I very much enjoyed this fun little book about an orphan, but something holds me back from loving it.
The many coincidences did not bother me, because the themes of fate and destiny running through the book were consistent.
I saw most of the plot twists coming a million miles away. That didn’t bother me too much, because I liked feeling clever when I was right. I’m not sure if the intended audience, who will have less background expectations, will see the twists telegraphed so obviously.
I wish that the Fair/Talented dynamic had been explored a little more deeply. It’s implied that Marigold’s mother was happier when she thought she was Fair, but if that’s the case, then why not just pretend that she’s not Talented? Most of the Talents in the book seem pretty random and not at all something that could earn money or be at all useful in the creation of society and civilization. This means that the majority of people doing a particular job will not be Talented in that job. Sure, it might be more difficult to be an archaeologist without a related Talent, but I can’t imagine that every archaeologist would have a Talent, there simply are too many scientists and not enough randomness for that.
I didn’t like the implications with the Zane storyline. On the one hand, no child should be told that he is useless and worthless. But at the same time there is a general sense that his parents get defensive when anyone criticizes him and make no real attempts to change his rotten behavior. Getting sent to boarding school is extreme, but the tone seemed to me to be criticizing his getting punished at all, despite the fact that he was stealing things. He is selfish and amoral, and that’s not okay any more than being told that he’s worthless is okay. I didn’t find the mother’s part of the plot believable either.
Milo is always in too much of a hurry to look around him, yet bored and dull when he arrives. One day he is surprised to discover a package in his room. It turns out to be the start of a great adventure, when Milo is whisked off to the Land of Wisdom and given the quest to save the princesses Rhyme and Reason. Along the way he meets a huge variety of strange and interesting people and circumstances.
The wordplay and puns could easily have been stupid and forced instead of whimsical and clever. I’ve read other books that were trying for the same tone and fell flat. Here the wordplay just works. (Mostly. There were one or two places, like the list of demons in Ignorance, were the joke went on a little too long. But mostly it was spot on.)
There’s not a lot of true character development, but that’s not really the point of the story, so I don’t care. Theoretically Milo changes a lot, but right from the beginning he’s willing to go along and do things, so even though we’re told that he’s a boring dull boy who never thinks or does things, we never actually see that side of him.
Highly recommended for fans of wordplay, adventure, or strange fantasy quests.
This book was significantly darker than the previous book in the series. It was also one of my favorites. It’s difficult for me, having read the entire series, to determine how well this book stands on its own, one of the Newbery criteria. Certainly several of the deaths and sacrifices that the characters make had significantly more resonance because of the background knowledge and previous experiences I had already encountered with them. Yet, I think the writing was clear in why and to what degree each loss was felt so that someone new to the book would feel the loss.
This book differed from the previous four in that it had a grander perspective. Instead of staying almost entirely with Taran and his viewpoint, here the narrative shifted from person to person, reflecting a larger playing field in which multiple important things were going on at various times.
I did feel the theme was somewhat undermined in one of the climactic scenes. One of the explicit themes was that prophecies are essentially meaningless because each person must write his own future, that it is our actions that weave the tapestry of our lives, not fate. Yet at the same time many of the events in the book turn on chance or coincidence. Taran stumbling on Durnwyn, or Gurgi saving the secrets, or even Glew causing the mountain to fall and thus forcing the warriors to find a different path, all of these were essentially random events over which Taran had virtually no control and yet were hugely important in the ultimate fate of the battle.
Still, this was a magnificent read, a stunning conclusion to a solidly excellent fantasy series.
I was not particularly looking forward to this one, in part because I found book one in the series, The Book of Three to only be so-so. But this installment in the Chronicles of Prydain was significantly better, enough so that I intend to read the next in the series instead of skipping straight to the Newbery-winning last book. The witches were strange and mad. The plot was darker, the writing was tighter and more interesting. And okay, so I saw the final ending coming a mile away, but it was still fascinating to get there. Having a distinguished plot is not necessarily about having a surprise ending. The craft that goes into pacing, the arrangement of events, and general skill of revealing information or character traits at specific times are all taken into account along with what we more typically think of as “plot”.
I like that the author continues to keep as a theme the idea that war is hell and that pride should be taken in small things, like plowing a field, not just (or even at all) in shedding blood “gloriously” in battle. From a Newbery perspective the development of themes was distinguished. It was not heavy-handed, but it was clear and present throughout the book.
I might have a new favorite fantasy series to recommend widely. I wish this was the first book in the series, since I know that as a child I was never able to get into The Book of Three, and even as an adult while I enjoyed that one for the most part, it was not with the same degree of enthusiasm I find for this much better novel.
The Newbery winner in 2004, this was a sweet book. It frustrated me that at the beginning several references are made to mice not talking to humans, but then no one is really terribly surprised when the mice talk, and the rats clearly talk to humans all the time in the prisons. At first I couldn’t decide if I thought the writing style was too twee, but in the end I decided to like it. It’s been several years since I read Olive’s Ocean, but I’m not sure that I would have picked this book over that one. I remember several painful scenes that were so real in their awkwardness, and the moving scene where she realizes the world will go on without her if she dies, and so on. But I think years from now this book will just be “oh, that sweet adventure story”
There was a certain amount of craft evident in the theme of light and darkness and that you need the darkness to emphasize the light, a theme that ran throughout the story and was even evident in the name of the Rat Chiaroscuro. The book was clearly written in the style of a fairy tale/folk story, so if some of the characters were a little flat, then I accept that as part of the genre. I did really like the book, I simply wasn’t as wowed as I’d expected to be given how many people had praised it.
Twelve year old Sunny has spent her entire life feeling out of place, first as a Nigerian in America and now as an American in Nigeria. It doesn’t help that she is an albino, forced to stay out of the sun and looking physically out of place as well. She is surprised to discover, however, that she really IS different: she is one of the Leopard People, magic workers who live amongst the regular world. But just as Sunny is beginning her initiation into magic, she is thrust into a mystery involving a serial killer that might just have ties to the magical world.
This was an excellent fantasy book. I enjoyed reading a book set in Africa that was grounded in the realities of rural Nigeria: the buses are unreliable and crowded, but the kids have cell phones. While books that takes place on this continent are admittedly rare, the few that are published seem to depict Africa as existing in a perpetual time-warp where computers or televisions are strange or nonexistant.
But as much as the setting helps the book to stand out from the pack of fantasy novels, the writing and story work just as hard to be distinguished. The magic system was interesting; I particularly loved that learning new things led to an instant shower of magical currency. While the prejudice against free agents – children who come into the magical world without generations of family support – is a little over-the-top, I was willing to overlook it as a means for the author to both convey attitudes and do a little more-or-less subtle info-dumping.
Recommended for anyone who enjoys fantasy. Some of the serial killing implications could be a little upsetting, but the book never becomes gory.
Robin is not having a good day. It’s her eleventh birthday, but so far it’s been just awful. When she blows out the candles on her cake, she wishes that she were somebody else. When she wakes up, she finds herself in a new body – that of British girl Fiona! A frantic attempt to figure out how to switch back leads Robin to discover an entire network of Wishers – eleven year old girls who have been transported to another’s body. But the magic only works until one of the bodies turns twelve – and not all of the Wishers want to wish themselves home.
A light, breezy read, this quick novel reminds us once again that while the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, there’s no place like home. We also see that when people’s expectations change, we can often rise to challenges we never thought possible. These themes make for a charming story that many girls will enjoy, and may even relate to.
There are a few plot holes, most of them revolving around the ending, but this isn’t the sort of book where one is terribly concerned with world-building or consistent magical rules. All of the girls in the book appear to have wished themselves away from relatively harmless “problems” and stress, but that’s appropriate for the target audience. If the magic age was sixteen, rather than eleven, we’d expect to see slightly more dangerous scenarios that some of the girls are thrust into, but the charming adventures of girls trying desperately to pretend to be someone else while simultaneously finding their true selves is right on target for the tween audience.
The ending (plus the subtitle “A Wishers Story”) strongly implies there will be more in this series. While the book was predictable, it was also sweet, and I will be amongst the many who will most likely read others in the series, if only because I have a weakness for switched-body plotlines.
Aldwyn is an alley cat, used to surviving by his wits. While escaping from a bounty hunter, he accidentally ends up in a store filled with magical animals and is adopted as a young boy’s familiar. Aldwyn finds he very much enjoys Jack’s company, and is desperate to keep his non-magical status a secret – a task that becomes ever more difficult when all of the apprentice wizards are kidnapped and Aldwyn must band together with two other magical animals -an illusionist blue-jay and a visionary frog – to save the children.
This was a solid introduction to a new series. The characters are likeable, if a bit tread-worn (a spunky hero, a know-it-all female, and a goofy sidekick. Can’t think where I’ve seen that combination before…) The magic system is interesting, with hints that later books in the series will further explore the human magic vs. animal magic paradigms. The plot twists were carefully foreshadowed. Kids who read a lot may see some of them coming, but I suspect that the major twists will be a surprise to most readers.
There are numerous places were the book was quite humorous, which will help a lot in its appeal. I’m doing my best not to be a nit-picker when it comes to throw-away laughs (Gilbert the frog cannot get flies stuck in his teeth, because he doesn’t have teeth!) The action was well-paced as well. Overall, a solid, though not stellar, addition to the genre, and one that most fantasy-loved kids will eat up.
Mackie has always been odd. He’s allergic to iron, can’t enter the church’s consecrated ground, and is deathly pale. His family, all too aware that the strange are easily persecuted, has made it their life’s mission to keep Mackie as invisible as possible. Mackie himself is more than happy to blend into the shadows, even as he realizes that he is becoming more and more ill as time goes by. So he is reluctant to talk to Tate, a girl at his school whose sister has just died.
People in the town of Gentry are willing to look the other way when children begin suddenly sickening and dying for no apparent reason. Tate’s insistence that it was not her sister that died, but a replacement is not welcome news to anyone – specifically not to Mackie, who is trying as hard as possible to pass for normal. But slowly Mackie becomes sucked into Tate’s anger and frustration at the town’s denial, forcing him to come to terms with his own past and his complicated family relationships.
This was a very strong fantasy book for teenagers. It will appeal to both male and female readers. There’s just enough tension between Tate and Mackie to keep fans of the paranormal romance happy, but unlike so many of the Twilight-inspired paranormal books on the shelves these days, the focus is far more on plot and character relationships in general than it is on possibilities of romance. Mackie has a lot of hard choices to make, and a lot of realizing that as much as he has always been an outsider, he has also inspired loyalty in his friends. (Though my one major quibble with the book was that Mackie really isn’t a very good friend, particularly to the very loyal Roswell.)
Lips Touch Three Times is three short stories – or, really, two short stories and novella. Together the collection is united by depictions of a world in which the magical is only barely under the surface, a world where the simple acts of kissing, or singing, or cutting one’s hair can have far-reaching, even disastrous outcomes.
My favorite story was the middle one, where a young girl grows up with the knowledge, whispered to her by the servants and mocked by her parents, that if she speaks, her words will kill. But since she has excellent self-control, she has no way of knowing for sure. Has she spent her entire life denied a voice for no reason, or has her silence been the only wall between her family and death? Despite the fact that I could see every plot development coming, I still very much enjoyed both the atmosphere and the language of this short story.
The long novella, “Hatchling”, was far more detailed, both in its worldbuilding and its plot. Although I felt the language was not as jaw-dropping as in the previous two stories, that may simply have been because I was both more sucked into the story and more adapted to the use of words. This story is certainly the most disturbing of the three offerings. A discussion at the blog Heavy Medal suggested that many children who are not “ready” for some of the implied themes may simply read the story as being about body snatchers. But as an adult, I reacted strongly to what was essentially a mental rape. And a physical one, in some ways: the Druj take control of two bodies, including Esme, and have sex while “wearing” the bodies, leaving the original inhabitants of the bodies to simply sit and watch from a small corner of their own mind. The story skims over this aspect a bit, since the focus of the story is not on Esme, but readers should be aware that there is some potentially triggering material if you read deeply into the scenes.
Throughout the book the language is phenomenal. The book was a National Book Award Finalist, and it is not difficult to see why. The use of words to create a mode, define an atmosphere, and bring a character into sharp relief. The illustrations are also gorgeous.