[(Short) Book Reviews] Who Could That Be At This Hour? and Storm Front

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Who Could That Be At This Hour?, Lemony Snicket

The first book in a new series from the nom de plume that signs A Series of Unfortunate Events, the story follows a young Lemony starting an apprenticeship with a completely incompetent mentor and trying to solve a mystery while asking all the wrong questions. Like anything else from Snicket, the book is fun and easy to read, with great plotting and strong characters. The story receives just the right amount of closure to make you happy with the book and waiting for the next one. Filled with irony and great lines, this is a nice pick for both children at age and at heart.

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Storm Front, Jim Butcher

The first book from the The Dresden Files series introduces us to Harry Dresden, a wizard that takes both private cases and helps the Chicago PD in ongoing investigations that seem to have something of the magical world to do with them. An incredibly fast read, the writing might be a bit sloppy at times and the story might not have profound metaphors or deep psychological development, but it is SO. MUCH. FUN. I mean it, it’s caps lock fun. It has everything from a talking skull named Bob to a love potion to giant insects to explosions to a spell called “FUEGO”. And if you’re the kind of person who turns down a book with a talking skull named Bob (I’m not), let me tell you something: the plotting is great. All the pieces of the story connect and make sense, showing Jim’s ability to set the game and then properly close it. I’m dying to read the next ones, which I heard are even better than the first. If you like easy and fun, this one is for you!

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[Book Review] Why We Broke Up

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“I was stupid, the official descriptive phrase for happy.”

Sometimes the end of a relationship is difficult to explain. Sometimes it isn’t. When Min Green and Ed Slaterton – respectively a movie-director-wannabe and a basketball player at a regular high school that I’m sure looks a lot like yours – break up, it certainly isn’t easy to pinpoint what when wrong, but Min manages to do so with perfection. After filling a box with her ex’s belongings that were still in her possession, Min drops the box and a letter at Ed’s doorstep, explaining in a long, long text and going object by object, why they broke up.

That is the basic story line to Why We Broke Up (Daniel Handler, Electric Monkey, 368 pages, read in Portuguese: Por Isso A Gente Acabou, published by Companhia das Letras). Handler, famous for writing A Series Of Unfortunate Events as Lemony Snicket, creates the text that, accompanied by Maira Kalman’s beautiful illustrations, covers the story of Min and Ed’s relationship, from object number 1 and how they got together to the last one, showing how every day they were a couple was a day closer to their breaking up.

The book is beautiful. Not only because of Kalman’s drawings – which seem to have been handmade by Min herself, so perfectly they fit the character’s style -, but also because it is rich in detail and speaks truthfully through the voice of a teenager, without sounding fake or pretentious. Min, a lover of old movies, is a great, complex character, who escapes all cliches and is, therefore, highly credible: she likes things, she hates things, she feels jealous, she feels numb, she takes a stand, she gets hurt. I have rarely come across a fictional teenage girl so coherent, reminding me instantly of Juno MacGuff and her strong personality.

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Other than Min, there were three very strong points for me in this book. First of all, the rhythm. I’m a big fan of authors who write on the perfect pace for the story, getting you to fly through pages and even (am I the only one who does this?) to breathe according to the lines and dialogues. Handler is a master of rhythm: there are paragraphs of Min’s thoughts that go through pages, some with very few dots, which gets the reader on and on with her opinions, understanding her logic and feeling her pain better. It made me wonder if the author had ever read José Saramago, who uses that same technique, even if he takes it to the extreme.

A second aspect that touched me was how Min’s friend, Al, clearly had a crush on her without her noticing. This isn’t even a spoiler, I swear – it is very explicit from the first pages on. Just like Meg Cabot, Handler has that great ability to reveal facts unknown to the character who is telling you the story, making the reader go wild, trying to shake Min by her shoulders and point out what she can’t see. And, of course, rooting for her to notice that her sweet friend is better for her than jock Slaterton.

The third – and best – aspect of Why We Broke Up is also the most shocking one. Reading the book, I was fascinated by Min’s favorite movies and wanted to watch every single one of them. She referenced titles, actors, plots, release years, everything. I considered making a list of all those wonderful movies I absolutely needed to watch as soon as I was done reading it. Imagine how heartbroken I was to find out that none of them existed. Not a single one. Handler created title by title, story by story, of at least fifty different movies, an information that, I must confess, brought tears to my eyes. You don’t have to write deep, complex plots to be a genius – brilliancy is waiting to be discovered by eager hearts in every corner of human creativity. I’m still desperate to listen to Hawk Davies, the fictional jazz artist whose songs seem to play as a soundtrack throughout the entire book.

Though the translation to Portuguese was poorly done (I even had to mentally translate some parts back to English in order to understand them), this is such an adorable, honest book that Min’s heartbreak will speak to any reader in any part of the world. Even if we can’t have Min’s movies, songs and thoughts, the author makes it possible to love them unconditionally, just as she loved Ed Slaterton unconditionally. Love is, after all, an international language.