Mini-Reviews: Geekerella, Eight, Only, Herrings

GeekerellaEight Days of Luke

Ashley Poston, Geekerella — This is a cute YA take on the Cinderella story, where the protagonist is a teen who’s obsessed with the sci-fi TV show “Starfield,” and her Prince Charming is the lead actor in the upcoming “Starfield” movie. It’s an entertaining bit of fluff, but not something I’ll ever reread. I was also slightly annoyed with the main character because she mocks her “wicked stepsisters” for wearing makeup and caring about their looks, as if there’s something morally wrong with those things. Still, it’s a cute read, and you’ll probably enjoy it if the premise appeals to you.

Diana Wynne Jones, Eight Days of Luke — This may be a children’s book, but I’d recommend it to anyone who is interested in Norse mythology. It’s the story of a boy named David who lives with his odious family and has no escape — until he meets the charming Luke, who takes him on several adventures. But it turns out that Luke is actually the Norse god Loki, and he’s in a lot of trouble with the other gods. This probably isn’t one of Diana Wynne Jones’s best books, but it’s still worth a read, in my opinion!

If You Only KnewFive Red Herrings, The

Kristan Higgins, If You Only Knew — Kristan Higgins is one of my auto-buy romance authors, but I’m really enjoying her forays into women’s fiction as well. This book still has a romance or two, but it also focuses on the personal journeys of Jenny, a wedding dress designer who’s struggling to get over her ex-husband, and her sister Rachel, who has just discovered her husband’s infidelity. Definitely recommended for fans of chick lit.

Dorothy L. Sayers, The Five Red Herrings — I’m a fan of the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries, but I have to admit that this wasn’t one of my favorites. First of all, there’s no Harriet Vane, and I was really looking forward to seeing more of her after Strong Poison! Second, this is Sayers’s “alibi” mystery, where the solution involves railroad timetables and the like. I have to admit, I kind of skimmed over most of the in-depth alibi stuff, trusting that the denouement would give me all the information I really needed. So this wasn’t really the book for me, but I still found a lot to enjoy in Lord Peter’s antics and look forward to the next book in the series.

Mini-Reviews #9: Readathon reviews

With this batch of mini-reviews, I’m once again caught up with my backlog. I read three of the four books during the October 24-hour readathon, hence the title of this post. 🙂

we-have-always-lived-in-the-castlewhich-witch

Shirley Jackson, We Have Always Lived in the Castle — Merricat Blackwood, her sister Constance, and her Uncle Julian are the last remnant of a once-prominent family. They live in a decrepit, isolated old house, and they don’t associate with any of the people in the nearby town. The novel’s sinister atmosphere is augmented by the suspicion that seven years ago, Constance deliberately poisoned the rest of her family. I’m no fan of horror, but I found this to be a very well-written, creepy but not too scary book. I may even read some more Shirley Jackson in the future.

Eva Ibbotson, Which Witch? — I’ve been a fan of Ibbotson’s YA/adult novels for years now, but this was my first experience reading one of her books for children. It was just as delightful as I expected it to be, telling the story of a dark wizard who holds a competition to determine which witch will be his bride. Beautiful and kind Belladonna would love to be the winner, but her magic is inescapably good. How will she convince Arriman the Awful that she’s his perfect match?

goodnight-tweetheartcrooked-kingdom

Teresa Medeiros, Goodnight Tweetheart — The plot of this romance novel is essentially “Boy meets girl on Twitter.” As such, the book is inescapably dated, but I must admit I enjoyed it anyway! It had some good banter and some sweet moments…overall, a pleasant escapist read. It’s not a new favorite or anything, but it’s definitely a fun way to spend an evening (or, in my case, the middle of the night!).

Leigh Bardugo, Crooked Kingdom — If you loved Six of Crows, which I didCrooked Kingdom will not disappoint! The twists and turns of the plot kept me hooked, and I loved the fact that Kaz was always one step ahead of his enemies. And as with the previous book, I was completely invested in these characters and rooting for them all to achieve their goals. I especially liked that this book gave more attention to Jesper and Wylan, the two characters who were least fleshed out in Six of Crows. There was also a very welcome appearance by Nikolai, my favorite character in the Grisha trilogy, which leads me to believe that Bardugo isn’t done with this world yet!

Review: The Little Prince

Little Prince, TheAntoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince (trans. Katherine Woods)

After trying to review this book in my usual way, I’ve given it up as a lost cause. So I will just say that this classic children’s fable about a stranded pilot and a little boy from another planet is a wonderful read, for adults as well as for children. It’s full of allegories and lessons for attentive readers, from the folly of greed to the power of friendship. I’m sorry I never read this as a child, but I still found it incredibly touching and moving — the perfect book for a winter’s evening!

Review: The Phantom Tollbooth

Phantom Tollbooth, TheNorton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth

This classic children’s book tells the story of a bored little boy named Milo who comes home one day to find a mysterious package in his bedroom. The package turns out to be a toy tollbooth, and when he assembles it and drives through in his little electric car, he is transported to a new world. Milo visits a variety of unusual places, including the hostile cities of Dictionopolis and Digitopolis and the island of Conclusions (you get there by jumping). He also receives an important mission: to rescue the princesses Rhyme and Reason from where they are imprisoned in a castle in the air. Along the way, Milo encounters many dangers, including the land of Illusion, the Doldrums, and the demons of Ignorance. Luckily, with the help of his friends Tock and Humbug, he is finally able to rescue the princesses and restore them to the Kingdom of Wisdom. Ultimately, he learns that his “boring” life is actually more interesting than he ever imagined.

For some reason, I never read this beloved children’s classic when I was growing up. If I had read it around age 7 or 8, it probably would have been one of my favorite books. But even as an adult reading it for the first time, I found a lot to enjoy and admire. I’m a sucker for puns and wordplay, and this book is chock-full of it, from the watchdog with a clock for a body to King Azaz of Dictionopolis. There’s also a hint of satire, as when the Humbug explains that several family members have occupied prominent positions in history; for example, many kings have been Humbugs. The book is quite didactic, though, which I wasn’t expecting. Nearly every creature and situation Milo encounters is designed to teach him (and the book’s young readers) a lesson. I did find these constant “teaching moments” a little tedious, but luckily the book has a lot of whimsy to make up for them. Overall, I definitely think this is a great book for children, but if you missed it as a kid, it’s not too late to enjoy it as an adult!

Review: The Giver

Giver, TheLois Lowry, The Giver

Eleven-year-old Jonas lives with his parents and sister in an idyllic place called simply the Community. The Community is governed by a set of Rules covering all aspects of life, which results in a peaceful, orderly society. Everyone has a specific role to play in the Community, with the Elders evaluating the children on their twelfth birthday in order to determine how they will serve the Community as adults. Jonas is looking forward to his Ceremony of Twelve with great excitement, wondering which job he’ll be assigned to perform. But when the fateful day finally arrives, Jonas is stunned to learn that he’s been chosen for the most prestigious and mysterious job of all: he will be the Community’s new Receiver. At first Jonas doesn’t even know what being the Receiver entails, but he soon learns that it will isolate him from everyone he knows, even his family. And as his training with the former Receiver (now called the Giver) continues, Jonas realizes that the supposedly benevolent Community is hiding some very dark secrets.

Despite the fact that this book came out during my childhood, I somehow never read it before. So I was a bit nervous that I wouldn’t enjoy it, reading it for the first time as an adult. Fortunately, my fear was groundless — I thought this was an absolutely fantastic book! Of course, some of the more sinister aspects of the Community will be unsurprising to adult readers, who have presumably encountered other dystopian novels and can guess what’s coming. But Lowry does such an amazing job of peeling back the seemingly perfect facade of the Community bit by bit, slowly revealing surprising tidbits of this allegedly ideal world. I also really loved the character of Jonas, who reacts to his new discoveries in such an understandable way. I practically got chills at the scene where he gets his list of Rules for how to be the Receiver — it perfectly encapsulates the confusing new world he’s been thrust into. Finally, I liked the ambiguity of the ending; Jonas decides to take a stand, but the outcome of this decision remains uncertain. I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes dystopian novels!

Review: Un Lun Dun

Un Lun DunChina Miéville, Un Lun Dun

Zanna and Deeba, two seemingly ordinarly pre-teen girls, are suddenly thrust into an unfamiliar world when they follow an umbrella into a dark London basement and emerge in Un Lun Dun. Un Lun Dun is an “abcity,” part of a universe that parallels our own but has many significant differences. (For example, giraffes aren’t exactly harmless herbivores in Un Lun Dun….) At first, Zanna and Deeba only want to go home; but they soon learn that Un Lun Dun is under attack by the evil Smog, and Zanna is supposed to be the “Schwazzy,” or chosen one, who will fulfill an ancient prophecy and defeat it. The girls are willing enough to help, but when their first encounter with the Smog goes terribly wrong, it’s up to Deeba, rather than the chosen Zanna, to save the day.

This was my first encounter with Miéville, and I’m thinking it won’t be my last. If you enjoy detailed world-building and clever puns, this is definitely a book for you! The world of Un Lun Dun is wildly inventive, from the trash-can warriors known as “binjas” to the flying buses to the “extreme librarians” who populate the abcity. You may think the book sounds a lot like Gaiman’s Neverwhere, what with the alternate London setting, but I was actually reminded a lot more of Jasper Fforde. The plot itself is rather predictable, but it’s still a fun ride to follow Deeba as she figures out who her real allies and her real enemies are. Some may find the book a bit preachy on the issue of environmentalism — the villain is literally called Smog, after all — but since this book is aimed toward younger readers, I suppose the message shouldn’t be too subtle! All in all, I found this book very entertaining, and I’m interested to try some of Miéville’s adult novels now.

Review: The Westing Game

Ellen Raskin, The Westing Game

At the beginning of this novel, 16 people of all ages and walks of life are invited to live in a fancy new apartment building overlooking Lake Michigan. They all accept due to the luxurious accommodations and affordable rent, but it soon becomes apparent that they have been gathered for a purpose. Old Samuel Westing, who founded the town and employed many of its citizens, has just died. When the apartment dwellers are summoned to the reading of the will under the guise of being his heirs, they are shocked to hear that Mr. Westing has accused one of them of being his murderer. He proposes a game to the 16 heirs: The person who discovers Mr. Westing’s killer will inherit his vast fortune.

This is one of those books that I somehow missed in my childhood, and I decided to pick it up for the read-a-thon since I assumed it would be a fairly effortless read. But while I enjoyed the book a lot, it was definitely more complex than I thought it would be! There are a lot of characters to keep track of, which was hard at first, but they each had such distinctive qualities that I was soon able to tell who was who. The game itself was delightful to puzzle through, and I’ll admit that I didn’t see many of the twists coming! I think this would be a great read for bright children, especially those who love mysteries — but it can definitely be enjoyed by adults as well!