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!