Friday, June 26, 2009

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

A lot of people liked this book. I definitely recommend it for elementary kids... It's got sort of a pre-steampunk feel to it, lots of automata. Plus, it's about movies, and what kid doesn't love movies? There's a lot of good historical info included on the invention of movies, and it might lead kids on to other books. It's inventive, a lot of the story is told silently through pictures and that really suits the whole silent-movie theme.

That said, it didn't do much for me. It's just basic kid-book fare. The plot was painfully obvious to me and the characters were annoying, especially with their constant arguing over who should reveal secrets first. I was hoping for something mind-bogglingly wonderful from the praise it gets, but it was just the same old stuff: An orphan, a spunky girl to be his best friend, a mean old man, and a bunch of riddles to solve.

And- Hm. I really thought I had more to say about this, but I guess that's it. I recommend it, especially for kids, who won't notice that the story's been done so many times, but it's not a "heave it to the top of Mt. TBR" recommendation. A good similar book at a slightly higher reading level might be Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett, and some other books with the same general attitude are The Palace of Laughter by Jon Berkeley or The Magic Thief by Sarah Prineas (awesome, awesome book with review forthcoming eventually). Here's a list of books about the history of movies and one about silent movies, if this book sparks your interest.

Buy The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Friday, June 19, 2009

Devilish by Maureen Johnson

Jane and Allison have always been too quirky to be popular at their Catholic school, but that's never been a big deal. However, after a hugely embarrassing disaster Allison comes to school with new clothes, new hair, and a new policy of refusing to speak to Jane. At first Jane doesn't know what's going on, but then a freshman boy named Owen reveals it might be something sinister... Like a deal with with the devil.

Jane, our first-person narrator, is the element that's going to make or break this story for you, and for me she definitely made it. She's funny and witty without being a "let's make this character hip and sharp-witted" character. She comes across as a real person I'd like to hang out with, not a "character." And the very best thing is that she does not do wangst. Things happen. They suck. She acts. No crap.

The plot has an interesting snowballing quality to it. It starts slow, and a lot of it is fluff (the writer usually writes straight YA chick-lit), but things accumulate until you're on the edge of your seat and chewing your hair by then end. And let me just say: The ending delivers. Seriously delivers.

I really enjoyed figuring out the twists of the plot and getting to know these characters. It's a little bit of a beach read, but I highly recommend it as an enjoyable read and as a YA book dealing with high school in a believable and interesting way. The only note I have is that, not having a background in Catholicism, I didn't have a substantial frame of reference for the Catholic-school parts of school. It wasn't hard to follow, I just wondered which things would really happen in a Catholic school and which wouldn't.

A similar book (with more plot and POW to it) would be the excellent Sucks to Be Me, reviewed here. For more of Maureen Johnson's style without the paranormal check out her other books. 13 Little Blue Envelopes seems to be her most popular.

Buy Devilish

Friday, June 12, 2009

Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things by Ted Naifeh

I've had this series recommended to me by several people, a friend of mine who's recommended a lot of my now-favorite books, a review by Darla D from Books and Other Thoughts (who also recommends a lot of books I end up loving), and several other people I can't remember. It took me a while to get around to reading it, but I loved it when I did!

Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things is a kids' graphic novel. It has a classic plot--girl moves to creepy old uncle's house and creepy stuff happens--but this is a model example of Tropes Are Not Bad.

There are three main things that keep this book amazing:

A) It knows its tropes, loves them, and uses them well. This is the kind of story kids like.

B) It's funny, in a biting way. It's SMART humor. The characters and dialoge are just off-beat enough to make everything seem shiny and new.

C) It's a graphic novel with gorgeous, quirky, dark art that sets the mood and lets us create a little more of the story in our own heads while giving us something pretty to look at. I love fantasy art in general, and this art adds humor to dark scenes and a sense of creepy to the funny scenes.

I will warn that the characters are not paragons, and this is not a morality play. The characters are good, but they aren't above being vindictive and conniving. It's a little creepy sometimes because it's unexpected, but it's realistic and would promote discussion.

I highly recommend this series to kids (of all ages ;) ) who like this sort of quirky fantasy/gothic horror trend that's happening right now in fiction. Fans of Lemony Snicket, The Spiderwick Chronicles, Skulduggery Pleasant, Zorgamazoo, that whole vein.
Buy Courtney Crumrin & The Night Things

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Terminator: Salvation

When I first started this blog it was with the intention of doing the occasional movie review. Well, obviously, so far I haven't gotten around to it. But after poking around on the internet... Am I seriously the ONLY PERSON IN THE WORLD who loved this movie?!

I have yet to find a single positive review. (If you know of one, let me know.) So I threw one together.

Just to clarify if you missed it a second ago, I LOVE THIS MOVIE. I completely do not understand any of the criticism. The acting and the effects were both so good that I barely noticed them, I felt like things were really happening. I never once caught myself wondering what time it was, the way I usually do in movies.

I will say, I'd only seen the original movie before this one (liked it), and that I'd rather watch infomercials than the Sarah Conner Chronicles. But based on liking the original movie and learning as much as possible about the other two before I saw this one... this is a great movie. It doesn't feel the need to regurgitate the same plot again or explain it in painful detail, the actors are instead capable of conveying that backstory with a look while continuing with the motion of the movie at hand. I feel like there was space for this movie in the lore, they didn't have to hack the old stuff to bits to fit it in (like they did in, say, Star Trek).

In addition, this is what dystopia ought to be for me. It looks cool. It's grungy. It's sci-fi. All the tropes are there with no need to draw attention to themselves, just being cool the way they're meant to be. I like the way the romantic elements are subtle, not just a parade of "let's get it on" scenes. I like the total badassery of the characters.

The actors are great. The look is great. The story is great. What's not to love? See it for yourself while it's still in the theater.

I am of course open to discussion if anyone wants to contest my opinion. :)

Buy Terminator Salvation on DVD

Friday, June 5, 2009

Stargazer by Claudia Gray

Stargazer is the second book in the Evernight series/trilogy?, just published March 24th.. You may remember my review of February 14th, in which I gushed repeatedly about how awesome Evernight is. Stargazer is just as awesome.

There's not a ton I can say without giving spoilers for either of the books, but I'll do my best.

First, Gray has the same control over her plot here that I was so impressed with in Evernight. I gasped at every twist. Sure, the elements have been used before--what elements haven't?--but this story hasn't been told. It feels new, and that's very special. Most of the meat of the story is internal conflict and slow development, then the last third is an explosion of action that grows perfectly out of that development.

I do feel like more Twilight-esque themes are used here, particularly the love triangle and "true love" aspects. The difference is that Gray knows what she's doing, she consciously deals with things rather than just applauding them because they sound nice. Sure, love feels all-consuming. But that doesn't make anything okay as long as you do it for love. There's a real world out there that contains more than two people, and what you do is going to have consequences for you, the object of your love, and everyone else around you.

I hate to keep comparing it to Twilight, but with its ubiquity it seems unavoidable... One of the things that bothers me most about Twilight is that the only characters who seem to matter are Bella and Edward. Bianca, Evernight's protagonist, actually has other friends, actually has parents and teachers and random people she meets on the street. She actually cares about them. This shouldn't need to be said.

I think the main question Stargazer wrestles with is, "What can you do for love?" It's dealt with in romantic love, parental love, sibling love, and friendship love. There's an intricate world here with a lot of gray areas (hah, pun!) and it's worth investing the extra time to not just enjoy the story, but really chew through what's going on in it. It's a fantastic book, no matter how deeply you want to invest yourself, and an amazing move forward in the overall Evernight story. I can't wait for the next book.

Buy Stargazer