Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Rating: **** (4 out of 5)

Review: Coraline is a girl who loves exploring, and spends the days in her vacations trying to fill her time with interesting things, and failing. Her parents never seem to have time or patience to play with her, and she is baffled by the way adults never seem to really hear what she has to say. One day she finds a door that opens into a brick wall, and when she goes back to explore it, the brick wall has disappeared and in its place is a tunnel, and in the other side of the tunnel, her other mother waits for her, with black buttons instead of eyes…

This is a short and lovely story, with creepy undertones, which is very much what I expected from Neil Gaiman (and that’s a good thing). Once again, it had me wishing his children’s book had been available when I was growing up. I’m sure I would have loved Coraline even more.

Recommended for both adults and children.

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane

Rating: **** (4 out of 5)

Review: It’s sometime after the war, and U.S. Marshall Teddy Daniels has arrived on Shutter Island, to investigate the disappearance of one of the patients in the psychiatric hospital there. But there’s something strange about the institution and the situation…

I’ll admit, I wish I read this book before I saw the movie. As it is, I already knew everything that was going to happen, and I’m sure I would have enjoyed it more if I had been able to be surprised… But still, this is a pretty good story, and the writing is gripping.

Recommended, specially if you haven’t seen the movie yet.

Moab is My Washpot by Stephen Fry

Rating: **** (4 out of 5)

Review: I am ambivalent about this book. On one hand it is an extremely well-written account of Mr. Fry’s early life and old-style English education, that manages to be both extremely funny and tragic in its sincerity. On the other hand, the author goes off on tangents a lot, and his love for words meant that his writing was either beautiful and poignant or rather painful to read.

Still, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an honest and spot-on account of what it feels like to be a child, or rather, how it felt to be a child for me. Of course my life was completely different from Mr. Fry’s (being a girl, from another country and thirty years younger) but I recognized the feelings of shame, humiliation, inadequacy, fierce love, confusion, the need to be brilliant and at the same time wanting to fit in… The looking back at our former selves and to try and understand the completely different person I was. It’s amazing how absolutely honest he manages to be, and how he finds the right words to translate highly complex situations and feelings to paper.

I look forward to reading “The Fry Chronicles”, as I’m pretty sure the best part is still to come.

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Rating: **** (4 out of 5)

Review: Warning: Contains spoilers for the first book.

After managing to win the Hunger Games, save Peeta’s life and strike a symbolic blow to the Capitol’s totalitarian strength, Katniss returns home a victor, rich beyond anything she ever needed and more damaged than before. As the story progresses, she begins to realize the implications of her actions go far beyond herself, Peeta and their families, and that she unwittingly started a rebellion in the Districts against the Capitol. What will the all-powerful President Snow do to quell the flames of revolution, and can Katniss do anything to save herself, her loved ones and the Districts?

This was a great read. Suzanne Collins’ writing kept me glued to the pages, even if the story was a bit predictable – for me, at least. I could pretty much see all the twists coming, even though Katniss herself seemed totally oblivious to all the signs around her. That’s the only thing about the book that irked me – Katniss is at times absolutely annoying and you wish you could reach into the book and slap some sense into her. She needs to be told absolutely everything as she can’t seem to put two and two together, ever, or when she does try she reaches the most ridiculous conclusions. It gets a little better toward half-way through the book, and she has her heart in the right place, I guess; but I still liked practically all the other characters better than her.

Still, this is an interesting story that touches upon many political and social issues that are relevant nowadays. And the ending left such an impression on me that I started reading the third book right away. Let’s see how this plays out!

American Vampire Vol.1 by Scott Snyder

Rating: **** (4 out of 5)

Review: “American Vampire” follows the appearance of a new breed of vampire, an “evolution” that happens when the vampires from Europe travel to America to further their wealth, and one of them accidentally turns a local criminal. This new breed is a little different – they can walk in the sun, are immune to wood, their strength wanes during the new moon… The story follows Skinner Sweet, the first American vampire, from the wild west to 1920s Los Angeles, where we also meet Pearl Jones, an aspiring young actress. It was written by Scott Snyder and Stephen King, and illustrated by Rafael Albuquerque.

It’s strange to see all the blurbs and comments saying that this is an original portrayal of vampires. While it’s nice to get a break from all the stories where vampires are just bad boys with feelings, I wouldn’t consider this an entirely new approach, but instead a return to how things should be. These vampires are vicious, vengeful and violent, but still manage to be strangely charming.

The story is compelling and the artwork, gritty and rough, lends itself well to the book’s atmosphere. The dialogues sometimes felt flat to me, specially when it involved the Old World vampires, who seemed rather corny and cliche. Still, this was an enjoyable read and I’ll be looking forward to the next volume.

Serralves 2009: A Colecção (Vol. I)

Rating: **** (4 out of 5)

Review: A catalogue-like book made by the Serralves Museum in 2009, when they made their first major exhibition fully focused on the artworks they have in their collection. Besides photographs and documents, this book also features essays on Serralves’ history and the logic behind the collection. Very informative for those who are interested in knowing a bit more about the museum.

Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere by Mike Carey

Rating: **** (4 out of 5)

Review: Richard Mayhew is just your average person with an average job, who allows himself to be gently (and not so gently) pushed around by pretty much everyone and everything in his life. When he stops to help an injured young lady named Door, who comes from London Below, a sort of parallel city that exists beneath and connected to London, his life changes.

This is the graphic adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s novel. I admit, after reading this I wish I had read the original novel first. I loved the story, and the settings were beautifully depicted, but I was left feeling like something was missing, and the story could have benefited from a slower pace.

Still, this is a lovely book and I recommend it, specially if you’re read the original novel before.