Monday, May 13, 2013
I watched the movie Hugo a few months ago and enjoyed it so much that I immediately went to find the book only to learn that it wasn't available on the kindle. I posted something about that on facebook and a lot of people told me that the book was so special because it is mostly illustrated so I had to get a hard copy. Luckily one of my students was able to lend it to me. It's a super quick read since it is mostly illustrations but the book is pretty thick so I waited until I was home last week on bed rest for a couple days at which point I tore through it super quickly.
The Invention of Hugo Cabret is the story of a young boy who lives within the walls of a train station in Paris. His uncle, who has disappeared, was the keeper of the clocks in the station who was in charge of cleaning, winding and maintaining all of the timepieces. Hugo's father (another clock maker) died in a fire at a museum, leaving behind only one automaton that they had found in the attic of the museum. Hugo wants to repair the old automaton with the skills he learned from his father but he also has to spend every day caring for the clocks and avoiding the station master. He also needs to survive. While he tries not to steal, he does need to eat and has to take some food from the different vendors in the station to live.
Eventually, he is caught stealing a small wind up mouse from a man named Georges who runs a small toy shop in the station, which brings Hugo into the larger story. What is Georges' past? Why does his goddaughter, Isabella, wear a key around her neck that looks like it would wind up the automaton? What will the automaton write when it comes to life? How does the magic of the early film industry fit into any of this?
Do yourself a favor and read this magical book, even if you don't have a child to read it to. It's a lovely story, which actually includes pictures from early filmmakers like Georges Melies. And as I said earlier, it's a very quick read - perfect for a rainy day. I really loved it!
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Thursday, May 9, 2013
The Perks of Being a Wallflower came out when I was a senior in college so it wasn't on my radar for a long time. I don't know when I started to hear about it but it seemed to be one of those seminal coming of age books that people love. It wasn't until I started seeing movie reviews that I even really thought about it. And then over mini-term, I bonded with two of my eighth graders who both love reading and who now spend tons of time at my desk having our own little book club. Both girls recommended that I read The Perks of Being a Wallflower (and a couple other recommendations as well).
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an epistolary novel. The main character, Charlie, writes to an anonymous person he refers to only as "Dear Friend". Charlie is a freshmen in high school, still coping with the death of his Aunt Helen at the age of 7 and the suicide of his friend Michael which happened a year or so beforehand. Since their deaths, Charlie has felt very alone. He is incredibly smart but does not have friends. Early in the book, in shop class, he meets Patrick and later Patrick's stepsister, Sam, who Charlie is immediately drawn to. Both are seniors but they take Charlie under their wing and give him a group to belong to.
Charlie, the titular wallflower, lives a very internal life. He just wants friends and he wants those friends to be happy. He is the youngest child of a family is clearly loves him but is not very demonstrative. He is highly sensitive and cries frequently but for the most part he is deeply invested in feeling and observing. One of his teachers tells him to participate in life, which he starts to do with Sam and Patrick's group. Sam dates an older boy, who is out of high school, while Patrick is in a closeted relationship with the quarterback of the school's football team, Brad.
Throughout the year, Charlie experiences more and more things. He drinks and begins smoking both pot and cigarettes. He spends almost every Friday night watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which his friends act in. Along the way, he meditates about family, novels (his English teacher keeps giving him books to read outside of the normal curriculum from The Catcher in the Rye to The Fountainhead) and his friends. He deals with abortion, his first girlfriend, school dances, lunchroom fights, detention and all of his friends graduating from high school). Along the way he learns a lot about himself. At the end of the novel, Sam tells him that he needs to be less passive. He needs to stop being the wallflower and learn how to engage with people in a meaningful way instead of letting them do whatever they want in order to be happy even if it doesn't make him happy. Eventually he comes to terms with trauma in his own past and in acknowledging that, it seems that he will hopefully have a happier, more participatory future.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is completely beloved and also spent about ten years on the American Library Association's list of 100 most banned books. It's probably still on the list in fact. A lot of people have compared the novel to The Catcher in the Rye, which I personally did not like when I had to read it in 9th grade (I didn't like whiny teenagers when I was a whiny teenager), but I did like this novel. Interestingly, Charlie's narrative voice reminded me a lot of Pat Peeples' voice in The Silver Linings Playbook. Both are epistolary novels featuring damaged and depressed characters trying to find some semblance of normality in a chaotic world. And I think both are certainly worth reading.
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Never Coming Back is another Swedish thriller export just like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The novel opens with a seemingly unconnected murder of a man and then switches to a wealthy tycoon who is obsessed with his childhood tormentors who he refers to as the Gang of Four. All of this appears unrelated to the main story, which follows Mike, his wife Ylva and their daughter Sanna. Mike and Ylva are recovering from an affair that she had a year ago so there is still some suspicion on Mike's part when Ylva goes out with friends on evening and does not come home.
Mike does not want to appear needy but eventually he calls her friends and finally the police, who definitely start eyeing him with suspicion. For many months he is the subject of scrutiny as he tries to pick up the pieces of his life and raise his young daughter as they both reel from the disappearance of Ylva.
Meanwhile, the reader knows exactly what happens to her. In the beginning, she decides to head home instead of getting a drink with friends. On her way to the bus station, she is approached by an older couple who she recognizes (although how is not revealed yet) who offer her a life. She really doesn't want to take it but winds up getting in the car with them. Turns out they just moved in across the street from her home. And they've built a sound proof music studio in the basement. But when the husband tasers Ylva, she realizes that she is in serious trouble as they lock her in the soundproof room of the basement (not quite a music room after all) where she is expected to service the husband and do chores in retribution for an unexplained crime.
There are hints throughout the book as to what the couple are seeking revenge for but it isn't until the final chapter that the full story is revealed. Poor Ylva, resourceful though she is, has to spend almost two years in that basement, where a video feed shows her what is happening at home with her husband and child as they try to move on without her. The tycoon from the beginning and his friend, a journalist, start to put the pieces together about how the Gang of Four relates to a series of death and disappearances. But the question is, will they figure out what's going on and convince someone to listen to them before it's too late?
The story was definitely thrilling and very fast paced. There's something stilted about reading translated novels but the plot here was so engaging that it was easy to move past that. Anyone who likes thrillers, especially those of you who enjoyed The Millennium Trilogy, will also like this!
The Independent Review
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Sunday, April 28, 2013
When I finished this book today, my husband asked if I was going to describe it as breezy. I told him it was the literary equivalent to a mojito: delicious and light. And then he mocked me. Which I probably deserve.
I've mentioned before that I don't really go for these cheesy chick lit titles but I do love Sophie Kinsella. Wedding Night was ridiculous and entertainment, just like all of her novels.
Wedding Night is the story of Lottie, who is convinced that her boyfriend Richard is about to propose to her. When he doesn't, she ends up getting back in touch with her gap year flame, Ben, who is going through a lot of his own issues. When he spontaneously proposes to her, she jumps headfirst into a horrible decision. She does decide to hold off on sex until their wedding night, which they intend to have on the Greek island where they first met.
The chapters alternate between Lottie's perspective and her older sister, Fliss's. Fliss (Felicity) works for a magazine that reviews hotels. She is horrified by another one of Lottie's post-break up impulsive decisions. But she is also reeling from her own painful divorce that continues to wreak havoc on her life. Early on in the book she meets Lorcan, Ben's colleague, and they jump onto a one night stand, after bonding over Ben and Lottie's terrible decision.
Fliss then decides to sabotage the honeymoon. She bribes one of the hotel managers to do everything they can to prevent Lottie and Ben from consummating the marriage, because she worries Lottie might get pregnant, regret her spontaneity and then have to deal with a messy divorce. At least if there isn't sex, she can get an annulment. Meanwhile, Fliss, her son Noah, Lorcan and Richard (who quickly regrets losing Lottie), travel to Ikonos, hitting a few bumps on the journey (like a medical emergency that forces their plane to land in Bulgaria). Lottie and Ben are constantly frustrated by their honeymoon from hell. Their fabulous suite has two single beds, Ben gets drunks, she has an allergic reaction to massage oil. They are so desperate to get it on that they have a hard time seeing clearly. It soon becomes obvious that Ben isn't such a great guy. Richard, on the other hand, is desperate to get Lottie back. It doesn't take a genius to realize how the story will end. And how Fliss will get her own happy ending as well, given her chemistry with Lorcan.
If you've liked other Sophie Kinsella books, you'll like this one too. Read it in a hammock when the weather gets nicer. Or on a beach somewhere. It's totally a beach book: light, easy and fun. Enjoy!
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Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Oops, I guess I published this without writing it. Sorry!
But honestly, you didn't miss much by my lack of a review. I struggled through Fearless; it took me forever and really wasn't very good, which is too bad because I've really loved some of Cornelia Funke's other novels like The Thief Lord and Inkheart. I should have known this wouldn't be that good when I could barely recall any details from the previous book, Reckless. The premise of the Mirrorworld series is that Jacob Reckless, a normal boy from New York, stumbled on a mirror that took him to another world as a teenager. Over a decade later, he still lives in that world as a famous treasure hunter while occasionally returning to his home with his brother, Will. Jacob and Will are based on the Grimm brothers and encounter of the similar German based fairy tale tropes that the Grimms did. Feel free to skim the synopsis of Reckless that I linked to above. I had to in order to remember most of this. The Mirrorworld resembles a late nineteenth century Europe, where the magic of the old world is being replaced by the science and industry of the new world.
Fearless is mostly a standalone novel. The events of the last book set the action but Will and Clara aren't in this one at all. At the end of the last book, the Red Fairy, whom Jacob had previously had a relationship with punished him for leaving her by making her sister enact a punishment that will end with Jacob's death. Or something like that. The point is that the whole book, Jacob is seeking a way to prevent his death. He scours the Mirrorworld for magical items to save himself and eventually ends up on a quest with Fox, his loyal companion and shapeshifter, to locate three body parts of a dead emperor which will help them find a magical crossbow. Apparently when the crossbow is shot by someone who loves the person the bow is aiming for, that person will be healed of whatever plagues them.
Jacob's nemesis is a Goyl (a stone man) who wants the crossbow for his own reasons. However, he is stuck traveling with a spoiled prince, a bodyguard and a tutor. There are a few side stories too - Jacob's search for his father, who is is convinced disappeared into Mirrorworld but is still alive, and Fox's side trip to meet up with her mother and stepfather, who drove her out of their home at a young age because they feared her ability to shapeshift. Jacob and Fox (and the Goyl) search for the three pieces of a dead emperor while fighting each other along the way.
I really wanted to like this series. It's apparent at the end that there will be a third book but frankly, I don't think I'll buy it. I basically forgot that the first one wasn't so great, which is how I ended up with book two. Hopefully this blog will remind me not to buy the third one. Cornelia Funke really is a good writer, but this just isn't my favorite. Do yourself a favor and pick up one of her older books. The Mirrorworld novels just aren't worth it.
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Wednesday, April 17, 2013
I saw The Silver Linings Playbook a couple months ago, right before the Oscars, and enjoyed it immensely, so when I saw amazon offering the book for under $5, I picked it up, thinking it would be an entertaining read, which it was.
For those of you who saw the movie, the book is fairly similar. For those who didn't (first off you definitely should), The Silver Linings Playbook follows the story of Pat Peeples (not Solitano like the movie), a 34 year old NJ resident who is released from a mental health facility at the start of the book. In both the novel and the movie, the audience is unaware why he was committed in the first place but we know he has agreed to have some time apart from his wife, Nikki (referred to as "apart time" in the book) and that he desperately wants to win her back, although it is unknown what happened to drive them apart early on.
Pat moves back home with his parents. His father, Patrick, is obsessed with the Eagles. His emotions and relationships with his family are centered almost completely around whether the team wins or loses. Robert De Niro did a fantastic job portraying the father in the movie, but in the book, he's a distant figure who barely acknowledges Pat's existence. His mother is deeply unhappy and overly mothers the adult Pat, buying him clothes and babying him. Pat also sees an Indian therapist named Cliff (a huge Eagles fan himself who is part of a group of 50-something Indian fans who refer to themselves as the Asian Invasion and who go to all home games). He's on quite a bit of medication and no longer works (he used to be a history teacher).
Pat spends most of his days working out. He wants to be a better man for Nikki so he spends hours upon hours exercising. He also tries to catch up with the Eagles but he does not realize how long he has been gone for (four years) so he struggles to learn the new players and connect with his father and brother, the latter of whom buys him a Hank Baskett (yes, former Playboy bunny Kendra's husband) jersey. His father has been banned from games (clearly violent outbursts run in the family) but his brother, Jake, has season tickets and takes Pat to some games. He also starts reading classic novels that his wife teaches in her English class, from Catcher in the Rye to Huck Finn. Pat has come to believe that his life is a movie and that God will guarantee him a happy ending. Books without happy endings depress him further (although the movie has a far funnier scene where he throws a book out the window that he doesn't life).
He also reconnects with some old friends: Ronnie and his wife, Veronica. One night, they invite Pat over for dinner where he meets Tiffany, Veronica's younger sister, a depressed widow whose husband was a policeman before being killed in a drunk driving incident. Tiffany has dealt with her grief by becoming a bit of a nymphomaniac. She tries to proposition Pat, but he rebuffs her, explaining that he is married. Nevertheless, she begins to pursue him in a sense by following him when he goes for his 10 mile runs every day.
Eventually he learns that she has been scouting him to be her partner in a dance competition. The whole dance thing is very different from the movie - it isn't the culmination of the plot, nor is their victory part of a bet between Pat's father and one of his friends. In the movie, his training can be done as an actual montage, but in the book he tries to recreate a montage through writing, which is pretty funny.
I'm missing a lot here but I found the book to be pretty enjoyable. Not as directly funny as the movie but still an entertaining read. Pat seems more... special, I guess. Or maybe just drugged? This is hard to describe without being insulting. It seems like he's recovering from a brain injury, especially when he starts skipping his meds and he still narrates in a certain way. You'd think that an educated former teacher would seem more literate. His style of "speaking" was a bit off putting at times but the story is good enough that you can't help but cheer him on even as he finally figures out what happened between him and his wife. There is better closure at the end of the book than the movie in terms of his relationship with Nikki. Tiffany stays in the picture as well. Of course I kept picturing the actors when I was thinking about the characters, but that's ok. I'm not even a sports fan but I found all the Eagles love heartwarming (like the same way I feel when I watch Fever Pitch, one of my all time favorite movies. I couldn't care less about baseball but I just love that movie and appreciate the obsessive love that Jimmy Fallen has for the Red Sox) especially as you see Pat find his own little family unit among the Eagles fans.
The Silver Linings Playbook is definitely worth a read, especially if you also liked the movie!
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Sunday, April 7, 2013
"And off we go into this year's Gone Girl..." With that one line from Entertainment Weekly's review of Reconstructing Amelia, I immediately knew I'd be hooked and have to read this book. If you've read my reviews since Gone Girl, you might know that I've been looking for a book with a similar feel some one of Gillian Flynn's novels. Reconstructing Amelia almost hit the spot - at least it got closer than anything else I've read recently.
Young single mother Kate is a workaholic lawyer whose daughter Amelia Baron has killed herself by jumping off the roof of her exclusive, Brooklyn private school, Grace Hall - all because she supposedly plagiarized a paper on Virginia Woolf. This is shocking for anyone who knew pretty, brainy Amelia - never one of the popular girls, but a relatively happy, if slightly lonely sophomore.
Not long after the funeral Kate received an anonymous text message reading "Amelia didn't jump," which sets off her investigation into her daughter's death. Like Gone Girl, Amelia and Kate take turns narrating chapters - Kate from the present as she searches for clues into how/why Amelia died and Amelia from the months leading up to her death as she is tapped to join a secret society of girls and falls in love for the first time, all of which happened without her mother's knowledge. Interspersed in the book are excerpts from Amelia's texts, her facebook posts, Kate's diary entries and emails dating back to 1997, when Amelia was conceived, and Gossip Girl-eque school blog called gRaCeFULLY. Obviously bullying plays a large role in the twists and turns of Amelia's final weeks. Kate, who is racked with guilt over her long hours working, throws herself into the case, trying desperately to reconstruct the last months of Amelia's life and illuminate the truth behind her daughter's death.
At first I wanted to call this book Gone Girl light. Or Gone Girl meets a combination of Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars (which I am not ashamed to reveal that I have become a bit obsessed with recently. For a show on ABC Family that seems incredibly dumb, it's actually an entertaining, soapy, gothic story that I kinda love). There seemed to be more at stake with Gone Girl. After all, in that book Amy, the main character was missing. With Amelia already being dead, what could really happen in this book? The incredibly fucked up twists within Gone Girl wouldn't work here because Amelia wasn't missing, wasn't pulling a fast one on anyway; she was really, truly dead. I wasn't expecting much more than a standard whodunit. However, there were so many twists and turns in this book revealing not only how Amelia really died but also what she had been up to before her death, who her father is and how much the school was willing to cover up.
I guessed some of the twists but was mostly pretty surprised by what happened (the author also threw in some red herrings that made me second guess my original suspicions). I read the last 20% at the gym today and spent an extra twenty minutes there, forgetting to let my husband know where I was because I was so totally engrossed.
So do yourselves a favor: if you loved Gone Girl, pick this up. If you haven't read either, get cracking. This was an awesome book!
NY Daily News Review
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