Great White Snark: Books I've Read Since The Night Circus

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Books I've Read Since The Night Circus

I've finished quite a few books in the last couple of weeks and wanted to do quick reviews of them. 

The Arrival, by Shaun Tan

This one was totally different from anything I usually read (or anything I've ever read, for that matter). For starters, it's a graphic novel, which usually isn't my thing. Secondly, there are no words. It's that artistic. Now, I realize that I should probably have been more serious and artsy about this book, but when there are no words, then my inner monologue takes over. And my inner monologue is really vulgar and tends to be kind of an idiot (also, it's British, don't even ask), so the reading went something like, "Okay, so this guy's going to buy postage stamps. Oh no wait, that's bread. And wait, there's a little ratf----r. What the eff even is that. What is it doing. It's like a shark-rat with gills. It's a ratf----r. Wait, everyone has a pet. That one's like a cat-fox. It's a cox." And on and on. 

This is actually a really moving story about a man who leaves his wife and child and home in a place that's being taken over by something bad (represented by a spiny dragon tail), and goes someplace new and foreign, tries to make a living over there, and later brings his wife and daughter to live there with him. It's an artistic story about immigration and emigration. He goes. The language is totally new and different (and so the reader experiences it with him, is completely made up and nonexistent). There are strange customs (everyone has some kind of pet, like in the Golden Compass books), strange ways to get food (I still don't get it...the best Inner Monologue and I came up with is that it's some kind of guessing game/vending machine in a wall), and everyone he meets has come from someplace else. It's like AMERICA but fictionalized. I liked it. I like that I was able to have a stupid narration in my head, but later realize what a cool story it is. And top of that, no matter where you're from or where you're going, you can "read" this book, because there's no words! I give major creativity props to Shaun Tan, and highly recommend it. I finished in about 20 minutes. You should at least go and look at the cute animal pictures. 

The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick

Two things to note about my experience with this book: 
1. I have not seen the movie. 
2. I audiobooked it, and realized AFTERWARD that the actual book has some incredible illustrations that I totally missed by listening to the story, so I feel like I need to go back and actually read the physical book. 
That being said, I can't talk about the illustrations or the feel of the book, and I'm sorry about that. But the story itself was good. The boy, Hugo, works and lives in a train station in Paris. He's an orphan, and his uncle, the station's clock keeper, takes him in until he mysteriously disappears. Hugo continues to operate the station's clocks, because he doesn't want to go to an orphanage if anyone realized his uncle was dead. In the meantime, his deceased father had rescued an automaton (robot, or mechanical man) from a museum fire and was working to repair it. He died, and Hugo took over trying to fix it, certain that it held some kind of message for him about what to do in his life. 

It's a really interesting story in that it has some interesting factors: train stations, clock keeping, mechanics, magic tricks, early film, and Paris. I feel like the story wasn't as magical as I thought it was going to be, but maybe that's just me. It won the Caldecott and the movie is wildly popular, so maybe I'm just broken. But it seemed forgettable to me, if not for those few unforgettable aspects mentioned above. I do recommend it, but not to older readers. I'll keep it mind for the kids at the library, though. If you're an adult and you want to read a great kid's book, READ HARRY EFFING POTTER, ALREADY. 

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie

I'd heard a lot of buzz about this book on YA blogs, and I decided to give it a go myself. It's not usually something I'm into, Native American lit, but this book was actually really, really good. 

There are enough places for you to go read summaries of the story, so I won't summarize it, but it's a really great story about a Spokane boy who is desperate to escape the downward spiral of life on an Indian reservation, and he does this by going to the closest white school off the reservation (which is 22 miles away). It's touching, eye-opening, depressing, darkly comical, and illustrated with comics by the narrator which add a much needed note of levity to an otherwise heavy story. It reminds me a lot of The Perks of Being A Wallflower, but with a racial twist. If you like that kind of stuff, I definitely recommend it. I finished it in one sitting. I just couldn't stop. The narrator hooked me from page one, and I loved every second of it. It's an easy read, but one, I think, that'll stay with me. 

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley

THIS BOOK. OMG, THIS BOOK. This is the book I keep waiting for and it only comes every once in a great while. It's the book I was hoping that Godawful Sherlock Holmes thing would be. I was like:
It's the story of 11 year old Flavia de Luce, who aside from having a spectacular name, is a chemistry genius, prankster, and amateur sleuth. Although I use the word "amateur" loosely, because she's 11 and she basically solved every aspect of the mystery correctly. She, her father, and her two sisters live in a historic country manor home in England. Her mother is deceased. One morning, after a mysterious visitor calls on her father, Flavia finds aforementioned visitor dead on the grounds. She then cunningly pieces together the mystery of his death, using her brilliant knowledge of chemistry, her childhood naivety, and her bicycle called "Gladys" who I think she pretends is a horse. 

Flavia is a brilliant character. I can smell Sherlock Holmes on her, but she's different enough not to be a sad reincarnation. If Sherlock Holmes died and was reincarnated in the 1950's as a little girl, he might have come back as Flavia. Or if he'd fathered an illegitimate daughter with a dramatic actress (and don't even say Irene Adler or I will cut you). Or she could be a distant relative. She's calculating, chemical, and cunning like Holmes, but she has a flair for the dramatic and does, at times, show her emotions. She's just completely unique and I absolutely fell in love with her. 

I also loved the mystery. I GOT IT WRONG. I hate it when I'm reading a mystery, the red herring shows up, and like three chapters in I've solved it already. BORING. This one tricked me, and I love that! And Flavia didn't solve it by being like, "Look, a footprint, let me follow it." She conducted experiments, played on people's emotions, researched, etc. She's awesome. She's only eleven and she's fictional, but she's like my new role model. 

What I also love about this is that, because she's only a kid, she's an extremely unreliable narrator. Half the time I wasn't sure if her theories were childish and therefore, dismissible, or so crazy they just might be true. 

Loved, loved, LOVED this book. Luckily, there are three more in the series, with another two to come. CAN'T WAIT, omg, thank you so much Alan Bradley. I might even change my rule about not trusting people with two first names (or rather, people with a surname that could also be a first name) because you wrote this awesome character and story. Maybe. 

Absolutely recommend to Holmesians or people who love mysteries. 

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