The Phantom Tollbooth: The Discovery of Knowledge

The Phantom Tollbooth is written by Norton Juster. It was published in 1961 by Random House.

Summary/Blurb:

“Through the Phantom Tollbooth lies a strange land and a series of even stranger adventures in which Milo meets King Azaz the Unabridged, the unhappy ruler of Dictionopolis; the Mathemagician; Faintly Macabre, the not so wicked Which; Alec Bings, who sees through things, and the watch-dog, Tock, who ticks, among a collection of the most logically illogical characters ever met on this side or that side of reality.

In his quest for Rhyme and Reason, Milo helps settle the war between words and numbers, visits the Island of Conclusions (which can only be reached by jumping), and ventures into the forbidden Mountains of Ignorance whose all too familiar demons menace his ever step.”

Thoughts:

The Phantom Tollbooth is part Alice in Wonderland, part Oz. It’s deliciously fun, and Juster is a genius at showing the embodiments of phrases, words, sounds, ideas, and the like. Things like Milo literally having to eat his words, the stairway to Infinity, and the Island of Conclusions are simply wonderful. This is, essentially, a story about a boy discovering (or rediscovering) his imagination and the wonder of the unknown.

This book would be great to give to kids, but I think the real charm in it lies in its ability to communicate even to adults. I chuckled at Short Shrift and loved the image of the “But” that Milo keeps in his mouth. Everything about the way Juster depicts ideas just makes sense, and his descriptions or embodiments of things like triviality or din are so imaginatively rich. And the fact that Milo, rather than continuously yearn to return to that land, suddenly realizes that, with all the other places he could go and all the other things he can discover, he doesn’t know if he will have the time to return, is so great. Rather than be forever stuck in one place or stuck on one idea, Milo seeks knowledge and enrichment. He wants to broaden his experience, not limit it. That’s a great message for a book for children.

Rating: 5/5

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Children’s

Passages/Quotes:

“Are you ready with the menu?” reminded the Humbug.

“Well,” said Milo, remembering that his mother had always told him to eat lightly when he was a guest, “why don’t we have a light meal?”

“A light meal it shall be,” roared the bug, waving his arms.

The waiters rushed in carrying large serving platters and set them on the table in front of the king. When he lifted the covers, shafts of brilliant-colored light leaped from the plates and bounced around the ceiling, the walls, across the floor, and out the windows.


“Then with whatever Azaz agrees, you disagree.”

“Correct,” said the Mathemagician with a tolerable smile.

“And with whatever Azaz disagrees, you agree.”

“Also correct,” yawned the mathemagician, nonchalantly cleaning his fingernails with the point of his staff.

“Then each of you agrees that he will disagree with whatever each of you agrees with,” said Milo triumphantly; “and if you both disagree with the same thing, then aren’t you really in agreement?”

Overall Review:

The Phantom Tollbooth is a tale of imagination and wonder, and of obtaining knowledge and constantly learning new things. It’s as wonderful for adults as it is for children, for sometimes even adults need the adventure and the lesson that Milo learns.

You can buy this here: The Phantom Tollbooth

Across the Great Barrier: A Little Plodding, But A Nice Plot Anyway

Across the Great Barrier is written by Patricia C. Wrede. It is the second book in the Frontier Magic series. It was published in 2011 by Scholastic. Wrede’s website can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“Eff could be a powerful magician if she wanted to. Except she’s not sure she wants that kind of responsibility. Everyone keeps waiting for her to do something amazing—or to fail in a spectacular way. Worse, her twin brother, Lan, a powerful double seventh son, is jealous of all the attention she’s been getting.

Even as Eff protests that she’s just an ordinary girl, she’s asked to travel past the Barrier Spell with one of the new professors at her father’s school. The land west of the Barrier is full of dangers, both magical and wild. Eff will need to use all her strength—magical and otherwise—to come safely back home.”

What I Liked:

Wrede has a knack for making day-to-day living interesting rather than boring, and each day in Eff’s life is peeling back another layer of her character. I absolutely loved her extremely nonchalant “Got it” at the very end, as if she hadn’t just done something incredibly amazing.

I loved the main plot of this book. It was set-up nicely, vaguely unsettling, and even hinted at what the next book will entail. I loved Lan’s turnaround, especially since I was getting annoyed with him, but I felt sorry for the way his turnaround happened. Unfortunately, sometimes things like that are the only way for people to realize certain things about themselves.

I’m glad to see that Wrede isn’t making this part romance novel, as so much YA is. While I’m still holding out for Eff and William, and I guess I’ll have to wait for the third book, the romance probably won’t be very pronounced there, either. And I like the fact that Eff’s development is focused on her magic and what she finds out about the wild and her pendant, and only slightly centered on romance.

I’m anxious to see what happens with Rennie and the Rationalist settlement. Nothing bad, I hope…

What I Didn’t Like:

The book can plod a bit, and while Wrede makes it interesting, it still has that draggy feel to it. The part where Eff is back from her trip before she goes East is probably the worst. The way Wrede writes these books is very plodding, too, although most of the time it can be ignored.

I thought Eff was being so stupid when she kept blabbing to Professor Lefevre about the animals! Seriously, Eff, don’t you know that you never give important information to people you don’t know? I mean, in this case it turned out to be okay, but then I felt it was odd that this conversation, which was basically a repeat of what we already found out earlier, was in the book if it wasn’t significant. Maybe this was just more plodding.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None (well, the stone animals are a little creepy).

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Passages/Quotes:

When we got back to Bejmar, we had to go over the whole business one more time for the settlement magician. “Thank you,” he said when we finished. “Both for the warning and the help.” He shook his head tiredly. “I’d hoped that with so much forage and cover gone, we’d have a year or two before the big predators came back, but it seems not. Though the smaller wildlife aren’t much better.”

“Those cats shouldn’t have been there at all,” one of the men who’d come with us burst out. “They were starving, all of them; since when does a starving animal come to a place where there’s no food?”

~Wrede 108-109

Resting in the palm of her hand was one of the grayish white rocks like the ones we’d used to line the firepit—only this one was about two inches long and the exact shape and size of a squirrel’s front paw and forearm. If you looked close, you could even see where two of the claws had broken off.

“Huh,” Champ said after a moment. “Looks like somebody’s been here before us. So?”

“How could that be?” I said. “Nobody’d come all the way out here and bury a broken statue in the middle of a big old hill, especially one that’s been around long enough to grow tress all over it. I don’t see how anyone could do that.”

~Wrede 173

Overall Review:

Across the Great Barrier continues the great mix-up of Western/fantasy, with Eff as the still-developing, quiet, awesome protagonist. While the worldbuilding and the magic system are quite complex, the book plods in places due to the “everything is important” narration-style and often repetitive elements. The stone animals, though, are suitably creepy and a great segue into the main plot.

You can buy this here: Across the Great Barrier (Frontier Magic)

The View From Saturday: The Visual Joke Was The Best Part

The View from Saturday is written by E. K. Konigsburg. It was published in 1996 by Atheneum. More about Konigsburg can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“How had Mrs. Olinski chosen her sixth-grade Academic Bowl team? She had a number of answers. But were any of them true? How had she really chosen Noah and Nadia and Ethan and Julian? And why did they make such a good team?

It was a surprise to a lot of people when Mrs. Olinski’s team won the sixth-grade Academic Bowl contest at Epiphany Middle School. It was an even bigger surprise when they beat the seventh grade and the eighth grade, too. And when they went on to even greater victories, everyone began to ask: How did it happen?

It happened at least partly because Noah had been the best man (quite by accident) at the wedding of Ethan’s grandmother and Nadia’s grandfather. It happened because Nadia discovered that she could not let a lot of baby turtles die. It happened when Ethan could not let Julian face disaster alone. And it happened because Julian valued something important in himself and saw in the other three something he also valued.

Mrs. Olinski, returning to teaching after having been injured in an automobile accident, found that her Academic Bowl team became her answer to finding confidence and success. What she did not know, at least at first, was that her team knew more than she did the answer to why they had been chosen.”

What I Liked:

It’s E. L. Konigsburg! Her book From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler was one of my favorite books to read growing up, but I’ve also read this one a couple of times as well. When I got it at the library, the cover just gave me such nostalgia. I haven’t forgotten that cover, despite the fact that it’s been maybe 10 years since I’ve last read the book.

So, basically, this book is four short stories centered on an overarching narrative. There’s not really any “plot,” per se, except maybe the Academic Bowl, but the start of the book is towards the end of the competition and the entire book is essentially a flashback until the last few chapters, so it’s not a “traditional” plot. It’s more about the characters. Noah and Ethan are probably my favorites; I liked their stories best, anyway. This is a very character-driven book, and I think the “lack” of plot is made up for by the presence of the characters. Each kid has a distinctive voice (fact: I love Noah’s facts) and I loved the way Konigsburg structured it so that each child answers a question that somehow relates to the story they are about to tell (and yet it doesn’t completely overshadow the story itself).

Are sixth graders really that mean? I mean, the utter callousness of Hamilton shocked me. The kid’s, what, twelve? What twelve-year-old writes “Cripple” on the teacher’s blackboard? Granted, this was mostly for story purposes, but still…(this is under “Liked” for the sheer reason that Hamilton’s character in the story was really used for character development, which I liked.)

Also and finally, Julian correcting the commissioner was hilarious, and I absolutely loved the visual joke that Konigsburg gives near the end of the book (see quotes below), which is one reason why I love reading books and not listening to them.

What I Didn’t Like:

It gets a bit weird at the end. A little New Age-y, a little too…weird. Yeah.

It drove me CRAZY that Nadia never used contractions! She started sounding like a robot after a while. She was also way too melodramatic during her story, although I guess I sort of understand where she’s coming from and why she acted like that.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Realistic, Children’s

Passages/Quotes:

No one answered when he rang the front doorbell because we were all in the back loading the cake into the red wagon, so he walked around back to the patio. Unfortunately, he didn’t see the wagon handle, so he tripped on it, slid on the wet concrete, fell in the puddle of melted ice and, unfortunately, toppled the wedding cake.

The little top layer was totally smashed; it fell in the same puddle as Allen, and the little bride and groom were seriously maimed.

So was Allen’s ankle. Which fact I detected when he grabbed his foot and started to moan while still sitting the puddle on the patio. Grandpa Nate called 911. Grandma Sadie returned to the kitchen to whip up a repair batch of icing. Grandpa Nate took the remains of the cake to the clubhouse, and I sat with Allen until the ambulance came. He was not good company.

The groom called to see what was taking Allen so long. I answered the phone, and I thought I would have to call 911 for him, too. “Don’t panic,” I said. “I’ll be your best man.”

~Konigsburg 15

The previous year when Mr. Homer Fairbain had been master of ceremonies for the district playoffs, the contest had been broadcast on educational TV. When he was to ask the question, What is the native country of Pope John Paul II? Mr. Fairbain asked, “What is the native country of Pope John Paul Eye Eye?” The day after the broadcast, there were five letters to the editor in the paper about Mr. Fairbain, none favorable.

Dr. Rohmer knew that this year’s broadcast would have a larger than usual audience, partly because people were curious about having a sixth grade team be a contender for the district middle school championship but mostly because everyone would be waiting for Homer Fairbain to goof. Dr. Rohmer had to let Mr. Fairbain be master of ceremonies again. It would be his one chance to show the community that he had learned a thing or II.

~Konigsburg 134-135

Overall Review:

It’s all about character in this book, and that is pretty great. The short stories are memorable, the four kids are smart and (mostly) mature and sound that way (hooray!), and the Academic Bowl shenanigans at the end are pretty funny. Nadia’s voice and the weird New Age-y stuff at the end are really the only dampers.

You can buy this here: The View from Saturday

Buttermilk Sky: Review Copy

Disclaimer: Buttermilk Sky is a review copy provided by Tyndale. Therefore, the format of this review will deviate from my normal blog review format.

“Weary of the expectations imposed on her by her strict upbringing, nineteen-year-old Mazy Pelfrey left her home in the Kentucky mountains to attend secretarial school in the genteel city of Lexington. She was sure her life would change—and only for the better. Everything was supposed to be clear skies from then on.

But business school is harder than she thought it would be, and the big city not as friendly, until she meets a charming young man from a wealthy family, Loyal Chambers. When Loyal sets his sights on her, Mazy begins to see that everything she’d ever wished to have is right before her eyes. The only hindrance to her budding romance is a former beau, Chanis Clay, the young sheriff she thought she’d left firmly behind.

Danger rumbles like thunder on a high mountain ridge when Mazy’s cosseted past collides with her clouded future and forces her to come to terms with what she really wants.”

I must confess, I am a sucker for historical romance so I was expecting to like Buttermilk Sky for at least that aspect of it. I wasn’t expecting much beyond that, but the book did surprise me with how well it was written and for the occasional moment that made me chuckle. Overall it was quite a pleasant book and I’m not sorry I read it, though it was more of an “indulgence” book than a “wow this blew me away it was so good” book.

The one thing that stops me from really enjoying it, though, is the incredibly obvious romance and the overused plot devices. It’s obvious from the back cover that Mazy is going to end up with Chanis, and I’m actually okay with that…if Watson had done something more original with the other suitor, Loyal. The moment he appears, I thought, “He’s going to turn out to be some sort of insensitive cad, isn’t he?” Virtuous, hard-working country boy versus dashing rich city boy—not that hard to figure out that the country boy will win, because the rich boy will end up abusing the poor under his care to show how unsuitable he is for anyone, least of all a good Christian girl. Check. That really disappointed me because I thought Watson was bringing up some good points with Mazy’s hesitation between the two men. Choices like that are hard and it would have made Mazy’s development that much stronger if she actually had to make a difficult choice about whether to stay in Lexington or go back to her mountain town. It would have been much more interesting if Loyal had been a genuinely nice guy and took care of his tenants properly. But then he does, of course, turn out be an insensitive (and completely clueless) cad, and that’s a lot of development that’s just wasted right there.

Speaking of development, I’m not sure if Mazy actually got any. She had misgivings the entire book about whether or not she really thought she could marry Chanis, but those misgivings are never addressed fully—the book just ends with them happily married, without any explanation for what changed Mazy’s mind. It also bothered me that Eva was just completely written off without so much as even a mention at the end, and I can only assume it’s because she was a jealous, spiteful rich girl (they never get redeemed). More lost potential for a turn-around from her.

So, while I did enjoy Buttermilk Sky, I would have enjoyed it more if it had been less obvious and relied less on overused tropes to carry the plot. The fact that Watson completely misses out on what could have been a really strong conflict of choice that, given the Christian element, could have resulted in Mazy praying more than just once annoys me, along with the fact that Loyal and Chanis are cut straight out of TVTropes.

My rating: 3/5

Warnings: None.

Genre: Realistic, Historical Fiction, Christian 

Thirteenth Child: Just The Phrase “Frontier Magic” Makes Me Cackle With Glee

Thirteenth Child is written by Patricia C. Wrede. It was published in 2009 by Scholastic. It is the first in the Frontier Magic trilogy. Wrede’s website can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“Eff was born a thirteenth child. Her twin brother, Lan, is the seventh son of a seventh son. This means he’s supposed to possess amazing talent—and she’s supposed to bring doom to everyone around her. Undeterred, her family moves to the frontier, where her father will be a professor of magic at a school perilously close to the magical divide that protects settlers from the beasts of the wilderness.

Eff and Lan do not know what awaits them in such an unknown place. There are steam dragons that hover in the sky, and strange creatures that could undermine the homesteaders’ very existence. Eff is allowed to learn magic with the other students—but there’s always the threat of it going horribly wrong. As a thirteenth child, Eff always feels one short step away from complete ruin.

As Eff and Lan grow older, they face challenges they never could have dreamed of. And then their magic is put to the test in a standoff that will alter their lives forever.”

What I Liked:

So, this book is the marriage of two of my favorite things: fantasy and 1800s America (a.k.a. the western expansion, Little House on the Prairie, Back to the Future III, etc.). I’m actually not sure what time period this takes place in, since this America is so vastly different (it has magic, for one thing, which has affected all sorts of historical events), but it has that wonderful 1800s-esque feel to it that I just love. And the best part is that the main character actually conforms to the time period rather than someone who rebels against it (you know, like Suzannah Snow rebelling against 20th-century norms, and every single princess in any contemporary YA fantasy rebelling against princesshood and wanting to be a fantastic archer/swordsman rather than learn boring sewing and court manners, and any female 10th walker in a Lord of the Rings fanfic yelling at King Theoden for wanting them to go to the caves rather than fighting…you know, like that). Eff wears long skirts and puts her hair up and is shocked at Rennie for eloping and is altogether my favorite person ever.

For those of you who are familiar with Wrede’s Enchanted Forest books, be aware that Thirteenth Child has a completely different tone. The Enchanted Forest books are witty and parody-esque and other wonderful, humorous things. Thirteenth Child takes a much more mature tone and, while it has its moments, is not centered on humor like The Enchanted Forest books are, possibly because of the difference in audiences (YA as opposed to more Middle Grade).

This is a slow book, spanning about thirteen years (….!!! Why did I not notice that before?) of Eff’s life. But every year is just so important in Eff’s development, I can see why Wrede took the time to use the entire book as set-up rather than just start right away when Eff is eighteen. This is quite clearly a set-up book for the rest of the series, which I assume will take place over a much shorter period of time, but I love the little details and seeing each individual character grow.

Speaking of growth, I was a bit worried about William, but Wrede, besides having a fantastic main character, also does what other authors often fail to do: she realizes that people at age seven are not the same as the same people at seventeen, and has them grow accordingly (remember The Seer and the Sword, where at age seven she was all, “I could never live that way!” and I was all, “Relax. You’re seven”?). William is annoying at first, but then quickly grows into this fantastic person who is Eff’s best friend (and future love interest…?). Great writing all around, really.

The worldbuilding is fabulous. Like I said above, fantasy + Western = awesomeness. I love the creatures-as-villains aspect, especially since the creatures are part of the aforementioned fabulous worldbuilding.

I just really, really liked this book. It was impressive and had a new spin on fantasy that was so refreshing to read.

What I Didn’t Like:

While the creatures-as-villains aspect is interesting and I like the way Wrede handles it, I hope that the next books have a more concrete human villain. It seems that Wrede is setting up the Dept. of Settlement to be a major villain-y factor, so I’m hopeful.

I am about 75% sure that this is will shape up to be a “the poor creatures are just misunderstood” type of plot, and if that happens I will probably throw the book across the room.

“If you limit yourself to one way of seeing, one truth, you will limit your power.” Uhhh…okay. Sure?

Rating: 5/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Realistic, Young Adult

Passages/Quotes:

Papa looked down at Lan with a rueful expression. “Lan’s a natural magician. I’ve been thinking that something would break loose soon, but I hadn’t expected anything quite so dramatic. Nor as dangerous.”

“A natural—you mean you’re a seventh son?”

Papa nodded.

“And he’s a seventh son?”

Papa nodded again.

~Wrede 61

He paused for a minute, and sighed. “We don’t know enough about the critters on the far side of the Great Barrier,” he said, half to himself. “We don’t even know what all of them are yet. I’ve seen things on the far frontier that no one here can tell me names of. You can’t ward things off if you don’t know what they are or when they’re coming.”

Those words hit me and sank in deep. I thought of some of the tales I’d heard of failed settlements, and the reasons they’d failed. I remembered Dr. McNeil’s expedition, and how they’d almost been killed because they didn’t know to look for a swarming weasel burrow near their camp, and how Brant Wilson had saved them with his pistol and knowing about bees and a lucky guess. At that moment, I knew what I wanted to do; I wanted to go into the frontier, not as a settler, but as a naturalist, to study the wildlife the way Dr. McNeil had, the way Wash said was needed.

~Wrede 195

Overall Review:

I loved this book. There’s great worldbuilding; great character development; a slow, carefully-paced plot with great attention to said development; and a protagonist that I love simply because she’s so ordinary. I knew Wrede could write funny and quirky, but here’s proof she can write darn good fantasy.

You can buy this here: Thirteenth Child (Frontier Magic)

Abhorsen: A Tintinnabulation Of Bells

Abhorsen is written by Garth Nix. It is the third book in the Old Kingdom series. It was published in 2003 by Eos (HarperCollins). Nix’s website can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“[Orannis, the Destroyer] has been freed from its subterranean prison and now seeks to escape the silver hemispheres, the final barrier to the unleashing of its terrible powers.

Only Lirael, newly come into her inheritance as the Abhorsen-in-Waiting, has any chance of stopping the Destroyer. She and her companions—Sam, the Disreputable Dog, and Mogget—have to take that chance. For the Destroyer is the enemy of all Life, and it must be stopped, though Lirael does not know how.

To make matters worse, Sam’s best friend, Nick, is helping the Destroyer, as are the necromancer Hedge and the Greater Dead Chlorr, and there has been no word from the Abhorsen Sabriel or King Touchstone.

Everything depends upon Lirael. A heavy, perhaps even impossible burden for a young woman who just days ago was merely a Second Assistant Librarian. With only a vision from the Clayr to guide her, and the rather mixed help of her companions, Lirael must search in both Life and Death for some means to defeat the Destroyer.

Before it is too late….”

Thoughts:

I highly recommend reading all three books (Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen) back-to-back, or at least within small periods of time. It has been quite a while since I’ve read Lirael (six months, at least, even though all three reviews were released this week. You can tell how long it’s been because my blog format is different) and I struggled to remember details that Nix had revealed in that book that were important for this one.

Despite that, though, this book was pretty much tension and nail-biting galore, as Lirael and Co. race to defeat Hedge and Orannis. I especially liked the final conflict with Orannis, as all of the heroes gathered together to defeat it. Both Lirael and Sam get final moments of character development, although I wish more time had been spent on Sam. I felt as if he had less time devoted to him here than in Lirael.

I think one reason I prefer Lirael and Abhorsen to Sabriel is that Sabriel had that romance between Sabriel and Touchstone bogging it down. Lirael and Abhorsen do not have romance as a main plot, so much more time could be spent developing tension, plot, and development rather than characters having fits of jealousy over misunderstandings. Abhorsen in particular is a very tightly-paced book, with very little downtime in between plot events/action sequences. I know “epic” is overused, but I would say that Abhorsen is the most “epic” of the three books. Sabriel was introduction, Lirael was set-up, and Abhorsen is the realization of both.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Violence, death, disturbing images.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Passages/Quotes:

Lirael saw something like a long, spindle-thin rat—with burning coals for eyes—leap aside as the Dog struck. Then it was coming straight at her, and she felt its cold and powerful spirit rise against her, out of all proportion to its rat-like form.

She screamed and struck at it with her sword, blue-white sparks streaming everywhere. But it was too quick. The blow glanced off, and it snapped at her left wrist, at the hand that held the bell. Its jaws met her armored sleeve, and black-red flames burst out between its needle-like teeth.

Then the Dog fastened her own jaws on the creature’s middle and twisted it off Lirael’s arm, the hound’s blood-curdling growl adding to the sound of the thing squealing and Lirael’s scream. A moment later all were drowned in the deep sound of Saraneth as Lirael stepped back, flipped the bell, caught the handle, and rang it, all in one smooth motion.

~Nix 101

Overall Review:

Abhorsen is basically the quintessential last book: all the plot threads are wrapped up, the Big Bad is defeated, there’s a happy ending with just a bit of a mystery to leave readers guessing, and the characters become fully realized in their positions. Nix’s writing is very engaging and he can certainly create engaging worlds with engaging characters. My only problems with the book were a lack of remembrance of details and not enough focus on Sam, as well as a general slow start.

You can buy this here: Abhorsen

Walls Within Walls: What’s Hidden Behind The Walls Of Their Apartment?

Walls Within Walls is written by Maureen Sherry. It was published in 2010 by Katherine Tegen. Sherry’s website can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“After their father, a video-game inventor, strikes it rich, the Smithfork kids move from their cozy Brooklyn neighborhood to a swanky apartment on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue.

One day Brid, CJ, and Patrick discover an astonishing secret about their apartment. The original owner, the deceased multimillionaire Mr. Post, long ago turned the apartment itself into a giant puzzle containing a mysterious book and hidden panels—a puzzle that, with some luck, courage, and brainpower, will lead to discovering the Post family fortune. Unraveling the mystery causes them to race through today’s New York City—and to uncover some long-hidden secrets of the past.”

What I Liked:

What a fun puzzle book! I love books that involve riddles and secrets and treasure hunts, and this one balanced the riddles with the everyday worries and goings-on of kids really well. I loved that the kids felt uncomfortable and strange in their new life and I loved the interactions of the parents with the kids. Very well done, Sherry.

Ok, so that man in their apartment was legitimately creepy. Maybe it was the invasiveness or maybe I just was really connected to the kids at that point, but that was creepy. Imagine a six-year-old thinking that some strange person is just going to pop out of their closet at any moment. Creepy.

I loved the background behind the puzzles; it wasn’t just a treasure hunt, it was a treasure story with a rich, detailed background (and lots of history, too!). This wasn’t some stranger that just left clues in the apartment for some random person to find. Eloise, and through her Mr. Post, were real (in the fictional sense, of course) people involved and had stories to tell that made the kids want to find the answers not for themselves, but for others.

The illustrations in here were lovely. I really enjoyed them.

What I Didn’t Like:

Nothing!

Rating: 5/5

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Mystery, Realistic, Children’s

Passages/Quotes:

Quickly, CJ went through the other words, scribbling down, “Seven clues on seven structures get water from above to rupture.”

“What does that mean?” asked Pat.

“Excellent question, little man,” said CJ. “Excellent question.”

“Hey, guys,” said Brid, “I think we should do as this little piece of paper says. I think we should return this library book.”

“It’s the right thing to do,” CJ said.

“Yes, definitely the right thing,” said Pat, happy to agree.

~Sherry 22

CJ said, “Are you mad I didn’t take you with me to the storage room? From now on, we’ll do this stuff together. Okay, Brid?”

Maybe he shouldn’t have told her so much at once, he thought. “I know you want to include Patrick more, and I think he can be a big help to us. We certainly have a lot of work to do,” he continued.

But Brid didn’t answer. She simply pointed behind him with terrified, enormous eyes.

“What?” CJ turned around just in time to see the figure of a man moving quickly down the hallway and darting into Patrick’s bedroom.

~Sherry 121-122

Overall Review:

I love treasure hunt books, and this one has a great, historical (in parts) background to go along with it! The plot isn’t just focused on the hunt, either, and includes aspects of the kids’ lives that make the treasure hunt plot just that more endearing to me. Joe Torrio was creepy, but he gets better.

You can buy this here: Walls Within Walls

Lirael: So Much Better Than Sabriel

Lirael: Daughter of the Clayr is written by Garth Nix. It is the second book in the Old Kingdom/Abhorsen series. It was published in 2001 by HarperCollins. Nix’s website can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“Who is Lirael? Lirael has never felt like a true daughter of the Clayr. Abandoned by her mother, ignorant of her father’s identity, Lirael resembles no one else in her large extended family living in the Clayr’s Glacier. She doesn’t even have the Sight—the ability to See into the present and possible futures—that is the very birthright of the Clayr.

Nonetheless, it is Lirael in whose hands the fate of the Old Kingdom lies. She must undertake a desperate mission under the growing shadow of an ancient evil—one that opposes the Royal Family, blocks the Sight of the Clayr, and threatens to break the very boundary between Life and Death itself. With only her faithful companion, the Disreputable Dog, to help her, Lirael must find the courage to seek her own hidden destiny.”

What I Liked:

Boy, was this book way better than Sabriel. At least, I enjoyed it much more. While it’s the standard trilogy format and the book was mostly set-up for the third, I still thoroughly enjoyed myself. I liked Lirael a lot better than Sabriel (and I liked Sabriel, but Lirael is a much more appealing character type to me) and I just wanted to give Sameth a hug. I think the most interesting aspect for me was that they are essentially character opposites. All Sameth wants is to avoid his family inheritance, and all Lirael wants is to get her family inheritance. I loved Lirael’s development, and although Sameth didn’t get that much, I’m hopeful that his will come through in Abhorsen, the next book.

We only got a glimpse at the world and the mechanics behind it in Sabriel. In Lirael, we start to see more, such as the making of the Charter and the Nine, and the mysteriousness of Mogget and the Disreputable Dog. The world-making here is superb, and Nix is taking common fantasy tropes and making them new and unique. I especially like the contrast between the technological, advanced world and the magic world.

I complained a bit about the writing in Sabriel, but I didn’t notice it at all in this book. I don’t know if it’s because it was written six or so years later so Nix’s writing has improved, or if I just was into the book more and didn’t notice it because of that.

I didn’t like Touchstone in Sabriel, but I have to admit, the story of him trying to throw a marble throne at somebody is hilarious.

What I Didn’t Like:

Nothing much. I felt it was a bit obvious about Lirael, but I think it was supposed to be. The reveal about Hedge at the end felt a bit melodramatic.

Rating: 5/5

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Warnings: Violence, death, suicidal thoughts.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Mogget fanart by KPetrasko

Passages/Quotes:

In an instant of that blink, the globe disappeared, leaving behind a dog. Not a cute, cuddly Charter sending of a puppy, but a waist-high black and tan mongrel that seemed to be entirely real, including its impressive teeth. It had none of the characteristics of a sending. The only hint of its magical origin was a thick collar around its neck that swam with more Charter marks that Lirael had never seen before.

The dog looked exactly like a life-size, breathing version of the stone statuette. Lirael stared at the real thing, then down at her lap.

The statuette was gone.

~Nix 100

That night, as he had done scores of times before, Sam unlocked the cupboard to the left of his workbench and steeled himself to look at The Book of the Dead. It sat on a shelf, shining with its own ominous green light that overshadowed the soft glow of the Charter lights in the ceiling.

He reached out to it, like a hunter trying to pat a wolf in the vain hope that it might be only a friendly dog. His fingers touched the silver clasp and the Charter marks laid upon it, but before he could do more, a violent shaking overtook him, and his skin turned as cold as ice. Sam tried to still the shakes and ignore the cold, but he couldn’t. He snatched back his hand and retreated to the front of the fireplace, where he crouched down in misery, hugging his knees.

~Nix 233-234

Overall Review:

Lirael continues the great worldbuilding of Sabriel and builds on it by adding more cool gadgets, more hints to what is going on behind the scenes, and characters that completely outshine the ones from Sabriel. Lirael is the hesitant but powerful protagonist that I love, and Sameth is nothing at all like Touchstone, thank goodness. Mogget has great snark and the Disreputable Dog is hilarious. Lirael is one of those few books that deserves the title “The Sequel Is Better Than the First.”

You can buy this here: Lirael: Daughter of the Clayr

The One: What Did I Just Read And Why Did I Read It?

The One is written by Kiera Cass. It was published in 2014 by HarperTeen. It is the third and final book in the Selection trilogy. My reviews of the first two books can be found here and here. Cass’s website can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“The time has come for one winner to be crowned.

When she was chosen to compete in the Selection, America never dreamed she would find herself anywhere close to the crown—or to Prince Maxon’s heart. But as the end of the competition approaches, and the threats outside the palace walls grow more vicious, America realizes jut how much she stands to lose—and how hard she’ll have to fight for the future she wants.”

What I Liked:

As in the The Elite, I liked America’s determination to prove that she could come up with bright ideas, and she does do some pretty cool things throughout the book, like when she goes home and has a Queen Voice Moment. I also liked how her relationship with Celeste changed, and the moments with the other girls were very sweet.

As contrived and sappy as I thought the entire romance was, I must admit that I did feel a slight pang when Maxon said the whole “Break my heart” bit.

Oh! And the part where Georgia tells America that she’s the best person to have the crown because America doesn’t want it is great, too.

What I Didn’t Like:

Again, the world. I had a hard time immersing myself simply because everything seemed so flat and poorly-developed. The world just does not seem realistic to me and the castes and the rebels seem contrived to create tension. I just never got the world, and world is a big deal for me when reading fantasy/sci-fi/dystopian books like this one.

Oh, my goodness, “Honduragua.” Just…no.

It’s also horrendously convenient that all of America’s and Maxon’s problems are solved in one fell swoop at the end. Oh, the king is a tyrant and doesn’t want Maxon and America to get married? Bam! He’s gone. Oh, that issue with the castes? Bam! Solved. Oh, America feels guilty about telling Aspen that they’re through? Bam! He was in love with someone else the entire time!

I seriously don’t understand the attraction of these books; the romance isn’t great and neither is anything else…

Rating: 2/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Violence.

Genre: Dystopian, Young Adult

Passages/Quotes:

“As it’s gotten smaller, it’s gotten worse. I mean, I knew it would, but…it feels like it’s moving away from trying to be the girl that Maxon would pick to making sure the other girls won’t be the one he picks. I don’t know if that makes sense.”

She nodded. “It does. But, hey, this is what you signed up for.”

I chuckled. “Actually, I didn’t. I was sort of…encouraged to put my name in. I didn’t want to be a princess.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

She smiled. “Not wanting the crown means you’re probably the best person to have it.”

~Cass 46-47

I took off one of the beautiful earrings that Maxon had given me, then the other. I placed both in Adam’s hands; and he stood there, dumbstruck, as my beautiful bracelet followed. And then—because, if I was truly going to do this, I wanted to give everything—I reached behind my neck and unclasped my songbird necklace, the one my dad had given me. I hoped he was watching and not hating me for giving his gift away. Once I dropped it into Adam’s hand, I curled his fingers around the treasures, then stepped to the side so that he was standing directly in front of King Clarkson.

I pointed toward the thrones. “Go, faithful subject, and pay your debt to the king.”

~Cass 178

Overall Review:

Thank goodness that trilogy is over. America had a few good moments, but the rest of The One was contrived, too convenient, and wrapped up too nicely in a neat little bow (I know, usually I complain if an ending is too open-ended!). From the very first book, the world failed to pull me in and failed to feel realistic, and that, I think, is the major drawback of the series.

You can buy this book here: The One (The Selection)

Sabriel: Great Worldbuilding, But Touchstone Is Boring

I’m going to be posting a book review every day this week!

Sabriel is written by Garth Nix. It is the first book in the Old Kingdom/Abhorsen series. It was published in 1995 by HarperCollins. Nix’s website can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“Ever since she was a tiny child, Sabriel has lived outside the walls of the Old Kingdom, away from the random power of Free Magic, and away from the Dead who won’t stay dead. But now her father, the Mage Abhorsen, is missing, and to find him Sabriel must cross back into that world.

Though her journey begins alone, she soon finds companions: Mogget, whose seemingly harmless feline form hides a powerful—and perhaps malevolent—spirit, and Touchstone, a young Charter Mage long imprisoned by magic, now free in body but still trapped by painful memories.

With threats on all sides and only each other to trust, the three must travel deep into the Old Kingdom, toward a battle that will pit them against the true forces of life and death—and bring Sabriel face-to-face with her own hidden destiny.”

What I Liked:

So, normally, I don’t like books about necromancers. Kelley Armstrong’s trilogy was fantastic fun, though, and this one, while darker, has great worldbuilding. Although I had to keep looking back to see which bell does what, the setting, the mechanics, the world, sucked me straight in. There’s this sense of the vastness of the Old Kingdom that is made all the more vast by the fact that Sabriel and Touchstone seem to be some of the only people in the world, and often the only ones. Even when they’re in a large city, such as Belisaere, they somehow seem to be the only people there (or at least the only ones that matter). Oppositely, Ancelstierre is packed with people—soldiers, students, teachers. It’s a fascinating contrast, and I wonder if this is somehow tied to Sabriel’s character and the development she undergoes.

Speaking of Sabriel, I love how while she’s in Ancelstierre she’s all “I’M THE BEST MAGE EVER” and then when she gets to the Old Kingdom she’s all “UH, NO I’M NOT.” She still manages to pull off incredible feats that all protagonists obligatorily (and obviously) must do to be a Good Protagonist/Hero (Why must all protagonists be The Best??), but those are mostly mitigated by her inexperience and lack of knowledge about the Old Kingdom. Her character development is mostly good, and the part at the end when she and Rogir are fighting was brilliant.

Obvious romance is obvious, but at least it wasn’t so completely centered in the plot like a lot of YA books tend to do.

What I Didn’t Like:

Was it that necessary to have that scene where Sabriel overhears a couple having sex and gets all jealous because she thinks it’s Touchstone and the maid? Okay, maybe it had something to do with her character development (or at least the romance development), but it just seemed incredibly voyeuristic (and more graphic than these things usually are in YA) and also unnecessary. Ok, yeah, Sabriel has the hots for Touchstone. We get it. He’s literally the only guy she’s met (who’s “available”). He’s also not even a very well-developed character and incredibly boring. Sabriel is ten times more interesting than Touchstone. Mogget is more interesting. I mean, not everyone can be or is interesting, but at least make him likeable before making her jealous. As it stands, the scene felt completely out of place and unnecessary.

While Nix’s tendency to skip “the” in front of some words (“She touched bells and sword,” etc.) bothered me, at least he was consistent with it. I got more used to it as the book went on.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Warnings: Violence, sexual situations.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Fantastic fan art by Ashley Hankins Illustration (http://ashleyhankinsillustration.blogspot.com/2013/03/sabriel.html)

Passages/Quotes:

Quashing her natural curiosity to find out exactly what had happened, Sabriel folded the man’s arms across his chest, after first unclenching the grip that his right hand still had on his sword hilt—perhaps he had not been taken totally unawares after all. Then she stood and drew the Charter marks of fire, cleansing, peace and sleep in the air above the corpse, while whispering the sounds of those same marks. It was a litany that every Charter Mage knew, and it had the usual effect. A glowing ember sparked up between the man’s folded arms, multiplied into many stabbing, darting flames, then fire whooshed the full length of the body. Seconds later it was out and only ash remained, ash staining a corselet of blackened mail.

Sabriel took the soldier’s sword from the pile of ashes and thrust it through the melted snow, into the dark earth beneath. It stuck fast, upright, the hilt casting a shadow like a cross upon the ashes.

~Nix 32-33

“This is a Mordaut,” she said to Touchstone, who was stifling a half-born yawn. “A weak spirit, catalogued as one of the Lesser Dead. They like to ride with the Living—cohabiting the body to some extent, directing it, and slowly sipping the spirit away. It makes them hard to find.”

“What do we do with it now?” asked Touchstone, eyeing the quivering lump of shadow with distaste. It clearly couldn’t be cut up, consumed by fire, or anything else he could think of.

“I will banish it, send it back to die a true death,” replied Sabriel. Slowly, she drew Kibeth, using both hands. She still felt uneasy, for the bell was twisting in her grasp, trying to sound of its own accord, a sound that would make her walk in Death.

~Nix 161

 Overall Review:

Sabriel has some great worldbuilding and I’m eager to see what happens to this world that is just slightly revealed in this book. Sabriel has some good development, although in the romance department it fell way flat. Why should I care about Touchstone again? The ending was fantastic, specifically the resolution of Sabriel versus Rogir, and I’m looking forward to the next book.

You can buy this book here: Sabriel (Abhorsen)

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