I read like an amateur these days (slowly, with lots of distractions). If I find a book that's hard to put down and makes me pick it up even when I'dI read like an amateur these days (slowly, with lots of distractions). If I find a book that's hard to put down and makes me pick it up even when I'd rather be sleeping, I know I've got something good. I'm having a hard time being articulate about books lately, or analyzing exactly why something works for me, but this one worked. I didn't care that the plot felt non-existent, then meandering, before finally getting gripping. I loved the atmosphere, the world-building, the prickly characters, and the way it all came together in the end. People who read for plot won't feel that way. That's okay - I loved it. ...more
The fact that this took me a while to read should in no way reflect on its quality (I have a love/hate relationship with reading books on my phone, whThe fact that this took me a while to read should in no way reflect on its quality (I have a love/hate relationship with reading books on my phone, which is currently my only way to read ebooks). In fact, each time I opened it up again, I immediately knew where I was and what was happening in the story, with the whole thing as vivid as if I'd read it over just a few days.
'Splendors and Glooms' is really the perfect description of the story - the gloom is easy to spot, in the downtrodden lives of Victorian orphans; in the sadness of Clara, her parents' only living child; in the brutality of puppeteer Grisini; in the agony of a witch torn between hanging on and finally letting go.
The splendors are there, too - Parsefall's love of the puppet theater, and Clara's, too; and the sense of redemption that the story brings (although telling would be spoiling). There's magic and surprising humor and a delicious Gothic feel.
Also splendid is Laura Amy Schlitz's writing - this woman has a way with her pen, and each story she turns out is masterful yet distinct. I think I'm bumping this to the top of list of Newbery favorites for the year.
What is there to say about Sophie and Howl and Calcifer? What is there to say about Diana Wynne Jones, except that she had some spark of genius, someWhat is there to say about Sophie and Howl and Calcifer? What is there to say about Diana Wynne Jones, except that she had some spark of genius, some way of writing books that don't feel like they could have been written by anyone else? Books, and characters, and marvelous little bits and pieces - objects and places that are infused with the best kind of magic.
Before this, I'd only read Fire and Hemlock, which is completely unlike this book in some ways, but also clearly from the same pen. Somehow, that book convinced me that I would enjoy anything she'd written, but for whatever reason I didn't rush out to read them, knowing I had a nice large body of work waiting for me.
My kids' bookgroup chose this as their April selection, based on the recommendation of one girl who's recently become a DWJ convert. I owe her a debt of gratitude, because it jump-started me.
Sophie had me hooked from the beginning - she believes herself to be completely subject to fairy tale conventions, based on her birth order. As the oldest of three girls, she's bound to fail at any quest or pursuit, and it's best for her to just stay home and work at the hat shop and leave it to her youngest sister to successfully make her way in the world. Of course, that's not how it goes at all, and Sophie turns out to be possessed of a marvelous kind of magic, the kind where she can persuade or harass others (people and things) into doing as she asks. I do love a good stubborn heroine.
Added to the cast of fabulous characters (hilariously vain Howl, grouchy Calcifer) is the moving castle itself. I suppose you can't quite separate Calcifer from the castle, but it does feel like a another character, and its ability to be in four places at once is the kind of thing I love in fantasy novels. In fact, Jones manages a perfect balance between seriousness and humor in the whole book - I cared deeply about the characters at the same time that I was laughing and enjoying the ride.
This is the problem with series. You get hooked on the characters and then you have to wait.
This one was all about the characters and atmosphere forThis is the problem with series. You get hooked on the characters and then you have to wait.
This one was all about the characters and atmosphere for me - it all felt very real and tangible, despite all the fantasy elements. There's some suspense, and the romance elements felt relatively subdued, and there's a bit of Welsh mythology thrown in, with a pleasantly Susan Cooper-ish feel to it. Also, I love Stiefvater's sense of humor - the descriptions of the raven, for example, regularly cracked me up. But she slips the humor in without calling too much attention to it. I gobbled it up.
The only downside - the only thing that made it frustrating - is that lack of resolution that seems to come with series openers these days.
There's some violence and swearing, and I don't know where the rest of the series will go, but I'd hand this to sophisticated middle school readers and up (hey, if they start now they'll grow into it)....more
A rich, absorbing fantasy world. The whole experience reminded me of Robin McKinley's work - a bit of a slow build, with plenty of character developmeA rich, absorbing fantasy world. The whole experience reminded me of Robin McKinley's work - a bit of a slow build, with plenty of character development and a fantastic setting, self-deprecating humor, and some action that is essential to the story but not really the point. If you're looking for a fast-paced, plot-driven novel, look elsewhere. If you want complex but lovable characters and a world that feels familiar yet alien, dig in.
Dragons alone won't sell me on a book, but I love what Hartman has done with them here. She uses them both for the thrill of their fantastical qualities, as well as to explore an extreme concept of "other." These aren't just another culture, another race, or another belief system (although they're all of that, too) - dragons are another species entirely.
In Hartman's world, they're capable of taking human form, which in turn seems to let them experience human emotion. This, of course, is forbidden - dragons are meant to be rational, scientific creatures and emotions like love are thought of as particularly dangerous. The story deals with the aftermath of a relationship between a human and a dragon, and with the way Seraphina must naviate the world as someone who should not exist.
With so many YA books recently featuring instant attraction romances, I enjoyed the slower burn here, as well as the way she (doesn't) wrap things up. I loved many of the side characters - Orma, the princess, all of the creatures in Seraphina's mind. They all felt real and tangible, the kind of characters who could hold up their own novel if positions were switched.
Things are wrapped up at the end, but the door is left open for sequels - best of both worlds!
Source: ARC from NetGalley.
It didn't actually take me a month and a half to read. I started it, got distracted by library books when I was maybe 10 or 20% in, and started it over again. I picked up many more hints and details the second time around, which leads me to believe that it would make a great reread, and also makes me want someone to put a shiny award sticker on it come January.
Review for Metro Parent: Although dragons and humans have been at peace for decades, already tense political relations are strained when a dragon is suspected in the murder of a prince. In a story filled with music, court intrigue and complex characters, Seraphina must decide if it’s worth risking her secret parentage to try to save her kingdom. ...more
Bartimaeus is back! Thank you, Jonathan Stroud! This series is seriously one of my favorite things ever on audio, and it was an absolute delight to geBartimaeus is back! Thank you, Jonathan Stroud! This series is seriously one of my favorite things ever on audio, and it was an absolute delight to get back into in Bartimaeus' world of snark, footnotes, and mischief. If you enjoy fantasy, audiobooks, and snarky narrators, you've got to give these a try. You could easily start with this one (it's a prequel of sorts) or with The Amulet of Samarkand, which begins the original trilogy. ...more
Even though I wasn't completely on board with A Curse Dark as Gold, I always had a feeling that I just hadn't given it my full attention and appreciatEven though I wasn't completely on board with A Curse Dark as Gold, I always had a feeling that I just hadn't given it my full attention and appreciation. So I was looking forward to seeing what Bunce would write next - and I wasn't disappointed. The only disappointment might be that the book doesn't tell you it will have a sequel until you reach the end - but even that I can live with, because enough things are wrapped up and enough are left hanging.
In terms of mood and pacing, it reminds me of Graceling - some political intrigue, a setting that feels both historical with some fantasy thrown in, some fighting and adventure and deceit. Although I must note that Bunce mixes in only the merest hint of romance, while Cashore throws in a good deal more. The developments in the plot kept me guessing throughout, but there were no twists so unlikely that they took me out of the story.
With so many different appeals, I could see handing it to a variety of readers - fans of historical fiction, fantasy, spy stories. Readers who like good world-building, character development, or snow-bound stories where characters try to keep their secrets in close quarters. The cover might be a touch girly, but I can see this appealing to boys, too. Recommended to sophisticated middle school readers and up.
I wrapped up my re-reading of the Prydain Chronicles by listening to this. When I read the series as a kid, I enjoyed the adventure and magic and humoI wrapped up my re-reading of the Prydain Chronicles by listening to this. When I read the series as a kid, I enjoyed the adventure and magic and humor. As an adult, I can appreciate how Alexander takes Taran from an inexperienced boy, ready to take on the world, to someone who has matured and grown and is ready for his biggest responsibility yet - while still being a little youthful and foolish. I'd forgotten how the book ends, so I had the delicious fun of experiencing it along with the characters, with a little surprise even though it felt right. And I can't recommend the audio versions highly enough for getting the correct pronunciations finally stuck in my head. ...more
While the plot stands on its own, the characters and world of the books are best appreciated if you start with The Book of Three. (Remember when fantaWhile the plot stands on its own, the characters and world of the books are best appreciated if you start with The Book of Three. (Remember when fantasy series didn't leave you hanging off an enormous cliff at the end of each installment? Okay, I exaggerate.) The plot concerns part of the ongoing effort to defeat Arawn, but as with the first book, this is really just a backdrop for exploring what it means to be a hero and how you interact with the people around you. That makes it sound thoughtful and dull, but the story is lively and funny, with a few bittersweet moments and some excellent characters. There's plenty of action, but the characters aren't thoughtless. The old gang from The Book of Three reunites, and my favorite scene might be their encounter with the three witches, Orddu, Orwen, and Orgoch.
As with the first book, this one is narrated by James Langton, who does an excellent job at differentiating between characters' voices (you always know who's talking) and giving the story both a sense of thoughtfulness and momentum at the same time. I'll definitely be listening to the rest of the series....more
It's always a gamble, rereading childhood favorites. You hope that at least you won't be disappointed, that at least you'll recognize why it meant somIt's always a gamble, rereading childhood favorites. You hope that at least you won't be disappointed, that at least you'll recognize why it meant something to you. You tell yourself that it's okay, some books just appeal more to kids than adults. You cross your fingers and hope that like A Wrinkle in Time or The Giver or Mary Poppins, it exceeds all those expectations and ends up being that rare book that was great as a kid, but is amazing as an adult.
Thanks, Lloyd Alexander. It all came back to me when I listened to the audiobook - Taran's foolish but earnest personality, Gurgi's crunchings and munchings, the landscape, the threat of real evil, Fflewddur's harp strings, Hen Wen running off - and let's not forget Eilonwy. Fantastically sharp Eilonwy! Did I find her a kindred spirit already or did I try so hard to be like her? I came to the end of the book - always hard to gauge on an audiobook - and I immediately knew it was about to end because I remembered that final barb. Taran stammers along about something "But - I didn't think -" and Eilonwy replies, "You usually don't." Whether she rubbed off on me or not, it turns out I have an abiding affection for that sharp tongue.
Alexander succeeds at so many things, but one more I have to point out - he wrote a kind of fantasy that I haven't seen recently. It's fairly high fantasy, with the quests and the evil lords and the magic, but it's so perfectly suited to a young audience. It's a series, yes, but the kind of series where the main action wraps up at the end of each book. It's got adventure and excitement and might be the teensiest bit scary to a very young reader, but it's short and fresh and approachable and fun all at the same time. It would be, I think, a great fantasy series to cut your teeth on. Or to reread and appreciate as an adult. I'm so looking forward to spending four more books with these characters....more
I'd been carrying the book around for a few days before I noticed the two faces of the bear on the cover. It was also a few chapters in before I rememI'd been carrying the book around for a few days before I noticed the two faces of the bear on the cover. It was also a few chapters in before I remembered that the story draws on Snow White and Rose Red, so of course I had to pull out my book of Grimm fairy tales - and while the tale obviously forms a skeleton for the book, the emotional complexity is - wow. It feels as though the book is the original, and the story got boiled down and down until it was only that short, odd fairy tale, with all of the important magic and questions and depth of character left out of it. The book breaks your heart and somehow manages to put it together again. And while it's not a book for everyone, the brutishness and violence never feel overdone or out of place.
In some ways it feels very YA, but a lot of the characters are adult, and although it could be described as a fairy tale retelling, it's not at all for the same maturity level as something like Beauty or Ella Enchanted - although teens and adults who love stories like those, and can handle a more intense story, will find this very satisfying. If you can get through the first fifty pages, it never gets quite that terrible again. And it's really, really worth it. I'm looking forward to rereading this one....more
A fantastic audio version - even with constantly shifting perspectives, I was always able to keep track of who was talking, plus the voices were justA fantastic audio version - even with constantly shifting perspectives, I was always able to keep track of who was talking, plus the voices were just a delight to listen to. Bartimaeus continues to be his usual delightfully tongue-in-cheek self, Nathaniel turns into a stuck-up prig of a magician (the main character that you love to hate, but still hope he'll turn around), and Kitty was a great addition to the story. You see a lot more of the struggle between commoners and magicians, a sense of history, class differences, corruption, etc. Which makes it all sound very serious, but it's full of laughs and features perhaps the most entertaining walking skeleton to grace children's literature. I enjoyed this even more than the first book in the trilogy, The Amulet of Samarkand, and I look forward to getting my hands on the third.
Middle school and up - it's a thick book with an amazing vocabulary, so good for those readers who like a little challenge....more
If I finish a book and then am vaguely dissatisfied with my other reading options, that's when I know I finished something good. This was definitely tIf I finish a book and then am vaguely dissatisfied with my other reading options, that's when I know I finished something good. This was definitely the case with Dreamquake, my little experiment in reading the sequel before the first book. Since it won a Printz Honor, and should thus be able to stand alone, I wanted to find out for myself. Would I still enjoy it without the backstory? Would the characters and world still be engaging? Would it feel incomplete?
It does feel complete. While the beginning was a little confusing, figuring out who is related to who, how old they all are, the parameters of the semi-historical, semi-fantastical world they inhabit - it was no more so than any good, demanding book that throws you into the action and lets you figure things out as you go along. This quality, plus the tone, tight plotting, reticent characters, sense of place, and the historical/fantastical combo, all reminded me of Megan Whalen Turner's books. So if you liked those aspects of her books - particularly The Queen of Attolia and The King of Attolia - then I definitely recommend this.
The ending was incredibly satisfying, and has been on my mind ever since I finished it. Things are wrapped up, but not too tidily. Now I get to go back and read Dreamhunter and find out if any of my guesses about it are correct - I avoided reading any plot summaries or reviews in the interests of a fair and balanced experiment. Overall, a success. Good for a somewhat patient reader looking for a story with good characters, an intriguing premise, and plenty of maps to consult. ...more
I thought I should reread book one before diving into the third book, then I thought I might as well reread book two as well, and they're so great onI thought I should reread book one before diving into the third book, then I thought I might as well reread book two as well, and they're so great on audio that I'm glad I did. The narrator's accents really add to the mood of the story. And now I'm ready for the new one!...more
Just as engrossing as The Oracle Betrayed. I particularly like the way solving one problem doesn't magically fix everything for the characters - theyJust as engrossing as The Oracle Betrayed. I particularly like the way solving one problem doesn't magically fix everything for the characters - they struggle along with their character flaws and their adversaries, doing the best they can. Another twist at the end has me (again) looking forward to the next one. So far a solid series....more