Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman (J)

Fortunately the Milk

Fortunately, the Milk   

Neil Gaiman (Juvenile Fiction)

Mom was off to a conference so Dad was in charge.  She had given him loads to remember, but the most important of all was, “Oh, and we’re almost out of milk.  You’ll need to pick some up.”  You couldn’t very well put orange juice on your Toastios.  Or pickle juice.  Or mayonnaise or ketchup.  So Dad went to the corner store for milk (and NOT the fat-free kind because it tastes like water!!!).  After he returned after being gone an unusually long time, he plopped down the milk and told his two children the most unbelievable story they had ever heard.  A story about aliens and dinosaurs and time travel and pirates and ponies and vampires and…  Well, perhaps it’s best if you were to hear it from Dad himself because you wouldn’t believe it if I were to tell it.

From the imagination that is uniquely Neil Gaiman, Fortunately, the Milk is a story filled with charm, wit, and humor.  It’s a quick read that would make for a wonderfully entertaining bedtime story.  Bursting with unforgettable characters (a time-travelling stegosaurus inventor anyone?) and an action-packed race through time (literally), Gaiman gives us a tale where the universe sits precariously on the shoulders of a dad simply trying to get back home with a bottle of milk.

Perhaps the real star of this book is Skottie Young’s outrageously fantastic illustrations.  His pen-and-ink drawings are what you might get if you were to give Tim Burton’s brain a pen and a piece of paper.  They are as whimsical, outlandish, and over-the-top delightful as Gaiman’s story and both combine to give young readers an epic journey through space, time, and around the block to the corner grocer.

So whether you’re into science fiction, fantasy, comedy, or just enjoy reading about boogers and snot (those aliens are really quite disgusting), you’re sure to enjoy this little gem of a book.  Even if you do enjoy pickle juice with your Toastios…weirdo.

Rating: 4/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com

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Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Slaughterhouse-Five

Slaughterhouse-Five

Kurt Vonnegut (Adult Fiction)

By all measures, Billy Pilgrim would be considered a lucky fellow.  He’s survived the bombing of Dresden in 1945, a POW camp, and a mountainside plane crash.  He’s married, has children, and enjoys financial security as a successful optometrist.  But, Billy also time jumps, which can prove inconvenient at times.  He’s also been kidnapped by aliens and taken to another planet where he spends his time as a zoo exhibit.  Did I mention that he’s in the sights of a hired assassin?  It’s just another day in the life of Billy Pilgrim.

Slaughterhouse-Five is considered semi-autobiographical as Vonnegut shares many of the same military experiences as his main character.  His novel is an anti-war dark comedy that delivers a bitter social commentary on the pitfalls of free will and the destructive nature of man.  It also flirts with being a bit anti-American since the description of the American POWs—as compared to the other detainees—are far less flattering and the particular slaughterhouse (Slaughterhouse-Five) chosen to hold the Americans was once used to house pigs.  Although Vonnegut was born and raised in Indiana, this novel and its message were undoubtedly influenced by the current events of the late 60s: Woodstock, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Protests, and the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King.  Vonnegut lays it all out there and has no qualms letting us know that he was none too pleased about the current states of affairs at that time.

Vonnegut’s novel was selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best novels of all time, although I personally found it difficult to enjoy.  Given the time of its publication (1969), I understand the sentiments that Slaughterhouse-Five articulates, but I think less would have been more in this case.  Combining the firebombing of Dresden with time travel and then adding alien abduction on top of it left the story feeling disjointed and haphazard.  Just when the reader is feeling engrossed in a particular storyline, we are catapulted to a different time or planet.  It’s like trying to stand on the deck of a ship during rough seas and not seeing any sign of calm waters on the horizon.  Rather than being able to admire the overall view, you just want the voyage to be over so you can return to solid, stable ground.

Vonnegut also uses a lot of sensory imagery and phrasal repetition to reinforce the feeling of pain, the approach of danger, or the smell of death.  He is particularly partial to the phrase “So it goes” and one individual even took the time to count each occurrence…which turned out to be 106.  These three simple words always followed a mention of death and served as a convenient means of topic transition; however, by the fiftieth time you’ve seen it, it begins to lose its impact and has outlived its intended purpose.  Solid ground never seemed so far out of reach.

With all of the blatant anti-war messaging found throughout the book, I thought nothing stated Vonnegut’s intended message more simply and effectively than a rather benign scene where Billy jumped back in time and was watching a late movie.  It was running in reverse and showed American bombers during WWII.  As Billy watched, planes once pockmarked with bullet holes were suddenly pristine, German fighter planes were busy sucking bombs back into their holds, smoke and fire were lifted from the ravaged city, crewmen and civilians were again healthy and whole, and the dangerous minerals used to make those deadly weapons of war were safely restored back to the ground and no longer a danger.  Unfortunately, we know all too well that this didn’t happen.  So it goes.

Rating: 3/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com

 

Time Cat by Lloyd Alexander (J)

Time Cat

Time Cat

Lloyd Alexander (Juvenile Fiction)

Did you ever wonder where cats go when you can’t find them?  No matter how hard you look for them, they’ve simply disappeared only to reappear just as quickly.  According to Lloyd Alexander, they travel back in time.

Meet Jason and his cat, Gareth.  Like all cats, Gareth doesn’t have nine lives, but he can travel to nine different places in history.  Alexander gives us a fun and fanciful story through time as we follow Jason and Gareth to places such as ancient Egypt, Rome, Japan, and Peru and meet many notable historical figures along the way.  The book may be fantasy, but Alexander spent over a year in research to ensure historical accuracy.  Each adventure is a standalone story that is short enough to hold a younger reader’s attention, while long enough to offer a nice glimpse into the history of that time.

Time Cat wonderfully reflects the bond that humans have with their animals and how—throughout the ages—people have relied on their pets for protection, comfort, and companionship.  This book reinforces the value of friendship and loyalty, while it introduces young readers to the exciting world of history.

Rating: 4/5