The Invention of Hugo Cabret

The Invention of Hugo CabretThe Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A hefty book, but easily read in a few hours at most. Text alternates with exquisitely detailed drawings (which earned this book the 2007 Caldecott Award) to tell the story. This is the kind of book I would have loved as a child (and still do) because it is about a real person and I learned something about the very earliest film making industry. Georges Melies really did end up selling toys at the Montparnasse station in Paris, and he really did donate his automata collection to a museum.

The movie, Hugo, based on this book, used actual film clips of Georges Melies which really brought it alive. It expanded on several of the lesser characters, which I enjoyed, but downplayed Hugo’s thievery. It also glossed over some of the reasons G.M. ended up trying to bury all memory of his film-making days.

For me, the major themes seemed to be about following one’s passion, and when that is not tended people become broken just like the clocks and the automaton that Hugo repairs. It is also about curiosity and having the courage to follow adventure in our lives.

Book Description:
Orphan, clock keeper, and thief, Hugo lives in the walls of a busy Paris train station, where his survival depends on secrets and anonymity. But when his world suddenly interlocks with an eccentric, bookish girl and a bitter old man who runs a toy booth in the station, Hugo’s undercover life, and his most precious secret, are put in jeopardy. A cryptic drawing, a treasured notebook, a stolen key, a mechanical man, and a hidden message from Hugo’s dead father form the backbone of this intricate, tender, and spellbinding mystery.

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Mr. Timothy

Mr. TimothyMr. Timothy by Louis Bayard

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

1860s London, 10-year-old street urchins, and every bit as atmospheric as Dickens himself. Add a grown-up “Tiny Tim” in his early 20s, trying to find a meaningful life for himself, and a cruel prostitution racket preying on young, foreign girls. Bawdy humor, gripping action, a few ghosts, and coming-of-age introspection. Mr. Bayard has not been sentimental in imagining the lives of the Cratchits post Dickens. Timothy is somewhat lost and floundering following the death of his father. The tale is sometimes charming, sometimes very dark and brooding. Fast-paced action at times, and threatens to bog down at other times, so a bit uneven. The narrator of the audiobook was marvelous. This is one I will probably reread.

Book Description:
Welcome to the world of a grown-up Timothy Cratchit, as created by the astonishing imagination of author Louis Bayard. Mr. Timothy Cratchit has just buried his father. He’s also struggling to bury his past as a cripple and shed his financial ties to his benevolent “Uncle” Ebenezer by losing himself in the thick of London’s underbelly. He boards at a brothel in exchange for teaching the mistress how to read and spends his nights dredging the Thames for dead bodies and the treasures in their pockets. Timothy’s life takes a sharp turn when he discovers the bodies of two dead girls, each seared with the same cruel brand on the upper arm. The sight of their horror-struck faces compels Timothy to become the protector of another young girl, the enigmatic Philomela. Spurred on by the unwavering enthusiasm of a street-smart, fast-talking homeless boy who calls himself Colin the Melodious, Timothy soon finds that he’s on the trail of something far worse — and far more dangerous — than an ordinary killer. This breathless flight through the teeming markets, shadowy passageways, and rolling brown fog of 1860s London is wrought with remarkable depth and intelligence, complete with surprising twists and extraordinary heart.

The Madonnas of Leningrad

The Madonnas of LeningradThe Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A relatively short and easy read, full of vivid descriptions of art, and war, and aging. I would have loved some photos of the museum and the artwork, but I suppose the museum holds the copyright to such things. It could have been fleshed out more. I was left with unanswered questions about large parts of Marina’s life.

Book Description:
Bit by bit, the ravages of age are eroding Marina’s grip on the everyday. An elderly Russian woman now living in America, she cannot hold on to fresh memories–the details of her grown children’s lives, the approaching wedding of her grandchild–yet her distant past is miraculously preserved in her mind’s eye. Vivid images of her youth in war-torn Leningrad arise unbidden, carrying her back to the terrible fall of 1941, when she was a tour guide at the Hermitage Museum and the German army’s approach signaled the beginning of what would be a long, torturous siege on the city. As the people braved starvation, bitter cold, and a relentless German onslaught, Marina joined other staff members in removing the museum’s priceless masterpieces for safekeeping, leaving the frames hanging empty on the walls to symbolize the artworks’ eventual return. As the Luftwaffe’s bombs pounded the proud, stricken city, Marina built a personal Hermitage in her mind–a refuge that would stay buried deep within her, until she needed it once more.

Queen’s Gambit

Queen's GambitQueen’s Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Setting: England, London, Greenwich Palace, Whitehall Palace
Time: 1543-1549

Main characters: Henry VIII, Katherine Parr, Thomas Seymour, Dot Fownten (Dorothy Fountain)- chamberer to Katherine Parr.

First paragraph, Chapter I: “There has been a late snowfall and the covered turrets of Whitehall Palace disappear against a tapioca sky. The courtyard is ankle deep in slush and, in spite of the sawdust that has been strewn in a makeshift path across the cobbles, Katherine can feel the wet chill soaking through her shoes, and the damp edges of her skirts flick bitterly at her ankles. She shivers, hugging her thick cloak tightly about her as the groom helps Meg dismount.”

Favorite lines: “The laughter stops, leaving the room momentarily silent. There is an uncomfortable truth beneath the humor–even the innocent can fall. Meg sits still as a stone with a hand over her mouth. Sister Anne hides her face behind her fan, but her eyes betray her thoughts. If her sister falls, her family will tumble with her. Even Stanhope, who has whinnied laudest of them all, is shut up, though she loathes her brother-in-law and would gladly see him humiliated. Only Elizabeth laughs blithely. Is she too young to understand, or is she as callous as some say?” p. 181

“The women drop into deep curtsies, eyes glued to the floor. He heaves himself into the room and stands in his ermine and his armor of intricately embellished robes, the quilting and gilding and embroidery, and the embarrassingly large codpiece peeking out from the folds of his gown like some monstrous pet.” p. 275

I thought this was a very impressive debut novel. The author’s eye for detail, and her use of only the present tense throughout the book puts you right there in the room. I found it distracting at first, but as I got used to it I liked it. It’s almost like watching a play or reading a script. She deftly conveys the tension of living at court, husband to an unpredictable and dangerous man, the undercurrent of religious conflict and uncertainty, the intrigues of the Howard and Seymour families and the Privy Council, and the parallel story of Dot which gives something of an upstairs/downstairs look at the lives of the nobility and the servants. I read two-thirds of the book before discovering there was an audiobook version (performed by Georgina Sutton) which I have finished – nevertheless, I also plan to finish reading the book so I can continue to savor it!

Description: The court of Henry VIII is rife with intrigue, rivalries and romance – and none are better placed to understand this than the women at its heart. Katherine Parr, widowed for the second time aged thirty-one, is obliged to return to court but, suspicious of the aging king and those who surround him, she does so with reluctance. Nevertheless, when she finds herself caught up in a passionate affair with the dashing and seductive Thomas Seymour, she believes she might finally be able to marry for love. But her presence at court has attracted the attentions of another. Captivated by her honesty and intelligence, Henry Tudor has his own plans for Katherine and no one is in the position to refuse a proposal from the king. So with her charismatic lover dispatched to the continent, Katherine must accept the hand of the ailing egotistical monarch and become Henry’s sixth wife – and yet she has still not quite given up on love

About the author: Elizabeth Fremantle holds a first in English and an MA in creative Writing from Birkbeck. As a Fashion Editor she has contributed to various publications including Vogue, Elle, Vanity Fair and The Erotic Review and has had her fiction published in The Mechanic’s Institute Review. She presently works as a reader for Literary Scouts, Anne Louise Fisher Associates, whilst working on a series of novels based around the Tudor court, the first of which is QUEEN’S GAMBIT.

Wild Ride

Wild RideWild Ride by Jennifer Crusie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I thought this was a hoot! Wonderfully silly and the narrator did a terrific job with the voices. It’s a great send up of the whole paranormal romance genre, with plenty of action: Think Luke and Leia fighting demon-possessed teddy bears, a character described as Army Barbie, and a government homeland security agent that reminds me of Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter stories. Oh yes, and the Devil himself who lives locked up in a statue. There’s also a Hellmouth ala Buffyland….

Book Description:
Mary Alice Brannigan doesn’t believe in the supernatural. Nor does she expect to find that Dreamland, the decaying amusement park she’s been hired to restore, is a prison for the five Untouchables, the most powerful demons in the history of the world. Plus, there’s a guy she’s falling hard for—and there’s something about him that’s not quite right.

But rocky romances and demented demons aren’t the only problems in Dreamland: Mab’s also coping with a crooked politician, a supernatural raven, a secret government agency, an inexperienced sorceress, an unsettling inheritance, and some mind-boggling revelations from her past. As her personal demons wreck her newfound relationship and real demons wreck the park, Mab faces down immortal evil and discovers what everybody who’s ever been to an amusement park knows: The end of the ride is always the wildest.