Saturday, March 31, 2012

Why We Broke Up

by Daniel Handler
art by: Maira Kalman
Published: Little Brown 2011
Pages: 354


This might be a little insensitive, but I'm writing to you to tell you why we broke up.  I fell in love with you, well not you, your mysterious Lemony Snicket.  I fell so hard in my childhood that I couldn't remember when the unfortunate event began or when it ended.  I wished that I could meet you and explain to you how you had changed my life.  I realized that the day would never come, so I settled for reading your books and wondering in amazement how clever Lemony Snicket  could be and how much I missed the lovely Beatrice, even though we also had never met.

Then Min showed up and broke up with Ed in 354 painful, yet beautiful pages.  She remembered every detail and hoped that writing it out would ease her pain and highlight Ed's.  I admired her for her ability to write it in front of her friend, Al.  The beautiful moments in the park, to the delightful party planning including stolen sugar and liquor--those moments were all noteworthy.  

I agree with Min, the bonfire should not have happened, and the ex-girlfriends' scene was most definitely awkward for her, but she got over them like a champ.  I guess it's because she joined their ranks.  I wish though that I could have seen more, that the party had actually happened.  There was so much anticipation and planning, but like all things, the breakup happened first. 

How could Min not see what was right in front of her?  Dan, why is Min so blind to her surroundings?  I felt like I was reading some scenes of impending doom, and I could not stop but wonder how much you could break my heart.  I found you could break it entirely. 

The pictures were so simple,  yet possibly one of the most ingenious parts of this story.  Who could have known that adding pictures could enhance a story so wonderfully, so expertly?  I may not have thoroughly enjoyed reading the journey of Ed and Min, but I enjoyed seeing what would be drawn next.   I looked forward to the moment when I found out what the object had to do with their relationship and why it was part of their downfall.

You may be good at heartbreak and unfortunate events, but your imagination is killer.  You have captivated me in such a way that cannot be forgiven.  You have stolen me from my friends and my job. Dan, you have kept me from sleep and from fresh air.  This is why we had to break up.

Love,  Alex


"Handler offers a heartbreaking, bittersweet, and compelling romance with a unique angle and flare." 
    - SLJ, starred review

"Handler shows exceptional skill at getting inside Min's head and heart."
    - Publisher's Weekly

"Brilliant...Maira Kalman's illustrations endow [the book's] inanimate objects with all of Min's emotion.  The male and femaile bottle caps of Scarpia's Bitter Black Ale from that first night they met seem to pulse with tension; pages of rose petals nearly fall from the book.  This book will resonate with teens--and even adults--because far too many of us have stood in Min's shoes."  
    - Shelf Awareness

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Secret Lives of People in Love

By Simon Van Booy
Published: Harper Perennial edition, 2010
Pages: 174

Simon Van Booy brings us his first collection of short stories.  He has an interestingly beautiful description on what love looks like.  Love isn't just romantic, it can be heartbreaking, heartwarming, just beginning or old-time.  It can be so many things and sometimes the most impact can come from the messed up father son relationship. 

The reader experiences love in several different situation in different cities across the world.  He tells stories from New York to France, on subways and in small apartments.  
The characters in the stories were developed just well enough.  It is like a snapshot into a character's life.  I am not going to know everything about a person by meeting them for five minutes.  Simon Van Booy lets the reader know just enough to give the reader the feeling that they are actually meeting the characters.  This allows us to judge and to sympathize without knowing everything.  For example, one of the stories is presumably about a man leaving his wife on their anniversary.  Naturally, I judge.  How cruel can this man be, but was I getting the whole picture?  Did I know exactly what was going on in both people's lives? No.

In particular, I really liked the first short story.  Narrated by a teen-aged boy of 15, it shows the insight of nontraditional love.  The man he lives with is the closest thing he has to a father, he does not remember his own parents.  But the story this man tells him, leaves room for questioning whether or not it is the truth.  Despite the question, it is evident that the man loves the boy, even though it is unconventional.

Simon Van Booy's strength as a writer is his ability to paint pictures with words.  There are many scenes in each story that vividly stick with me after I finished reading.  I can see the park bench in which the little boy goes to meet the memory of his mother in Central Park.  I can smell the first sights of spring as he encounters a strange man at his bench.  I can also see the warm smile spread across his face when the little boy tells him he needs to move.  

Some of the stories were not as compelling as the others, which tends to happen in a collection of short stories.  Even though I did not enjoy every story, there were enough that made me want to read more.

Stars: 3/5

"Simon Van Booy's stories have the power and resonance of poems.  They stay with you like significant memory." 
        - Roger Rosenblatt

"His sentences are spare, subtle, and freighted, his images fresh... YOu see and feel his settings." 
       - New York Newsday

Sunday, March 11, 2012

A Study in Scarlet

by Arthur Conan Doyle
Published: Sterling; Barnes and Noble Classic edition, 2009
Pages: 71

Sherlock Holmes is an iconic name and character.  He has been recreated in so many mediums: most currently, the BBC show Sherlock, of which I am a HUGE fan.  The question now is whether or not the original Sherlock Holmes can capture the hearts of everyone as much as the adaptation.  Has the success of the name outweighed the actually merit of the original stories?

Introduce: Dr. John Watson and Mr. Sherlock Holmes.  In this first case, Watson is whirled into the life and investigations of Sherlock Holmes.  A Study in Scarlet includes a murder motivated by revenge.  When Sherlock Holmes observes the crime scene of a man, dead without any physical signs, he shows his spectacular observation skills to figure out how this man died. 

Being the first Sherlock Holmes story I have read, I did not expect to have an entire section of the novel where there was no mention of Sherlock or John.  I did not quite figure out why the story was set in America until about half way through the section.  However, I thought that the section added to the story and made what could have been a clear cut and dry short story more compelling.  I was happy to see the back story of the people involved in the murder. 

The story itself was a basic murder mystery.  The plot was fairly simple, but the details made it interesting.  I was slightly annoyed by the language in the story, but it may be my lack of a large vocabulary that annoyed me.  I kept going back to the dictionary to look up definitions to words in the story.  It broke my concentration of the plot, but I added many words to my vocabulary. That is one of my favorite aspects of reading.

The story is told from John Watson's point of view.  Meeting Sherlock Holmes through this lens is fascinating and makes Sherlock even more intriguing as a character.  I think Sherlock's personality and quirks make him an excellent character, one that I would want to have as a friend.  The way he talks and makes observations is so unique to him; he is very memorable.  Ask anyone.  John Watson is a little less inspiring in this story though.  He is so accepting of Sherlock, it seems that he is more of a pet than a person at the beginning.  I wished that more of his personality was shown.  However, I have no doubt that Watson will get his moment to shine in some of the other Sherlock Holmes stories.  

Arthur Conan Doyle worked hard to create these iconic characters and his hard work paid off with a beautifully written narrative that is just the beginning of the adventures.  I look forward to reading more of the Sherlock Holmes chronicles in the future. 

Stars: 3/5

Side Note:
I think it is hilarious that Sherlock did cocaine when he was not busy with a case.  I'm not sure why I missed that the first time around.

For those that are bothered by editing errors, there are some interesting spelling mistakes in this edition.