Thursday, December 18, 2008

Problem Sleuth - MS Paint Adventures

Not quite a webcomic, not quite a game, it's Problem Sleuth, an MS Paint Adventure! Modeled after text-adventure games, this bit of interactive storytelling focuses on Problem Sleuth, a detective fellow who is trapped in his office. Following reader-submitted prompts, the story goes from Problem Sleuth's attempts to leave his office to a much trippier quest to save the universe (both sides) from an evil mob boss. This story has successfully captured the sort of logical chaos that I only wish I had been able to get down in my novel this past November. Jeez. If you're looking for a hilarious way to pass the time, you can't overlook Problem Sleuth.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Metropolitan Murder

Title: A Metropolitan Murder
Author: Lee Jackson

What it's about: It's around 1850 in London. The underground system is still under construction. On one of the train cars, a young woman is found dead, and the man who found her is thought to be the murderer. However, he flees the scene. Meanwhile, Inspector Decimus Webb is on the case, and his inquiries bring him in contact with Clara White, a young woman who is now employed as a maid to a wealthy family but who has a darker past. What role does she play in the murder, and can the case be solved before any more lives are lost?

What I thought: A vivid, well-crafted story that's almost more an exploration of life in the Victorian era than a mystery. The story is gritty but not without touches of humor here and there. The narrative style is an unusual but interesting one.

Overall: Definitely worth checking out if you're a fan of historical mysteries.

The DaVinci Code

A few notes before we start. Sorry for the dreadful lack of updates. Over a month, oy. Well, I was reading during that time, just not posting here. November was pretty busy, what with National Novel Writing Month, finals, flying home from Rome, not having internet access on my laptop, and, well, just plain laziness. I kept a list of all the books I read in the interim, though, so there will be updates for all of the books I read that I haven't already written reviews for. Keep an eye on the blog; there will be a more regular posting schedule soon!

Title: The DaVinci Code
Author: Dan Brown

What it's about: So Robert Langdon is this Harvard symbologist who's in Paris. And this guy who works at the Louvre and who is the guardian of an ancient secret that goes against Church dogma is murdered. And this Catholic group called Opus Dei is behind it. And Robert and Sophie, the Louvre guy's granddaughter, have to uncover the location of this secret before they're killed.

What I thought: Very much a thriller novel. I read it fairly quickly, which was good - this is a book where, if you put it down and actually stop to think about it, you'll not be able to take it seriously. Relies a lot on suspension of disbelief and Rule of Cool stuff. Entertaining diversion, but not much to it. And since I'm a Catholic, I am pretty much obliged to comment on the religious aspect of the book. Basically, if you know anything about church and art history, you'll be able to tell that this book isn't entirely accurate. My art history professor actually gave a little discourse about just why the book makes no sense from a religious and art historical point of view, and I wish I could share it with you folks, but oh well.

Overall: Not bad for an afternoon's entertainment.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Time Traveler's Wife

Title: The Time Traveler's Wife
Author: Audrey Niffenegger

What it's about: Clare meets Henry for the first time when she's a young girl. Henry meets Clare for the first time when he's almost thirty. Soon after he meets her, they get married. No, this isn't some sort of lolita story. Henry has a genetic condition that causes him to spontaneously time travel, and the first time he meets Clare is when he travels back in time to when Clare is six. Meanwhile, Henry has been married to her in her future for a couple years already. The book is basically the story of two people in love who have to live with the difficulty of Henry's time travel.

What I thought: It's a very intriguing premise, and the story is executed in such a way that it's really not confusing. Really, the writing is top-notch and the characters are really brought to life. The sex in the book definitely isn't very fade to black, which turned me off a bit, but I guess that's part of how the book portrays this as being a story about real people.

Overall: I liked it, but I dunno if I'd read it again.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Green Rider

Title: Green Rider
Author: Kristen Britain

What it's about: Karigan G'ladheon is just a normal schoolgirl. Okay, maybe normal's not the best word for someone who runs away from school after getting suspended, but still, Karigan certainly never expected what happened next. A dying Green Rider, one of the king of Sacoridia's messengers, encounters Karigan and gets her to continue his message errand, one that is of vital importance to the safety of the country. Karigan's swept up into a dangerous adventure that brings her face-to-face with ancient monsters, traitorous soldiers, and the mysterious Grey One who plots the downfall of Sacoridia.

What I thought: Love this book. Seriously. This novel made me realize that epic fantasy stories could have a sense of humor to them and be more than Tolkien ripoffs. (Or rather, what I imagine Tolkien ripoffs to be, having never been able to make it through any of the man's books.) I really love how developed the culture and history of Sacordia are, and all the detail we get isn't explained in boring info-dumps but in natural places in the narrative that add flavor to the story. The characters are great, too. Timas Mirwell is a very interesting antagonist; he might be a bad guy, but his chapters make you respect his way of thinking and his cunning. Karigan herself is likeable. She's got a sense of humor and she's a pretty admirable heroine, but she's also not perfect, which just makes her more relatable. The way that romance is barely even touched on in this first book is also something that I find refreshing. I mean, I like me a good romance as much as the next girl, but this story didn't need any more than the foreshadowing it had. After all, there are three books by now and the series isn't even finished yet. Plenty of time for romance to develop slowly. As for the plot itself, it is pretty good. Green Rider can almost work as a stand-alone book, as the plot with delivering the message and stopping the Grey One is resolved mostly neatly by the end of the book. The plot of this book isn't anything hugely spectacularly innovative, but it really sets up the world and the characters for the more intricate plots of the following two books.

Overall: I'm a fan.

Review of the second book in the series, First Rider's Call, is coming up soon, but the third book was reviewed back in, I wanna say, May, for future reference, folks.

Making Money

Title: Making Money
Author: Terry Pratchett

What it's about: Moist von Lipwig is a respected citizen of Ankh-Morpork because of how he improved the postal system there. But while the initial rush of bringing the post office back from the brink was enjoyable, he's feeling a little stuck in a rut now. Happily enough, Lord Vetinari has a new job for Moist. He gets to take over the city's mint and bank. For Moist, it's like being a conman in a candy store. ... Er, wait, bad metaphor. But as a conman, Moist knows a thing or two, and he uses his knowledge of money and human nature to start getting the bank back on its feet. However, not everyone is happy with the changes Moist is making. (Of course.) The family who used to be in charge of the bank is determined to undermine Moist and take back what's theirs, and the effort is led by Cosmo Lavish, a man who admires Lord Vetinari perhaps just a little too much.

What I thought: The humor is in full force in this book. The situation is similar to Going Postal, but it has its own set of difficulties for Moist, so it's not a rehash. However, though this is an excellent book, I do sort of feel that it doesn't have the same desperate, frantic excitement of the first book, where Moist had to do well or pretty much end up dead, whereas in this one, there's not that sort of suspense.

Overall: Still a very good, solid Discworld book.

P.S. - This blog ain't dead. I've got a huge backlog of entries to do. I just caught the lazies. ^^;

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Going Postal

Title: Going Postal
Author: Terry Pratchett

What it's about: Moist von Lipwig is a conman whose luck has run out, or so it seems. He's encountered a benevolent angel (though angels usually don't come in the form of Assassins Guild-trained tyrants) who has offered him a second chance at life. If Moist accepts the offer, he gets the job of Postmaster for the Ankh-Morpork Post Office and the task of reforming the postal system of the city. Figuring it to be better than death, Moist takes the offer. He doesn't realize he'll have to deal with a golem parole officer, a pin-obsessed apprentice postman, a chain-smoking golem advocate, and an even smoother operator than himself who holds the reins of the clacks system and thus is an enemy of the revived post office.

What I thought: What a great book. It incorporates all the developments that have occurred in Ankh-Morpork, like the clacks and the Ankh-Morpork Times and the expanded City Watch and freed golems. We also get a look at the city from a new point of view; Vimes and crew in the Watch books see things from a copper's point of view, but Moist has his own shrewd way of seeing the world, and this is good for laughs and for the insights into human character that Pratchett is so good at delivering. I liked the looks into the culture of the clacks towers and their operators and the comparisions to computer programmers.

Overall: A great new entry into the Discworld series.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

James and the Giant Peach

Title: James and the Giant Peach
Author: Roald Dahl

What it's about: James is a small boy who lives with his two awful aunts. One day, a mysterious old man gives him a bag of magic to help him, but James spills the bag's contents on the ground near the old peach tree. Soon a giant peach is growing, but that's not the only thing that the magic affected. When James sneaks out to see the peach at night, he meets amazing new friends and starts off on a wonderful journey to a better life.

What I thought: I was actually pretty indifferent to this. This was one of Dahl's earlier books, though, according to Wikipedia, so perhaps he hadn't quite hit his stride. There are plenty of rhymes and some very clever bits of description, but it's a short book and seemed kind of in a rush to me.

Overall: Not bad, but Dahl has written much better stories.

Life of Pi

Title: Life of Pi
Author: Yann Martel

What it's about: Pi Patel is a young boy with an interest in religion and in zookeeping. His family decides to move to Canada, but on the way there, their ship sinks, and Pi ends up stuck in a lifeboat with a tiger that was part of the ship's cargo. Until he is rescued or makes his way to land, Pi has to figure out how to survive on the lifeboat and how to keep himself from becoming the tiger's next meal.

What I thought: The story here is simple but beautifully told, with very easy, simple, and yet deep prose. I mean, all of the authors I like can tell a good story, but it takes some special skill to make the words so, well, evocative, bringing out the sensations of the world for the reader to truly experience. Besides that, the observations made really make you think as you read, make you want to evaluate your beliefs in the light of what has been said.

Overall: A beautiful book that will make you think and sweep you away into the world of its story.


Title: Skybreaker
Author: Kenneth Oppel

What it's about: So after defeating a pirate captain, our hero Matt Cruse has enough money to attend the airship academy. He's not doing so well, though, and he worries about being good enough for his spunky rich friend Kate. When Matt gets the chance to go after the Hyperion, an abandoned ship sailing unreachably high and supposedly loaded with gold, he jumps at it, hoping to gain himself a better future with the riches. Soon Matt, Kate, the captain of a high-flying skybreaker ship, and the girl who has the key to the gold are all setting sail for adventure at treacherous heights.

What I thought: The first book has a light-hearted swashbuckling feel to it. This book, in contrast, has some genuinely creepy stuff to it. The setting is an abandoned airship full of corpses. Come on, how much more morbid can you get? There's plenty of science in this book, too, and there's a real feel of desperation as the story heads toward its climax. My main complaint? Basically, Matt is basically always vindicated. He's always got the right view of things, and if someone disparages what he suggests, that person's later proven wrong. It's not enough to turn me off the books, of course, but it does get a little annoying.

Overall: A very gripping second book.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Deep Secret

Title: Deep Secret
Author: Diana Wynne Jones

What it's about: Rupert Venables is a Magid, one of the magic-users who helps keep the universe running smoothly. He's really only a beginner, but when his mentor dies, it's up to Rupert to appoint a new Magid. To take care of this task, he decides to bring all his potential candidates together in one place, which happens to be a sci-fi/fantasy convention. It will be up to him to select the proper Magid while also dealing with a collapsing empire a couple worlds away.

What I thought: This book is a great example of the wonderful chaos that Diana Wynne Jones is so fond of instilling into her stories. Rupert and Maree are both fun characters, plenty flawed but still quite likeable. The portrayal of the convention is good; you can see some gentle mocking along with a respect for people who enjoy hobbies like that. It makes for a great setting, too. The way that magic is shown to work and the system of different worlds is a unique one.

Overall: This is one of my favorite books by Diana Wynne Jones and really one of my favorite books, period.

Quick update

Just another update to say that I haven't forgotten this blog. I am two reviews behind, but only two. Life of Pi has been keeping me busy for over a week now, and my schedule here doesn't leave me much time for leisure reading. Plus, I always get worried about reading too quickly and running out of books by the end of October. Oh, to be in America with public libraries and books in English! But I plan to visit Blackwell's when I go to Oxford later this month, so if I'm in dire straits, book-wise, I can pick up a novel or two. Well, I have a lazy weekend these next couple of days, so I will get the reviews for Deep Secret and Skybreaker posted, at least!

Monday, September 22, 2008

To Say Nothing of the Dog

Title: To Say Nothing of the Dog
Author: Connie Willis

What it's about: Okay. This one's a toughie to summarize (and you thought Diana Wynne Jones was complex!). Basically, in the future, time travel has been invented, and historians go back in time to study the past. There's a project going on to rebuild Coventry Cathedral, and Ned Henry is on the team to go back to the past and figure out what became of a decoration in the cathedral, the bishop's bird stump. He's been run ragged by Lady Schrapnell, the woman who is funding the rebuilding, and after he's come down with a bad case of time-lag, his supervisor sends him to the Victorian era to recover, telling Ned that he has just one small task to complete before he can relax. Unfortunately, Ned can't remember what that is. Even worse, he's starting to worry that he's been causing incongruities in time just by stumbling around the past in his time-lagged state. And finally, no matter how much sleep he gets, he can't get fellow historian Verity Kindle out of his head.

What I thought: Haaard to summarize. But this is an utterly charming story. It mixes science-fiction with historical fiction and comedy of manners and mystery. It's littered with references to various historical events, and time travel theory is tossed around right from the get-go. This book starts out being extremely confusing, but you gotta just keep reading, and it all starts to make sense and work itself out to a very satisfying conclusion. The book is funny, too. Ned's a witty narrator, and he's surrounded by a hilarious cast of supporting character, from Mrs. Mering and her enthusiasm for spiritualism to Tossie and her cunning way of getting what she wants to Terence's innocent lovesickness.

Overall: This has quickly earned a place in my list of very favorite books because of its all-around quality. It's a thoroughly engrossing tale.

A Room with a View

Title: A Room with a View
Author: E.M. Forster

What it's about: Lucy Honeychurch and her chaperone Miss Bartlett are two Englishwomen staying in Florence, Italy for a time. In Florence, they stay at the Pension Bertolini, a popular hotel for English people. There are quite a few other guests, and among them are the Emersons, a father and son with Socialist leanings and behavior that is odd but harmless, but nevertheless scandalizes the rest of the guests. Lucy is drawn to the son, George, but she is confused by her feelings. In the end, she must sort through them and make the choice that will determine her happiness for the rest of her life.

What I thought: Beautiful, evocative prose. The descriptions and Forster's way with words had me enthralled the whole time. Lucy is a very real protagonist. She has her flaws and she's not particularly special in any way, but that just makes her story all the more relatable. The plot is simple enough, but the drama of it keeps you hooked until the resolution. Is it any wonder I was so excited to visit Florence and see the various locations of this book? I'm hoping to eventually get my hands on the movie version, too.

Overall: Simply a wonderful story.


Title: Airborn
Author: Kenneth Oppel

What it's about: Matt Cruse is the cabin boy on the airship the Aurora. One night, he helps the crew rescue a stranded balloonist, who dies after speaking cryptically about creatures in the sky. A year later, the balloonist's granddaughter is a passenger on the Aurora, and she's out to find the creatures her grandfather told her about. A shipwreck gives Matt and Kate the chance to investigate, but they have to contend with more than just Kate's annoying chaperone before everything is said and done.

What I thought: So, remember Gilda Joyce and Suzumiya Haruhi? Kate de Vries is totally their kindred spirit. Spunky to the point of being annoying sometimes, you really have to sympathize with Matt, who really plays the Kyon to her Haruhi. Kate's responsible for a lot of the humor in the book, but on the whole, there's just a good sense of humor throughout it. It's pretty light-hearted, but with plenty of real emotion in it, too. Plus, airships. Plus, pirates. Super cool, am I right? The story is simple but told with great detail that really brings the Aurora and the world of the story to life. This is a great adventure.

Overall: A fun adventure story that has long been one of my favorites.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Fifth Elephant

Title: The Fifth Elephant
Author: Terry Pratchett

What it's about: The dwarfs are crowning a new Low King, and Lord Vetinari is sending the Duke of Ankh-Morpork to Überwald for the coronation. Vimes is not happy about this, but he goes, taking with him two of his officers, both natives of Überwald. He was also supposed to take Angua, but no one's seen her. This has Carrot so worried that he leaves the city and sets out to find her. Vimes, however, has bigger things to worry about than a missing officer. He has to put his policing skills to work to uncover a conspiracy involving an ancient dwarven artifact before everything devolves into chaos.

What I thought: I much liked the darker tone this book has, and the Überwald is an interesting place in contrast to Ankh-Morpork. I liked the parts Lady Sybil had in this book, like her knowledge of dwarven culture and her diplomacy, in contrast with Vimes' cruder ways. The parts with Angua and Carrot were kinda cute, too. The various plotlines intersected in just the right way, and the parts back in Ankh-Morpork with Colon were just right for keeping the book from getting too heavy.

Overall: Probably my favorite City Watch book, overall.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Title: Jingo
Author: Terry Pratchett

What it's about: When an island surfaces in the middle of the sea between Ankh-Morpork and Klatch, the two states go to war. In Ankh-Morpork, this means that the nobility can take over for the Patrician, leaving Commander Vimes of the City Watch in a lurch. He may not like Lord Vetinari, but he likes the nobility a lot less. What's more, one of his officers gets captured by Klatchians, and so he and the Watch ship out on a rescue mission and to just possibly prevent the war. Meanwhile, the Patrician has ideas of his own, and with the valiant assistance of Nobby and Sgt. Colon, he takes a little excursion of his own.

What I thought: This is the first book where Vimes and his crew leave Ankh-Morpork, and it's interesting to read about how the dynamics of their actions change when they're not in the city where they enforce the laws. The satire is pretty heavy in this book, like with all of Colon's casual racism and Lord Rust as the commander of the army. As usual, there are also some thinking points about power, law, and human nature, but also as usual, those things don't get in the way of the funny, complementing the humor instead. Also, the sections with Vetinari, Colon, and Nobby are some of my absolute favorites in the Discworld series because of how ridiculously funny they are.

Overall: A good, solid Watch book.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Super Special Summer Reading Summary Extravaganza!

Top Six New Books (Because I couldn't choose just five)

Since many of the books I reviewed this summer were ones I read before, I'm not gonna list my top favorite books I read. Instead, I'm gonna talk about my top favorite new books. Here they are, in the order they occurred to me.

- Gilda Joyce: The two Gilda Joyce mysteries contained a well-developed character with a great sense of humor, gripping mysteries, and very atmospheric writing. I only wish I had time to read the third book in the series.
- Eddie Drood: The Man with the Golden Torc and Daemons Are Forever are fun, long action books with a mix of magic and sci-fi, along with plenty of humor to boot. They definitely run on the Rule of Cool and are good relaxation reads.
- Flame of Recca: This manga series has it all. I was blown away by the writing. The characters have realistic senses of humor. The drama never reaches the point where it becomes cheesy. The art is great. There's a good mix of humor, action, drama, and romance. It's a very solid series.
- Unwind: Neal Shusterman was already one of my favorite authors. With Unwind, I loved the mix of science fiction and adventure, not to mention romance and the rather interesting philosophical thinking points. I think this book, out of the three I've read by this author, has the most relevance with the issues it touches, but you never get hit over the head with the morals. Very hard for a fiction novel to do that, in my experience, so Mr. Shusterman gets kudos there.
- Traitor's Gate: Historical fiction and mystery? Yes, please! Two of my favorite genres wrapped into one long, juicy, compelling package. There are plenty of suspects and character growth, some good humor, and nice historical details. I feel like I've overlooked Avi, and if he's written more historical fiction, then I am eager to explore those stories in the future.
- Dairy Queen: An interesting book about the type of character I don't easily identify with. DJ has a sense of humor and the hard knocks she undergoes never seem like the author's just piling on misfortune for the angst factor. The realistic teen fiction genre is one that's rather iffy for me, but I have to say that I really liked this book and its sequel.

So, overall, I think that this reading project was a very successful one. Got a little hectic at times, but I read a lot of old favorites and found some new books to love. I would have probably read at least half the number that I did over the course of a normal summer anyway, so this push to one hundred was simply the extension of my normal behavior, you know? I do seriously love reading.

Well, I've finished Jingo, The Fifth Elephant, Airborn, and The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi (yes, again), and I'm working on A Room with a View and The Sighs of Suzumiya Haruhi (yes, again). I'll get reviews up for those ones I've finished fairly soon, now that I have reliable internet access here.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Gilda Joyce: The Ladies of the Lake

Title: Gilda Joyce: The Ladies of the Lake
Author: Jennifer Allison

What it's about: Gilda Joyce is starting high school, and she has a scholarship for Our Lady of Sorrows. Sure, it's a great school for academics, but Gilda's focused more on the rumors of a ghost that haunts the campus. Apparently a girl drowned in the school's lake a few years back. In her search for the truth, Gilda comes across a mysterious secret society on campus. Could they be behind the death of the girl?

What I thought: Funny thing to note. I actually started reading this book, like, at the beginning of the month, stopped halfway through, and only picked it up today because I figured it would take less time to finish instead of starting a new book. I actually liked this, though, so don't let my odd behavior fool you. It's a good mystery, and where this book shines is character development. The mystery is actually a rather sad one. Gilda herself is an interesting, quirky character. She's not completely likable, unlike many of the protagonists in books I've read and reviewed. Sometimes you'll be cracking up at Gilda's 'tude (like how about the letter she writes to the Pope? This just might be my own Catholic schoolgirl days talking, but I found it flippin' hilarious), and other times you'll be like, ouch, girl, that was just callous. Gilda's dramatic, impulsive, and abrasive. She's a well-written character who's very realistic in her imperfections. I also have to like how the supernatural aspect of the book is never completely confirmed or disproven. It's a nice touch.

Overall: A funny, compelling mystery.

Danny the Champion of the World

Title: Danny the Champion of the World
Author: Roald Dahl

What it's about: Danny has a marvelous dad, a kind, inventive man who raises Danny by himself. But everyone's got a secret, and Danny's father is no exception. He has a secret, exciting, dangerous hobby, and Danny soon joins his father in this pastime. Then the villainous Mr. Hazell comes into the picture, and Danny and his father decide to one-up the man with a clever scheme, the likes of which has never been seen before.

What I thought: This book showcases Dahl's marvelous imagination. Before the main story starts, we get treated to a lovely view of Danny's idyllic life with his father, including all of his father's projects and inventions. Then when the main plot shows up, the descriptions of the woods are suitably atmospheric, and the various methods used on the pheasants are quite creative. And of course, the final scene is just grand and hilarious.

Overall: An enjoyable story through and through.

Lady Windermere's Fan

Title: Lady Windermere's Fan
Author: Oscar Wilde

What it's about: On Lady Windermere's birthday, she has a nasty shock. It appears that her husband has been cheating on her with an older woman named Mrs. Erlynne. What's more, her husband begs Lady Windermere to invite Mrs. Erlynne to the birthday dance happening that night. Lady Windermere soon starts to doubt her husband's love, and to top it all off, her close friend confesses his love for her. What's a Wildean heroine to do? (Besides muse about art and society in a witty manner?)

What I thought: The play was entertaining, with all the things one expects from Wilde, like commentary on society and witty turns of phrases. I have to say that I felt like everything didn't tie together as neatly as it could have. This is overall a very good play, however, and the principal characters are actually quite well-developed.

Overall: Not a bad play, but definitely not as good as The Importance of Being Earnest.


Title: Unwind
Author: Neal Shusterman

What it's about: In the future, children from thirteen to seventeen can be "unwound", a process wherein their bodies are dismantled and the parts given to others. It's not a fate many would want, and that's why Connor runs away from home when he finds out his parents are planning to have him unwound. He soon meets Risa, a orphan girl being unwound by the state to save money, and Lev, a boy being unwound because of his family's religion. The three of them have to survive until they reach eighteen and can no longer be unwound.

What I thought: I gotta say, I admire Neal Shusterman for writing exciting stories that still manage to make you really think about things. In this case, the issue is life and related things like abortion, when life starts and ends, souls, and such topics. Pretty heavy stuff? Yeah, definitely. But you don't feel like you're being hit over the head with any of it because it's all integral to the story, and the story is engaging. Connor, Risa, and Lev are all pretty deep characters, and they all get great development over the course of the story, learning and growing. The book has a very developed and consistent view of this future world, as well.

Overall: I can't wait until I get to reread this book.

House of Many Ways

Title: House of Many Ways
Author: Diana Wynne Jones

What it's about: Charmain Baker is house-sitting for her Great-Uncle William. She expects it to be easy. You know, just sit around and read all day, make sure the mail gets collected, that sort of thing. However, Great-Uncle William is a wizard, and his house is a magical one with doors that lead to all sorts of places. And then there's Peter, the apprentice that shows up, not knowing that Charmain's uncle isn't around, and the part-time job Charmain has at the palace library, and then, of course, there's the lubbock. Charmain soon ends up with a lot more than she bargained for.

What I thought: This is another sequel to Howl's Moving Castle, and just as with the other books in this series, I was left feeling like things were settled slightly too quickly and too patly. I did quite like Charmain. She had a neat set of flaws and good qualities. A bit of a lazy bookworm. The appearances of Sophie and Howl were nice, and I liked the continuity when references to Castle in the Air were made. House of Many Ways is definitely imaginative, and there were some genuinely funny bits in it.

Overall: It's a very solid book, even though it has its flaws.

Magician's Ward

Title: Magician's Ward
Author: Patricia C. Wrede

What it's about: A year after the events of Mairelon the Magician, Kim has come a long way. She's now the ward of Richard Merill, learning to be a magician and a lady. Luckily for her, Mairelon is no Henry Higgins, but his aunt annoys Kim to no end with her insistence on proper behavior. Meanwhile, the London season is starting, and a burglar is after a magic book in Mairelon's residence. It all smells of another mystery, and Kim and Mairelon are soon drawn right into the middle of things.

What I thought: All the praise for the first volume still stands. Also, I like the focus on proper London society and its social season. Kim provides a unique perspective on this because of her background, and some of her comments are quite funny. The mystery is well-plotted, and the final scenes do a great job of fitting together the magic plot and the relationship plot. It's a very satisfying ending, although not so satisfying that I don't wish Ms. Wrede would write another book about Kim and Mairelon.

Overall: An excellent historical fantasy novel.

Genius Squad

Title: Genius Squad
Author: Catherine Jinks

What it's about: This is the sequel to Evil Genius. In it, Cadel, a child genius and son of evil genius Prosper English, is in foster care while the authorities try to process his case. His life is pretty crappy, and so when an organization calling itself the "Genius Squad" offers him and his friend Sonja the chance to join their ranks, Cadel takes the opportunity. Genius Squad is working on a secret project to investigate Dr. Darkkon's project GenoME, and Cadel wants to help them uncover the truth.

What I thought: I think the pacing of the story improved in this book, and I have to say that it wasn't as depressing as the first one, either. Cadel gets a conscience, and you have to like how he has to struggle to do the right thing when it's his first instinct to act only for himself. The members of the Genius Squad are varied and interesting and they're not in the background as much as the character in the Axis Institute in the first book, which means more wacky interactions. I quite liked the parts with Saul and Fiona, and I was happy when my predictions about the ending worked out.

Overall: An improvement from the already good first novel, and a good story.

Ella Enchanted

Title: Ella Enchanted
Author: Gail Carson Levine

What it's about: This retelling of the Cinderella story has as its protagonist Ella, a young girl who has been cursed since birth with obedience. Thanks to a fairy's "gift", Ella must obey any direct command given to her. If that's not bad enough, her step-sister finds out about this and uses it to make Ella's life miserable. Between her step-sister and the other dangers of her curse, Ella's pretty hard put to find her way to true love.

What I thought: Ella's curse is a novel twist on the story, adding extra complications and opportunities for character development. Details about the fantasy world the story takes place in are sprinkled throughout the story to give it a deeper sense of being set in a realistic world. Ella is a likable character, and her spunk propels the story. Definitely not a passive heroine. I have to be honest. This has always been one of my favorite books because of its simple charm. You already know the story, but the journey of reading this version is what makes it great. The language is rich but simple, and it's got a good amount of humor and romance and adventure. I don't think I can honestly call this my absolute favorite book anymore, but it will always have a special place in my heart.

Overall: A simply lovely story. Highly, highly recommended.

Mairelon the Magician

Title: Mairelon the Magician
Author: Patricia C. Wrede

What it's about: Kim, a London street waif, has just been offered a job. Her client wants her to break into the caravan of a performing magician and see if the man has a particular object. Kim agrees; after all, he's offering her five pounds, a fortune to someone like her. Kim gets more than she bargained for, however, when it turns out that the mark is actually a real magician. Instead of punishing Kim, however, the man, Mairelon, offers her a chance to come with him and be his assistant. With that, Kim's drawn into the mystery surrounding the theft of a set of magical objects.

What I thought: First off, the attention to detail in this story and its sequel is excellent. The language, the details, the locations all add flavor to the story, and the facts aren't fudged, either, as far as I could tell when I looked up various topics out of curiosity. Another note about the language: Ms. Wrede skillfully gives her characters different vocabularies and speech patterns to show class differences and different nationalities. Kim speaks with incorrect grammar, Hunch drops the aitches from the beginnings of some words, and Renee D'Auber has a very painstaking way of framing her sentences. You also gotta love the character. Mairelon and Kim are a good team, definitely. And the story itself? It's a good mix of humor, action, and mystery.

Overall: A great piece of historical fantasy. One of my favorite books.


Title: Everlost
Author: Neal Shusterman

What it's about: When Nick and Ally wake up after the car crash, they're not exactly alive. Instead, they find themselves to be something more akin to ghosts. The realm that they now inhabit is called Everlost, and its inhabitants are Afterlights. Nick and Ally are not alone. In a ghostly forest, they meet a boy named Lief, and their travels later take them to the domain of Mary Hightower, a girl who acts as a mother to children in Everlost. But while Mary's domain is a haven for Afterlights, there are dangerous things to be found in Everlost, including the mysterious monster known as the McGill.

What I thought: This book really has plenty of imaginative stuff in it. Everlost (I accidentally typed Everworld, but that's a different series) really comes across as a somewhat spooky world that's definitely different from our own. Shusterman came up with a neat set of rules governing it, while never explaining why it actually exists. And that's totally fine, because mystery is fine, while inconsistencies aren't, and Everlost avoids that particular pitfall. There's also a nice set of characters in this novel. Ally's very much an action girl, contrasted with Nick who wants to just find a good thing and stick with it. Ally and Mary are also an interesting contrast, two strong female characters who butt heads. This book doesn't have as many thinking points as the other two of Shusterman's books that I've read this summer (review for Unwind coming soon), but the story is a strong one.

Overall: A very good, slightly spooky story with compelling characters.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More

Title: The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More
Author: Roald Dahl

What it's about: Seven short stories by Roald Dahl. They're not stories specifically for children, unlike some of his books. "The Boy Who Talked with Animals" is the first one, about a boy at a resort who talks with a sea turtle captured by fishermen. "The Hitchhiker" is about the narrator picking up a hitchhiker in his new car and realizing that there's something special about his passenger. "The Mildenhall Treasure" is a fictionalized version of a true story about a pair of men who find treasure buried in a farmer's field. "The Swan" is about two bullies who go out hunting bird. Next is "The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar," and it's about a rich man who finds a way to see through playing cards and uses it to his advantage at casinos. After that is "Lucky Break: How I Became a Writer," a story about Roald Dahl's path to becoming an author, and following this is a copy of his first story, "Piece of Cake."

What I thought: As with any collection of short stories, I liked some better than others. "The Hitchhiker" is short, but it has a lot of character. "The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar" is nice and long, with plenty of details and a fantastic element, as well as character development. It's my favorite in the book. "Lucky Break" is autobiographical and very interesting. It and "Piece of Cake" both remind me of Dahl's two autobiographies, which are quite fascinating reads.

Overall: A very nice sampling of stories.

Progress Update

I am 90% finished with my goal.

May: 27
June: 25
July: 16
August: 21

That's 89 books reviewed, and there's one in the review queue, so that makes 90. I'm also a quarter of the way through another book today, and I've got Mairelon the Magician coming in from the library probably tonight, which should be a nice, easy read. I'm right where I need to be, really, and I'm feeling pretty good about this project.

So, what comes next? After I've finished the hundred books, this blog ain't gonna stop. I plan to keep reading and reviewing. I'll be in Italy for the fall semester, so I won't be able to bring a lot of books with me, and the ones I will bring will be favorites, a lot of which I've already reviewed. That's okay, though, because I can always think of new things to say about books I really like. I'll also be reading some classics, stuff I can find on Project Gutenberg. And I think I may start putting reading and writing related essays up here, too. Diversify a bit, get some discussion going. I know people read this thing, but you couldn't tell from the comments section. Hah! It's all good, though. Anyway, those are my plans for the next three months. When I get back in December, I'll be able to order books from the library and read more things that I haven't already read over and over again. But before all that, I have to get the hundred books read, and so with that, I'm out. Everlost awaits!

Evil Genius

Title: Evil Genius
Author: Catherine Jinks

What it's about: Cadel is a genius who's hacking into computers and causing massive chaos by the time he's seven years old. His parents take him to a shrink, Dr. Roth, but the good doctor is actually the henchman of Phineas Darkkon, an evil mastermind who is currently in prison and who is also Cadel's father. Dr. Roth and Dr. Darkkon help Cadel reach his evil genius potential, and when he's fourteen and graduated from high school, they sign him up for the Axis Institute, a small college that was founded by Darkkon to train Cadel.

What I thought: Not as much of supervillain spoof as I first thought it would be. The writing is quite good, though, and it has the right touch of humor. The pacing is mainly where this book has its problems. It drags on rather too long in some places, and that's not a good thing when the book is almost 500 pages long. Still, the cast of characters are interesting, with most of the stereotypical evil genius types being represented. Some of the twists are predictable, but others, not so much.

Overall: A solid, interesting read.

Conrad's Fate

Title: Conrad's Fate
Author: Diana Wynne Jones

What it's about: Conrad lives in the town of Stallchester with his mother, sister, and uncle. When he is twelve, his uncle tells him that he's got a black cloud of bad karma around him, and that if Conrad can't fix his mistake from a past life within a year, he'll die. Conrad has to go to Stallery Mansion to get a job working for the Count who lives there in order to locate the person who he needs to off to fix his karmic problem. The mansion is an odd place, though, and it takes both Conrad and his new friend Christopher to figure out what's going on.

What I thought: This is another one of Diana Wynne Jones' Chrestomanci books. It takes place not long after The Lives of Christopher Chant, so we get to see more of Conrad and Millie. It's interesting to see Christopher from someone else's point of view. Conrad himself is a fun character to be narrator. The whole world of Stallery Mansion is very well-developed, and the grandness of it all means that the ending comes together in a big way. This is a confusing book at times, but it is a Diana Wynne Jones novel, and the confusion is part of the charm, I think. All in all, it's another fun book.

Overall: If you like the Chrestomanci series, then you won't want to miss out on this installment.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

My Teacher is an Alien

Title: My Teacher is an Alien
Author: Bruce Coville

What it's about: *obligatory pun about the teacher being "out of this world"* Anyway, the plot's pretty simple. When Susan's sixth grade class gets back from spring vacation, they find that they will be having a substitute for the rest of the year, a strict and boring guy named Mr. Smith. Susan finds out that Mr. Smith is really an alien, and she confides in the only person who will believe her, the class nerd Peter Thompson. Together they uncover the alien's plan and get the rest of the class to help them thwart it.

What I thought: For being science fiction aimed at middle school kids, this books holds up pretty well. I was surprised at how many genuinely funny bits there were. The plot isn't very complex, but it's just right for the length of the book.

Overall: An excellent piece of children's literature.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Daemons Are Forever

Title: Daemons Are Forever
Author: Simon R. Green

What it's about: Now that Eddie Drood and friends destroyed the evil entity the Heart that gave his family their amazing powers, Eddie is in command of the family, trying to get it back on its feet. In an effort to show that the Droods are still powerful, Eddie orders an attack on the Loathly Ones, a bunch of soul stealers, and discovers a plot to bring the Hungry Gods into our dimension. Now he and his allies have to figure out a way to stop beings from a higher plane of reality from obliterating our dimension.

What I thought: Just as action-packed as its predecessor, this book has plenty more cool gadgets and impossible situations. Basically, this book runs of the Rule of Cool. It's got a good sense of humor, too, and a lot of current references which are nice touches. Really, acknowledging the Rule of Cool is an important part of liking the Eddie Drood books, because if you don't, you're gonna start nitpicking and then not enjoy it at all. This is like the literary equivalent of an action flick, and it's really pretty entertaining.

Overall: If you liked the first book, you'll definitely like the sequel.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Title: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Author: C.S. Lewis

What it's about: After the events of Prince Caspian, Caspian sets out to sail east and find seven lords banished from Narnia by his uncle. Lucy, Edmund, and their cousin Eustace fall into Narnia through a picture. They join Caspian on his journey, and Eustace gets some character development. They visit many interesting islands and sail to the eastern end of the world.

What I thought: My favorite part about this book is the wonderful description of strange new places. The island where dreams come true always intrigued me, and the part from Ramandu's island onwards is just awesome in what it depicts. And, of course, Eustace's adventure as a dragon is quite interesting, too.

Overall: This book deserves props just for the wonders it dreams up.

The Blue Sword

Title: The Blue Sword
Author: Robin McKinley

What it's about: Harry goes to live with her brother Richard in the land of Daria, a province of their Homeland that's still being colonized. Most people hate the desert lands surrounding the small settlement of Istan, but Harry is drawn to them. The people of the settlement talk of the Hillfolk that live there, in the once-great kingdom of Damar. One day, the king of the Hillfolk, Corlath, comes to visit, looking for aid in the war against the demonic Northerners. He does not get any promise of help from the Homelanders, but he ends up kidnapping Harry after his magic alerts him that she will end up saving the day.

What I thought: Robin McKinley is an excellent writer. The story is full of subtle humor, enough to keep the characters human. The writing is vivid, giving a wonderful picture of Damar. The characters are sympathetic, and the Hillfolk culture is very well-developed. It's quite impressive. This is a long, deep, satisfying fantasy story.

Overall: This is a great book that I highly recommend.

Prince Caspian

Title: Prince Caspian
Author: C.S. Lewis

What it's about: Caspian lives in Narnia during an age when Men rule the land and the magical things have all gone away. It's pretty sad. Then one day, his uncle, who rules the land as regent, has a son, and he orders Caspian killed because Caspian is the true heir to the throne of Narnia. Caspian runs away and meets up with some dwarfs and a talking badger. It's decided that Caspian should fight his uncle, and so a war for the freedom of Narnia is waged.

What I thought: You know, when I think back over this book, I can't really think of much that really drew me. Some of the descriptions of the ruined Cair Paravel were quite good, but the story itself really didn't seem to have much substance to me. It wasn't bad, but I definitely can't call it a favorite. Too much flashback.

Overall: Probably a middle tier entry in this series, in my opinion. Take it or leave it.


Title: Maskerade
Author: Terry Pratchett

What it's about: Phantom of the Opera meets Discworld. Agnes Nitt wants to make something of herself, so she leaves her home in Lancre and goes to the city of Ankh-Morpork. She auditions at the opera house, and her voice, which is as big as the rest of her, wins her a spot in the chorus to sing over the perky blonde beauty Christine. Meanwhile, Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, the two witches of Lancre, sense trouble for Agnes, so they head for the city as well, and you can be sure that no amount of trouble, not even a murderous opera ghost, can stand up to these two old biddies.

What I thought: Theatre fans and Discworld fans will definitely enjoy this. If you're not familiar with Discworld, you may not get as much out of the book, but you'll still like it. Agnes is a very sensible protagonist, and this leads to a lot of humor when her sensibilities come up against the theatrical nature of things in an opera house. Nanny Ogg's The Joye of Snacks makes for an ... interesting subplot as well. The ending is not, perhaps, very satisfying for those who love their happy endings in the traditional sense, but it works very well for the kind of story that this is. A good, solid Discworld story.

Overall: A fun read for theatre and Discworld fans.

The Horse and His Boy

Title: The Horse and His Boy
Author: C.S. Lewis

What it's about: Shasta is the son of a poor fisherman in the nation of Calormen, and when he finds his father is going to sell him to a rich lord to be a slave, he runs away from home with the lord's horse. The horse's name is Bree, and he is a talking horse from Narnia, a land to the north of Calormen. Shasta and Bree meet up with another set of runaways with whom they join up, and their trip to get to Narnia includes plenty of adventures, including mistaken identities and a plot against Narnia.

What I thought: This is probably my favorite of the Narnia books. I like it because of its setting and because it's really pretty different from most of the other books. The main characters aren't surrounded by chums and guiding figures; they're running away and only have each other to depend on. They're from the world they're in, not from Earth. Shasta and Aravis don't get along, but unlike with, say, Lucy and Edmund versus Eustace, neither Shasta nor Aravis is really an unlikeable character. It's just a clash of personalities. Bree's also an interesting character because of his airs. This book is a lot different from the rest of the series, and perhaps that's why it's my favorite.

Overall: A very good story, one of the best in its series.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Magicians of Caprona

Title: The Magicians of Caprona
Author: Diana Wynne Jones

What it's about: The city of Caprona is an Italian city-state, and within its boundaries live two families of magicians, the Montanas and the Petrocchis. These two families are bitter rivals, and when the magic of Caprona starts to fail, each family blames the other. War is in the air, and Chrestomanci, a powerful, benevolent enchanter known to both families warns that an evil enchanter is working against them to steal magic. However, it takes the youngsters of the families to uncover the enchanter's plan and find the spell that will save Caprona.

What I thought: I love how the author manages to portray the large Montana family, using the many relatives to give the story energy and character while also not allowing the multitudinous family members to be merely forgettable throwaway names. The concept of magic being sung is also an interesting one. The nod to Romeo and Juliet is also nice. My only real complaint is with the ending, how the enemy enchanter is actually dispatched. It's still a very good story, though.

Overall: A solid story from an amazing author.

Stop the Train!

Title: Stop the Train!
Author: Geraldine McCaughrean

What it's about: This here's a piece of historical fiction. It's about the settlers of the town of Florence, Oklahoma during the Oklahoma land rush. When the president of the railroad says that no trains will stop at Florence, the citizens band together to find a way to make the train stop. After all, a train is the lifeblood of a frontier town, and without a station, Florence will become just another ghost town. But what will it take to make the train stop? All the townsfolk, from the the children in Class Three to the proprietor of the general store to a member of a passing theatrical troupe, put forth their ideas as they try to eke out a living in the meantime.

What I thought: The lovely thing about this book, aside from the evocative descriptions and simple, flowing prose, is the way is handles its ensemble cast. Oh, sure, there are some characters who are a bit more prominent than others, like Cissy and Kookie, Hulbert, Everett, and Miss Loucien, but many other characters get their chances in the spotlight, and the narrative smoothly skips around from viewpoint to viewpoint. You'll soon come to care for all the Florentines as they quest to stop the train. The story meanders, showing both the attempts to stop the train and the daily life in Florence. This story is really a great one, something that anyone can enjoy. After all, just because a story is simple doesn't mean it's not interesting.

Overall: This is a charming book that I can't recommend highly enough.

The Lives of Christopher Chant

Title: The Lives of Christopher Chant
Author: Diana Wynne Jones

What it's about: Christopher Chant is a young lad who is able to go places when he sleeps. This talent provides him great entertainment, and it attracts the notice of his uncle, who has Christopher conduct experiments in this dream world. Meanwhile, Christopher is growing up. He goes to school, makes new friends, and finds out that he has extraordinarily powerful magic. Because of this, he is sent to train to be the new Chrestomanci, the enchanter who oversees magic-users in various related worlds.

What I thought: This is an interesting book because it sets up quite a lot of themes seen in the rest of the Chrestomanci stories. The descriptions of the various Anywheres are intriguing, and Christopher and the rest of the characters are interesting. I think that what makes me like this is the ending bit, right when all the various plot threads come together and play out in that particularly lovely way that Diana Wynne Jones has of doing this.

Overall: A good place to start reading the Chrestomanci series and generally a fun story.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Title: MÄR
Author: Nobuyuki Anzai

What it's about: In MÄR, Ginta is quite the dreamer, always dreaming of a fairytale world. Everyone teases him except his friend Koyuki, until one day, a mysterious figure summons Ginta to another world, the world of MÄR-Heaven. There he finds himself stronger and fitter than in his old world, and after a run-in with a sorceress named Dorothy, Ginta meets Babbo, a talking kendama. With Babbo as his Ally, Ginta sets out to find a way back home.

What I thought: This series, by the same guy who did Flame of Recca, is sort of like a lighter version of that. It's about half the length of Recca, and to me it seemed pretty rushed. The characters are good, and the plot is interesting, but too quickly it just becomes a series of battles in the war games, without enough intervening plot. That's a pity, too, because the characters are a neat group, and it would have been nicer to have more scenes that weren't battles. However, the art is good, and the manga's a nice, short read. Still, it doesn't quite match up to its predecessor.

Overall: If you're looking for a fun, relatively short manga series, you can't go wrong with MÄR.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

Title: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Author: Alvin Schwartz

What it's about: This book contains a range of short, scary stories aimed at a younger readership.

What I thought: This collection of spooky stories ranges from hokey to actually rather creepy, but it's the illustrations that really make the book. Those of us who read this as a child will remember being fascinated and horrified by the grotesque illustrations that accompany the eerie tales.

Overall: The illustrations and the nostalgia factor make this worth picking up.

Feet of Clay

Title: Feet of Clay
Author: Terry Pratchett

What it's about: More murders in Ankh-Morpork, and this time the signs seem to point to the golems which work silently around the city. What's worse is that the city's Patrician, Lord Vetinari, is ill, seemingly poisoned. Vimes and his coppers will have to use all the skills at their disposal to uncover the plot this time.

What I thought: This novel has a good air of creepiness to it at times, just the right feeling for it. The new characters, including Cheery and Constable Visit, are all nice additions, and Angua's difficulties make for an interesting side plot. The main mystery in this book is very nicely set up, with the clues all being there (despite Vimes' dislike of such notions). Nobby's reactions to being nobility are also very fun to read about. All in all, another solid entry in the series.

Overall: If you liked the first two, you'll enjoy Feet of Clay.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Men at Arms

Title: Men at Arms
Author: Terry Pratchett

What it's about: Since Samuel Vimes and the Ankh-Morpork Night Watch foiled a dragon attack, the Watch has been growing. Three new recruits have been hired because of affirmative action hiring policies, including Cuddy the dwarf, Detritus the troll, and Angua, a young woman who hits off rather nicely with Corporal Carrot. The new recruits come at a good time because Captain Vimes will be leaving the Watch to get married. But before this happens, Vimes and his Watchmen (and women and trolls and dwarfs) have to deal with a series of murders that are being committed in a way that no one has ever seen before.

What I thought: I happen to like this book a good deal because Angua is one of my favorite Watch characters. Like Vimes, she has a more normal, sensible outlook than people like Colon, Nobby, or even Carrot. Plus, female characters are always good. Cuddy and Detritus are a good pair, too, and they add an interesting dynamic to the Watch, sort of like another Colon and Nobby. The whole murder mystery plot? Really excels at fleshing out the Discworld, going into everything from dwarfish beliefs regarding the afterlife to Bloody Stupid Johnson and Leonardo of Quirm, to some nods to ancient Ankh-Morpork. The way the murder is solved, too, is done just right, and with a satisfying ending.

Overall: The Watch books just keep getting better and better.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Flame of Recca

Title: Flame of Recca
Author: Nobuyuki Anzai

What it's about: Hanabishi Recca is a high school student who is obsessed with anything ninja-related. He has made a vow that he'll be the personal shinobi for anyone who bests him in a fight. Then he meets Sakoshita Yanagi, a girl who has the power to heal people with a touch, and he decides to be her personal ninja, referring to her as "hime", meaning "princess". They become friends and hang out with Recca's pals Fuuko and Domon, and all seems well, but Yanagi's powers come to the attention of those with evil hearts, and Recca and his friends have to fight to keep her safe, as well as to save the world.

What I thought: Here is a skilled author who knows how to use humor to make dramatic moments more heartfelt. Instead of breaking the built-up dramatic tension, small humorous occurrences are used in a way fitting to the characters to portray a more realistic situation. What does this mean? Very little cheesiness, which made me extremely happy. I was just waiting for a cringe-worthy moment of great cheesiness to occur, but none did. See, this series has good characters. The main band, with the exception of Yanagi, are all fighters, kids who even before they got their power-enhancing items were going around acting like ninja. Recca is a likable protagonist, very determined and a good fighter. Yanagi is mostly an innocuous li'l cutie, but lest you think she's just kind of boring and in the background, she gets some subtle moments of more mischievous characterization, such as getting jealous of other girls who like Recca and forcing Domon into helping her with her picture books. Fuuko is another matter altogether, a tomboyish girl who has a lot of depth to her. Domon also gets some good characterization; he's definitely not just a dumb brute. Also, I have to say that this is a pretty good manga since it manages to make a tournament arc not completely boring. Really, the entire story is just very good. The whole thing makes sense, and it builds up to an emotional and fulfilling ending.

Overall: This is really an amazing series, so anyone who likes adventure stories should check it out.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Castle in the Air

Title: Castle in the Air
Author: Diana Wynne Jones

What it's about: Abdullah is a carpet merchant in the city of Zanzib. He falls in love with the princess Flower-in-the-Night, but she is abducted by a djinn. Abdullah strikes out to find his beloved, and along the way he runs into lots of new acquaintances, including a few familiar faces from Howl's Moving Castle.

What I thought: It has all the trademark confusion of a Diana Wynne Jones novel, with everything wrapping up nicely in the end. I liked seeing how the elements from Howl's Moving Castle fit into things, and I also thought Abdullah was a good protagonist. I think that there weren't enough sections where much actually happened, but the world-building was good, I have to admit, and it all ends well enough.

Overall: A solid read, if nothing special.

The Big Bazoohley

Title: The Big Bazoohley
Author: Peter Carey

What it's about: Sam Kellow's family is down to their last forty-four dollars and twenty cents. They're in Toronto to sell his mother's latest painting, which will bring them all the money they need. However, the mysterious buyer for the painting is nowhere to be found, and the Kellows are currently staying in a hotel that costs over four hundred dollars a night. What's a resourceful youngster to do? Go out and find the Big Bazoohley, the jackpot that will save them, that's what.

What I thought: This is a short book that nonetheless has a lot of charm to it. It lends a magical air to the ordinary, and Sam is a likeable character.

Overall: Short, but not bad.

Guards! Guards!

Title: Guards! Guards!
Author: Terry Pratchett

What it's about: In Ankh-Morpork, someone is plotting to oust the city's ruler, Lord Vetinari, and replace him with a king. This plan involves a shiny sword that looks magical, a dragon to be summoned for vanquishing, and the common knowledge that there may be a descendant of Ankh-Morpork's old kings hanging around somewhere. Meanwhile, the arrival of Constable Carrot has roused the city's somewhat incompetent Night Watch, headed by Captain Sam Vimes, out of its usual stupor. When the dragon starts incinerating citizens, Vimes and his Watchmen get on the case. It's a million-to-one chance, but they just might get to the bottom of things and save the city.

What I thought: Terry Pratchett's humor is incomparable. Some jokes are subtle, some are more overt, but all of them are very, very funny. He turns fantasy stereotypes upsidedown without losing the soul of the story. Pratchett also manages to put in some more serious thinking points about human nature without beating you over the head with them. The story itself is long and intricately put together, with all the pieces coming together for a very satisfying conclusion. This is the first book of the City Watch series, and it only gets better from here on out.

Overall: This is a must-read for, well, anyone.

The Mutt in the Iron Muzzle

Title: The Adventures of Wishbone #7: The Mutt in the Iron Muzzle
Author: Michael Jan Friedman

What it's about: Besides being a Wishbone-ized version of The Man in the Iron Mask, the story is about Wishbone's owner Joe deciding to run for class president against resident jerk Damont Jones. Damont doesn't like this, so he comes up with a sneaky plan to distract Joe from the campaign.

What I thought: While nothing particularly stands out as making this book amazing, I have to say that it is overall entertaining and decent.

Overall: If you like the Wishbone books, it's good. It's not exactly a must-read, though.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Sorry for the lack of updates!

Hello to everyone who reads this blog! Hi! I'd like to heartily apologize for being not very daily in the updates recently. As you may have noticed, I finished July with quite a book deficit. I hope to remedy that this month. Although there have not been any updates, I have read quite a few books. There's probably at least five for me to post about when I can. We've got some good ones coming up, including three Terry Pratchett novels. The only bad thing about Pratchett novels is that they take me a good amount of time to read. Never fear, though! I will complete my goal of one hundred books! Oh, also coming up in reviews, when I finish it, is the manga series Flame of Recca. I'll tell you right now, it's really good. I've been working my way through it over the past several days. Gotta love online manga sites. Well, that's all, folks. I'll probably bust out at least a few reviews tomorrow, and with luck I'll finish Feet of Clay and at least one other novel. Until then!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Christmas Horse

Title: Christmas Horse
Author: Glenn Balch

What it's about: Young Ben Darby lives on his family's ranch in Idaho, and he loves it there. He loves working with the horses, but soon he'll have to go stay with relatives in the city so he can attend high school. Not only does Ben have to leave his beloved ranch, but he won't be able to see more of the young wild horse he's been keeping an eye on. However, when Ben comes home for Christmas, he has a surprise waiting for him. His family caught the colt for Ben's Christmas present. Now Ben is determined to train the little colt to be a cow horse and to prove to his father that a wild horse can be worth something.

What I thought: This is actually a pretty good story. Any horse fans should like it, as it doesn't stint on gettin' more than a little technical in those regards. The characters are likable, and it's overall a heartwarming story.

Overall: Worth reading if you ever come across it.

Charlotte's Web

Title: Charlotte's Web
Author: E.B. White

What it's about: Wilbur is a pig who lives in the barn of a farmer by the name of Henry Zuckerman. His best friend is a spider named Charlotte. When Wilbur learns of the usual fate for pigs, that is, to be turned into ham or bacon, Charlotte promises to save him. Charlotte is a clever spider, so she uses her web-spinning abilities to help her friend.

What I thought: This is a good tale of friendship. It's a very sweet story with a slow pace and made richer by its detailed descriptions of the farm and the barn. The characters are cute, and the barn is populated by a diverse bunch of creatures, from the simple Wilbur to Templeton the greedy rat, and the goose and gander with their idiosyncratic way of speaking. The story is a simple one, but it's a very good read.

Overall: This classic is definitely worth checking out.

Baby Island

Title: Baby Island
Author: Carol Ryrie Brink

What it's about: Mary and Jean Wallace are two young sisters who are traveling to meet their father in Australia. Both girls like babies, and when the ship they're on starts to sink, they rescue the babies of two couples who they had been helping to take care of. The two girls and the four rescued babies wash up on a desert island, which they call Baby Island. Thus starts their task of caring for the babies until they are rescued.

What I thought: Okay, so this is a 1930's kids book. It's all about two young, capable Christian girls who love babies. So why did it hold my interest? Jean. The younger sister has some truly funny lines, including one about throwing the baby Jonah off the lifeboat to go along with the Bible story. If any of you are familiar with the character Osaka from Azumanga Daioh, well, that's who Jean reminded me of. Besides Jean, though, the story really is a cute one. It's predictable at times, but it's told with charm.

Overall: If you're going to be an elementary teacher, you could look into this, but serious readers probably won't want to bother.

The Traitor's Gate

Title: The Traitor's Gate
Author: Avi

What it's about: In this historical novel, the Huffam family is in trouble. John Huffam's father has gotten them into debt, and if the family can't pay, they will be thrown into debtors' prison. It becomes known to John that his father's involved in something deeper than just debt, and the only way to save the family is to get to the bottom of the matter. With suspects all around, it looks like the only person John can trust is his new friend Sary the Sneak.

What I thought: This is a really well-written story. The attention to historical detail is great, and it really shows up in the descriptions, giving the story great flavor. There's a nice assortment of characters, from our boy John, who's the only sensible one in his family, to his mother, who reminds me of Mrs. Bennett, to his teacher, a slightly crazy teacher (this guy reminds me of the fellow from Danny the Champion of the World), to Sary, who's spunky and slightly mysterious. The mystery is plotted out quite well, too. There are plenty of clues that you don't get the significance of at first, and the whole thing wraps up with a suitable ending. Makes me eager to read similar stories.

Overall: An engaging book that you won't want to put down until you've finished. I didn't.

Saturday, July 26, 2008


Title: Ever
Author: Gail Carson Levine

What it's about: Kezi is a simple girl who loves to weave and to dance. Olus is the god of winds. Kezi's father makes a vow, and it ends up that Kezi will have to be sacrificed to her people's god in a month's time. She and Olus fall in love, though, and they decide that something has to be done. In order to save Kezi, both she and Olus must undergo great trials to prove themselves and their love so that they may always be together.

What I thought: Like all of the books I've read by this author, Ever is a love story. Unlike the other books I've read by her, Ever is not a fairytale. Instead, the setting is kinda biblical. Reminds me of the Old Testament and the excerpts about the Gilgamesh legend I read in high school, as well as the mythology that Snow Crash dug into. Also, kinda like Many Waters, which I should put down on my list as another book to review. Anyway, I think it's a refreshing setting to use for a novel like this. The writing is very simple and descriptive, but it almost seemed too simple to me. Maybe it was the sentence structure, maybe it was the present tense, first-person narration, or the frequency of point-of-view switches. Something about how this story was written brought it down from having an epic style to seeming stilted and stylized. The characters were all right. I liked Kezi, but I couldn't really connect with Olus. I guess I have to say that the book was good, and it had some fun romance in it, but it just didn't seem to have any meat to it, especially compared to the two books I read prior to it, or to the book I just finished.

Overall: Not bad, but I recommend her other books more.

The Shadow of the Wind

Title: The Shadow of the Wind
Author: Carlos Ruiz Zafon

What it's about: Daniel Sempere and his father run a bookshop. One day, Daniel's father takes him to a mysterious place known as the Cemetery of Forgotten Books and tells him to choose one book to take care of. Daniel chooses a novel called The Shadow of the Wind and immediately falls in love with the story. Intrigued, he tries to find more books by the author, Julian Carax, but he soon learns that Carax's novels are impossible to find, as someone has been going around and destroying them. Daniel delves deeper into the mystery surrounding Julian Carax and finds out that the tragic story is still unfolding even as he himself is caught up in it. With help from old friends and a new love, Daniel just might find his own happy ending.

What I thought: Two notes before we start the review. First of all, this novel is originally Spanish, translated now into English. Second of all, I'd have to give this book an R rating for its content. There's some pretty explicit stuff in here, but it all serves a purpose in the story. Anyway! I have to say that I love this book very much. My one theatre teacher once said that all theatre is about theatre. Well, I don't think I'm qualified to extend the same claim about books, but I do know that The Shadow of the Wind is very much a book about books. You can tell how much the author loves the craft of reading and writing by the loving tangents and book-related metaphors. Plus, you get bonus points for catching all the literary references. I myself noticed a new one this read-through, something from Don Quixote.Additionally, well, the whole story revolves around books and those who write them. The story of Julian and Penelope is morbid and tragic, and Daniel's story is an interesting parallel, as though he is repeating history and following the path of Julian's story himself.

I think the characters are what make this book so interesting. Daniel himself is a relatable narrator, flawed but likable, so we sympathize with him as he bumbles through the book. Fermin Romero de Torres serves as the main comic relief, but he's also a wise fellow who provides Daniel with good advice and friendship. He's very outrageous in his behavior which makes him very fun to read about. Julian is a rather complex fellow, for his part, as we learn more about what he has been through and how he has changed. The characters aren't the only things brought to life in this story. The city of Barcelona is described simply but oh so aptly. In few words, you get a sense not just of what the city looks like, but what it is like. Zafon has a gift for elegant description. I had no trouble picturing the story playing out in my head like a movie, and that's not usually the case with me. The characters, the settings, and the story itself, they all coalesce into an amazing experience of a novel. I find it's best read in the quiet hours of the morning, in the darkness and silence, when there is nothing to distract you from the beauty of the story.

Overall: I feel the word "masterpiece" can be justifiably used to describe this book.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Westing Game

Title: The Westing Game
Author: Ellen Raskin

What it's about: Sam Westing, founder of Westing Paper Products and a very rich man, has died. He calls sixteen heirs to his mansion for the reading of his will, telling them that they each have a chance at inheriting his fortune. Now, Sam Westing had a fondness for games, and he's not making this easy on his heirs. They've got to figure out the solution to the Westing Game by using clues he's left them and by working together. This is easier said than done. Most of the sixteen heirs live in the Sunset Towers apartment building, and their personalities come in constant conflict, making it hard to collaborate on their clues. And where do the mysteries of Sam Westing's tragic past come in?

What I thought: Confusing summary? Perhaps. But the less I say, the better, because you won't want a single thing spoiled for you when you read this. I just have to say that anyone who has not read The Westing Game is missing out on one of the most amazing books they've never read. It's a masterful mystery with memorable characters and delicious humor; it unfolds in such a deft, intricate way. I wish that I could read it for the first time again and remember the experience of having the story come alive for me and discovering all the secrets for myself. This is one of those books that's written for children but can be enjoyed by anyone. That's a mark of a good writer, wouldn't you say? So, the thing that really makes this book stand out is the characters. They vary widely, from Turtle with her braid and her kicking to Madame Hoo, who can't speak English, to Grace Wexler and her airs. And the thing is, you end up liking all of them, including the ones who seem the least sympathetic at the beginning. Grace, Mr. Hoo, and Dr. Deere, for example, all turn out to not be as unlikeable as they initially seem. Also, the plotting of the mystery is just intricate and ingenious. One thing that amazed me was that the foreword in my copy of the book stated that Ms. Raskin wrote the book as she went, not plotting it out beforehand. That takes skill!

Overall: Why are you still reading this? Go grab The Westing Game!

Swan Sister

Title: Swan Sister
Author: Edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling

What it's about: This here's a second anthology of retold fairy tales. Look up the entry for A Wolf at the Door for the first installment. This book includes "Greenkid" by Jane Yolen, "Golden Fur" by Midori Snyder, "Chambers of the Heart" by Nina Kiriki Hoffman, "Little Red and the Big Bad" byWill Shetterly, "The Fish's Story" by Pat York, "The Children of Tilford Fortune" by Christopher Rowe, "The Girl in the Attic" by Lois Metzger, "The Harp That Sang" by Gregory Frost, "A Life in Miniature" by Bruce Coville, "Lupe" by Kathe Koja, "Awake" by Tanith Lee, "Inventing Aladdin" by Neil Gaiman, and "My Swan Sister" by Katherine Vaz.

What I thought: I quite liked "Golden Fur" because it had a very traditional fairy tale feel to it but without sacrificing characterization, as my collections of regular fairy tales seem to. A sense of character is what draws me to retellings rather than the original tales. "Golden Fur" had plenty of traditional elements, but it had its own unique spin on the matters, and that's what drew me. "The Harp That Sang" was pretty dark, pretty straightforward as a fairy tale. It was creepy and well-told. Bruce Coville puts an interesting science fiction twist on the Tom Thumb story with "A Life in Miniature," which seems very much like how I remember his books to be from back when I used to read them in grade school. "My Swan Sister" is an incredibly moving short story, and it was the perfect choice to end the collection. It doesn't resemble a fairy tale too much at first glance, but it definitely has magic to it. "Chambers of the Heart" had a dark feel to it, very reminiscent of the original Bluebeard tale. It's really a very straightfoward retelling, like "The Harp That Sang," but that just adds to its appeal for me. You might notice that the stories that are straightforward retellings are my favorites, and I can't deny it. I also like "The Fish's Story." It's a cute version of the story about the fish who grants wishes. It has a nice heroine, and it has the feel of a morality tale, but without the preachiness.

Overall: These stories have just as much charm as their counterparts in A Wolf at the Door. Definitely worth checking out.

Ach, I'm a bit behind on my reading quota. The Shadow of the Wind is a novel that deserves one's full attention, and too often I find myself busy with other things. Luckily, I've got some shorter novels on the docket for when I finish this sucker. The last thing I want is to have to rush my reading again like at the end of June. I'm hoping to find a job, and if I land one, that'll make me more productive. One of those funny facts of life. The more you have to do, the more you get done. Works the same way with NaNoWriMo. Anyway, I'm out. I'll get the review for The Westing Game up soon, too.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Anybodies

Title: The Anybodies
Author: N. E. Bode (Julianna Baggott)

What it's about: When Fern was born, she was accidentally switched with another baby, and she ended up spending eleven years with Mr. and Mrs. Drudger, two people with absolutely no imagination. When she's eleven, her real father, the Bone, comes to get her. He tells her that he is an Anybody, someone who can become anybody or anything, and that Fern has probably inherited the talent. Now they have to find the secret book that belonged to Fern's mother, the book that reveals all the secrets of being a great Anybody.

What I thought: The style of this book is very interesting. We've got a third-person omniscient narrator who has no problem with conversing with the reader while telling us Fern's story. There are lots of funny references to the narrator's writing professor, as well as other asides. This book also has a great love of other books, referencing many classic stories like Alice in Wonderland and The Hobbit. The story itself? Well, it's pretty good. Fern's a good protagonist, and the plot isn't bad. Dang, this is almost as bad as reviewing Moon Boy, although it's not that trippy. Let's just say that this book is weird, but in the best possible way.

Overall: Give it a chance, and you should be pleasantly surprised.

The Thief Lord

Title: The Thief Lord
Author: Cornelia Funke

What it's about: In Venice, Italy, there is a group of children who live by stealing. Prosper and Bo, two orphans running away from their aunt, fall in with these kids. The thieves are led by the Thief Lord, a boy named Scipio. At the time of the book, the Thief Lord has been approached to pull off a theft for a client in return for an amazing sum. Meanwhile, Victor Getz, a private detective, is hired to find Bo by Bo and Prosper's aunt. Prosper and Bo have to help Scipio and their friends commit the theft while avoiding being caught.

What I thought: One thing that makes me love a book is when the author loves the place they're writing about. The Kiki Strike books have this. Ananka lovingly describes New York. To Kill A Mockingbird does this, too, with Maycomb and its way of life. The Thief Lord paints a vivid and beautiful picture of Venice. Besides the lovely imagery, the story is well-told. The characters are all distinct and have their own quirks. As a bonus, the adult characters are very interesting, and I'm not just talking about Victor and Ida. Even the aunt is shown to be more than just a villain who is trying to separate Prosper and Bo. There's also a nice touch of magic to the story, too, and it's done so that it doesn't take over the story but rather aids it.

Overall: A very magical book that's worth a read.