Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Horton Halfpott

Due to the recent demise of my laptop (sniff.) and my increasingly hectic schedule, I have an enormous backlog of books to review.  So I'm back to last year's strategy of nutshell reviews: reviewing the books in ten or fewer sentences.  My goal is to get caught up with all my books by the end of the year.

This book is by the same author as The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, and while the humor is still there, this one is set in Victorian England rather than a modern American middle school.  Our hero is Horton Halfpott, a servant at the elegant Smugwick Manor.  A bizarre and humorous chain of events begins when M'Lady Luggertuck, mistress of Smugwick Manor, loosens her corset one fine morning, culminating in the mysterious disappearance of a precious family heirloom, the Luggertuck Lump.  Of course the scrupulously honest Horton is innocent, despite the accusations against him.  A lively and unusual cast of characters combine to make this an intriguing, amusing and absurd mystery novel that I enjoyed very much.

I did wonder as I read whether younger readers would appreciate the humor as much as I did, however.  My ten-year-old adored Origami Yoda but sadly only made it partway through this one before she gave up.  So I would suggest Horton Halfpott as an excellent choice for a read-aloud - I think if we'd read it together, I could have stopped to explained things so she'd have appreciated the humor much more.  Fans of humor and historical novels should definitely give this one a try.

Also by Tom Angleberger: The Strange Case of Origami Yoda

Horton Halfpott or The Fiendish Mystery of Smugwick Manor or The Loosening of M'Lady Luggertuck's Corset by Tom Angleberger (Amulet Books, 2011)

Monday, November 14, 2011


This is the first book in a paranormal series for teens about a Krystal, a fifteen-year-old who moves to a small town in New England with her mother, following her parents' divorce.  She feels very disconnected being in the suburbs after growing up in New York City, and she is depressed and upset about her the divorce.  The fact that her mother is already with someone new, someone who feels he has the authority to boss Krystal around despite the fact that he is not Krystal's father, only makes matters worse.  Then when Krystal starts seeing the ghost of a boy from her school who died before she moved up from New York, things really get strange.

There were things about this book that I liked - I really liked the fact that Krystal is black - and part Cherokee - because there aren't many books in this genre that do not feature white heroines.  The supernatural element was interesting, too, something a little different from the usual vampires and werewolves that proliferate the pages of YA fiction these days.

But as much as I really wanted to love this book, I just didn't. Aside from the fact that the book is written in the present tense, which is something I have personal issues with, the characters simply weren't very real.  Krystal did nothing but whine and complain and be rude to the people around her.  She was so negative and self-involved that I could barely bring myself to finish the book.  Plus she just wasn't very bright.  She receives suggestive, overtly sexual text messages when she knows there is a local sexual predator on the prowl - and people have been killed by this person - but she doesn't tell an adult?  Argh!  The writing was at times awkward and uneven, with punctuation and grammar issues, to the point that I kept getting yanked out of the narrative to reread sentences over again in order to figure out what the author was trying to say.
"I don't want to go," I say in a voice that sounds sulky and juvenile - I mean elementary-like.
While me, on the other hand, can't stand to be in the house Janet works so hard to create and walks around with enough friction in my mind to fill a psych ward.
Seriously?  What does that even mean?  I found myself getting angry that, as paranormal YA novels featuring minority teens are rare, shouldn't such books be even better than the norm?  Shouldn't standards be even higher for such books?  It is not good enough to have a lovely, slick cover and a good marketing campaign - for any book, particularly books for young readers.  I wish I could say that this first book stands head and shoulders above its peers, but sadly, I can't.

Books in the Mystyx series:
1. Manifest
2. Mystify
3. Mayhem
4. Mesmerize

Manifest (#1 in the Mystyx series) by Artist Arthur (Kimani Tru, 2010)

Also reviewed at:
Charlotte's Library "... although this first book of the series was somewhat uneven, the second book promises more -- Krystal's grown up somewhat, and I know longer want to shake her, and the paranormal plot is about to really get going!"
Do Not Disturb My Books "I felt disconnected from the characters while reading the story. I felt like there was so much devoted to the story itself but the characters were left out of that."
Insert Book Title Here: "I really enjoyed this one. It had romance, supernatural powers, friendship, twists, turns, and mystery."

We had a good run...

...but sadly, I had to bid my faithful old laptop goodbye a couple weeks ago.  I've had it so long I was a little surprised to count up the years we'd been together.  Seven?  Eight?  Maybe Santa will bring me a new one - I've been pretty good this year. :-)

So forgive me if I'm lag even further behind on my reviews during this busy, laptop-free time of year.  I can't kick my kids off their computer when they're trying to get their homework done (as tempted as I may be), but I will try to keep visiting everyone's blogs and posting here as much as I can.  

Friday, November 4, 2011

Gunnerkrigg Court, Volume 2: Research

It had been such a long time since I'd read the first volume of the wonderful, quirky Gunnerkrigg Court (which I'd discovered back when it was still only available as a webcomic - and it still is, for free, here), that I thought I'd better reread it before starting on with this second volume, and I'm glad I did.  First, because it is delightful, and it was fun to revisit those dark and mysterious boarding school corridors, and second, because I might have been a bit confused about the continuing events in the second volume if I hadn't done that reread first.

Volume 2 continues the story of young Antimony Carver, at the strange boarding school known as Gunnerkrigg Court.  This is her second year, and she and her best friend Kat continue to explore the mysteries that the school - and Annie's past - have to offer.  There's the strange relationship between the school and its emphasis on technology and robotics and the forest with its nature spirits and deities.  There is the ghost that we met in the first book, who may have some answers to offer.  And there's also the secret room beneath Kat's workshop and the strange ancient robots that the two girls discover there.  Aside from the magical, robotic and mythological aspects of the girls' school days, there are also the mundane but no less important issues of navigating the ins and outs of friendship and change.

Where the first book was more episodic, with each chapter telling its own short story, this one is more cohesive, with a single narrative arc that runs throughout the volume.  It has the same quirky humor and compelling plot, and the colorful illustrations are a visual feast.  I love that I find this book just as engaging as my ten- and twelve-year-old daughters do, and while we may derive our enjoyment from different aspects of the story, we have a great time sharing our thoughts about the enigmatic hints and clues that always keep us guessing.

We are all very much looking forward to reading the third volume.  I own the first volume of this series, and while I checked the second one out from the library, this is one series that I intend to purchase in its entirety for our own personal collection.  I know it's one we'll all be reading and rereading over the years.

Books in the Gunnerkrigg Court series:
1. Orientation
2. Research
3. Reason

Gunnerkrigg Court, Volume 2: Research by Tom Siddell (Archaia, 2009)

Also reviewed at:
Back to Books:  "Gone are the seemingly random vignettes, instead to be replaced by a full blown plot of magic and mayhem between the court and the forest, the humans and the non-human creatures living at Gunnerkrigg Court. "
Finding Wonderland: "Though fans of school stories like the Harry Potter books would probably enjoy this one, Gunnerkrigg is no Hogwarts. Though it, too, hides secrets everywhere and has a few ghosts hanging about, nothing is quite as clear-cut; there's no easy division between wizards and muggles, no complete separation between life and death and clockwork, between human and faerie."
Mama Librarian: "Siddell never takes himself too seriously, and we find ourself falling hard for his characters. A worthy heir to Buffy."