The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

Happy New Year! I’ve been horrible and haven’t updated at all. I’m currently four books behind. I’ve been snatching up quick reads and devouring them, so that in combination with my natural-bred procrastination skills has led to a staggering to-write pile.

I found this book recommended by someone I like. I looked it up on Amazon and became very intrigued, then I saw that it was available right at my own library and I went by the next day to snatch it up. I don’t know what it is about this book that made me want to put it in front of everything else on my list, but I don’t regret it.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is about a little girl named Rose who, on her ninth birthday, discovers that she possesses an unusual talent: she can feel in her food the emotions of whoever made it. The first time it happens is when she tries a bite of the lemon cake her mother made her for her birthday and was flooded with sadness and hopelessness- feelings she never knew were hiding under her mother’s calm, even cheerful facade. Naturally, she can’t tell anyone about this. Who would believe her?

Rose grows to dread meals, especially food made by her own family. She hunts out pre-packaged junkfood and frozen dinners, anything made in a factory with as little human contact as possible. Meanwhile, her family environment is a bit rocky. Her father is supportive, but distant, her mother seeks help outside the family, and her brother is the biggest puzzle of all. Wonderfully smart at things like science, he has difficulty- and no real desire- to fit in.

The only person Rose can talk to is George, her brother’s best friend, who inexplicably believes and even encourages her when she tells him about her bizarre talent.

This book was fantastic. It was one where I had to stop every twenty pages just to absorb how incredible it was. At the end of every chapter I thought to myself, just one more. It was so hard to put down. It was narrated by Rose, but with the hindsight and wry humor of someone looking back at herself as a child. The language was beautiful, and I found myself wanting to highlight the most well-spoken passages. There were even a few places where you kind of had to turn it all over and go, ‘huh?’

As the book progresses, Rose ages into her early twenties. She starts looking for ways to use her ability- rather than hide from it. She starts looking for good food made by happy people.

The ‘magic’ element in this book is very, very subtle, and it led me to wondering- could this actually be happening? Think for a moment, what if there were people who had these strange ‘superpowers’ that couldn’t be explained by science or medicine, but they keep it to themselves and nobody knows about it?

All in all, a fantastic book. It draws you right in and holds you tight and there was a little period after I finished it where I didn’t know what to do with myself. Give this one a read if you have a chance.

Published in: on January 8, 2012 at 9:27 pm  Leave a Comment  
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1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

Hiya. So, I disappeared for a month, not because I stopped reading (heavens, no), but because 925 pages takes some time, even for me. Although it did take a little longer than I anticipated. And then, well, I just didn’t really feel like writing a review, so I jumped right in and started/finished my next book (more on that later). But now it’s nighttime, and I’m clean, and it would irresponsible for my sleeping patterns to start another book now (even though I have a really good one sitting next to me). And I have some ice coffee, so, awesome. It’s actually ice mocha. Mostly chocolate. With ice. It’s delicious in winter.


1Q84 marks a special first for me: first book ever read entirely on an e-reader. Specifically, a classic Kindle, which my father bought me for my birthday. I have to say, I found the experience strangely enjoyable. Strangely because I didn’t expect the Kindle to offer me anything besides a lighter, cheaper way to carry books, but there were actually several features I found very useful. For one thing, the progress bar at the bottom which shows what percentage of the book you’ve read. Since this book is so long, that bar moved really, really slowly.

One thing I found myself doing quite a lot was highlighting. I’ve never highlighted my books before- besides the fact that most of my books come from the library, I’ve never been tempted to highlight with ink. But highlighting on the Kindle if just pressing a few buttons. On top of that, since my Dad and I share an account (which means we share all of our books), he can see anything I highlight. Mostly I just highlighted sentences that looked really good to me.

Okay, about the book. One day, Aomame is riding in a taxi on the way to an appointment when they get caught in pretty serious traffic. Janáček’s Sinfonietta played on the radio. The taxi driver informed Aomame that if she was really in a hurry, there was an emergency stairway down from the highway that would take her down into the city, so she pays the man, exits the taxi, and locates the stairwell. As soon as she steps over the gate, though, she feels something shift. She can’t say what, so she ignores it and climbs down the (somewhat treacherous) stairs to pavement below and makes her way to her appointment, on time, and all is well.

Meanwhile, math teacher and part time writer Tengo Kawana sits down with his friend Komatsu, an editor, talking about a young writer’s contest which is hosted by Komatsu’s company and Tengo helps judge. This year an interesting piece of fiction has been submitted and caught their attention; the story is too good to ignore, but the writing is poor, so Komatsu devises an elaborate plan whereby Tengo rewrites the story, with the permission of the young author, Fuka-Eri. The story is called Air Chrysalis. It is set in a strange world with Little People, a world with two moons.

The perspective jumps between Tengo and Aomame (a third character is factored in later on) as they progress through their storylines. Soon, they each become aware of a change in their world. It is revealed that they have a past connection, and now they have to find each other again fix whatever is going wrong.

Yes, for about seven hundred pages, it really is that vague.

I loved it. I thought it was excellently written, and for not one minute did I find it slow or dull. Now I have to say that I did come across a very negative review that raised some valid points: the pace is leisurely (I won’t say it’s ‘slow’ because that sounds like a bad thing), and Murakami has a slight tendency to repeat himself and drag out seemingly insignificant details. For some reason, this never bothered me.

There were a few things that annoyed me, but they’re spoilery so I don’t want to mention them here. But for my first Murakami, I was really impressed. I’ve heard a lot of good things and had been meaning to read something of his for a while, so I was pleased when my Dad got this one for us on the Kindle (he’s reading it now).

I’ll leave you with this:

Oh, it’s also a love story. Though I didn’t actually think of it that way for most of the time I was reading it, it really is.

Published in: on December 28, 2011 at 11:23 pm  Comments (2)  
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A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

I first came across this book a few months ago, seeing only the cover and a short synopsis, and I instantly wanted to read it. I ordered it from my library, only to be informed a few weeks later that they couldn’t find. It was so new it wasn’t in any system anywhere. So I resigned myself to wait.

A couple of weeks ago, as I was putting through a few orders, the librarian asked me if I’d ever gotten my hands on the book. I told him I still hadn’t, and he offered to order it for me now that it was in the Minerva system. I jumped on his offer and only a week or so later, I had it in my possession. I was surprised by how hefty it was, but when I opened it I was pleasantly surprised to see that instead of normal pages, the publishers had printed this book on glossy photo paper that really made the illustrations look gorgeous. The book has some graphic on almost every page- pen and ink drawings clutter the margins, and sometimes an illustration takes up an entire two-page spread. It was an almost cinematic atmospheric trick.

The main character of the book is thirteen year-old Conor, who wakes from his usual nightmare at seven minutes past midnight to find a monster at his window. As it turns out, Conor’s been expecting a monster, but not this strange, old one that seems to have grown from their yew tree. He finds it difficult to fear this thing when he’s seen so much worse. As it turns out, the monster doesn’t even seem particularly interested in eating him alive. Instead, it promises, it will return for three nights, and each night it will tell Conor a story of a time when it walked the earth before. When he’s told his three stories, he expect Conor to tell one to him- the truth.

Conor’s life is anything but easy as his mother seems to be suffering from an undefined cancer, his father lives in America with his other family, and he is bullied at school. On top of all this, every night when he goes to sleep he has the nightmare- one that involved darkness, screaming, falling, and a monster much scarier than the yew tree. Yet, it’s what happens at the end of this nightmare that the yew tree wants to hear about, and Conor is scared to death to tell him.

I found this book remarkable in it’s darkness and honesty. It’s an unusual telling of the story of a young child with an ill parent and circumstances he can’t control. The writing was both heavy and humorous, Conor both bold and frightened. It was a quick read, yet very provocative. I know I’ve posted this video before, but just watch it.

Published in: on November 24, 2011 at 3:00 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Reading Promise by Alice Ozma

Though I have a serious problem with ordering more books than I can handle through the library (ninety percent of my books are inter-library loans, twenty percent from out of state), I still have a problem with covers. I absolutely judge a book by it’s cover, and when I see one with an interesting cover and title and summary, well, what’s one more book on top of the four I already have? Such was the case for this book. And you all know I can’t resist books about books.

The Reading Promise is a memoir by Alice Ozma, who entered into a challenge with her father when she was in third grade that they would read together every day, for at least ten minutes, for one hundred straight days. When they completed their challenge, they decided that, rather than stop the fun, they would extend their challenge to one thousand days. Once they matched this number, and Alice was now in middle school, they decided to just continue reading indefinitely. As it turned out, they wouldn’t stop- wouldn’t miss a single day- until Alice’s eighteenth year, when she left home for college.

The story is told in a series of vignettes, arranged in basically chronological order, about where their life together went during the nine years of the Streak. Their books followed them through Mom leaving, Older Sister traveling to faraway lands, college, and ultimately, Serbia, and Dad’s job transforming into something he no longer wanted to claim. While he was reading aloud to his daughter every night, he was also reading the the underprivileged children who populated the school he worked at, as a librarian. Towards the end of the Streak and afterwards, when Alice was away from home, the principal of the school wanted him to gear his classes away from reading aloud and towards work on the new computers they had forced him to install. They would only allow him one storybook per class, no longer than five to ten minutes of reading. He took his complaints to the school board, only to be turned away, and finally he resigned from his position at the age of sixty-two.

One of the book’s main points is the numerous benefits of reading aloud to children. James and Alice are adamant believers that reading to children is crucial in their growth as readers. I haven’t researched this enough to list the psychological effects, but I imagine it promotes closeness between parent and child and creates a strong positive idea of reading as comforting and fun. By spending this time reading books to children when they’re little, books become lifelong friends and companions for the adults they become. That’s just theory, though.

Interestingly, just a few days after I returned this book, I was on the phone with the local library director, and apparently I had mentioned to someone a few days ago that I enjoy working with children and would like to read to them (this conversation was before I’d even read this book- I remember having it, but not with whom I was talking or where we were), and this person had apparently mentioned it to the library director so, since we were on the phone, he followed up on it, asking if I’d like to participate in storytime. My initial reaction was something akin to stagefright, but I battled it down because I do like children and picture books and this is a prime opportunity to read all the picturebooks I want to children. And after reading this book that was all about reading out loud, how could I refuse? So now I’ve committed to storytime once a month, every second Wednesday, starting in December. I’m looking forward to it!

Published in: on November 24, 2011 at 2:08 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Children of the Red King series by Jenny Nimmo

So I’m a few books behind in my reviews right now. I would say laziness is the primary factor in this happening, but we could at least call it slightly admirable laziness because I didn’t want to take time to write my blog posts in favor of reading. 

A few things have happened since my last post. First and foremost, for those who don’t yet know, I turned eighteen. I’m now completely legal to do just about anything I want, except drink. Not particularly bothered. The only adult right I’ve taken advantage of so far is the right to get a tattoo. Yes, on my eighteenth birthday I, along with my mother and twin sister, went to get a tattoo. I absolutely love it. I also got a kitten, and a Kindle. I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned my position on eReaders somewhere on this blog before, but I don’t know how to find that post right now, so… 

My opinion on eReaders has changed since they were first released. I was, at first, very adamantly against them. I was always entirely in favor of paper. I basically still am, but I’m much more forgiving now of eReaders and people who use them. I’m willing to acknowledge their usefulness, but I still didn’t see myself owning one anytime soon. I was very, very surprised when I opened it! And honestly, Dad, considering I gave you absolutely nothing to go on this year, it was a very thoughtful gift. 

Right now my dad and I are using our Kindles to read Haruki Murakami’s IQ84 together! More on that later.

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When I was in fourth grade I picked up this book called Midnight for Charlie Bone, about a boy who discovers he can hear voices in photographs and is sent to a special school called Bloor’s Academy where he can learn alongside other children with unique talents. When I was younger I was hooked on the series instantly and quickly purchased all of the books- all of the ones that were released at that point, anyway, which in fact were only the first four. Today the series is complete, and the books total eight. About a month ago I decided that it was absolutely worth my time to reread and finish the series.

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Since they are children’s books, I thought I would just review the entire series together rather than spamming my blog with sequels. 

Charlie lives at number nine, Filbert Street, with his mother, two grandmothers- Maisie, and Grandma Bone- and his Uncle Paton. Charlie’s father died under mysterious circumstances when he was only two years old. Since his mother, Amy, and her mother, Maisie, had no money, Grandma Bone let them move in with her. It’s unexplained why her brother, Paton Yewbeam, lives with them, but he does own half the house and he tries to keep an eye on Charlie. 

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It’s a good thing he’s there, too, because Grandma Bone and her malevolent sisters, Lucretia, Eustacia, and Venetia Yewbeam are not thinking of Charlie’s best interest. They’re the ones who send him off to Bloor’s, where the forces of good and evil are in constant struggle. Not every child at Bloor’s is endowed (the term used in the book for having special talents), but the ones who aren’t are extremely skilled at music, art, or drama. There are actually only nine to thirteen endowed students at Bloor’s at any time during the book, and their endowments range from Charlie’s picture traveling, to Manfred’s hypnotism, to Tancred’s stormbringing, to Billy’s communicating with animals. There are telekinetics, illusionists, shapeshifters, drowners, arsonists- and this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Every endowed child is descended from the eponymous Red King, a magician who lived nine hundred years in the past. He had ten children, and when his wife died in childbirth, he left his kingdom to grieve in the forest. When he returned, he discovered that his children had turned against each other. Five wanted to continue their father’s legacy of peace and happiness, and the other five longed for power and destruction. Their descendants carry these feelings in their blood- good or evil are things they’re born with.

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With the help of a few friends, both endowed and not, Charlie must fight the evil that lives in Bloor’s Academy and find out what happened to his father all those years ago. 

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The series is a remarkable adventure saga geared towards children- boys and girls alike- that is exciting and fun. Though it is a classic pitting of good versus evil, and the classifications of good and evil are slightly oversimplified, I consider the works to be enjoyable and thought-provoking. One of the books’ greatest strengths are certainly its cast of characters. Though some play larger roles than others, there are a lot of characters in these books and they’re all so well characterized! The major characters are well-rounded, and they’re children- so they’re not always right or good. Sometimes they do things that are frustrating or stupid, like real children. 

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Also, as I gave the books to my mom to read after me, we were continuously doubling back to Jenny Nimmo’s descriptions and marveling at her wonderful word sense. In particular, a character is introduced in book seven named Dagbert Endless, who has a power over water, was consistently described with terms most commonly attributed to oceans and streams. As each of her characters are defined in this manner, it creates an ethereal, imperceptible sort of familiarity between the readers and the children. 

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In the shadow of Harry Potter, this series is underrated- or accused of being a ripoff- but it’s really a great series for adults and children alike. Kids can get into the story, willingly following Charlie through his misadventures are Bloor’s, while adults can appreciate the deeper meaning and the writing that puts many adult novelists to shame. These books are worth every minute you spend reading them (and as I said, they go quick), and every penny you spend putting them on your, or your kid’s, bookshelf.

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Published in: on November 24, 2011 at 1:34 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Rebecca Skloot is a journalist and biologist who’s been chasing a story for over ten years, from the first time she was sitting in a classroom and heard the word “HeLa” and the name “Henrietta Lacks.” She immediately recognized that there was a story behind these cells- the first immortal cells ever grown in culture- and that she wanted to tell it.

In 1951, a young black woman, a mother of five, died of cervical cancer after months of treatment. Her name was Henrietta Lacks. When she began her radium treatment (several very graphic descriptions of how they treated cancer in the 50′s, ewww) the doctor who was treating her took, without her permission, a sample of her tumor. He sent these cells to a lab where a particular scientist, George Gey, was trying to grow immortal cells- cells that would never die, just continue dividing forever, and could be used to study everything. So far he’d been met with only failure, and the lab didn’t actually have high hopes for Henrietta’s cells, but then they grew. They kept growing and never died. The scientists labeled the sample ‘HeLa,’ for the first two letters in each of Henrietta’s names. Now scientists had an inexhaustible source of human cells.

The news, when first published, was very sensational. Journalists and pop magazines took the story and blew it up. Scientists began promising that they would soon find the key to real human immortality- but of course, they never did. The did, however, begin to find new treatments for existing diseases, particularly putting an enormous dent in the overall fatality of a cancer diagnoses. They were also able to begin creating vaccines for previously deadly afflictions, such as polio. Virtually all of the advancements science has made in the past fifty years have been somehow touched by HeLa.

That’s the very surface of the science behind this story, but Rebecca wasn’t interested in just the science. She wanted to know about the unwitting ‘donor’ of the cells, Henrietta. What was her story? As it turned out, there were people around who knew Henrietta, but these people were very few, far between, and reluctant to talk. Somehow, Rebecca had to get close to Rebecca’s children and grandchildren, and earn their trust. They felt cheated by previous reporters and lawyers, and Johns Hopkins Hospital, where Henrietta went for treatment and everything started. Today, there a millions of dollars around the world wrapped up in HeLa production and distribution, and Henrietta’s children have never seen a cent of it. Most of the time they’re forced to go without health insurance.

On top of immediate family, Rebecca talked to other people who had lived near Henrietta growing up, doctors who treated her illness, scientists who’d worked with her cells, and new, young innovators who are to this day using HeLa to make even more unheard of advances in health and technology.

Eventually, Rebecca did get close to the family- particularly Henrietta’s youngest daughter, Deborah, who was only two when her mother died. One of my problems when reading the book (and I do feel a bit insensitive to mention this) is that the only relate-able character is Rebecca. Henrietta, her children, all her cousins, live in a world about as far from modern day Maine as the plantations in 1860. None of them are educated beyond highschool. They’re marrying their cousins. They are deeply religious (this is of course something that millions around the world can relate to, but it was another difference for me). Even when they found out about the HeLa cells (which was over twenty years after Henrietta died), they had basically no idea what it meant. They hardly know what cells are.

Granted, Deborah spent a great amount of time trying to educate herself on the matter, but by the writing of the book she was in her 60s and it was almost impossible for her to understand- when she heard about cloning HeLa, she imagined copies of her mother walking around. When she read that HeLa was being used to test cancer drugs, nuclear weapons, and how human cells survive in space, she imagined all these things happening to her mother. So, I found it very difficult to relate to Deborah, and her ignorant enthusiasm got a little tedious by the conclusion of the book.

Now I must say, this was an utterly fantastic book. It was very science-y, which is not my thing, but it was very interesting. As many have said of the HeLa stories over the years, it’s the perfect mix of science and human interest. I was particularly interested in the story of Henrietta’s older daughter, Elsie, who was epileptic and labeled “simple,” sent to live at The Hospital for the Negro Insane when she was ten, and died there at age fifteen. Forty years later, Deborah and Rebecca are able to visit the hospital and dig up her records. They find out exactly what had probably happened to her; it was disturbing and deeply upsetting for Deborah- horribly fascinating.

In this video, Rebecca Skloot talks about how she came to be writing the book and how people generally receive the story of Henrietta. It’s very interesting to watch.

Published in: on November 10, 2011 at 2:17 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

If you’re around the online bookworm community much, this isn’t the first time you’ve seen this picture. The Night Circus has been getting a lot of hype recently, and for very good reason! So when I saw it sitting on display in my library, I snatched that baby without a second thought- without, in fact, even realizing that I had grabbed the large print copy. Oh well.

Needless to say, I read it anyway (not only because it would have been slightly embarrassing to return to the library and swap them, after how excited I was to have my hands on it), and it was so fantastically worth it. The book is about two children who are bound into a game by their instructors- a challenge of skill and magic. The kids, a boy and a girl, are raised and trained separately- one by her father, and the other by the strange man in the gray suit who found him in an orphanage- waiting for the day their mysterious game will begin. When they are young adults, the boy, Marco, is hired as an assistant to an eccentric man named Chandresh (I honestly can’t remember what Chandresh does, professionally, which probably says something about the way I read), who uses his wealth and influence to design and bring to life an unusual circus- one that only opens at night.

The first entertainer they hire is a contortionist with a wry smile and bizarre tattoos. Later, when they are looking for a skilled illusionist fit for their show, Marco meets Celia Bowen and knows he has found his competitor. He is the only one who knows that her amazing tricks aren’t tricks.

The competitors have met, and their playing ground is established- they can do whatever they want within the circus. In the book, the game is often compared to chess, quickly to be followed up with some explanation of how it’s not like chess at all. There’s no logic. As the young magicians get closer, however, their spark turns to love. Now they want out, but they quickly realize that you don’t just quit the game. Thanks to the powerful binding magic that was performed on them when they were young, the lovers have no choice- and the consequences can be deadly.

The Night Circus was one of the best books I’ve read in quite a long time. I was constantly putting it down, just so it wouldn’t go so quickly, and I would use that time to go and pester my family about how completely amazing this book is. The writing was fantastic and the characters were fantastic and the story was fantastic and everything was fantastic. Just what you would expect from a night circus.

And there’s a book trailer for it!

Published in: on October 25, 2011 at 5:19 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

If a book has been made into a well-known movie, it becomes next to impossible to find a nice picture of the actual cover of the book. It’s very annoying. Mine looked like this:

Girl, Interrupted is the memoir of Susanna Kaysen, who, when she was 18 in 1966, was committed to a mental institution. Questioning her sanity with unlikely clarity, Susanna familiarizes herself and us with the cast of patients living in her ward.

The story is told as a series of vignettes; each short chapter focuses on some element of life in the hospital, or a patient with an interesting story. Susanna tells us about Polly, who set herself on fire; Janet, an anorexic; Georgina, a schizophrenic and pathological liar; Valerie, the head nurse; and Lisa, the sociopath whose domineering charisma dominates life in the ward. Moving in something slightly resembling chronological order, Susanna paints for us a picture of life in the days before being committed, the over-two-years she spent in the hospital, and just a little bit of what she did in the 25 years between being released and writing her memoir. Her narrative is sprinkled with insights into what crazy and sane are, and why people react the way they do when they hear that she’s been in a mental hospital. She even describes some of her more insane episodes (such as the time she became convinced that there were no bones in her hand) with a dry noncommittance that borders on creepy.

I’ve been meaning to read this book for a while, because I broke one of my cardinal rules- seeing the movie first. (Note: there are some exceptions to this rule. I don’t actually intend to read Bambi.) I think I can be forgiven, as I had no idea at the time that the movie was based on a book. Needless to say, the two are… very different. I really enjoyed the movie when I saw it, and I also really enjoyed the book, but the two actually have very little in common. I’ll try to illustrate this with as few spoilers as possible.

For one thing, where the book is told sort of as a collection of short stories, the movie transforms them into a film with a coherent storyline- a progression from A to B to The End, if you will.

While the movie includes a few tiny things that Susanna mentioned (wristbanging, for example), and nodded towards events that they chose to exclude entirely (the bone incident), they did weave elements of the original story into what was almost a new story entirely. If anything, the movie fleshes out characters that are held somewhat at a distance in the book. The movie focuses very strongly on Susanna’s destructive relationship with Lisa, while the book made Lisa seem more like a force of nature- she was there and she was powerful, but she wasn’t the villain. She wasn’t blamed.

Then there were some elements of the movie that were completely fictionalized. Honestly, this annoyed me a little. I just try to distance the movie from the book and it’s all fine. As I’ve said, they’re both very good.

Here’s the trailer for the movie:

Also, it turns out you can watch the full movie on Youtube. Here’s the link.

A final note: The memoir gets its title from the painting Girl Interrupted at Her Music by Johannes Vermeer. In the book, Susanna ties a great amount of significance to seeing this painting at an art museum shortly before going to the hospital. Years later, she returns to the museum to see it again.

Published in: on October 18, 2011 at 10:52 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

Good Omens is the book that’s been on my mind since I first read Neil Gaiman and became hooked. It’s a novel about the end of the world and two supernatural entities who don’t want it to happen. Crowley is a demon and Aziraphale is an angel, but the two get along well enough because Crowley has “a spark of goodness in him,” and Aziraphale is “just enough of a bastard to be likable.” In 1655, a (probably) mortal woman named Agnes Nutter prophesied everything that would happen between her death and the end of the world, including exactly when and how that end would come about. She wrote it all down in a book called “The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch,” which has been passed down through her descendants for three-hundred years, each of them dedicating their existence to cracking the eccentric witch’s codes.

It’s a very difficult book to summarize.

Also, eleven years ago two babies were born. One of them was switched with the Antichrist. Now the Antichrist is supposed to set off Armageddon, only he doesn’t really want to, either. And also no one knows where he is. And he has no idea that he’s the Antichrist, because how would he know? (Fun fact: WordPress only recognizes the words ‘antichrist’ and ‘armageddon’ if you capitalize them.)

So that all happened. And also it was quite funny. I didn’t spend all that much time laughing out loud, as certain friends of mine have, but there were parts that got me and the entire thing is undeniably brilliant. You know by now that I have a metaphorical literary ladyboner for Neil Gaiman, but I’ve never been able to finish a Terry Pratchett book. I don’t even really remember which ones I’ve tried to read. Wee Free Men, I think. I got about forty pages in and then I just sort of couldn’t go any further. I didn’t expect that to be a problem with this one, though, and it certainly wasn’t. Half of the time I’m reading, even if I’m not laughing or expressing it outwardly, I’m melting internally into a frenzy of fantastic writing.

The copy of the book I read (the cover of which resembles the white half of that picture there, with more acclamations) also included a short interview with the authors, and then two short essays; “Neil Gaiman on Terry Pratchett,” and “Terry Pratchett on Neil Gaiman.” These last goodies had me laughing harder than the book.

I just finished this a few minutes ago, and I’m stuck in this very giggly sort of mood. I’m not entirely sensible. It should also be said that this one came straight from Val’s rec list, so it’s another one I can cross off. There’s nothing quite so satisfying.

Published in: on October 9, 2011 at 12:41 pm  Comments (2)  
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The True Story of Hansel and Gretel by Louise Murphy

We’re all familiar with the fairytale- the farmer’s new wife doesn’t like his children, so she sends them off into the forest with a loaf of bread until they come across a house of candy wherein resides a witch who resolves to put them in her oven and cook them for dinner. This novel, set in Poland 1941-1944, takes this skeleton of a tale and fleshes it out with starvation, war, hunger, and pain.

In the book, Hansel and Gretel are the fake German names of the two Jewish children who, with their father and stepmother (the Mechanik and the Stepmother), have just fled their ghetto in Bialystok and need to find a new place to go. Knowing the dangers of traveling with children, the adults send Hansel and Gretel into the woods with no food except for Hansel’s last slice of bread, which he breaks into crumbs to leave a trail behind them. The children wander in the woods for days before coming upon a little hut (built entirely of wood, not candy) owned by and old woman named Magda- the village witch. Somehow, the children charm Magda into feeding and housing them, and the witch invents and elaborate tale about being their great-aunt to get them ration cards.

Meanwhile, the Mechanik and the Stepmother happen across a group of partisans led by a mysterious fighter known as the Russian. The two prove themselves worthy, and are welcomed into the gang, where they sneak through the woods for months, fighting the Nazis as covertly as possible.

This novel, similar to The Book Thief, takes a very human look at WWII-era Poland, featuring as it’s main cast two hiding Jewish children, an old Gypsy and all her Gypsy family, and a Nazi who’s basically fed up with the war. Realistically, Major Frankel knows that Russia is moving strongly against them and that, rather than take residence in tiny little nothing villages in Poland, the German force should be drawing a line and securing it against the invasion. Despite being a Nazi, the Major is an endlessly sympathetic character- he sort of draws the line between killing people because they’re Jews, or Poles, and killing children who haven’t done anything wrong. It’s very interesting to read his chapters, and then return to Magda who has no nice words to say about the Germans- they are sharks and they will rip you to shreds. Of course, that’s understandable.

At 300 pages, with abnormally tiny text, the book isn’t a quick read, but it is worth the time. I was happy to pick it up in my spare five minutes, and never found it uninteresting. It’s a heavy novel, and for people who are sensitive to Holocaust-related media, this is definitely not for you. But if you can stomach a little human evil enough to see all the human good sprouting around it, this was a fantastic read.

Published in: on September 30, 2011 at 12:53 pm  Comments (1)  
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