Sunday, May 3, 2009

Book Review: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

I had never read anything by Neil Gaiman before, but when he showed up on The Colbert Report to promote his Newberry-winning children's book The Graveyard Book, he was so charming, and the book sounded so cool, that I had to check it out.

The hero of the story is Nobody Owens (Bod for short), an orphan being raised by ghosts and the mysterious Silas in a graveyard after the murder of his parents. What follows is an account of his life in the graveyard, encounters with creatures such as ghouls and the mysterious Sleer, as well as his quest to understand his parents' murder by the man Jack.

The Graveyard Book was thouroughly charming to read as a young adult, and I'm sure I would've adored it just the same if I had read it as a child. I love to walk and read in graveyards, taking pictures and imagining the lives of the people interred there, so Bod was the ideal young hero for me. It was a quick read, but I took my time in order to savor the story and the illustrations that pepper the book.

It was a sweet and engaging read that can be enjoyed by people of any age.

Snippet Review: Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

I quite enjoyed Maisie Dobbs. In terms of a mystery it wasn't very complicated, but I really enjoyed Maisie herself and how unique she was. I haven't read of very many sleuths who rely so heavily on intuition, meditation, and being aware of the feelings of others.

The one complaint I had was that the story of her childhood was right on the edge of bad fanfiction. Violet eyes? Check. Dead mom? Check. Unusually clever and compelling young girl? Check and check.

Other than that, though (alliteration!) I liked it a lot. It felt like a hot cup of tea.

A Quick Plug

All you true-crime people: My cousin recently wrote a book about the "Bike Path Rapist" of Buffalo, NY. The case got national attention, I believe, since it was so sensational. Probably the saddest part was the guy who was wrongfully imprisoned for 20+ years. Crazy.I'm about halfway through the book so far. I can't even pretend to give an unbiased review as my cousin wrote it and the case itself is more or less local to me. Several of the crimes took place on a bike path I used to hike on with my grandpa when I was a kid.

If you're interested, check it out here:

Book Review: The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

I just finished The Invention of Hugo Cabret, and I really enjoyed it. It's a children's book about an orphaned boy in 1930s Paris who has a gift with machines, but it uses gorgeous charcoal drawings to help tell the story. Someone described it as a silent film on paper, which is both a great description and very appropriate as the book deals with early silent films, among other things. Younger kids or non-readers shouldn't be put off by its huge size. With all the pictures, I could've devoured it an an hour, easily.

It's a work of art, and I would recommend it for children and adults alike.

BTT: Movie Potential

What book do you think should be made into a movie? And do you have any
suggestions for the producers?
Or, What book do you think should NEVER be
made into a movie?
Worst is first:
Apparently Alexandre Dumas should never be made into a Hollywood movie. The Man In The Iron Mask was atrocious. I don't even know where to start with that one. The whole charm of the book is that it is the last part of the Musketeers' story. It's not uplifting or just or pat, but it is wonderful. The movie was horrible and distorted the plot and characters beyond salvage.
The Count of Monte Cristo was a tiny bit better, but the book has so much more depth and adventure and purpose. Plus they changed the hell out of the ending.

As to books I'd like to see...I want to see the recent adaptation of Captain Alatriste. Viggo Mortensen, yum.

Snippet Reviews: Captain Alatriste and An Unquiet Mind

I read Captain Alatriste by Arturo Perez-Reverte and An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison in tandem. They really couldn't be more different: the first was an escapist, Dumas-esque swashbuckler, and the latter is a non-fiction memoir about living with bipolar disorder.

Captain Alatriste was really well-written, I thought, and quite diverting. Who doesn't love a rather melancholy hero and a villain who has a voice that sounds like alchohol was poured over his vocal cords and a laugh like splinters? It was rather short, though, which is okay because there are a few sequels. Plus, it has apparently been made into a movie starring Viggo Mortensen, and who doesn't want to see that??

I read An Unquiet Mind for my abnormal psych class, and I read it in a day. It's a really compelling and interesting look into one woman's experience of the disease. It was also nice having both a personal and professional viewpoint represented, as Ms. Jamison is a prominent psychologist at Johns Hopkins and one of the world's experts on mood disorders. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who knows someone with bipolar disorder, but even if you don't it's still a very engaging read.

A Bundle of Reviews: Watchmen, My Life With The Saints, and Rebecca

I've been done with these books for days, and I kept waiting for inspiration to hit so I could pour forth an insightful and wholly original review. That has not happened, so y'all get a one-paragraph writeup. Sorry!

Watchmen: To start... I am an idiot. I thought this was published, like, within the last few years. When I started reading and it was set in the '80s, I thought, "Wow, they really managed to capture the time." Well, it was published in the '80s. Silly me. Anyway, this is heralded as the gold standard of graphic novels and one of the best books ever and on and on, and I am glad I can say that it does live up to the hype.

The heroes of Watchmen are masked adventurers and, in one case, a superhuman being. What makes Watchmen different and groundbreaking is that the heroes are at best normal people with normal-people frustrations and folibles, and at worst are the type of men usually found in a cell in solitary confinement. You learn about their backstories, what made them put on a costume to fight crime, and why they chose those costumes. It's a superhero story that focuses much more on character development than on ass-kicking. I dug it.

I'm not a big graphic-novel fan. I appreciate them and absolutely agree that they are a worthwhile form of literature, but they don't resonate with me the way novels do. In some ways I felt the same about Watchmen. It's not a book that is a part of me, but it is a book that I'm glad to have read and would recommend to others.

My Life With the Saints: I just said in my review of a graphic novel that I am not a graphic novel fan, and I'm starting this review of a Catholic book by saying that I am not a Catholic. However, I do have many Catholic family members and I've always felt an affection and interest in Catholicism.

My Life... is about James Martin's spiritual journey from typical college kid and business grad to Jesuit priest as well as aboutt he saints that he feels a special connection to. I enjoyed learning about familiar saints like St. Francis and Mother Theresa as well as less-familiar ones like Pedro Arrupe and Pope John What I liked most, however, was reading about the author's journey to being a clergyman, because he's such a regular guy. He grew up in a lukewarm Catholic house. He smoked pot in college and chose his major because he figured it would pay the bills. He chose a life in the Church because he was dissatisfied. He struggles with a lot of questions. It just felt really nice to read about someone who didn't have a life with huge highs and lows, or a dramatic spiritual conversion.

I would recommend this book to any Christian, even non-Catholics. I don't pray to saints but I did find the profiles and spiritual journey of the author interesting and applicable to my own life.

Rebecca: I have many friends who have raved about this book. They were correct to have raved. This was a very suspenseful, atmospheric, creepy story. I have much more to say, but I don't like to talk about details or characters from the book with people who have not read it, so I will refrain. I would highly recommend it.