Monday, November 28, 2011

The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Its Movie Version

Before it was a movie, it was a remarkable book.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret won the Caldecott award in 2008. This made the book automatically unique. The Caldecott honors illustrations in children's books. The winner is almost always a picture book. Brian Selznick's book is hard to classify. It's part graphic novel, part text, but is full of illustrations, 284 to be exact. I lifted this quote from Wikipedia:

"Selznick himself has described the book as 'not exactly a novel, not quite a picture book, not really a graphic novel, or a flip book or a movie, but a combination of all these things.'"

The illustrations have the beautiful etched quality of 19th century drawings and are wonderfully detailed. A wonderful draftsman, Selznick should be well-known for his illustrations alone. But the story in The Invention of Hugo Cabret is even more powerful than the drawings.

You will love figuring out all the mysteries in Hugo's life and you will go on an emotional journey with him as he tries to find out more about the family he has lost.  The less I tell you about the plot, the more you will enjoy the book. But I will tell you that the central theme is finding your own place in your world.

The new movie "Hugo" by Martin Scorcese (which you should really see in 3-D, by the way) looks like an instant classic to me. I was incredibly impressed by the vision that Scorcese created of a Paris of long ago. The walls of the train station even have beautiful period graphic advertisements. He creates magic using every trick that a film maker has that a novelist does not. He uses lighting, facial expression, and camera movement to give you a fascinating and gripping experience. But the novel has just as much power as the movie. And the illustrations make you want to read it again and again.

Before going to the movie, I was worried that the mystery and the disorienting strangeness of the book would be lost on the screen. One of the best things about the book was discovering page by page the mystery surrounding Hugo Cabret's life. Happily, there is plenty of mystery in the movie as well, even if you have already read the book.You may be a person who prefers seeing the movie first and reading the book second. I am the opposite. But either way you follow, both the novel and the movie should be experienced.

Selznick's website is one of the best author websites around. And you can find more information about automatons there. And their story is as fascinating as fiction. The Invention of Hugo Cabret's website will tell you much more about the automaton which inspired the book.


Monday, November 21, 2011

The Only Ones by Aaron Starmer

It is very difficult to talk about The Only Ones by Aaron Starmer without producing spoilers. I can only talk in the vaguest terms about the plot because one of the absolute strengths of the book for me was its unpredictability. The reader really is taken for a ride and cannot know what happens next. It is a true page-turner and I found myself really interested in what happened to Martin, the main character and to some extent, some of the secondary characters. I was impressed by Starmer's vision of a group of teens reimaging the world in a fair and cooperative manner. I was particularly taken by Starmer's view that each of the characters had a special strength or skill which made him or her essential to the well-being of the group. That's a pretty nice message to send out to the young in the world today.

The beginning is satisfyingly atmospheric and mysterious. The central portion of the book is a variant of the "last men on earth" genre and the ending I felt tied up too many loose ends and was unrealistically happy.

The Only Ones is marketed as a middle grade novel, but I consider it to be far too sophisticated for that age group. The main character, Martin, is a thirteen-year-old through most of the book and there are enough instances of teen worries, problems and desires for me to be unable to recommend it for pre-teens. There is no sex but a lot of boy girl interest and there is also enough violence to make me not recommend it to pre-teens. It also requires a highly developed sense of logic to unravel the plot. Younger readers might enjoy some of the actions in the book, but would have no real understanding of the workings of the plot.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Behold, Here's Poison

Lots of people who love Georgette Heyer's romances probably don't know about her mysteries. This is a shame. Her mysteries are charming reads. Always about the gentry, they open the door into a world that most of us will never experience.

Behold, Here's Poison starts with the murder of Uncle Gregory, an irascible soul that almost everyone was glad to be rid of. Then a cast of memorable characters verbally spar as the police try to figure out how and why he was murdered.

Two of my favorite Georgette Heyer characters appear in this book. One is the ditsy penny-pinching sister of Gregory. Miss Harriet Matthews runs the home on spartan principles. She dithers a lot. Another memorable personage is Mrs. Zoe Matthews, the sister-in-law of Gregory who is very canny and scheming and walks around saying completely insincere things like "It is always such a mistake to condemn people's little foibles. One should try to understand, and help them."

My favorite Inspector Hannasyde and his side kick, Sergeant Hemingway add to list of memorable people you will meet in this novel.

Of course, there is love interest. This is Georgette, right? And all comes to a satisfying close with a person you really didn't like being stuck with the murder rap.

A delicious read and well worth your time, Behold, Here's Poison  was originally printed in 1936. A lot of us Georgette Heyer fans have gleaned copies from used bookstores and have re-read them to the point that they are held together with rubber bands. My copy is a reprint from 1987.

But, luckily for you, it is now available new from Amazon and Barnes and Noble and is in Kindle and Nook format as well. This means you don't have to keep yours in one piece with a rubber band.

Oh, and the new cover has absolutely nothing to do with the book.  This isn't bad when you consider that the picture on the front of my cover gives away an important plot element if you look at it closely!