Review: Coraline

  • Coraline CoverTitle: Coraline
  • Author: Neil Gaiman
  • Printed Pages: 208
  • Publish Year: 2002 (HarperCollins)
  • Recommended For: Parents who read to their kids, adults that enjoy fairy tales, a quick read, books that end in triumph.

First Lines: “Coraline discovered the door a little while after they moved into the house.”

I knew I would love reading Coraline before I even sat down with the first page. I had seen the eponymously-titled animated movie version of the story last year and fell in love with it immediately. The artwork was stunning, the story was thrilling, and I could relate to the protagonist Coraline. Developing a fondness for Gaiman’s writing, particularly his fairy tales, I knew the book would please as much as the movie.

The story is dark and creepy, yet delightfully so. It features a cast of characters that are unique and enchanting, and then doubles-down by showing us a version of them that could only exist in an alternate reality. This is a story that parents should read to their kids, as there are morals to the story that both can benefit from realizing.

It’s a story about courage and bravery, good and evil, and being grateful for that which we often take for granted. Coraline is a story that is at once both charming and terrifying.

Selected Lines:

Cats don’t have shoulders, not like people do. But the cat shrugged, in one smooth movement that started at the tip of its tail and ended in a raised movement of its whiskers. “I can talk.”


Coraline also explored for animals. She found a hedgehog, and a snake-skin (but no snake), and a rock that looked just like a frog, and a toad that looked just like a rock.


[When] you’re scared but you still do it anyway, that’s brave.


My Rating: 5/5 – For scaring me and then comforting me, for making me look at myself and helping me realize that I’m at times both Coraline and her parents, and for making me fall in love with fairy tales again.

Also, check this deal out: You can get the enhanced Kindle edition of the book, with audio and video, for a heck of a price by clicking the link below.

Review: Perfume

  • Cover for PerfumeTitle: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
  • Author: Patrick Süskind
  • Printed Pages: 263
  • Publish Year: 1987 (Penguin)
  • Recommended For: People that haven’t felt disturbed in awhile, enjoy macabre thrillers, vivid language.

First Lines: “In eighteenth-century France there lived a man who was one of the most gifted and abominable personages in an era that knew no lack of gifted and abominable personages. His story will be told here.”

Sometimes I find it easier to write about a thing by first talking about how it made me feel. Perfume fits into that category. It’s a story that disturbs, yet fascinates. It repulses, yet somehow does it beautifully. For me, it was the literary equivalent of smelling something you know is going to smell bad but can’t help but to do it anyway. And I say all of this and still assert that this book is among my favorites.

The story is an homage to the power of smell. It’s an exploration into the ability of smell to both attract and repulse, both of which are emotions that this story imbues. How is it that a sociopathic murderer can find himself adored, tricking the world into thinking he’s a man of beauty and perfection? By appealing to a sense that only the murderer fully understands. By misleading with a perfected sense of smell and meticulously-crafted perfumes. By turning one of a person’s senses against the rest.

I don’t want to give a synopsis. I want to let the story unfold for you in the same way the tones and flavors of a fine scotch whisky reveal themselves: naked in a glass, exposed to air and judgement.

I’ve had this book on my list to read for a couple of decades now. I first heard of it from an interview with Kurt Cobain. Perfume was one of his favorites, a copy of which was always with him. He related to certain aspects of the main character of the story. He was so inspired by the story, one of the songs he wrote with Nirvana, Scentless Apprentice, was based upon the novel. I found that the book recently became available in Kindle format, which prompted me to snatch it up and finally partake in the experience.

After I read the book, I learned that it was adapted for film of the same name, starring Ben Whishaw and the recently-deceased Alan Rickman.

While not a book that I would recommend to everyone (if you’re more of a humor or romance novel reader, this might not be your flavor), I do recommend it to people with strong stomachs that aren’t afraid to visit a truly grotesque and gruesome mental place.

Selected Lines:

He would often just stand there, leaning against a wall or crouching in a dark corner, his eyes closed, his mouth half open and nostrils flaring wide, quiet as a feeding pike in a great, dark, slowly moving current.


Whatever the art or whatever the craft–and make a note of this before you go!–talent means next to nothing, while experience, acquired in humility and with hard work, means everything.


She had a face so charming that visitors of all ages and both sexes would stand stock-still at the sight of her, unable to pull their eyes away, practically licking that face with their eyes, the way tongues work at ice cream, with that typically stupid, single-minded expression on their faces that goes with concentrated licking.


This world molded in lead, where nothing moved but the wind that fell sometimes like a shadow over the gray forests, and where nothing lived but the scent of the naked earth, was the only world that he accepted, for it was much like the world of his soul.

My Rating: 4.5/5 – For being able to invoke contradicting emotions simultaneously, for inspiring me with descriptive language that I could almost smell, and for serving as a metaphor for humanity.

Review: Paddle Your Own Canoe

PaddleYourOwnCover
  • Title: Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man’s Fundamentals for Delicious Living
  • Author: Nick Offerman
  • Printed Pages: 353
  • Publish Year: 2013
  • Recommended For: Fans of Nick Offerman (or Ron Swanson), people that like to laugh, a glimpse into the acting industry, advice on delicious living

First Lines: “I am a jackass living in America and living surprisingly well.”

You probably know Nick Offerman from his highly-popular role as the mustachioed Ron Swanson on NBC’s hit comedy: Parks and Recreation. Having never seen the show myself, I had no real idea who the man was. (I don’t watch a lot of television, but don’t worry: I’m working on that!) So, what am I doing reading the memoirs of a person I was nary aware of? I’m not sure: Someone mentioned it to me, the cover looked cool, and the summary sounded funny. I’m glad I read it, as now I count myself among Nick Offerman’s fans (and I started watching Parks and Rec).

At first I feared this book would be some sort of celebration of clichéd masculinity, a sort of literary representation of Tim “the Tool Man” Taylor’s signature grunt. My fears, however, were unwarranted. Paddle Your Own Canoe reveals the man behind the mustache, and exposes him as a man of sensitivity, passion, and a remarkable work ethic. Sure, there’s a bit of machismo sprinkled in, but oftentimes it’s ironic or, at least, sarcastic. The entire book is laced with comedy and self-deprecation. What stuck with me the most was Offerman’s humility: this is a man that doesn’t take his success for granted, nor does he allow it to transform him away from his roots as a hard-working boy from rural Illinois.

There were two things I admired most while reading this book:

First, Offerman has a lot to say about the virtue of hard work. He goes to great (and entertaining) lengths to imbue the importance of accomplishment, of fixing and creating. He recounts the time when he moved in with his now-wife and star from the popular sitcom Will and Grace, Megan Mullally. By the time he and Megan purchased a home together, she was already substantially successful. He found himself dumbstruck one day, with the fleeting realization that he “made it”. He was a “well-off dude living in the Hollywood Hills like a king!” He recounted a fantasy that he had while growing up: if he ever was able to afford such a lifestyle, he would “smoke some weed and listen to Neil Young and float in the pool.” So when he was finally able to live that fantasy out, it lasted all but two songs. “What am I, an asshole? What am I gonna do, buy a yacht and just be a rich asshole floating on my yacht? Jesus, man, look at yourself. The sun is up. You should be getting something done!”

The second thing I admired about Offerman was the way he spoke of his wife and their relationship. They had been married a decade by the time Paddle Your Own Canoe was published, and yet he still speaks of her as if they were still on their honeymoon. Both working hard in a demanding industry, they made a pact to never accept a job that would have them apart for more than two weeks. His admiration for Megan melts the heart. Of course someone will go out of their way to paint a beautiful picture of their spouse and love-life when writing about it for a large audience, but it is clear to me that Offerman was very careful with his descriptions of their life and I’m confident that their love is as genuine as he portrays it in this book.

So, I guess I’ve become a bit smitten with Nick Offerman. I found his stories interesting, hilarious, and motivating. What I thought was going to be a quick comedy–a time-killer, really–turned out to be an inspiration: a book that has me re-thinking my own philosophies.

A fair warning: this book has some colorful language, some sexually-explicit scenes, and takes some swipes at organized religion.

Selected Lines:

For some strange reason, we never could fully reconcile our farm flavor with the hardscrabble aesthetic of inner-city street dancing.


If you engage in a discipline or do something with your hands instead of kill time on your phone device, then you have something to show for your time when you’re done. Cook, play music, sew, carve. Shit, BeDazzle. Maybe not BeDazzle. The arithmetic is quite simple. Instead of playing Draw Something, fucking draw something! Take the cleverness you apply to Words with Friends and utilize it to make some kick-ass corn bread. Corn Bread with Friends—try that game.


In my head, I was absolutely living out a fantasy as the cool protagonist in my very own John Cusack superromantic comedy, when in truth, I was 100 percent stalking this poor young dancer. Terrific!


My Rating: 4.5/5 – Inspiring, humorous, and surprising; an added benefit of providing a look into the world of professional acting and the path of a successful career.

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Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Cover for The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

  • Title: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
  • Author: Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
  • Printed Pages: 274
  • Publish Year: 2008 (The Dial Press)
  • Recommended For: Something different, bucolic scenery, a vision of history, a unique style, flavorful characters, something to read in one or two days.

First Lines: “8th January, 1946… Dear Sidney, Susan Scott is a wonder. We sold over forty copies of the book, which was very pleasant, but much more thrilling from my standpoint was the food.”

 

There’s more to love about this book than just its unique title. Written by the late Mary Ann Shaffer, with the help of her niece Annie Barrows, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was one of those books I simply couldn’t put down. Lovable (and loathsome) characters, a quaint setting, and a beautifully-unique presentation make this historical fiction a worthwhile read.

The book is written as a series of letters (and a few telegrams) both to and from the protagonist, the writer Juliet Ashton. Juliet had earned some success as a writer thanks to her humorous columns published during the Second World War. She’s quite unsure how to handle her success and struggles to come up with an idea for her next publication. A letter from a stranger, a man named Dawsey Adams from the Channel Islands, plants the tiniest seed of an idea in Juliet’s head, setting the 32-year-old writer off on a project that will completely transform her life.

This historical fiction recounts some of the horrors perpetrated by the Germans during World War II, and exposes the effects of those tragic acts of savagery. The story doesn’t dwell on the dreadful however; it uplifts the reader more than it depresses.

When I first read about the book, I worried that the epistolary form and multitude of characters would be cumbersome to keep track of; I was pleasantly surprised to the contrary. The book reads fast and each character remains warm in your memory. If I were to have one critique, it would be that the character voices weren’t as distinct as I feel they should be.

Selected Lines:

“Now, about Markham V. Reynolds (Junior). Your questions regarding that gentleman are very delicate, very subtle, very much like being smacked in the head with a mallet.”


“In a good mood, I call my hair Chestnut with Gold Glints. In a bad mood, I call it mousy brown.”


“I sat; arms crossed, hands tucked under my armpits, glaring like a molting eagle, looking around for someone to hate.”


“If I were ever to fall off a horse, it would be lovely to be picked up by Mark, but I don’t think I’m likely to fall off a horse any time soon.”



My rating: 4/5 – Easy to read, transported me to a different place during a different time, made me sad but then made me happy, quirky in a good way.

Buy at Amazon:

Reviewing The Lord of the Flies

The original UK Lord of the Flies book cover

The original UK Lord of the Flies book cover

Somehow, I knew almost nothing about William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies prior to my beginning reading it. I had no ideas about any of the characters, the plot, or even the setting. The only thing I had heard about the book came from my cat. Well, to an extent anyhow. I was on the Amazon page for the book when my cat decided it had been long enough since the last time he walked across my keyboard. His paws expertly scrolled my browser down to the product reviews section of the page. There, before I was able to toss him aside and scroll back up and away from any potential spoilers, I read the title of a single review: “Terrifying”. Back up at the top of the page, away from the synopsis and reviews, a click of an icon immediately and magically deposited the book onto my Kindle. A few cups of coffee, a comfortable chair, and an empty house (save for the cat with his obnoxious food-anxiety issues: you keep his bowl full or he snaps into a violent rage; otherwise, he’s quite congenial) and I was deposited onto an uninhabited tropical island, spectator to unsupervised children finding their way in a seeming paradise.

I sat there, enjoying a paradisaical retreat from the burdens of reality. I quickly realized this book fell into the genre known as ‘Robinsonade’: survivalist fiction set in some sort of isolated locale, taking its name from the 1719 novel Robinson Crusoe. As the pages turned, a portion of my thoughts wandered into any number of fantasies, and memories of fantasies, that all kids, as well as adults, have about the prospects of being marooned on an uninhabited and unknown tropical island. Conveniently, our imaginations shy away from an examination into the circumstances that put us there to begin with: the scream of wind buffeting against failed jet engines, the mumbled prayers of the passenger next to you, and then, of course, everything that happens in conjunction with a jetliner tearing a scar through a jungle. If you can avoid thinking about the scene the survivors, and they’re more than likely the less-fortunate ones, find themselves in, only then do we allow our fantasy to begin. The dead and severely maimed fade away, along with the flames and toxic stench of what burning jet fuel does to metal, plastic, and corpses, leaving us conveniently plopped, and remarkably unscathed, into a simple paradise.

I relaxed as I tap-tap-tapped my way through the Kindle version of the Lord of the Flies, the completion percentage steadily reaching for 100.

 Non-spoiler Premise:
A plane full of school children, all boys, crashes on an uninhabited tropical island. The pilot and all other adults are not featured, leaving the reader to presume they perished in the crash. In any case, the cast of characters essentially consists of preadolescent boys.

Now, I’m not going to go any further than this. If you’ve read the book, you know where this all ends up going. If you somehow have not read the book and are not familiar with its twist—a group I was fortunate enough to find myself a member of—then you simply must read this story. Do not seek further reviews or commentary, the less you know the more you’ll enjoy the book.

A little past half-way through the story is when things really take a sudden turn. At one point, I set the book down and said aloud, “Whoa, that escalated quickly.” By then, the hook was set and, with a jerk on the line, I had no choice but to ride this thing out. The curtain is lifted and the allegory reveals itself. The second half of the book moves very quickly, and by the end you find yourself sitting there not unlike a scared child that just became aware that they lost their innocence.

I’ve often fantasized about finding myself mostly alone on an uninhabited island. Now, maybe not so much.

My Rating: 5 out of 5 (a must read allegory a la 1984, Animal Farm, etc.)
Genre: Robinsonade, Dystopia, classics, fiction, allegory
Length: 227 pages (Kindle version)
Kindle Price: $5.66 as of March 2014
Paperback Price: $12.11 as of March 2014
Year of Publication: 1954

First lines:

THE BOY with fair hair lowered himself down the last few feet of rock and began to pick his way toward the lagoon. Though he had taken off his school sweater and trailed it now from one hand, his grey shirt stuck to him and his hair was plastered to his forehead. All round him the long scar smashed into the jungle was a bath of heat.

Selected lines:

“He found himself understanding the wearisomeness of this life, where every path was an improvisation and a considerable part of one’s waking life was spent watching one’s feet.”

 

“The crying went on, breath after breath, and seemed to sustain him upright as if he were nailed to it.”