Amulet (Or) A Case For Why You Shouldn’t Take Children’s Literature Lightly

Fact of life : when a Literary Tiger tells you to get on with your book reviews, you listen. You don’t want to end up being tiger-chow.

Battling book withdrawals when you’ve got very little time is never easy, but I’ve found an elegant solution that, more often than not, keeps me happy for a whole week. Reading a graphic novel. They don’t take long because they’re broken up into issues, they’re highly addictive, and the verbal and visual assault is usually enough to keep your senses happy for a while. Usually.

Amulet has been on my to-read list for a very, very long time. After getting nowhere with The Umbrella Academy and I Kill Giants (I always find that I can’t finish a book every time I put it on my Goodreads currently reading shelf), I was desperate. So I picked it up, with high hopes and a nice comfy cushion, trusting in all the outstanding reviews I had come across on Goodreads.

Boy, was I disappointed. A lot of reviews compared this to Bone, and while I can see similarities here and there, the fact of the matter is: Bone is an all-ages book — everybody who reads it should will like it. That isn’t the case with Amulet. True, it’s got breathtaking illustrations, but that isn’t all a graphic novel is. You need something to back the art.

If I was ten/eleven, I’d love it. It would be my favourite-est book of all time (granted, “all time” is very short when you’re that age), but I struggled through this. What made this series unbearable for me was knowing that there was a time I would have enjoyed and  raved about it for the next few years. I get the feeling that I’m being a little harsh, but I’m upset with the fact that I had to try so hard to love it – to think like a twelve-year old – and it still didn’t do anything for me. You shouldn’t have to try. See, with Bone, it’s effortless. Jeff Smith takes a story we’re sort-of familiar with, and he still manages to make it work. Kazu Kibuishi falls short, just a tiny bit.

And you know how I feel about spoilers? Well, for the first time ever, it won’t matter if I tell you what the book is about, because it doesn’t matter what age you are, you can see where this is going.

Family moves to Grandpa’s (haunted) estate/mansion/tower-y house thing. Goes on a cleaning spree. Girl finds library and mysterious book. Magical things happen, and she ends up with a stone. Monsters kidnap mother; Girl and Brother try to save her. On the way, a lot of self-discovery and various other clichéd fantasy plot points are highlighted – cruel king disappointed in son, son trying to do good, The Resistance, Super-Awesome-Ninja-Fox, ancient city situated in the clouds, all that stuff.

I constantly felt like he was insulting a child’s intelligence. I’ve grown up on a healthy diet of Roald Dahl’s work, and when I re-read them now (yes, I’m sentimental about these things), I can still connect to every word. Every single one. I’m twenty, and Dahl makes me feel like a twenty-year old reading a fun book. Twenty, not twelve. (Kibuishi, are you getting this?)

I’ve read the first three volumes, and I’m not sure I want to continue. A part of me is curious to see if he turns the whole story around, and a part of me is past caring. As beautiful as the illustrations are, I’d rather find something that can give me pretty pictures with a backbone.

Final verdict? Anyone below the age of thirteen will love this. Apart from that, the artwork is the only selling point. Otherwise, I wouldn’t bother.

 

Just to help you decide, visit boltcity.com

I’d Pay Double For Any Book I Found Here. What A Store.

If you aren’t on StumbleUpon, you really should sign up. You find little gems like this everyday.

This was a sign placed outside a bookstore – and  was part of a series of “21 Pictures That Will Restore Your Faith In Humanity“. Needless to say, faith restored.

You Know You Really Need To Start Blogging Again When…

1. Firefox asks you to sign in to WordPress because you’ve been away for too long.

2. You have a pile of books screaming at you from your shelves because they’ve been read, but not praised. And they hate sitting next to all those smug little Neil Gaiman books that have received a little too much love for their liking.

3. Your comments on other blogs resemble a mini-epic because you have so many things to say.

4. You think you’ve replied to every comment, but when your pitiful attempts at keeping up with Math classes gives you a little breathing time, and you log in, you realise that you’ve left several conversations hanging in mid-air because you didn’t receive an e-mail about it.

5. You have too many ideas floating around that when you actually do get some time to write, you don’t know where to start, and end up just staring at a blank post for an hour or two.

6. You keep drafting out posts on your phone (and leaving them unfinished) while travelling to college and back, but never publish any of them because uploading pictures is a pain. And so you resort to making pointless lists, such as this one.

7. You violently crave the next set of holidays.

The Graveyard Book – And My Last Gaiman Review For A While. Promise.

“Suppose we pick a name for him, eh?”
Caius Pompeius stepped over and eyed the child. “He looks a little like my proconsul, Marcus. We could call him Marcus.”
Josiah Worthington said, “He looks more like my head gardener, Stebbins. Not that I’m suggesting Stebbins as a name. The man drank like a fish.”
“He looks like my nephew Harry,” said Mother Slaughter…
“He looks like nobody but himself,” said Mrs.Owens, firmly. “He looks like nobody.”
“Then Nobody it is,” said Silas. “Nobody Owens.”

This has, without a doubt, got to be my favourite Gaiman after Sandman.

From the very first sentence, you’re hooked. Being Gaiman, he’s managed to get a wonderful illustrator to complement his writing. (Dave McKean? You’re awesome.) But now you’re thinking – because that’s all there is on the page, and you need to take a minute to mind-yell about how this is the most amazing first page ever – Why on earth does a “children’s book” start this way? And you realise you don’t care, because it’s Neil Gaiman, and you trust this strange man with stranger ideas – and if my mum had read this to me when I was a kid, I’d think she was the definition of cool.

C.S. Lewis said, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”   I agree. And this guy seems to be able to find the perfect balance. While I still read some of my Famous Five books from time to time, the only reason I enjoy them is because they bring back memories. Half the time, I skip entire chapters. With The Graveyard Book, I read it twice, back to back, and I might read it again once I complete my reading challenges – it’s that good. It’s engaging, and beautifully written, plus I don’t feel like he’s “talking down to me” – and that is my definition of a good children’s book.

Sidenote: The reason I’m spending so much time on this is because I think every kid should try reading this – and I know parents will be wary because it’s about Nobody (Bod, for short) being raised in a graveyard. But if your child reads Lemony Snicket, or Philip Pullman, or Harry Potter, even, I’d give them this (and read over their shoulder).

So. What is this book about, I hear you ask. Well, what does any book that has to do with a child in a graveyard have? It’s got an endearing mother-figure, a dead poet that took his revenge on the world by not letting anybody read his work, ghouls that name themselves after their first meal, and the man Jack. Several men Jack, actually. (Or is that man Jacks? This is going to keep me up at night.)

I’ve got to say, Gaiman has a real talent for creating characters that stay with you long after you’ve finished reading. I have a weakness for mysterious, intelligent men and strong female characters, and his books have got plenty of those. There was Morpheus in Sandman, The Marquis in Neverwhere, and Crowley (An Angel who did not so much Fall as Saunter Vaguely Downwards) in Good Omens. Also, Door, Hunter, and Coraline. In this book – there’s Liza Hempstock, Miss Lupescu and Silas.

“There were people you could hug, and then there was Silas.”

******************************************************

“Repeat after me, there are the living and the dead, there are day-folk and night-folk, there are ghouls and mist-walkers, there are high hunters and the Hounds of God. Also, there are solitary types.”

“What are you?” asked Bod.

“I,” she said sternly, “am Miss Lupescu.”

“And what is Silas?”

She hesitated. Then she said, “He is a solitary type.”

I absolutely adore Silas. You’re never told what he is, though. Someone on Goodreads called him a vampire, and while he does have some vampire-y traits, I needed to be sure. So I tried looking it up on Gaiman’s FAQ section, and this is what I found:

Q: What is Silas in The Graveyard Book?
A: Silas is a Very Important Character in The Graveyard Book. Also, he is Bod’s Guardian.

Well played, Mr.Gaiman. Well played.

Writers’ Bloc – A Writers’ Support Group

Once upon a time in a land far, far away, Anne Lamott wrote a book. She called this book Bird By Bird. It was a brilliant book – witty and insightful – and it influenced a whole bunch of people. All over the world, people started writing better — or working towards writing better.

Now it just so happens that I know one of these people. After reading it, she proposed starting a Writers’ Support Group. For writers, by writers. How could I say no to that?

What we have in mind is a community of writers throwing ideas at each other, helping each other out, because – let’s face it – nothing gets those juices flowing like a good old-fashioned conversation with people who are as passionate about writing as you are.

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” ― Stephen King

And since you can’t have writing without reading, we also intend to double up as a book club! We’re a bloc where everybody gets a say in everything – even though we’ve started the blog, anybody who is a member can organise reading/writing challenges, work with other members to conduct activities that’ll help the entire bloc, the sky’s the limit.

We aren’t too fussy about what you write. Whether you’re working on a novel or a blog post, a play or an English assignment, as long as you love writing, we’re here for you.

Here’s the link to our official blog. We also have a Facebook page and a Goodreads group.

Maybe I’ll see you there? 😉

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”
Philip Pullman

Neverwhere Discussion [Part 2]

Wow, I’m late.

As part of Once Upon A Time, Carl over at Stainless Steel Droppings is hosting a Neverwhere Readalong. Here are his answers (which I haven’t read yet, I don’t want them to influence mine) and if you happen to be reading Neverwhere at the moment, feel free to join in!

You can find my spoiler-free review here, and Part 1 of the discussion here.

1. Chapter 6 begins with Richard chanting the mantra, “I want to go home”. How do you feel about Richard and his reactions at this point to the unexpected adventure he finds himself on?

I’m not a huge fan of Richard, if I have to be honest. The only time my feelings for him approach tolerance is when he’s around Door.

He’s in London Below. Where there’s awesomeness in abundance. I wouldn’t be going, “Pinch me, wake me up, when is this all going to end?”, I’d be prancing about like a pony who’s just been given a huge sack of sugar cubes. Quietly, of course, I wouldn’t want the Marquis annoyed with me.

On the other hand, I would be insane to embrace London Below as a wonderful place to be stuck in. Well, it is, but only if you’re snuggled up under a warm quilt hundreds of miles away. If I’d lost Anaesthesia, I’d probably bawl my eyes out.

So yes, I understand where Richard is coming from, and it adds to the whole keeping-it-real thing Gaiman has going on, but honestly Richard. Alice has got more pluck than you do.

2. The Marquis de Carabas was even more mysterious and cagey during the first part of this week’s reading. What were your reactions to him/thoughts about him as you followed his activities?

I loved-loved-LOVED not knowing what the Marquis had in store for us. Questions of what he gave Old Bailey were replaced by whether he could be trusted, whether he was going to betray Door, or if it was Richard he was out to get. And every time he said or did something, I was reminded of that Harry Potter quote – “You know, Minister, I disagree with Dumbledore on many counts…but you cannot deny he’s got style…”

3. How did you feel about the Ordeal of the Key?

Confused, at first. It took a while for the implications to sink in. And then awe – that Gaiman could come up with something like that – and then horror – that Gaiman could come up with something like that – and awe, again – that he could come up with something like that and write about it.

4.  This section of the book is filled with moments.  Small, sometimes quite significant, moments that pass within a few pages but stick with you.  What are one or two of these that you haven’t discussed yet that stood out to you, or that you particularly enjoyed?

The scene with Lear and the “reel so beguiling that it would charm the coins from the pockets of anyone who heard it”. Brilliant. I was shaking my head in amazement. Charming favours out of someone by getting them out of a favour? Marquis de Carabas, you sly lynx, you.

5.  Any other things/ideas that you want to talk about from this section of the book?

Have I mentioned just how quotable this book is?

“We have to get the… the thing I got… to the Angel. And then he’ll tell Door about her family, and he’ll tell me how to get home.”
Lamia looked at Hunter with delight. “And he can give you brains,” she said, cheerfully, “and me a heart.”

*********************************************************

“Now me,” said Mr. Vandemar.
“What number am I thinking of?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“What number am I thinking of?” repeated Mr. Vandemar. “It’s between one and a lot,” he added, helpfully.

Right. That’s me done, then. Time to look at everyone else’s posts!

Coraline!

Maybe I should turn this blog into a Neil Gaiman fan-site. Just saying.

I stumbled across the movie (long before I’d ever known about Gaiman) after a friend told me I just had to watch it. Why did I have to watch it, you ask? Because while I love Disney and Pixar movies (when they work together and individually), they’re always too..clean. You know? I watch them because they’re fun and there’s something slightly addictive about them (I’ve seen The Jungle Book and Aladdin more than twenty times, I think. And Monsters Inc. And ..well, you get the message), but the tiny voice in my head complains about how shiny and perfect everything is. With Coraline, however, even if you aren’t familiar with Gaiman’s work, you are aware of just how different it is from the very first minute.

Just look at that. Isn’t it beautiful?

The animation is absolutely incredible. It’s quirky and odd in a brilliant way and even though the story is responsible for sucking you into Coraline’s world, a part of you is constantly marvelling about how visually stunning everything is. Why aren’t more movies like this?

Imagine my disappointment when I found out it was based on a book. After I had finished watching it.

When I did pick up the book sometime in the last week, I was pleasantly surprised. While not as detailed and complex (verbally) as his other works, this man sure can pull off a good children’s novel. I don’t know why I was surprised, really, I guess I just didn’t expect someone who could do a Sandman could do a Coraline. Even if I had already watched the movie.

I’ve got an issue with a few changes that the film made (for those of you who’ve seen and read this, you know what I’m taking about), but in the interest of remaining spoiler-free, I’m going to have to stay quiet about it. On the whole, though, this is a book that is somehow enhanced if you read it and watch the movie. Gaiman’s written it in a way that makes the book thoroughly enjoyable on its own, but also translates well onto film. And normally I wouldn’t admit this, but I’ll have to make an exception here — I sort-of-maybe-kinda like the movie a little more than I like the book. Please watch it before you decide to blast my door off its hinges and attack me for saying that?

Final verdict: I love a strong female protagonist – and Coraline makes a pretty great one. If you’ve got a daughter or a niece, I’d strongly suggest reading it to her. Although you might have to deal with the fact that she’s going to be staring at your eyes for quite a while, checking for signs that it’s been replaced by a button. Oh, and please don’t stop mid-way and ask her to go to sleep — there is no way she is going to be able to. A few hugs and I-love-you-s might also be necessary. Don’t worry, though. Gaiman has dialled down the creepy (for the most part), but I don’t recommend reading this to anyone below the age of eight. And please, please, please watch the movie.