House of Many Ways
Middle Grade / Juvenile / January 4, 2018

Howl’s Moving Castle #3. Author: Diana Wynn Jones. Summary: Charmain Baker is in over her head. Looking after Great-Uncle William’s tiny cottage while he’s ill should have been easy. But Great-Uncle William is better known as the Royal Wizard Norland, and his house bends space and time. Its single door leads to any number of places—the bedrooms, the kitchen, the caves under the mountains, the past, and the Royal Mansion, to name just a few. By opening that door, Charmain has become responsible for not only the house, but for an extremely magical stray dog, a muddled young apprentice wizard, and a box of the king’s most treasured documents. She has encountered a terrifying beast called a lubbock, irritated a clan of small blue creatures, and wound up smack in the middle of an urgent search. The king and his daughter are desperate to find the lost, fabled Elfgift—so desperate that they’ve even called in an intimidating sorceress named Sophie to help. And where Sophie is, can the Wizard Howl and fire demon Calcifer be far behind? Of course, with that magical family involved, there’s bound to be chaos—and unexpected revelations. No one will be more surprised than Charmain by…

Castle in the Air
Middle Grade / Juvenile / January 3, 2018

Howl’s Moving Castle #2. Author: Diane Wynn Jones. Summary: Far to the south of the land of Ingary, in the Sultanates of Rashpuht, there lived in the city of Zanzib a young and not very prosperous carpet dealer named Abdullah who loved to spend his time daydreaming. He was content with his life and his daydreams until, one day, a stranger sold him a magic carpet. That very night, the carpet flew him to an enchanted garden. There, he met and fell in love with the beauteous princess Flower-in-the-Night, only to have her snatched away, right under his very nose, by a wicked djinn. With only his magic carpet and his wits to help him, Abdullah sets off to rescue his princess…. (Published Summary) My Thoughts: Hm… it’s okay. I’m not sure if my reaction of “meh” is actually from the book, or just because I’ve read a lot of Aladdin retellings, and Aladdin isn’t even one of my favorite stories. The insta-love is a strike, even in middle-grade. But on the plus side, Abdullah is an engaging main character, and the magic carpet is always good. Always. The story’s mostly set in “the Sultanates of Rashpuht”, a land far…

We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Adult / January 2, 2018

Author: Shirley Jackson. Summary: Merricat Blackwood lives on the family estate with her sister Constance and her Uncle Julian. Not long ago there were seven Blackwoods—until a fatal dose of arsenic found its way into the sugar bowl one terrible night. Acquitted of the murders, Constance has returned home, where Merricat protects her from the curiosity and hostility of the villagers. Their days pass in happy isolation until cousin Charles appears. Only Merricat can see the danger, and she must act swiftly to keep Constance from his grasp. (Published Summary) My Thoughts: Merricat is eighteen years old, but sounds more like ten sometimes. She lives alone in a huge, old house with her sister Constance and her Uncle Julian, where nothing ever changes… and she likes it that way. So the day her protections fail and Change arrives in the form of Cousin Charles, she buckles down to fight. The real power of Shirley Jackson’s writing lays not so much in the plot as in the character. Not that there’s any problems with the plot, which is creepy enough as it is, but you have to hear it in Merricat’s matter of fact voice. It’s that straight forward, childish voice…

The Knights of Crystallia
Middle Grade / Juvenile / January 1, 2018

Alcatraz Vs. the Evil Librarians #3. Author: Brandon Sanderson. Summary: In this third Alcatraz adventure, Alcatraz Smedry has made it to the Free Kingdoms at last. Unfortunately, so have the evil Librarians–including his mother! Now Alcatraz has to find a traitor among the Knights of Crystallia, make up with his estranged father, and save one of the last bastions of the Free Kingdoms from the Evil Librarians. (Published Summary) My Thoughts: Alcatraz has a few moments of seriousness for once. (Only a few. No worries.) They’re so quick, almost throwaway, that how you take them is entirely up to you: ignore them because he’s just messing with you, consider them to reveal a deeper side to Alcatraz, take them as morals – you can do anything. It’s very non-preachy, despite the bits on “the dangers of fame” and all that, which is great. I love the self-aware narrator trope. And Alcatraz is one of the best. With his evil manipulations of chapter breaks, which he’s not at all shy of explaining to us, his wandering monologues – how dare he malign fish sticks, by the way, what a flaw in my hero – and his overt, blatant foreshadowing, he becomes…