Hugo – Movie Trailer

When The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick came out in 20o7, I wasn’t blogging, I had not been introduced to graphic novels and I had no way to even conceive of reading a novel in pictures. I remember picking it up in the stores and being completely mystified. I put it back down pretty quickly. Here’s a look at the description and what I missed out on.

Orphan, clock keeper, and thief, Hugo lives in the walls of a busy Paris train station, where his survival depends on secrets and anonymity. But when his world suddenly interlocks with an eccentric, bookish girl and a bitter old man who runs a toy booth in the station, Hugo’s undercover life, and his most precious secret, are put in jeopardy. A cryptic drawing, a treasured notebook, a stolen key, a mechanical man, and a hidden message from Hugo’s dead father form the backbone of this intricate, tender, and spellbinding mystery.

It definitely looks like fun, and it has now made the leap from a novel in pictures to a novel turned movie. I guess the beauty of this book is that it came complete with storyboards to work from. It’ll be in theaters Thanksgiving of this year. Plenty of time to pick up a copy to “read” if you haven’t already. I might pick up a copy by then as well.

Dd anyone read this? Can you chime in on the experience of “reading” a book that was mostly only pictures?

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 You Know When The Men Are Gone, by Siobhan Fallon – Book Review

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You Know When The Men Are Gone, by Siobhan Fallon – Book Review

When Siobhan Fallon’s You Know When The Men Are Gone started making the rounds last winter, the immediate feedback on it touted an incredible collection of short stories. I heard this from several book blogging friends who are usually about as “meh” as I am on short stories. Encouraging, but still, I didn’t run right out and pick it up, and probably would not have- only my book club chose it as one of our selections. So guess what? I read it and loved it.

You Know When The Men Are Gone, is a collection of interlinking shorts revolving around the lives of military wives and their families. It’s beautifully written and details these women’s experiences as they cope the stages of their husbands’ deployments. The most difficult story to get into was the first one which had a young Russian wife struggling with motherhood and culture shock while alone on the military base. There was something a little distancing and intangible about the story, but it was an introduction into some of the men and women I would encounter in later stories.

Fallon writes in an appealing and straightforward ways that gets the reader into the heart of these women’s lives as the deal with child-rearing, money woes, loneliness, isolation and infidelity without very much support. They rely on each other as much as they can for support, but there is a strong sense of the sacrifice involved in leading the lives that they do. Engaging and honest, this short collection is a tear-jerker for sure and a fascinating look at what it means to live a military life. Highly recommended.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Silver Sparrow, by Tayari Jones   Book Review

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The Eternal Ones, by Kirsten Miller – Book Review

In Kirsten Miller’s The Eternal Ones, Haven Moore is like most seniors in high school, she spends most of her days dreaming about escaping family imposed rules and having freedom as a freshman in college. However, Haven’s reasons for longing to get away far exceed the average teenager’s. Haven has long suffered from fits which give her glimpses into another life and a boy named Ethan (Iain Morrow in this life), whom she has seemingly loved forever. Her grandmother and the small town of Snopes City, Tennessee view these visions as works of the devil and Haven has to do some pretty fancy footwork in order to break free and follow her destiny.

As an avid reader of fiction, I suspend my disbelief but I do it grudgingly. I want the world that I live in to be, for the most part, accurately reflected and I expect that the world built will have rules that I can apply and that I can turn to throughout the book for structure. I want to know that the action taking place before me is within the parameters of that world. The Eternal Ones breaks those rules, but somehow manages to be an appealing and engaging read nevertheless.

It is strongly plotted and in constant motion, but it certainly has its eye rolling moments and does not make always make a lot of sense. A teen breaks away from her family to research reincarnation and find the boy of her dreams, meets him, basically starts living with him while on the run from bad guys, both known and unknown. Apparently reincarnation can be something of a pain. You don’t always find your soul mate, and when you do smooth sailing is not guaranteed since it seems you bring all of your baggage from previous lives with you. Haven has major trust issues and I got whiplash from how she went from trusting to not trusting Iain. She has reason to have questions, but at some point either believe in someone or you don’t.  But all in all it’s a fun book – total candy- with a main character you want to smack out of gullibility and a dreamy beau you want to run off with yourself. And yes, it’s the first in a trilogy, but All You Desire, the second book, is out on August 9, 2011. Recommended.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 The Psychopath Test, by Jon Ronson   Book Review

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Small Town Sinners, by Melissa Walker – Book Review

In Melissa Walker’s Small Town Sinners, Lacey Ann Bier is sixteen and known for being a nice girl. She has never had what she calls a “movie moment”, all attention focused on her, but is determined to change that by winning the coveted role of “Abortion Girl” in her church’s production of Hell House. Lacey Ann is sure of her beliefs and convinced that Hell House is the way to bring young people closer to God and salvation, but then an old friend comes back to town and major changes impact her social circle. Lacey Ann begins to question all she held as true.

Small Town Sinners was a fascinating read for me since it was a peek into the lifestyle of a teenager who has grown up in an evangelical church. Growing up in the city the only evangelical faith I knew about was Jehovah’s Witness. They would make the rounds, knocking on doors in my building on Saturday morning, and I would see then trying to hand out pamphlets on the street. I never heard of any Hell Houses going down in the city but I am sure that it is possible. There were so many churches that my classmates and I attended, and there were many faiths. We didn’t talk much about religious experiences in school, probably because it would have been rare to have both church and faith in common. Reading this book was definitely a fly on the wall experience for me.

Walker is balanced in her storytelling and I liked that Lacy was such a lovable and relatable character even when she is being judgmental and infuriating. A lot of her very conservative and strict views on just about everything were unpalatable to me, but she believes what she has been raised on by her father, a children’s pastor, and the church. She seeks to follow what she has learned, whether by attending church services, speaking in tongues or helping other people to come to worship her God. The Hell House aspect was surprising, probably because it seemed so extreme, but they all seemed firm in their belief in the effectiveness of scaring sinners into accepting God.

The introduction of Ty, someone who was initially of the same faith but removed from it for several years, introduced a plausible way for her to begin to question her faith. Their burgeoning romance is a tense one, as they try to sort out their different viewpoints. Ty has circumstances in his past that introduce shades of gray and doubt to Lacey Ann’s beliefs, as do burgeoning family problems with her parents and her best friends – the gregarious Starla Joy and the sometimes withdrawn Dean.

Walker has written a quick but thoughtful read that delves into complex issues, and with engaging characters who make realistic progress in solving the problems they face. Recommended.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Rules of Civility, by Amor Towles   Book Review

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Rules of Civility, by Amor Towles – Book Review

Rules of Civility begins as Kate, a wealthy middle-aged woman, and her husband attend a photo exhibit of famed photographer Walker Evans at the Museum of Modern Art in 1966. The pictures are all candids, from the late 1930’s, and taken of unsuspecting people riding the subway. The artist deemed them so personal that he didn’t allow them to be released to the public until thirty years later. While studying the exhibit with her husband, Kate spots a familiar face in a lean and weary Tinker Grey. Kate mentions recognizing and knowing the man in the photo but doesn’t relate any deeper history to her husband, even though the exhibit prompts her to reminisce about meeting him in 1938, and the life that unfolds from choices made in that  seminal year.

Rules of Civility is an exquisitely written book. Towles narrative places the reader solidly in the culture of the 1930’s, awash in class stratified New York along with the ins and outs of the social order and the sudden moments of flexibility when its possible achieve upward mobility. Towles’ novel is chiefly comprised of a group of friends complicating their lives through the simplest of decisions, little realizing that they are setting the course of a lifetime. It’s fascinating to see how Kate’s relationship with her roommate and best girlfriend Eve’s relationship grows and changes through their friendship with Tinker.

Kate’s character unfolds organically throughout the novel as the reader gets glimpses of her upbringing by immigrant parents, and the wisdom and life lessons her Russian father meant to convey through his various sayings. I loved getting to know her through her actions and memories. As Kate spends the year navigating the successes and minefields of friendship, love and career, she starts to recognize and develop an opinion on what her father wanted to tell her.

A few days after finishing Rules of Civility, I went through it and just randomly picked passages to read and everyone I came across was a gem. Towles has a gift for capturing the moments that define a lifetime and conveying the marvelous history of New York in this vivacious and decadent time period. Historical fiction fans of this era and area will revel in this charming tale which doubles as a slightly later coming of age story, but this is a story that everyone will love. Highly recommended.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Currently Reading   The Oregon Experiment, by Keith Scribner

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Currently Reading – The Oregon Experiment, by Keith Scribner

I am a few chapters into The Oregon Experiment, by Keith Scribner and I am really enjoying it so far. It has the complicated characters and rich writing I enjoy when reading. It’s also introducing a pretty unique plot. Naomi used to be a “nose”. The kind whose sense of smell is so acute that she made her living mixing scent for lotions, leathers and perfumes. She loses her smell completely and meets Scanlon, the man who will become her husband. Their relationship is completely based in Naomi’s not having her sense of smell. But when she is pregnant with her first and has just moved across to Oregon so that Scanlon can accept a university appointment, her sense of smell returns, affecting the possibilities for her life and relationships.

There are other themes an plot lines running through the book, and Keith Scribner touches upon some of them in his summary of the book below. So far the book has me in its thrall, and I’m glad to be reading it this week.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 The Reservoir, by John Milliken Thompson   Book Review

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The Reservoir, by John Milliken Thompson – Book Review

In The Reservoirs (John Milliken Thompson) opening scenes of March 14, 1885, Lillian Madison, a young pregnant woman, is found drowned in the reservoir of Richmond, Virginia. The night before, her cousin Tommie Cluverius, an up-and-coming attorney, is shown leaving the scene, discarding clothing and other items along the way. He does his best to establish an alibi and cover story for mysterious scratches on his hand before returning home to neighboring King and Queen County. Though the death is first thought a suicide, it doesn’t take long before Richmond police journey to Tommie’s home to make an arrest once discovering the cousins were also lovers.

I experienced a failure to launch with this novel, which surprised me because usually a novel like this fits all of my criteria for an absorbing read. Among the things that initially appealed to me were the historical time period, Gothic elements, doomed love triangle and that it’s based on real events. My main point of contention is just how long it took for me to get into the story. It’s slow going in the beginning, and hindered by an incredibly long cast of characters from the people who discovered the body, the investigators, law enforcement in two towns, in addition to to Tommie, Willie, their parents and Aunt Jane and Lillian. The story flits back and forth between the developing relationships between Willie, Lillian, Tommie and Tommie’s fiancé, Nola Bray.  The relationship angle is accompanied by an underlying theme of responsibility – for the drowning death of Tommie and Willie’s younger brother Charles. There was something about the writing that created distance from the characters.  I was never able to bridge that gap enough to care enough about many of them.

About a hundred pages in, I did become more engaged in the story. The tension is in whether Tommie actually committed murder. There is ample feeling and characterization to suggest he was calculating enough about his career and marriage into wealth tohave killed his poor relation. This pregnancy would have surely interfered with his prospects. While the story is a sad one, it’s also a familiar one and nothing in it particularly surprised me. Milliken Thompson does a good job of portraying the time and the history of old Virginia, and The Reservoir will appeal to those interested in period dramas, especially those set in 19th century Virginia.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Snow Flower and the Secret Fan   Movie Trailer

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Snow Flower and the Secret Fan – Movie Trailer

I am really excited to see that Snow Flower and the Secret Fan has been made into a movie. It’s playing now, so if you have any interest in seeing it, look for it near you.

I discovered this book when a friend recommended it for a book club. It was my first experience reading  Lisa See. Ever since then I have looked forward to her new books. My favorite, though an unlikely pick for me,  is Peony In Love.

The beauty of Lisa See‘s writing is the way that the reader can experience it on so many levels. Her books speak to the close relationships between friends, and the difficulties that can shape a friendship, and make it stronger. While women all over can relate to the friendships and situations  she describes, there is also that extra element of a new historical world and culture to be explored.

With Snow Flower and the Secret Fan,I cringed at the foot binding and tried to understand its importance in Chinese culture, marveled at nüshu, the secret women’s writing that could contain the letters of an entire relationship within a single fan, and the similarity in the choices and sacrifices that women make for their families. Many of their dilemmas are ones that women face here and now. It’s always a thrill to see these things brought to life in such a visual way.

Has anyone seen Snowflower and the Secret Fan? Have plans to?

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 The Cypress House, by Michael Koryta   Book Review

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The Cypress House, by Michael Koryta – Book Review

I have come to view Michael Koryta’s supernatural/mystery stand-alone novels as a litmus test. Several friends have read all three books, and there are a variety of opinions about which gets the vote as favorite. I would love to chart where we were in our lives, and what we were responding to when we read these books. It always makes for fascinating conversation when we discuss the ins and outs of what we like about each and why it’s the best. I am in the clear minority with loving The Cypress House the most out of all the books. So whatever that might mean, there you go.

The Cypress House is about Arlen Wagner. Arlen is a worker at the Civilian Conservation Corp circa 1935. He has the burdensome talent of being able to spot when someone is about to die- he sees smoke in their eyes. On the way to the Florida Keys for a work project, Arlen looks around his railway car and notices that everyone has smoke in their eyes, but when they stop for a break he is unable to convince the men not to re-board the train. Arlen flees with the only person who heeds his warning, 19-year-old Paul Brickell.  Death, however, is not finished with them, and follows them to an old hotel on the Gulf Coast, and a woman named Rebecca Cady, who needs more help than she will accept. When they tangle with a corrupt judge, his fearsome cohorts, and a dangerous storm, it is hard to know who will make it out alive.

Koryta manages to balance chills and tension-filled suspense throughout this story of a man who has spent his life on the run, afraid of not only what he can do, but also of the barely contained guilt he feels over the death of his father. Overcoming his demons have serious ramifications in his attempts helping the love smitten Paul come to the aid of cool, collected Rebecca. Strong characterizations, rich sense of place, a balanced and integrated plot with a hint of an uneasy love triangle makes The Cypress House one of my near perfect reads of 2011. Highly Recommended.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 The Psychopath Test, by Jon Ronson   Book Review

Review Copy.

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