So once again I must apologize with my belated reading recap! This past week I’ve been completely consumed with planning a gingerbread house decorating program at work and binge watching the last season of Breaking Bad and the entire first season of Game of Thrones (I’m not usually one for high fantasy but DAAAAAANG this show is good!). So anyway, without further ado, here’s what I read in November, as I frantically tried to catch up so that I can meet my 100 books goal for the year.
1. The Bad Beginning: A Series of Unfortunate Events #1 – Lemony Snicket
This month I discovered the joy of audiobooks, and since I commute about an hour and 45 minutes everyday, I get to listen to quite a lot as I drive to and from work. I’d never read this series. but after seeing Daniel Handler (ie: Lemony Snicket) at the Boston Book Festival in October, I was intrigued. A friend recommended the audio as it’s read by Tim Curry and I’m so glad I gave it a shot. Tim Curry is fabulous, and this book was so fun!
2. Pirate Cinema – Cory Doctorow
I saw Cory Doctorow at the Boston Book Festival too and was intrigued by this near-future story about a 16 year old boy (Trent, aka Cecil B. DeVil) who makes illegal video remixes, and after getting caught, destroys his family when their internet gets cut off by the government. His dad can’t do his job, his sister can’t do her schoolwork and his mom can’t get her meds. So Trent runs away to London where he meets a very Dickensian band of fellow runaway artists, and they lead a fun life of squatting in abandoned buildings, making art, and sticking it to the man.
I had high hopes for this book but I found myself disappointed. It lacked narrative structure, and the loose plot seemed like an afterthought, as the main agenda was clearly a political rant. Luckily, I agreed with much of the agenda that was being pushed; however Doctorow frames the matter of downloading and using clips to make new art as very black and white which it most certainly is not.
Basically, Doctorow excels at extrapolating current issues and creating a plausible dystopian near-future, but he fails at creating a compelling, believable narrative (the happy artist runaway band of misfits, while fun, is totally unrealistic) and also in avoiding sounding preachy and didactic. The book is thought-provoking, but ultimately fails to deliver.
3. Chuck Close: Face Book – by Chuck Close
Before this book won the Boston Globe Horn Book Award for Nonfiction this year, I had never heard of it, nor had I heard about the famous artist Chuck Close. He is a fascinating man, and the book, based on an interview some school children had with him, is excellently crafted. Close, who suffers from face blindness, creates amazing, enormous portraits of faces using fascinating techniques. He blows up a photograph he’s taken to crazy heights, places a grid on it, and recreates the image using an effect that almost looks like pixels. Here’s a self portrait he did in 2002:
Amazing, right? And the crazy thing about it–Chuck suffered from a collapsed spinal artery that left him nearly paralyzed in the 1980s, so he’s had to reteach himself to paint with a brush strapped to his hand. I loved learning about this fascinating man, and looking through his art. I highly recommend this book!
4. Hilda and the Midnight Giant – Luke Pearson
I picked up this graphic novel after seeing it on Publisher’s Weekly’s best of the year list. The beautiful cover reminded me of Tove Jansson’s Moomintrolls and instantly caught my eye. I don’t want to say too much about the plot because I don’t want to give anything away, but I will say it is a bit reminiscent of Horton Hears a Who. Beautiful art, lovely story.
5. Fantastic Mr. Fox – Roald Dahl
I love Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, but I’d never read the book. I love Roald Dahl and I enjoyed this story, although I must warn you film fans that the movie has a ton more going on than the book. Still a fun read though.
6. A Beautiful Lie – Irfan Master
I picked up this book to review for a group of youth librarians. It takes place in India just before Partition. 13 year old Bilal thinks his dying father’s heart will be broken if he learns that his beloved India is going to be divided, so Bilal and his friends craft an elaborate scheme (a “beautiful lie”) to keep him from learning the truth.
The language in the book is lovely, vividly portraying India and the tension of its people during the period before Partition. The relationships between Bilal and his friends, his father, and secondary characters like the doctor and his teacher are skillfully handled, adding humor and heart to the story. Despite this, the book has issues with pacing (certain areas drag, while others feel rushed) and suffers from an overall lack of suspense. Additionally, though the subject matter has the potential to pack a strong emotional punch, the lack of historical and cultural context limits the book’s impact. Without more information about Partition and the differing viewpoints of the characters (particularly Bilal’s father and brother) it is difficult to fully understand why Bilal chooses to lie to his father, making the story’s conceit feel hollow. In order for the premise of the novel to ring true, readers need a backstory that allows them to believe that the truth would break his father’s heart, and Master unfortunately does not provide one.
7. Neil Gaiman – The Graveyard Book
I’ve already read The Graveyeard Book twice (once on my own and once in grad school) and I liked it well enough but didn’t love it. The audio version, read by Mr. Gaiman himself though–I absolutely LOVED.
8. Sailor Twain – Marc Siegel
I’d seen bits and pieces of this book around the interwebs, but when I took a look at the artwork in person I HAD to read it. It is absolutely stunning. The story takes place in the early 1900s. Sailor Twain, the captain of a riverboat on the mysterious Hudson River rescues and rehabilitates an injured mermaid. This story is lovely and gothic and mysterious, and the artwork is perfect–the cartoony faced characters (Sailor Twain reminds me of a cross between Bert from Sesame Street and Inspector Gadget) against the gorgeous, photorealistic backgrounds provide a fascinating juxtaposition. The plot was a bit disappointing and lacked clear resolution (I had to read the ending twice and I still don’t fully get what happened) but the elements of Greek mythology, allusions to authors like Poe and Twain, and the interesting use of foil characters was very thought-provoking.
9. The Reptile Room: A Series of Unfortunate Events #2 – Lemony Snicket
Another Tim Curry audio version. Awesome.
10. Such Wicked Intent – Kenneth Oppel
This is the sequel to His Dark Endeavor (see my brief review here), the second book in Oppel’s trilogy which is meant to function as a prequel of sorts to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as the first (none of the characters are likeable which prevented me from caring too much about what happened to them) but it still makes me want to read book 3 so I can see just how Viktor evolves into the Dr. Frankenstein we know Shelley’s character.
11. The Wide Window: A Series of Unfortunate Events #3 – Lemony Snicket
For some reason, Daniel Handler (and not my beloved Tim Curry) reads the next few books in the series on audio. Poor decision! He is a terrible reader! I didn’t like this story as much either. Here’s to hoping #4 will be more enjoyable.
12. Meant to Be – Lauren Morrill
Love love loved this book! A romantic comedy that takes place on a school field trip in London? Sold. Numerous Shakespeare, Jane Austen and Beatles references? Super sold. The romantic hero busting out “Oh Darling” in a skate park? Oh book, you had me at hello.
13. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever – Barbara Robinson
Read this classic a couple times when I was little and scooped up the audio version when someone returned it to the library. Enjoyable as always and helped me get in the holiday spirit!