Review: Coraline by Neil Gaiman

20 Books of Summer 2015: Book 5

Desperate to make progress in the reading challenge hosted by Cathy746books, I grabbed a short one. Coraline, by Neil Gaiman, clocks in at 162 pages and a 90 minute reading time. Even if you’ve seen the movie, there are enough differences that the book is superior. Book-Coraline doesn’t rely on an irritating sidekick; she’s cleverer and self-reliant. There’s a cast of helpers behind her, but Coraline must sort out their cryptic help alone. The film, by making Coraline a supporting character in her own story, overlooks the fun and adventure of the original.

From the back cover:
When Coraline steps through a door to find another house strangely similar to her own (only better), but full of fantastic turns and things seem marvelous. But there’s another mother there, and another father, and they want her to stay and be their little girl. They want to change her and never let her go. Coraline will have to fight with all her wits and courage if she is to save herself and return to her ordinary life.

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Review: Grendel by John Gardner

20 Books of Summer 2015: Book 4

I hesitate to call John Gardner’s Grendel a modern Beowulf from the perspective of the monster, though that’s the first description to come to mind. The open secret among English majors is that Beowulf is a snooze despite its historical value. Happily, Grendel is funny and smart, and creates a sympathetic portrait of one of literature’s original villains. This novel follows Grendel’s 12-year war with Hrothgar and his conflicting emotions towards the men he watches from afar. It begins with Grendel’s irritation towards the slow-witted forest creatures who cannot understand his language and mistake him for a monster:

The doe in the clearing goes stiff at the sight of my horridness, then remembers her legs and is gone. It makes me cross. “Blind prejudice!” I bawl at the splintered sunlight where half a second ago she stood. I wring my fingers, put on a long face. “Ah, the unfairness of everything,” I say, and shake my head. It is a matter of fact that I have never killed a deer in all my life, and never will. Cows have more meat and, locked up in pens, are easier to catch. (7-8)

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Review: A Separate Peace by John Knowles

20 Books of Summer 2015: Book 2

For those high school students who hit up my blog to “research” their papers: knock it off. You’re reading good stuff, even if you won’t realize it for another decade. Like The Great Gatsby, John Knowles’ A Separate Peace was wasted on me in high school. (Will put this theory to the test when I read Catcher in the Rye in a few weeks.)

From the back cover: Set at a boys’ boarding school in New England during the early years of World War II, A Separate Peace is a harrowing and luminous parable of the dark side of adolescence. Gene is a lonely, introverted intellectual. Phineas is a handsome, taunting, daredevil athlete. What happens between the two friends one summer, like the war itself, banishes the innocence of these boys and their world.

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