’s website launches soon: www.psionbook.com as will my author website: www.BEWolfe.com Stay tuned.
  • I’m currently working on the reading/review of the sequel to The Passage:  The Twelve, of course, by Justin Cronin. I’d have finished that review a long time ago if I wasn’t already scrambling to get my own final manuscript to my publisher.
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What does it mean

To be Human?

Is it just a question of biology?      

Laurence Gonzales asks this question throughout his latest fiction book, Lucy.  It’s surprizing how many different answers people have to this question, and Lucy challenges some of those concepts.

What’s the story?

While in the Congo researching the lesser known bonobo apes, primatologist Jenny Lowe finds herself in the middle of a civil war and narrowly escapes out of Africa with the daughter of a slain fellow researcher.  After spending time coming to love and care for the girl, Lowe discovers her dubious origin as a human-ape hybrid known as Lucy. 

Who will enjoy this book?

Do you already read political thrillers?  Do you enjoy stretching technological possibilities for a story’s sake?  How about science fiction or fantasy?  Maybe you prefer stories that explore relationships?   Do you appreciate exotic locations and cultures?   Laurence Gonzales gives us a thoughtful story that approaches them all.   Critics compare  Lucy to the works of Michael Crichton for a reason. 

How plausible is the premise?

I don’t have a PhD in biochemistry or genetics, so I couldn’t say with any credibility how close we are to successfully combining human and bonobo DNA.  Really.  I try not to look or sound like an over-opinionated moron, spouting knowledge that I haven’t obtained.  Most of the time I succeed. The general consensus in the field is that apes are closer to humans genetically than all other mammals. Of all the apes, the bonobo, aka the pygmy chimpanzee, is 98% similar to human DNA.

What does that mean?  I don’t know, but the remaining 2% is still a wide gulf to cross.  There are other considerations as well and matching DNA or filling in the genetic blanks do not in and of themselves guarantee a viable hybrid offspring.

Do I know what those challenges are?  Can I describe for you the process of genetic selection and engineering?  Heck no. I could quote other people smarter than myself, but for now, I have a hard time believing that a human-looking hybrid could be engineered in such a way as to come up with a mostly human-looking and functioning person. 

Bonobo apes are considered extremely intelligent having advanced social structure and problem-solving capabilities… for an ape.  This in no way convinces me that a hybrid could be smarter than the average human being.  Ok, I’ll concede that the human genetic material used to make Lucy came from a very smart human being, along with whatever education said human provided for her early on…. but come on.  

Most or all physical traits of the bonobo albeit remarkably similar, are still very different from Homo sapiens in appearance and the selective assumption of only the most outward human-looking features in a hybrid would be a feat.

Possible?  I’m guessing not, at least not for some time.  Then again, cloning became possible before the masses expected, and the likelihood of human cloning has now arrived with caveats and moral dilemmas.  Maybe that example is apples and oranges, and maybe it’s not.

Plausible?  Could be, but don’t call the Mythbusters just yet. Only time will tell here.  Either way, Gonzales is right to prepare us for moral and ethical questions that will certainly come up as research progresses.  It also makes for a fascinating story premise.  Don’t you agree?     

Is there an evolutionist slant to this story?

Not really.  The controversial nature of the story’s premise might unsettle some people.  Gonzales uses a provocative notion to get our attention and challenge our thinking, but there is so much more to this book than the issue of the hybrid. 

When I described this premise to a christian friend of mine, I saw a shadow cross her face as if somehow the notion of a human-ape hybrid threatened her faith and creationist beliefs.  Like I’ve said before, I don’t know why people of faith are so opposed to having their dogma challenged.  Truth should stand on its own without feeling threatened by thinkers. Faith is only weakened by fear and lack of understanding.  Real truth seekers should be the first ones to challenge longstanding ideas and ask the hard questions.  In the christian college I went to, one professor pointed out the problem with having your faith based on a “god of the gaps.”  The idea is that God is supreme and His existence  explains things we don’t understand. The problem with such faith is that when man’s understanding develops in a particular area, then God is no longer relevant.  People of faith who cling to beliefs with a white knuckled grip can fail to give God credit for what man figures out. That makes no sense. In true faith, science simply upholds what is true.   Of course the science shouldn’t be loaded with political or social agendas.  This is why it’s important to ask those hard questions, the ones that strip away our extra baggage from all points of view and expose raw naked truth.  Books like Lucy are good at forcing us to challenge and think about what we believe.  

Gonzales never talks about evolution directly in the story other than the typical reference to man and ape having common ancestors. If you don’t believe in that, just get over the reference long enough to hear what the point of this story is.  Think of the hybrid idea as a tool to create a story while making you think about certain issues.

Put aside my opinions just for a story?

You’ve done it when reading other books, right?  You’ve willingly set aside your beliefs to enjoy a story or to ponder difficult social concepts a hundred other times, haven’t you?  You haven’t? Are you sure? Have you read or watched Twilight, Harry Potter, Star Trek, Star Wars, Tron, or Dracula? 

Need more classical references?  What about A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, The Iliad, Beowulf, Lord of the Rings, The Time Machine, Fahrenheit 451, The Screwtape Letters, Narnia, Brave New World, Animal Farm? That’s just the beginning, folks. 

Liberals, conservatives, spiritual people from the east, middle-east and the west attack what they feel threatened by.  New themes in fiction have been an easy target for centuries. This is a self-defeating cycle.  We can break it by allowing these concepts to challenge and hone our beliefs making them more focused and stronger.  Simply shutting down new ideas never serves our purpose to find truth. While I don’t want to load just any book into my head, my reasons for not reading something shouldn’t be born of fear. 

How good is the story?

Lucy is tightly written with literary references and a polished style. Gonzales passes up several opportunities to be preachy or self-serving.  Instead, he simply tells the truth from his perspective about life themes that every one of us has dealt with.  This story is less about science or apes than about how we treat each other.  I was particularly impressed with how well this man can write female characters, even teenage girls.   Gonzales resisted the old clichés and created believable characters with relatable lives. 

Setting up landscape and detail in stories can enhance or choke out a story.   Gonzales is brilliant in giving the reader just the right details which results in a lush environment,  concrete images and silky smooth action sequences.  From the jungle to the city of Chicago and the forests of the north Wisconsin woods, the reader appreciates the challenges  of these transitions for the characters.  I especially enjoyed his descriptions of locations I’m familiar with, which was all but England and the Congo.  It’s also nice to read something that’s not in Southern California, Maine or New York once in a while.

No respecter of persons…

I’m somewhat sensitive to the same old caricatures of “religious” or “right-wing nuts.”  While those stereotypes do exist for a reason, they are a too visible minority in the vast landscape of faithful people.  Gonzales does a good job presenting that landscape in his story.   While I may not personally embrace every concept presented philosophically in Lucy, it’s great writing and enjoyable fiction.  This is the good stuff.

Why is this book important?

In Lucy, Gonzales ponders the intellectual and physical developement of a hybrid as well as her socialization into the human culture.  Not least of all, he explores the moral, legal and practical ramifications of bringing such a being into existence. He does imply soft conclusions though he primarily encourages the reader to form their own. 

My final impressions: 

I read a lot of fiction.  A lot.  Often that fiction is popular and I sometimes run into  lesser quality writing.  I deal with it if the story interests me, but I won’t lie, doing so is often tedious and frustrating.  I’d read a few other books since my review of Jeff Leen’s Queen of the Ring, and they were ok.  Just ok. 

Life was crazy busy for me the week I received the reviewer copy of Lucy in the mail. I read a snatch here and there at a doctor appointment or in the car while waiting to pick up my son. After three or four days I was only up to page 34.  I’d had about a week left to read Lucy with enough time to write and post the review. By page 34, half of that time was gone.  The next Friday night at 10:30 p.m. I decided to read for a few hours. The goal was to make a dent in the book that night and then finish it over the weekend.  

I ended up reading the entire thing in one sitting.  After closing the book at 4:00 a.m. I couldn’t sleep with so many ideas and review notes rolling around in my brain.  For me there’s nothing better than good writing and smart storytelling to invigorate my mind and spirit.  Reading Lucy helped me feel proud to call myself a writer, someone who aspires to do what Mr Gonzales did in Lucy.  I want to write thoughtful stories revealing the beauty and pain from my own experiences as well as my imagination.  I’ll have to check out more books by Laurence Gonzales.  You should check out Lucy, and then go get his other stuff.

Read it for yourself:

Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Lucy lists for $24.95.   The book’s site sends you straight to Amazon.com for purchasing.  Once you get there, you can find Lucy new in Hardback from $8.50 + $3.99 shipping or $16.47 with free shipping for a purchase of $25  or more.  Used copies start at $16.38 + $3.99 shipping.  I know, wierd, right?  I’d just opt for the new one in that scenario. 

Barns & Noble and Borders have similar deals on their sites including used copies, as do many other sites and stores.  Ebooks, Kindle, Nook: all go for around $9.99 with the audio or Mp3 versions going for $16.00 to $21.00. 

The author’s website offers information about his other books as well as insight into the Bonobos plight as an endangered species.  http://home.comcast.net/~laurencegonzales

Ask the author:

Click here to go to the Q & A session I had with Laurence Gonzales about Lucy.

https://wolfebets.wordpress.com/ask-the-authors/

Future Book Reviews:  

Please let me know if you readers have any ideas for books you want to see on this review.

  • September:  This book is hot on the current literary bestsellers list. It’s another out of the ordinary take on an old horror theme complete with Q & A. The story has already been bought for a movie as the first of three parts.  After he returns from touring for this book, the author will start working on the second book in the series.

Until next time, Turn the Page and feed the need.   

Betsy

Book review by Betsy Wolfe

The golden age of wrestling

A heroine to believe in

A villain to judge

A book review

by the

Villain’s

Granddaughter

The full title of this historical biography for those who cannot read it on the title page to the right is Queen of the Ring: Sex, Muscles, Diamonds and the Making of an American Legend.

Jeff Leen,  Pulitzer Prize winning author,  journalist and assistant managing editor for investigations at the Washington Post, has done what nobody else has done.  From wrestling’s foggy past and murky pool of misinformation, Leen has fished out the true story of the world’s first champion woman wrestler and her savvy promoter, manager and husband, who, together, birthed the girl wrestling craze that elevated and saved the spectator sport of wrestling.

What’s the story?

Queen of the Ring introduces us to Millie Bliss aka Mildred Burke, the young impoverished single mother who snatched an opportunity to “change her stars.”  She became a trailblazing female athlete and diamond-clad glamour girl.  Running parallel to her story is the tale of Billy Wolfe, the wrestler and businessman also known as a bejeweled fast-talking villain and the originator of girl wrestling.   Leen refers to the two as Millie and Billy, alternating between their stories.  He shows how Billy brought Mildred up from obscurity, through the carnival circuit and ultimately to the pro level, and how Millie developed into a world-class gate draw, athlete, and inspiration for thousands of girls and women leading desperate lives.  Along the way we meet various characters, escape the poverty-stricken dust bowl area, tour the US, Japan and Cuba, and sip champagne.  It’s a world of simpler days, hard times and American aspirations.  You get intrigue, double-crosses, sex, struggles, betrayal, realized dreams and lost fortunes. 

Who will enjoy this book and what if I don’t give a hoot about wrestling?

Wrestling fans will devour this story whole, swiping their plates with greasy fingers, taking one long satisfying lick at the finish. 

If you’re not a wrestling fan there’s still plenty for you to gain here.  This is a relatable American story of midwestern guts, perseverance and the pursuit of a dream.  Pro wrestling today is often portrayed as a joke.  Like it or not, it’s part of our American culture, both as a popular influence and sports history.  Let’s not forget that along with Rosie the Riveter,women’s wrestling raised its own machete, slashing a trail through male chauvinism and the old image of the helpless woman, fit only for cooking, cleaning and pleasuring a man.

If you care about how America developed in the past century; if you are a woman or have to live with them, you really should care about Millie and Billy

Whaddaya mean… granddaughter?

Well, that would be me.  And my sister.  If you take a gander at the page on this site titled “Literary Influences,” you’ll get some details about my mother and her illustrious background in wrestling, among other things.   Billy Wolfe is my grandfather.  Go a step further in deduction after reading the book.  You’ll figure out that G.Bill Wolfe is my father and Betsy Ross is my mother.  “Betsy Wolfe” makes some sense now, right?

Whew!  Glad I got that off my considerable chest!  *wink*

Whaddaya mean… villain?

Why would I refer to my own grandfather as the villain?   Well, I do struggle with that, but there’s no question Grandpa Billy made some part of Mildred’s life hard.  Many say he was a womanizer and I know how many times he was married.   Was it as bad as her account says?  I don’t know.  You really need to read Leen’s book and judge for yourself.  He does a good job pointing out discrepancies in Mildred’s unpublished autobiography but he also uses eyewitness accounts, newspaper and magazine clippings along with government records to uphold and question many conclusions. 

The documentation for Leen’s story telling is just insane.  There are seven pages for acknowledgments of people involved in supplying info or helping reconstruct the history involved in his book. After that, 57 pages list the references corresponding to the chapters.  Leen gives documentation for pretty much anything he wrote.  He makes it tough for me or anyone else to give him a hard time about the facts.  Armed with this much information, Leen still questions some of the sources while he compares the varying accounts of the same incident. Leen avoids making conclusions for every little detail.  He simply spreads the feast of data before us in a story-lined picnic blanket and allows us to taste the dishes, judging them for ourselves.

Aren’t you too close to the story to review this book?

Having to read about my own family does unavoidably color my appreciation of the story, however that doesn’t disqualify me for reviewing the book.  On the contrary.  There are enough  folks reviewing this from a literary angle.  This is also a personal human story about real people.  If anyone should review it, it should be me, or my mother, or Aunt Violet, or my Dad, G. Bill or my sister Mickie, or …well you get the picture.  Unfortunately most of the people on this list are no longer with us, and my sis didn’t think of writing this first.  So you’re stuck with me.

The other issue with me doing this review could be that Jeff Leen consulted our family while writing this book.    First, I can assure you that what we gave Leen amounted to a bucketful in his ocean of information.  Secondly, Leen did not previously disclose to us several bombshells in the book about ole’ granddad or even my father.   I had to discover these startling facts as I read like everyone else, shaking my head saying “What the  … ?!”   It didn’t take me as long as it did my sister to crawl through and digest the difficult material, but it wasn’t easy.  When Queen came out in hardback last year, we learned what it was like to have your family’s dirty laundry strewn in front of the public while you take it in.  It sucks.

It was possible to become pragmatic about the book because the fuller picture did in fact correlate with the stories, photos and objects passed on to us from Mom.  The other thing that helped us deal with the book was that after having met with Jeff Leen and his wife Lynn Medford, we knew that he was a decent person full of integrity, with no desire to hurt anyone.  He simply cared about this story and wanted to tell it.  He listened carefully to us, showed us materials we’d never seen before, and in a way brought us closer to these two men who’d died so long ago.  It also shed light on my enigmatic mother.  Even though she was a very dominant figure in our family, attached to Mom was mystery that never completely cleared. 

Do I have an attitude about Mildred?

Truthfully, yes, but I’m working on it.   One photo included in Leen’s book of Billy, Mildred and Dad, for instance, I also have.  My sister has it too,  though hers is fully intact and displayed somewhere in a frame.  As a teen, I cut Mildred out of mine.  Um…whoops.

You’ve got to understand one thing. We grew up thinking about Grandpa Billy as a hero.  My mother adored him.  When Billy Wolfe took her in, she found a home as his ward, was treated like a daughter and given a purpose.  She mooned over G.Bill as a young girl and was in Heaven later to be his wife.  I never heard a negative thing about Gramps or Dad.  Ever.  Mom had been around Billy and the girls for years before marrying Dad.  She was trained by and valeted for controversial champ June Byers, who you’ll also meet in Leen’s book.  June was my dad’s first wife and Mildred’s nemesis.  June was nice to Mom, and they stayed friends after Mom married June’s ex.  It’s weird, I know, but you get a good dose of weird in Queen, too. 

Mom hated Mildred, whether she had real reason to or not, so I also hated Mildred.  All I knew was that she was the first champ, and a great wrestler but had slandered Grandpa.  She was loud-mouthed and money-hungry.  Stupidly, she’d tried to compete with Billy and lost, which made her bitter and resentful. She attacked him with outrageous lies as the years passed, coloring and changing history to suit her liking.  All this according to Mom. 

My mother spoke well about everyone in the wrestling business, except Mildred Burke and, Lillian (Moolah) Ellison, who she also accused of being a “bald-faced liar.”  Mom loved that era in her life but never gave Mildred an inch.  Maybe she should have.  I knew about many things that happened to and around my dad but not about everything from his earlier life.  I won’t spoil some juicy parts of Leen’s book for you.  Suffice it to say, after reading, I finally get what Mom was ticked about and why her attitude toward Mildred was so tainted.  You will too when you read Queen of the Ring.

Personal Reflections:

My mother died in December of 2004.  At that time, my three boys had wrestled for the  community and high school organizations.  Soon after, one of my boys told me that kids at school didn’t believe he was related to the great Impresario of girl wrestling or that his grandmother had been a pro grappler.  I attempted to help him out by going online to find “Billy info” he could show to kids at school.  Actual information about Billy Wolfe was darn near non-existent.  How could that be?   I’d seen clippings and articles and photos and press releases and special stationary and PR stuff.  How could NONE of that be on the internet?  Quite simply, the publications carrying these stories no longer existed, a lot of witnesses had died, and old printed news was never digitally covered.  Unless someone chose to write about it now, it would never be available on the internet.  

A Google search finally hooked me up with the film Lipstick and Dynamite: Piss and Vinegar, which I could get on DVD by sending $29.99 to their online store.  In the write-ups and quotes I found a whole lot of cussing, spitting and brassy accusations about Grandpa being a womanizer and general scumbag.  It rocked my world, pissed me off and broke my heart. 

From links found on their site, I got to know Penny Banner and Ida Mae Martinez.  They both talked to me on the phone often as well as email.  Both were kind to me, had been part of the documentary and both had reported some disappointment with the film.  Penny said the participants were told that the film would be an educational documentary.  None of them got paid.  When it came out as an independent money-making film, Penny said many of the women felt cheated and lied to.  Penny claimed the editing misrepresented a lot of what she personally talked about and did not like the film.  She had fond memories of Billy.

Why Jeff Leen is The Man:

In order to write Queen of the Ring: Sex, Muscles, Diamonds and the Making of an American Legend, Jeff Leen had to do tons of research, traveling all over the country on his own dime and his own time.   He was also the only one willing to sort through the swamp of second-hand “facts” and lore, and not just circulate rumors or take ancient accounts at face value.  He questioned everything.  What a feat he accomplished.  He had to Frankenstein scattered facts together and ended up with a credible flowing narrative that finally told this forgotten story.  Leen also got us in contact with more Wolfe family members.  I enjoy these relationships, thinking for my whole life I had no living Wolfe relatives. 

My final impressions: 

In preparation for reviewing Leen’s book for his paperback release, I had to read Queen of the Ring again.  The second time through was a different experience  from the first.  No longer in shock, I stepped back and  soaked in the story as  it was meant to be.  I was surprised to find myself sympathizing with Mildred, cheering her victories and regretting her decline.  I still question some of her account, but nobody’s perfect.  Queen of the Ring is an amazing work  full of inspiration, drama, interesting facts, insight and emotion.

Read it for yourself:

Published by Atlantic Monthly Press, the paperback comes out today.  You can go to the home site for the book to find five sellers who offer it.  http://thequeenofthering.com/reviews.shtml 

To give you an idea, the paperback is listed at $15.95 and sold online at Barnes & Noble for $11.48.    Amazon.com has it also for $11.48 with $3.99 shipping or free for orders $25 and over.   The Kindle goes for $9.99.  You can still find it in hardcover, both new and used.

Ask the author:

Click here to go to the Q & A session I had with Jeff Leen about Queen of the Ring: Sex, Muscles, Diamonds and the Making of an American Legend.

 https://wolfebets.wordpress.com/ask-the-authors/

Future Book Reviews:  

Please let me know if you readers have any ideas for books you want to see on this review.

  • August: Review and Q & A with a groundbreaking Chicago-area author of a very controversial fiction that was just released in June.  Everyone is talking about this book!
  • September: I’ll introduce you to another out of the ordinary take on an old horror theme, done by a literary master.  Hopefully I’ll get a Q & A done with him as well. The story has already been bought for a movie and is the first of three parts.

Until next time, you are what you read, so turn the page, and feed the need.   

Betsy

Book review by Betsy Wolfe

Something old  Something new Something borrowed Something blue

Ryan Sherwood has invited us all to attend the wedding union between his Bride, REVENANTS  Fallen Savior, and our imagination.  The Bride will be sporting various literary embellishments and the reception banquet afterward promises satisfied bellies full of images, ideas, and twists.

Old…

Identifying the core of what makes this story an old one is easy.  Vampires: undead that are animated by some unknown force and their thirst for blood.   

New…

That‘s where the similarities end between Sherwood’s revenants and previous vampires that have populated our media and nightmares for the last 200 years. Old school usage of the word “revenant”  refers to a person returning after being gone for awhile, or to a ghost.  Sci-fi and horror venues have used the word “revenant” for pretty much anything that should be dead but still hangs around causing trouble.  This is where Sherwood’s new twist comes in.  He uses the word “revenant” to refer to an almost noble race; a part of the cycle of life.  There’s very little human bloodletting mentioned, so it’s defiinitely not your usual vampire tale. Yes, they drink blood, but it’s not the focal point of the story. The websites that promote the book use the word “vampire” far more often than the story itself does. Sherwood suggests the existance of various castes of revenants. The castes are described as tribes or factions, some of which are considered quite low and undesireable by revenant society in general.  These lower forms are the ones referred to as “vampires.”   They make up a very small part of the story. 

Borrowed…

Sherwood is an undeniable fantasy and sci-fi enthusiast.   Anyone who has enjoyed movie blockbusters and various TV series of the last thirty or forty years will recognise various elements brought into Sherwood’s story.  If you never watched Star Trek or Star Wars, for instance, some concepts in his story will appear from out of nowhere to amaze and delight you.  If you’re already a sci-fi fan, you’ll know exactly what was borrowed. You’ll enjoy the familiar territory enmeshed in Sherwood’s world and you’ll most certainly feel connected to the author as a kindred spirit.  Either way: win win.   It also helps that Sherwood is open and unabashed about his “borrowing.”  In this case, imitation is definitely a form of flattery, perhaps even an homage.  The key here is that he only uses these devices to tell his own unique story. 

Blue…

There’s a lot of blue in Sherwood’s imagery.  Blue ties everything together, is at the heart of the plot, and highlights the action and philosphical flow of the story.  You’ll know exactly what I mean after reading the first chapter.  You’ll also learn many new words for blue.  See… it’s educational!  Bonus.

What’s the story?

Revenants: Fallen Savior opens with a simple mythology woven around two brothers named Kanna and Habilis.  They are the beginning of a new race of revenants and ultimately the object of polarizing factions. 

Here is the  description posted on Amazon.com: “The war for every immortal soul has begun. Betrayed and thrust between their blades is Ezra, a young revenant forced to decipher the vital information in the lifetimes of memories buried in his soul. He must do so all before the very essence of life is ripped from him and with it any chance at redemption.”    

This revenant world exists for the most part outside of the human one, complete with heroes, villains and a savior.  The reader can’t be sure at first which factions are good or evil, but eventually some mysteries are revealed while more are introduced or expanded upon.   The epic nature of the story requires more time than one volume can contain, and this first book helps us understand the world from the eyes of the fallen revenant.

Who will enjoy this book?

Honestly, anyone with a brain, curiosity, and imagination will be entertained by Revenants:FS. Sci-fi, fantasy and horror fans will be very happy. I must admit to being dubious about the whole vampire connection. Sherwood’s promos almost made me not want to read it, mostly because they present a rock-n-roll approach to yet another vampire story. Hey, I do enjoy a good vampire story.  I loved all three Underworld movies, Van Helsing, Thirty days of Night and Blade I, II, & III.  I’m guilty of having all umpteen volumes of Laurel K  Hamilton’s tawdry Anita Blake book series.  I’ve seen more vamp/Dracula related shows than I want to admit. Unfortunately, popular fiction has been pounded into literary unconsciousness with too many romantic, eye-liner wearing, human-seducing gothic  or animalistic undead. Many of us original fans are no longer interested in the same old vampire.  That being said, this is not the same old…so we welcome Sherwood’s book into our collection. Even if you still enjoy reading or watching gothic vamps, you’ll enjoy REVENANTS: FS.

Caveats:

This book could definitely gain something with a bit more editing and polish.  In this day and age of self and small company publishing, online and ebooks, readers will be more and more exposed to works of writing that do not have the benefit of professional editing and true third draft mauscripts.  The reader will have to get past the usual typos and issues that wouldn’t exist with the proper editing.  Think of it as you the reader getting to be close and personal to the writer during his/her creative process. 

My final impressions:

REVENANTS Fallen Savior is fresh, imaginative and personable.  The characters have  3-D personalities that we care about.  You’ll want to find the answers and will enjoy the many discoveries along the way.  I was so completely sucked into the story and the questions that Sherwood made me want to ask, that the book’s ending became personal.  It was so personal that I had to chat with him about it online the next day.  He definitely made me care about his hero as well as the other characters. The visuals are worthy of being made into a movie and add a lot to the flavor of the story.  I cannot wait for the next book of the series.

Read it for yourself:

Published by SynergEbooks, the best way to get a copy of this book is to go to the author’s site.  Get it as an ebook for $5.98, or on CD-ROM for $6.50.  If you’re like me, you’ll want the printed book in your hands. That’ll cost you $18.99, and includes the shipping and handling.  It’s a paperback, but a substantial one with 468 pages of prose  on pages just under 9″ x 6″.    http://www.ryansherwood.com/

You could also go to Amazon.com and get it, but I don’t know why you would.  They have it new for $19.99 and that doesn’t include the shipping with an additional $3.99.  Amazon also has it for Kindle at $5.98 through Amazon Whispernet.

Ask the author:

Click here to go to the Q & A session I had with Ryan Sherwood about REVENANTS Fallen Savior.

 https://wolfebets.wordpress.com/ask-the-authors/

Future Book Reviews:

  • July: I’ll highlight a Pulitzer Prize winner who is receiving critical acclaim for his latest historical biography.  He’ll also make a special appearance on TURN THE PAGE with a Q & A interview just in time for his book’s paperback release.
  • August: TBD
  • Accept reader’s requests for book reviews.

Until next time, you are what you read, so turn the page, and feed the need.   

Betsy

Book review by Betsy Wolfe 

                          

How can a book remain in relative obscurity after having been #1 on the New York Times paperback trade fiction best sellers list, and the USA Today’s best sellers list? 

Answer: When the book’s sleeper success is based on word of mouth testimonies of people who were profoundly affected by it.  The millstone of Faith-based controversy wrapped around it’s neck adds to the drama, and makes it less likely to be promoted in the more conventional ways.  

Some folks might object to my use of the word “obscure,” but even though this book was self-published back in 2007 through Windblown Media, and has sold over a million copies, I wouldn’t exactly consider this author or this book a household name yet. 

Even though they should be.

What’s the Story?

The Shack, written by William P. Young is a work of fiction, probably best categorized as… *cringe* … Christian Fiction.  There.  I said it out loud…or at least I typed it.  I don’t particularly like that distinction, since I think this book appeals to the general public.

The story revolves around a father, Mack, whose daughter is abducted from a campsite while on a family vacation.  Mack and his family go through the horrific process of dealing with their loss and then getting back to “normal” life.  Mack struggles with his beliefs and how they mesh with the story’s tragedy.  He has a lot to wade through and we wade along with him.  The little hunting shack where the “incident” occurred in the story is in the center of his pain, and becomes a focal point for his journey.

Why should you care about it?

For those sensitive readers, some of the background material might be difficult to get through since the emotional impact of the initial tragedy is very real.  The questions that are posed and dealt with are questions that we have all either asked or been asked.   Why does God allow bad things to happen??  Well, why DOES He, or does He? 

The answers presented were simple and profound.  I asked myself why I hadn’t really understood these concepts, even though I’d said the words before.  Realizing the depth of the answers for me was like one of those V-8 forehead-slapping moments. I should have already known, but in all my years of trusting God, I hadn’t known Him. Not like that.

Not everyone digs this book.  Gasp!

I was surprised to find out how much controversy revolved around this novel in the Christian world.  It’s easy to go on the Internet and find a list of respected clergy and Christian authors who refer to this book as misguided and errant, or even dangerous theology.  I also found well-known Christian pastors, celebrities, artists and writers who not only love the book, but use it in various forms of studies, aimed at helping people get closer to God. When my sister loaned me the tattered little paperback, she mentioned that she was warned by a handful of well-meaning folks that they’d been told it was a “bad book.”  Bad book?  What is this, the Dark Ages?  Did any of those people bother to read it after that, or did they simply choose to spread the word that it was “Baaaad?” And is that word, bad, used to refer to the book’s literary content or is it just the soft porn word for evil? After the huge buzz surrounding another book, Bill Hybels, my senior pastor, made sure to read The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, because he wanted to judge it for himself.  He didn’t think it was a great source to base your faith on, but thought it was a fascinating story of fiction, and told his congregation so.  He did not tell us it was “BAD.”  Upon hearing that The Shack was allegedly offensive and dangerous, I knew it would have to be my very next read. 

 So what’s the big deal?

I don’t want to specifically list what the objections are because, frankly, it would spoil the story for you.   Once I dug into the fifth chapter, I found what probably started the trouble in some folk’s minds: the author’s visual depiction of certain “Characters.” These images were definitely outside the theological and social box established and fortified by the church proper over the centuries. I wanted to understand it, so I re-read the passages.   In my humble opinion, what they are complaining about seems grossly unfair and not exactly true.  I mean, come on.  It’s a work of fiction using allegory to get a point across.  Christians can be the most judgmental folks I know, and the first to jump to conclusions and start griping.   We gotta do better.

When I posted on Facebook that I’d read The Shack, one person replied that they’d had the book for two years and hadn’t “had the guts to open it.” 

For real??   It’s just a book.  You read it and decide what you want to do about it. If it’s crap, then you shrug your shoulders and go on with life.  What’s the worst that could happen to a “good person” who reads a “Bad Book?”   Perhaps it’s that ever-present fear that having read it, an arcane tattoo will appear on their forehead, the Scarlet Letter, announcing  literary infidelity and the reader’s shameful exposure to the dark side of theology.   Come on people, use your brains.

This poor girl was not the first person to have this reaction, and please don’t call her out.  I’m just saying that if you don’t judge what is good and bad for yourself, then you allow others to judge for you. Is that really what you want?

How good is the story?

Young’s writing style is deceptively deep in the midst of an intimately personal and simple prose.  The book reads like your favorite uncle weaving a story at the fireplace. I guess it should since Wikipedia reports that originally Young wrote it as a Christmas gift to his kids, based on his own personal life and lessons learned.  Having anticipated such lavishly controversial material, the foreword and opening chapter seemed a bit slow for me. Once the story engaged, it moved quickly, and Young drenches the reader in a wash of smells, color, taste, texture, haunting regrets, and vast panoramas.  The juxtaposition of pain and sorrow overlapped with cool breezes and warm laughter makes it breathe.  You don’t read this book.  You inhale it, and like the Batman coaster at Great America, it’s over too soon.  At least you don’t have to stand in line for four hours to get strapped in.

 My final impressions: 

I was tempted to be impatient with the main character’s observations, which, at first, seemed below my spiritual IQ.  As the story continued, I discovered that if I were honest, I’d felt many of the same doubts.  In the end, though my previous notions and dogma were definitely challenged, and at times I felt like a mental midget, The Shack left me feeling wrapped in a soft warm blanket in the presence of the Almighty, never wanting to leave.   How can that be Bad?

 Read it for yourself:

I found this for sale on Amazon.com for as little as $1.87, with $3.99 shipping.  Hmmm, forget I said that. I might buy that one for myself so I can give my sister’s copy back to her, though when she sees what we’ve done to it, she may want the new one.  You can of course go to the official site and get it as well. If you do that, try not to look at too much of the site’s hype before reading.  Just get the book and read the thing.  Like Nextel… Done.

http://theshackbook.com/

Beware of Spoilers!  

After reading the book, I checked out what the Internet said about The Shack.  I was irritated by what I found.   Most sites completely summarized the entire plot and ending.  If you’re serious about checking out this book for yourself, then I DO NOT recommend looking it up any further on the Internet. At All. Except for my review, of course.  Some reviewers were better about avoiding spoilers than others, but every single article I found told way too much about it. Even Amazon just wouldn’t shut up after it had said enough.  I’m so glad I never looked the book up before taking it from my sister and settling down to read it. 

Future Book Reviews:

  • June: Unveil a new author who will make a personal appearance on the blog!
  • July: Highlight a Pulitzer Prize winner who is receiving critical acclaim for his latest historical biography.  He will also make a special appearance on TURN THE PAGE with a Q & A interview just in time for his book’s paperback release.
  • Accept reader’s suggestions for future books to review.

 

Until next time,  you are what you read, so turn the page, and feed the need.   

Betsy

Review by Betsy Wolfe