In the style of Diana Wynn-Jones and J.K. Rowling, there's a lot of moral ambiguity in this fantasy, buoyed by great characters and sly humor. The ploIn the style of Diana Wynn-Jones and J.K. Rowling, there's a lot of moral ambiguity in this fantasy, buoyed by great characters and sly humor. The plot is satisfyingly wrapped up, but Jinx himself remains a bit of a mystery at the end, so we can expect sequels. Here's how I'd book talk it:
After being abandoned in the Urwald forest by his uncaring stepfather, Jinx is adopted by a cranky wizard named Simon. As he grows up in the wizard's strange home, he learns some magic and makes friends with two other kids, Elfwyn and Reven, who have mysterious curses on them. Jinx is no ordinary boy himself: He has the strange ability to see the color of people's thoughts. Together they search for a way to lift their curses and discover the secrets of the Urwald. ...more
Sometimes popularity leads me to terrible books (like Twilight and The Da Vinci Code), but other times it leads me to books that are actually very gooSometimes popularity leads me to terrible books (like Twilight and The Da Vinci Code), but other times it leads me to books that are actually very good. I didn't think I was going to like The Emerald Atlas very much, but it's popular with the kiddos, so I felt I should read it. I started out skeptical, but by the end I couldn't put it down! I was riveted.
Sure, there's a lot of TELLING instead of SHOWING. And the number of times Kate has to retell her whole story is a little ridiculous. But the drama is intense and the stakes are high. Once the plot gets moving, it barely slows down as it twists and turns and shimmies. Was I bothered by the familiarity of the tropes and themes? A little, but not much. Was I bothered that this book is supposed to take place in the U.S. but comes out sounding super British? A little more than a little, but I got over it.
Bottom line: It's a fun read and lots of kids super love it. Good enough for me. ...more
It's clever, funny, dark, and touching. It's Lemony Snicket and Roald Dahl and dare I say a touch of the ol' J.K. And it's over too soon! The KneeboneIt's clever, funny, dark, and touching. It's Lemony Snicket and Roald Dahl and dare I say a touch of the ol' J.K. And it's over too soon! The Kneebone Boy straight charmed the crap out of me. I wanted it to be longer, or at least be the start of a series, but I believe it's just an awesome little standalone gem I'll have to reread soon and often.
This is the story of the three Hardscrabble siblings: Otto, Lucia, and Max. These kids are outcasts in their hometown of Little Tunks because their mother disappeared and the whole town suspects Otto killed her and their father buried her in the backyard. But no one really knows what happened to the mother. She may be dead. She may have been kidnapped. It's been long years since anyone's seen her and the Hardscrabbles have precious few memories of her.
Then one day their father has to go on one of his portrait-painting trips and leaves the kids with their cousin in London. Only it turns out their cousin isn't in London and they are stranded. Unable to reach their father, they decide to seek out their mysterious Great-Aunt Haddie in a town called Snoring-by-the-Sea. I will not give away any more plot, which is quite twisty, but I will go on a little about why I loved this so much.
First and foremost, the narration is outstanding. We're told in the beginning that one of the Hardscrabble siblings is writing the story, but can't say who it is: "They said it's because the story belongs to all three of us, and I suppose they're right, but it seems unfair since I'm doing all the work. No one can stop you from guessing though." It's pretty easy to guess who the narrator is, but it's also really fun that the story is told in both third and first person. It has great flow, but can be broken up by asides about the writing of the story itself (very Series of Unfortunate Events--if you didn't like those books, you probably won't like this). The asides are very funny and very meta. If I were more industrious I'd quote a long passage from page 87 that illustrates how great they are, but I'm not feeling industrious, so you're just going to have to read the book.
The relationship between the siblings is another of this book's strong suits. To me, it was so real. Each of the siblings' personalities seemed molded by their siblings. Otto doesn't speak, but communicates with a secret sign language he developed with Lucia. Max is just ten years old, but hyper-intelligent, so the very proud Lucia is often upstaged by him, which just makes her act even more haughty. They fight childishly. They bond touchingly. It's a dynamic that's familiar to most people, but not often captured so well in an adventure like this book.
One last compliment for Ms. Potter: I believe you are American, so bully for you for writing in so many cheeky Britishisms. I mean, I'm American too, so I can't truly say that you got them all right. But it sounded super awesomely British to me. The audio book could be great.
In the end, this book is about what all good adventure books are about: danger and discovery. And, as the narrator says, "Here is my most important message to you: All great adventures have moments that are really crap." Or, in a more philosophical vein: "You have to work really hard at being astonished by life."
One last thing: the cover art is perfect. Do you see how the cat has extra toes?
Part of what makes great fantasy is a great setting, i.e. an original other world that feels real even though it's so different from the world we inhaPart of what makes great fantasy is a great setting, i.e. an original other world that feels real even though it's so different from the world we inhabit. I found this book totally lacking in that department. Nita and Kit (whose names and personalities are too similar--I kept getting them mixed up as I read) start in the real world as normal kids. They meet when they realize they're both aspiring wizards and then they go looking for Nita's lost pen and end up in this horrible, dark alternate universe where they are chased by monstrous living helicopters and cars.
Here's my biggest problem: The story got so deep so fast. The kids have only been wizards for a few weeks and suddenly they're totally alone and fighting for their lives to find the most important book in the universe? I'm barely getting to know the world Duane has created and we're already at what feels like the climax! It's like someone asking to marry you on the second date. And this date is not making you laugh. In fact, he's a little hard to follow and seems to be speaking a different language that he doesn't bother explaining to you. You are getting bored and tuning him out for whole paragraphs, but there's something about him that reminds you of an old boyfriend you still think of fondly (maybe his name was Harry? Or Charles Wallace?) and so you cut him some slack.
But let's face it: he is not what you want. It's time to move on. ...more
I quite enjoyed this. It's a refreshing fantasy-adventure tale in that our young, parent-less heroine isn't trying to save the world from the ultimateI quite enjoyed this. It's a refreshing fantasy-adventure tale in that our young, parent-less heroine isn't trying to save the world from the ultimate evil (aren't you getting a little sick of that worn-out plot?) but instead escaping an awful life and having her every wish fulfilled. Until, of course, she realizes that having your every wish fulfilled is never all it's cracked up to be. True, it's a little cheeseball with the moral, but, like I said, I enjoyed it, and I don't doubt that many kiddos will too.
Side note: I honestly thought for a long time that this was a book about a dog named Molly Moon because there's a dog on the cover, but the dog is actually a pug named Petula who (also refreshingly) is pretty much a normal-acting dog and not a talking one.
Additional side note: There's an ice cream shop in Seattle called Molly Moon's that has a dog in its logo. Coincidence? I don't know, but the ice cream there is bomb. ...more
This book is described on the cover as "James Bond meets Fairies" (or something gimmicky like that), so I was never really interested in reading it. BThis book is described on the cover as "James Bond meets Fairies" (or something gimmicky like that), so I was never really interested in reading it. But a mom came into the library the other day and was asking me about it, so I looked it up on Wikipedia and ended up curious enough to give it a whirl.
It's definitely not my favorite children's fantasy series, but it's not bad. I got pretty tired of Root's face turning purple, but I was truly charmed by the author's use of flatulence as a weapon. ...more
11-year-old Gregor is a likable character, as is his 2-year-old sister Boots. When they fall into Underland, a subterranean kingdom populated by old-f11-year-old Gregor is a likable character, as is his 2-year-old sister Boots. When they fall into Underland, a subterranean kingdom populated by old-fashioned humans, fractious rats, talking bats, and noble cockroaches, Gregor has to fulfill an ancient prophecy which includes rescuing his lost father.
This is strange criticism, but I had a hard time picturing Underland as life-sized. In my head, Gregor and Boots shrunk when they fell down to Underland and somehow the Underlanders are all shrunken humans, too (like Borrower-sized, you know?). I guess I find this more believeable than 6-foot tall rats and giant spiders and cockroaches.
Anyway. It's a well-written hero quest tale that will probably get even better as it goes on. ...more
**spoiler alert** When I was about halfway through this book, I started making a list of its similarities to Harry Potter. Here is a sampling from tha**spoiler alert** When I was about halfway through this book, I started making a list of its similarities to Harry Potter. Here is a sampling from that list:
1. There are three young heroes: a brainy girl (Annabeth/Hermione), a funny screw-up type (Grover/Ron), and a somewhat troubled but very brave lead (Harry/Percy).
2. People freak when the Harry/Percy character says the name of a powerful character.
3. The main bad guy (Kronos/Voldemort) is seeking to return to his former power, but most people are totally in denial of that happening.
4. The heroes train at a school that divides its students according to their character. (Chiron, the head trainer of the camp, equals Dumbledore.)
5. Chiron/Dumbledore knows a prophecy about Percy/Harry but won't tell Percy/Harry what it is exactly.
6. Percy/Harry has a gross stepfather named Smelly Gabe who protects him during his childhood, so Smelly Gabe obviously equals the Dursleys.
7. Harry/Percy can talk to a certain animal because of his special gifts (Harry could talk to snakes, Percy can talk to horses).
8. Riordan's three young heroes face down a three-headed dog at the end of their big quest, which if I'm not mistaken is exactly what happens in HP1 (granted, the three-headed dog is straight out of Greek mythology, so I should cut Riordan some slack on this one).
I could go on (and on and on) which would be fun for me, but I won't. Instead, I'll shock you by saying that I totally loved this completely derivative book. It's super fun and fast-moving and the fact that it's kind of a HP rip-off actually makes me like it more. God, I loved Harry Potter. The Lighting Thief is like methadone. That might be what I said about the The Amulet of Samarkand but it's more true here. I can't wait to read the second one!...more
I really liked the first half of this book (especially the tests), but it went downhill from there. Why must special children always save the world? II really liked the first half of this book (especially the tests), but it went downhill from there. Why must special children always save the world? I'm over it. ...more
I don't know. I wanted to like this book, but it felt kind of derivative. You have: (1) Names that evoke character traits (2) A magical world kept secI don't know. I wanted to like this book, but it felt kind of derivative. You have: (1) Names that evoke character traits (2) A magical world kept secret from the normal human world (3) A super evil villain bent on taking over the world just because he feels like it and (4) A kid caught in the middle who's got a special connection to the magic world.
Outside of that there are these facts: (1) Said special kid is not an orphan (2) Adult hero is a detective and (3) The story doesn't take itself all that seriously most of the time.
So I didn't love it, but I think I'm being overly critical, so I'll split the difference and say it was worth a read but there's no need to put it at the top of your list.
Oh, and I've heard that the audio is better than the book because of the Irish accents. ...more
It's not my favorite fantasy series, but it's pretty engrossing. The biggest surprise for me was Pullman actually sort of rewriting parts of the BibleIt's not my favorite fantasy series, but it's pretty engrossing. The biggest surprise for me was Pullman actually sort of rewriting parts of the Bible to fit his fictional world. That's pretty heavy for a kid's book and bound to confuse (or maybe even upset) young readers who've been raised Christian. Or, you know, their parents. ...more
This series (a trilogy beginning with The Amulet of Samarkand) was just meant to be an HP rebound for me, but I ended up really caring about it. LikeThis series (a trilogy beginning with The Amulet of Samarkand) was just meant to be an HP rebound for me, but I ended up really caring about it. Like the Great Rowling, Stroud's really good at making serious ethical questions exciting by giving them a magical spin; but where Harry is a sympathetic character that has greatness thrust upon him, Nathaniel is a total douche most of the time. It'd be like HP following Draco Malfoy's moral development. Also, in many ways this series is a bit more sophisticated than HP. It's got a lot of that dry British sarcasm going on and the alternative London Stroud imagines is way more unsettling than Rowling's. Imagine a world that's 98% Slytherin and you'll get the idea.
I'm not saying this is better than HP. I'll admit there were times when I thought about putting it down and just rereading Order of the Phoenix, but I'm really glad I finished it. It was worth it. ...more