Like Castle in the Air, House of Many Ways is less a sequel to Howl's Moving Castle, and more another story that happens in the same world that featur...moreLike Castle in the Air, House of Many Ways is less a sequel to Howl's Moving Castle, and more another story that happens in the same world that features the central characters from the first book. I actually like that idea more than having the books be direct sequels (I think it opens the stories up to be more than just revisiting the main characters again), but I've discovered that how much I liked each individual book depended on how much I liked the main characters.
Howl's Moving Castle was a book where I had a hard time getting into the characters, since they weren't all that likable from the start. They grew on me, though, and by the end, it was them that made me like the book as much as I did. With Castle in the Air, I liked the main characters right from the start, and it turned out to be my favorite of the series. House of Many Ways, though, was a lot harder to get into because of Charmain.
Charmain is a bookworm, and at the start of the novel, she's sent to her uncle's house to keep it in order while he's away for a while. When she gets there, the place is a wreck, with dishes and laundry scattered all over the kitchen, but she doesn't want to do anything about it. Once an apprentice arrives and more or less forces her to start doing chores, she does them, but complains the whole time about it, and her way of dealing with it is to seclude herself and ignore it as much as she can. She's pretty insufferable, and since she's the main character, it's harder to get into the story or really care about what's happening around her. In Howl's Moving Castle, we ultimately learn why Howl and Sophie are acting like they do, and it helps us like them, but Charmain never changes.
Fans of Diana Wynne Jones or fans of the series will probably want to read this novel, but I can't honestly recommend it, even for Howl, Sophie, and Calcifer's cameos. It might have been a better book had it been a standalone book in another universe, but even then, Charmain would have to be a more likable character. It was ultimately disappointing.(less)
Sometimes it's hard to pick the next book I want to read (new stuff usually beats out old stuff, and the new stuff I have is numerous enough to make i...moreSometimes it's hard to pick the next book I want to read (new stuff usually beats out old stuff, and the new stuff I have is numerous enough to make it difficult to select what I really really want to read next), so it's good to implement a system to help me pick the next one. This time, I decided that I had been putting off finishing up some series I had started, and figured I would go through them in reverse order from the time I read the first book. That put the Howl's Moving Castle series at the top of the list.
It's not a secret that this book is the sequel to Howl's Moving Castle -- it's a series title in Goodreads, and it's noted there on the cover of the book itself, too -- but I think readers would get the most out of it if they didn't know that it was a sequel to begin with. As it is, you don't find the connection between the two books until halfway into this one, and even then, you won't understand all of the connections until you read the entire book. Neither Sophie, Howl, nor Calcifer are the featured characters in the book, and while that isn't a bad thing (Abdullah carries this story well enough on his own), it's misleading to think of this as a sequel to the first book. Instead, think of this as another book set in the same world as Howl and his castle.
Castle in the Air opens on Abdullah, a carpet merchant in Zanzib, a fictional Arabian city, who buys a magic carpet. That carpet takes him on an adventure of his dreams -- quite literally -- when he meets Flower-in-the-Night a beautiful princess who is destined to marry the first man she meets. Abdullah being the first man she meets (for her father the king kept her isolated until he could ind a suitable husband for her), she falls in love with him, and he with her, but of course the princess then goes missing and it becomes Abdullah's purpose to find and rescue her.
Howl's Moving Castle wasn't always the most compelling book I had ever read -- it had a lot of charm and was a happy story, it just suffered a bit from pacing -- but Castle in the Air is just a straight-up fun book to read. It had the perfect cast of characters, enough so that even though I was expecting it to be a sequel, I was never disappointed that it wasn't, and had the right amount of intrigue and plot to keep me turning pages. It had me laughing at parts, grinning at others, and by the end of the book, I was engrossed with the joy of the story.
So, even if you haven't read Howl's Moving Castle (and, honestly, you really should), you should read Castle in the Air. It's the kind of story you want to share with other people, and envy them the excitement of getting to read it for the first time.(less)
I adored Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, enough so that as soon as this book hit the stores, I went out to buy it. What impressed me the...moreI adored Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, enough so that as soon as this book hit the stores, I went out to buy it. What impressed me the most about the first novel was the way that Riggs managed to capture the heart of a relationship between two people, enough so to make me feel so connected to them that when one of them died, it was a gut-wrenching affair. This isn't an easy thing to do in fiction (at least, in some of the fiction I've read, it appears to be a hard thing to do), but he managed to do so within about 30 pages. I still recommend that book to folks, for that very reason.
Hollow City, on the other hand, doesn't have that deftness of characterization. In fact, most of the characters feel very two-dimensional, including the main characters who were introduced to us in the first novel. I'm not sure if this is because the author assumes we're already familiar with them, but it was a bit disappointing to miss what made the first one such a joy to read.
Also, the first novel was fairly self-contained, as far as the setting went. The children were all on Miss Peregrine's island, safe, secure, and isolated; in Hollow City, the children are forced to leave the island, taking them on a journey through a lot of different places as they attempt to save Miss Peregrine's life. It made the novel feel very disjointed and forced, since it felt more like a string of random occurrences than a well-crafted plot. It might have been the photos that drove that development, though. In the book, it was clear when Riggs was reaching the point where he was describing the photo (other than the photos being the point where something really strange was about to happen, the level of description changed to make it very clear), and it felt like he was structuring the story around the photos rather than the other way around. I don't remember the details of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children well enough to know if it felt that way in that book, but I don't recall noticing it.
Speaking of forced, the relationship between Jacob and Emma felt that way, too. It wasn't that I didn't buy it so much as I didn't understand its relevance beyond how Riggs used it to create some tension near the end of the story. It seemed like it could have been a more central subplot, but instead it felt like it was used just as a means to an end. A young peculiar and an old one; why not take more time to develop the challenges there, instead of just throwing that potential away?
All that being said, though, it's clear that Riggs is a good writer. He has moments of poignancy, both in his writing and in how he sets a scene, enough so to make me take a step back from the story and admire the way that he puts his words together. He seems to have a good understanding of human nature, and a good way of translating that into his stories. Even if the story gets a little clunky, those moments kept me reading, and besides, I can't pretend like I wasn't engaged through the story. I kept wanting to know what was going to happen next.
So, yes, I enjoyed the novel, but I wanted to enjoy it a lot more. I'll continue reading the series, if for no other reason than to pick up after the cliffhanger ending of this volume, but I hope the next one will feel more like the first one.(less)
Take one piece Monty Python, one piece Looney Tunes, and a dash of The Usual Suspects (maybe just a skosh, even), and what you wind up with is somethi...moreTake one piece Monty Python, one piece Looney Tunes, and a dash of The Usual Suspects (maybe just a skosh, even), and what you wind up with is something called Fortunately, the Milk, Neil Gaiman's latest kids' book. It's short (not short enough to be a picture book, even though there are a lot of illustrations that are pretty critical to the story), witty (just enough to keep the grown-ups interested, but not so much that it flies over the kids' heads), and entertaining (perfect for everyone), and it's just what one would expect from Neil Gaiman.
In this story, two kids are getting ready for breakfast when they realize that they are out of milk. Their dad takes it upon himself to go out and get some milk for his children (the fact that he will also need some for his tea is just a happenstance), but then they're left waiting, and waiting, and waiting some more, When he does come out, the first question the kids have is "Where have you been all this time?", and the answer he gives is the story we find in this book.
This book is a bit of a love letter from Gaiman to his fans. There's nothing serious or profound about the book (there's really not even a plot), but it contains a lot of typical Gaiman imagery, language, humor, and settings, which is what makes his books so much fun to read. In fact, I would go so far as to say that this is a book that deserves to be read aloud, all in one sitting. Whether or not you want to read it to kids (its intended audience) or your significant other is up to you.(less)
My appreciation for Jasper Fforde and his novels knows no bounds. The Thursday Next series was and continues to be brilliant; the Nursery Crimes serie...moreMy appreciation for Jasper Fforde and his novels knows no bounds. The Thursday Next series was and continues to be brilliant; the Nursery Crimes series, while not quite as interesting, was still terribly clever; and the beginning of the Chromatacia series didn’t disappoint. So it was without hesitation that I bought this YA novel, since it had Fforde’s name on the cover.
In The Last Dragonslayer, Fforde takes us to a modern-day England where magic is present, dragons exist (well, a dragon exists), and people are having premonitions of a big, big change coming soon. The main character, Jennifer Strange, runs an agency that uses wizards for modern-day repairs. Apparently, it’s a lot easier for wizards to magic out old pipes and replace them with something better, instead of a plumber ripping out walls to have to do the same thing. Wizards don’t live the glamorous life, but they can still make a living. But when a new wizardly recruit joins the agency, and the premonitions of the last dragon dying start to become more prevalent, things start to become more and more engaging for Jennifer.
The story is very much a typical Fforde one, but not because it has the cleverness and witticisms of his previous works. In fact, I found that a lot of that was missing in the book; is it because the book was targeted for a younger audience, and he didn’t want to lose his readers? I don’t know. But what really makes this story a Fforde one is through the character of Jennifer Strange. She is very much a Thursday Next clone in personality. She’s clever and fast-thinking, and smarter than those who are trying to undermine her efforts. She manages an organization that’s always threatening to come apart at the seams, and knows all the ins-and-outs of the regulations that run the organization. She’s become so familiar with the oddness of her job that she takes all the new quirks and weirdness of her days in stride. She even has a pet with a one-word vocabulary! I guess if the character has proven to be successful, then it’s easy to import that same character into a story for a younger audience, but I was disappointed that she was so similar to Thursday.
The story also jumps back and forth from being a serious story to being a comedy of errors, but that’s pretty typical of all Fforde’s work, so that’s not so much a complaint as it is a characteristic. And it’s not a bad story, to be honest, but it just seems very weak and light, compared to his other series. To see Fforde move from the light-heartedness of both the Thursday Next and Nursery Crimes series to the more serious Chromatacia series suggested that he was moving on to deeper territory. To then read what seems to be a step backward behind all three series was a bit of a let-down. It’s a good book, no doubt, and certainly something to suggest to younger readers looking to scratch the modern fantasy itch, but I can’t help but feel like it could have been a lot better.
That being said, if this turns out to be a series, I’m sure I’ll keep reading them. Fforde’s a natural when it comes to telling a story, and really, isn’t that most important?(less)
I keep thinking that Colfer has run the well dry with the Artemis Fowl series, but he keeps proving me wrong. I've been impressed with the way he's de...moreI keep thinking that Colfer has run the well dry with the Artemis Fowl series, but he keeps proving me wrong. I've been impressed with the way he's developed the series from the money-making machinations of Artemis to being something a little more full-fledged, with Artemis becoming more likable over the course of the series. It was a risky move, considering that a lot of fans probably liked the anti-hero of Artemis, but Colfer didn't just decide to make Artemis a nice guy; he slowly steered the series in that direction. There's still some distrust from the faeries regarding Artemis, which is showcased in the opening scene of the novel, but there's also a lot of support for him from that same group. It's a nice balancing act, and Colfer has done well in pulling this tactic off in previous novels. It lends more to future stories, and expands the potential for the series.
That being said, though, I had a hard time getting in to this novel. It starts off with a scene where Artemis is suffering from OCD, managing everything to be in multiples of five, from the times he taps his finger to the number of words in his sentences. I think Colfer manages to capture the OCD well -- not just in the rituals, but in the way that said rituals interfere with his life -- but the change in Artemis' character is so severe that I thought maybe I had missed a book in the series that explained where this happened. It turns out that this affliction is part of the novel's plot, but the way the book started was so jarring that it almost lost me before I got well enough into the book.
Once I did get well enough into the book, though, it didn't really improve. The short of it is that very little happens in this book. There's a plot, and there are enough little details going on around it to keep the readers interested, but ultimately, the story is just centered around that one plot, and the orbiting subplots remain unresolved by the end of the novel. In fact, the whole story reads as one long setup for a future book. In earlier novels, the entire plot would cover the first 50-75 pages, and then launch into the larger plot, where the larger story lay. It was disappointing, in a number of ways, mostly because I know that the author can do better than this.
You probably won't be able to stop a die-hard Artemis Fowl fan from reading this book, but believe me, don't waste your time. Even if the second book redeems a lot of the details that are left unresolved with this one, it's worth waiting until that book comes out before reading this one.(less)
One of the things I've enjoyed about Sharon Creech's novels is the way that she takes several seemingly disconnected threads of her story and weaves t...moreOne of the things I've enjoyed about Sharon Creech's novels is the way that she takes several seemingly disconnected threads of her story and weaves them together into a complete tale that makes perfect sense, once seen from the right perspective. They also have a habit of coming full-circle, so that it's almost like looking at a Möbius strip, and in The Castle Corona, the author doesn't disappoint in this respect.
The thing of it is, when one is more attuned to the fact that this is how the author writes her stories, one begins to be able to successfully predict large parts of the story. It spoils the surprise, and makes the story less effective. In addition, the characters in The Castle Corona aren't as interesting as other characters that she has created for other books, so it's a little harder to get into the story to begin with. They're still likable, and I think that readers will still care about what happens to them, but there just seems to be something missing. Maybe it's just the characters themselves; not a lot happened in the book, and the characters seemed to develop only a tiny bit by the end of the story. They just leave me unsatisfied, as if there were something big and huge in their lives just waiting to happen, and then the story stops just before that thing happens.
There are major events that take place, but they're few and far between, and their impact, while important, doesn't seem to have a truly lasting effect. Ultimately, I think the book's wasted potential is what frustrates me the most. I know that the author can write moving, important stories, and I even see hints of it in The Castle Corona. Knowing that she could, but didn't, is what bothers me the most about this book.(less)
So, we've made it to the third book, and the comparisons between Percy Jackson and Harry Potter are few and far between. In fact, now that they've bee...moreSo, we've made it to the third book, and the comparisons between Percy Jackson and Harry Potter are few and far between. In fact, now that they've been established in the first two books, they really aren't that prevalent any more. I couldn't find much to say about the series' similarities, but I found it interesting that the series starts with the characters needing to get to the camp in a hurry, and taking a flying car to get there. Still, the circumstances are a little different, and I know that I'm actively looking for these comparisons now, so I'm probably a little more sensitive to them. Anyway....
There's not really much to say that I haven't covered in the other two books in the series, and I don't really see much point in discussing the plot that much, anyway. Anyone reading the series won't want to know what's going to happen, and anyone who didn't make it past the first book won't care, anyway. It's still fun, readable, and exciting, which are all the important things for a book with its kind of audience, so what more do you need to know?(less)
With book two of the Percy Jackson series, I’ve come to find more comparisons with the Harry Potter series:
- The "Big Evil" is slowly attempting to co...moreWith book two of the Percy Jackson series, I’ve come to find more comparisons with the Harry Potter series:
- The "Big Evil" is slowly attempting to come back to life by recruiting and taking over people to assist him. - The camp now has a set of twins who are renowned pranksters. - Percy seems to get involved in everything, one way or another, even when the quests in question aren’t even his own.
Of course, it still doesn’t matter, since the stories are compelling enough as they are, and are a lot of fun to read. Stay tuned for more similarities as I continue with the series.(less)
**spoiler alert** Years ago, I read the first book in the Charlie Bone series by Jenny Nimmo, knowing that it was a shameless rip-off of the Harry Pot...more**spoiler alert** Years ago, I read the first book in the Charlie Bone series by Jenny Nimmo, knowing that it was a shameless rip-off of the Harry Potter series. I was OK with it, but at the same time, I wasn’t expecting the book to be very good, and wasn’t really disappointed, but I was also going into the book with an attitude against it simply because it was trying very hard to be Harry Potter. The book failed for me before it started, really, but such is the case with books that I see as trying to cash in on another popular trend.
Percy Jordan is very much another Harry Potter clone. Let’s look at his character for a moment: He’s a normal kid, living a life of occasional weirdness, and he lives with his doting mother and beast of a stepfather. During the course of the opening of the book, he realizes that he has a lineage that is larger than he ever realized, and over time he realizes that he’s part of a larger prophecy, as well. Over the course of this discovery, he learns that he is a Half-Blood, and travels to a summer camp where others of his kind get training and an opportunity to be among their own kind. While he’s there, he makes a couple of friends along the way, one of whom is male and a bumbling sort of sidekick, the other of whom is female and an experienced, knowledgeable friend. He also makes enemies with another Half-Blood, partly because of some bad family history between the two of them. At the camp, there is one leader who is kind to Percy, and willing to take exceptional risks to help him advance, while there is another leader who takes a dislike to Percy and works toward making his existence there as difficult as possible. Percy also sets out on a quest, where it’s discovered that there’s an ancient evil looking toward world destruction and domination, and that this evil may even be stronger than the most powerful among the good guys. Of course, that evil isn’t defeated in the first book, but it’s very clear that this is only the start of a larger, epic story that will be comprised of smaller battles that are waged against the backdrop of this larger war versus good and evil.
So, it’s a thinly veiled rip-off, but the real point of it all is this: It doesn’t matter. I may be a little slow and dense, but it didn’t occur to me until the last 40 pages of the book that this was just a re-telling of the Harry Potter book, and the story was gripping and compelling enough for me to not really care when I realized it. Sure, once I started looking further into the similarities, I found myself a little disappointed, but the author managed to pull it off well enough that I found myself not caring. Plus, he made little changes in the details along the way to prevent it from being a carbon copy of the other series.
It also got me thinking about archetypal characters and stories, and how certain stories speak to a group of people on a subconscious level. In addition, I thought about how both the Harry Potter and the Percy Jackson series (that I know of it so far, at least) are comprised of hero’s tales, which follow a rather prescribed format. Shoot, in relation to a story that’s told using Greek mythology, it makes perfect sense. So it may be less of a rip-off and more of a timeless story. Either way, though, it’s certainly worth reading. It’s definitely been a long time since I’ve been this excited about reading an entire series!(less)