Saturday, January 21, 2012

Coraline, Neil Gaiman (2002)

Reviewer: BeezusKiddo

Rating: 4 Mrs. T's pierogies (not good enough to be homemade)

Review: I was super-excited when the Coraline movie came out. and loved it.  Then I was at Half Price Books the other day, and found a copy of the book in the Clearance section for $2. What?! Yes please!

Coraline Jones is an adventurous girl, who moves with her family into an old large house that has been converted into flats.  One other flat is vacant; Miss Spink and Miss Forcible, elderly former actresses who can't admit that the past is behind them live in another; and Mr. Bobo, who runs a mouse circus, lives in the fourth.

Coraline spends her days exploring, and discovers a mysterious door that leads into a strange world inhabited by her "other" parents.  Although Coraline's parents are constantly working and seem to be too busy to spend time with Coraline, the Other Parents dote on her, and have creepy buttons for eyes.  Coraline quickly learns that not everything is as cheery as it seems, and her Other Mother is a monstrous creature, who has already captured Coraline's parents and other children.  Coraline must use her wits to free her parents and the other children, and to save herself from this monster's grasp.

Coraline is about 175 pages, and the pages are small and the type large.  It only took me about two hours to read the whole book.  It's a Young Adult novella, so the language is quick and light.  I like reading short, fast books because they make me feel accomplished.  I feel like some kind of genius reader, blasting through a whole book in one sitting.

Anansi Boys is the only other Gaiman book I have read. I picked it up for reading on vacation (a rained-out camping trip) and thought it was perfectly good for that purpose, but I wouldn't count Gaiman amongst my favorites.  Coraline didn't sway my opinion one way or another--I'd be happy to read more of his books, but I also wouldn't really go out of my way to pick them up. Gaiman's a good author to read on an airplane or on the bus, where you want something to easily keep your attention, and don't want to think too much.

We don't have much bookcase space in our house, so if I buy a book, I usually give it away to someone else or sell it to a used bookstore very shortly after finishing it.  Although it's scary, I think Coraline would be a great book for Baby Beez to read when she is old enough to start getting into the YA genre, so I'll hold on to this one.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood (2000)

Reviewer: BeezusKiddo

Rating: 5 pierogi

Review: I loved this book.


The Handmaid's Tale is one of my favorite books ever, and Oryx and Crake was fantastic as well. As far as I'm concerned, Margaret Atwood can do no wrong (and she and I share a birthday!)

The Blind Assassin is not one of Atwood's dystopic novels, it does have a brief sci-fi component to it, but it's more concerned with families, relationships, and interpersonal conflicts.

The Blind Assassin follows two sisters-- Laura and Iris-- through their pampered childhood as daughters of a button empire, through the market crash and dissolution of their fortune, through Laura's tragic suicide, and Iris' slow decline into old age.

I didn't much notice it before someone pointed it out to me, but Atwood weighs heavy on description. Not visual description, but description through metaphor, which is gripping and effective. For example, in reflecting on the sisters' relationship, Iris explains:

I no longer knew how Laura would have answered these questions. She had become unknown to me, as unknown as the inside of your own glove is unknown when your hand is inside it. She was with me all the time, but I couldn't look at her. I could only feel the shape of her presence: a hollow shape, filled with my own imaginings.


Description-heavy passages by other authors would slow the novel's pace down, and might even become distracting. That is not the case with Atwood's style. Her novels are engaging and move at a smooth pace.

There isn't anything specific about the plot that drew me in. With The Handmaid's Tale, I was entranced and terrified by Atwood's projection of the future. The Blind Assassin's plot is not nearly as gripping, but it is easy to become invested in the protagonists. Atwood's use of language is such a joy to read, that she could probably write about the grass growing and I'd be thrilled to read it.