by velocibadgergirl

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Do you know where your towel is?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Coraline: a side-by-side review

With a plan in place to go see Coraline (the movie) last night with my mom and sister, I decided to re-read Coraline (the book) Sunday night and Monday at lunch. It's very short, weighing in at 162 pages, including some full-page illustrations by frequent Neil Gaiman collaborator Dave McKean. I loved this story the first time I read it back in 2006, and I still love it. It also gives me a serious case of the heebs.

The blurb on the front of my copy says, "One of the most frightening books ever written -- New York Times Book Review," and they are not kidding. It's the insidious kind of frightening that sneaks up on you while you're not paying attention, too. The first 1/3 to 1/2 of the book is pretty safe, and then things get REALLY weird, REALLY fast. It's a great book, and though it's classified as a Young Adult book, it's not really for the sensitive kids.

To briefly summarize, Coraline Jones -- age eleven -- gets bored with her somewhat boring, distant parents, and goes exploring in and around the house where her family has just rented a flat. A door in the formal parlor opens onto a brick least until later that night, when a skittering noise draws Coraline out of her bedroom. The passageway that is revealed leads Coraline to another flat, almost identical to hers, where her Other Mother and Other Father offer her everything her real parents do not, from attention to non-experimental food to sentient toys. But there's a small problem in this other world. First, everyone has shiny black buttons instead of eyes, and second, the Other Mother is awfully, awfully clingy.

When she escapes the Other Mother's clutches only to find that her real parents have been locked away, Coraline must venture once more into the Other Mother's world, to rescue her parents and other children that the Other Mother captured. To say she does so with courage and wits would be to sell her a bit short -- Coraline is a kickass heroine. And just when you think it's over, Gaiman has another twist for you. But never fear, it all ends well. Don't take my word for it, though. Go out and find a copy of Coraline and read it for yourself. I don't think you'll regret it.

Now, for the film. I've been looking forward to it since first hearing about it on Neil Gaiman's blog about a year ago. Knowing that it was directed by Henry Selick, who directed my beloved Nightmare Before Christmas, made me even more impatient. Coraline was well worth the wait. It was designed to be shown in 3D, but don't worry -- the 3D effect just makes the grace of Selick's stop-motion even more evident, and gives the film amazing depth and richness. I only remember one moment where I thought, "Now you're just showing off," and it was in the intro sequence. For the rest of the film, it didn't draw attention away from the animation at all.

The stop-motion itself is jaw-dropping. I can't even describe how fluid it is, other than to say there were scenes that made me doubt it was actually entirely stop-motion, because it was almost too good. A standout for me was the performance given by the trained mice in the Other world, which was, no exaggeration, absolutely exquisite. Oh, and the scene when Coraline and the cat wander out beyond the boundaries of the Other Mother's world is perfection. The soundtrack is lovely and perfectly suited to the film, the scenes and sets are fantastic, and all the details are looked after with care. In my opinion, Coraline is an absolute must-see.

Since this is a film based on a book, I feel like I should address the whole chicken / egg question. I read (and re-read) the book first, and I was able to enjoy the film even though there were a few significant changes. The film is strong and would easily stand alone if you haven't read the book, so if you're a purist and / or you get easily distracted by book / film discrepancies, I'd recommend watching the film first. Enjoy the animation and the awesomeness, and then go read the book. I'll talk a little about the changes below, but be warned:  there are going to be some semi-spoilers.



Most of the changes that were made appeared to be for pacing / flow purposes. In the book, the story is told from Coraline's point of view, so we read what she thinks and how she feels. Since it's hard to convey these things on film without a narrator, the fact that Coraline is not as hesitant to accept the Other Mother's attentions at first made sense. The addition of the Coraline spy doll was a little extraneous, though it didn't detract from the story. The addition of the gorgeous garden that the Other Father tended was lovely, and I actually liked it a lot. Changes made to the Other Mother's appearance were actually pretty cool, even though they differ somewhat strongly from the book in a significant way.

The only major thing that bothered me was the addition of a friend for Coraline. In the book, her only sidekick is the black cat, who can talk in the Other world but not in the regular one. In the film, she is given a neighborhood boy for a friend. He's fine as a character, and pleasantly animated, but I take issue with the fact that yet again a strong, independent female character is given a male sidekick. Wybie (as the boy is called) doesn't exactly swoop in to save the day, but as my mom pointed out, Coraline did just fine without him in the book. I read online that he was added to avoid scenes of Coraline walking around talking to herself, but I feel like they could've easily just had her talk to the cat. Or heck, the doll. I just wish they had let the girl handle 100% of the ass kicking, just like Gaiman wrote her to do.

That said, I still think Coraline is a fantastic film and a fantastic story. Go see it! And then read it! And then come back and let me know what you think.


Thursday, February 19, 2009


I'm probably the last one to find out, but I just heard that Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book won the 2009 Newbery Medal.

I'm always pleased to see Gaiman's work getting attention, because I think he was vastly underrated for a long time. If you haven't read The Graveyard Book, I highly, highly recommend it. I would suggest reading it for yourself before giving it to your kid to read, usual, it's a little dark. But lovely!


Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Map Thief by Heather Terrell

I was offered a copy of The Map Thief to consider for review back in the Summer, but didn't have time to read it until the Fall, and clearly took my sweet time getting my thoughts together to write the review. This should not reflect poorly on the book, however, but instead speaks to the heights of my to-be-read pile and the depths of my scatter-brained-ness.

The Map Thief is an art / archaeology adventure story in the vein of The DaVinci Code, but with less violence and overt big-screen-ready hamminess. There's the obligatory Templars connection, and a whip-smart protagonist sent on a globetrotting search for a missing artifact. Beyond that, however, DaVinci similarities fade, and The Map Thief stands quite well on its own two feet.

As the main character, recovery expert Mara Coyne is believable and likable. Even after she finds a similarly likable love interest, she remains a strong character, never relying on a man to sweep in and save the day, which I appreciated. The story centers around Mara's search for an ancient map that has the potential to rewrite history.

The story is told in three interwoven plotlines -- Mara's modern-day search, the map's 1421 creation at the hands of a Chinese cartographer, and the use of the map by Portuguese navigators in 1496. This style of alternating storylines is one of my favorite devices in a history-heavy novel, and Terrell handles the various threads beautifully. Her handling of it reminded me a lot of both The Historian and The Thirteenth Tale, two of my favorite books from the last several years.

The Map Thief is a sequel to The Chrysalis, which I have not read, but the references to the events of that novel were only mentioned in passing and lacking the knowledge of the first book didn't seem to be a problem. I thought the book was a little slow to start, but once Mara sets out to seek the map, things picked up right away. I found it to be a quick and enjoyable read, and the coworker I loaned it to after I finished had the same experience.

In the interest of keeping my bookshelves manageable, I'm going to pass this book on to someone else. If you'd like a chance to win my copy, leave a comment on this entry and tell me your favorite historical figure / group / theme / era / whatever to read about. Personally, I'm a sucker for a book that involves old-timey sailors. You have until midnight on Wednesday, February 25th to enter. Good luck!

Winner! Congratulations to Riva :)

I'll be posting a new giveaway on Monday as part of the Bookroom Reviews Book Giveaway Carnival, so come back soon!

Labels: ,