A fast read, but too confusing to be great.
I liked the premise of the book: a young girl is cursed into being an old woman and goes to live with a fearsome wizard in a castle that walks. How could you not have fun with that? Unfortunately, the plot gets lost in riddles and poorly executed references. I found myself turning back pages several times to figure out what the characters were talking about and why, and I couldn't always figure it out. I'm well-educated, so I wonder how this book could be aimed at children.
The characters are the redeeming factor. Sophie is fun to read and grow with, and Michael, Howl's apprentice, is friendly and very likable. Meeting Sophie's sisters added another dimension to her that the movie didn't have. Calcifer was brilliant. My only complaint here is the flatness of Howl. He, unlike Sophie, did not seem to develop as a character. He was only a product of circumstance.
The book has little in common with the movie, and I'd say the movie is better. Admittedly, Miyazaki also changed much of the plot and themes to fit his own vision, but the story was more digestible. One could delve into deeper meanings at will, but it's not necessary to enjoy the story. The book, in comparison, felt over-complicated by superficial puzzles.