Book Review – Skulduggery Pleasant

Book: Skulduggery Pleasant (#1) – Author: Derek Landy

Genre: Fiction, Adventure, Fantasy, Young Adult

Description from Goodreads:

Meet Skulduggery Pleasant. Sure, he may lose his head now and again (in fact, he won his current skull in a poker match), but he is much more than he appears to be—which is good, considering that he is, basically, a skeleton. Skulduggery may be long dead, but he is also a mage who dodged the grave so that he could save the world from an ancient evil. But to defeat it, he’ll need the help of a new partner: a not so innocent twelve-year-old girl named Stephanie. That’s right, they’re the heroes.

Stephanie and Skulduggery are quickly caught up in a battle to stop evil forces from acquiring her recently deceased uncle’s most prized possession—the Sceptre of the Ancients. The Ancients were the good guys, an extinct race of uber-magicians from the early days of the earth, and the scepter is their most dangerous weapon, one capable of killing anyone and destroying anything. Back in the day, they used it to banish the bad guys, the evil Faceless Ones. Unfortunately, in the way of bad guys everywhere, the Faceless Ones are staging a comeback and no one besides our two heroes believes in the Faceless Ones, or even that the Sceptre is real.

So Stephanie and Skulduggery set off to find the Sceptre, fend off the minions of the bad guys, beat down vampires and the undead, prove the existence of the Ancients and the Faceless Ones, all while trading snappy, snippy banter worthy of the best screwball comedies.

My Review:

This was a fun one! It was a pretty quick but interesting read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I thought it might end up a little strange, having a 12 year old partner up with an adult, but Stephanie & Skulduggery actually play really well off each other. Stephanie can hold her own against the bad guys pretty decently for a newbie and can match Skulduggery one-for-one in the wit & cleverness department. It WAS a little weird that all the adults almost automatically took to having a 12 year old as part of their group, but considering the target audience for the book, I can see why the author just kind of let that one go instead of trying to explain it too much. Plus, like I said earlier, Stephanie can really hold her own.

The adventure was really interesting too. It had me on the edge of my seat quite a few times, wondering if our heroes would make it out of this one. The book jumped to conclusions a tiny bit quickly on occasion, but not too bad for a young person novel. And the author also held back some surprises for the reader that I didn’t see coming, which was nice.

I will admit that there were a lot of characters kind of thrown at the reader in the first half of the book, but considering Stephanie was just being introduced to this magical word, that makes sense. Ever start a new job or go to a new school? You meet a ZILLION people the first day and can’t keep track of ANY of them…but just like real life, the book quickly fleshes out the important characters and keeps re-introducing them so you can get them fixed in your mind.

Now, if you’ve heard of these books before, you’re probably wondering why I would list a children’s book as Young Adult. Let me explain. The writing in this novel was really well done, not too dumbed down, but that’s not really a factor for naming something YA; in fact, I love it when authors realize that children don’t need to be spoken down to. No, it was really the violence that caused my rating to go up. Yes, children can handle the death of characters (Harry Potter anyone?), but this was a little too much for a kid, in my opinion. If you have an advanced reader that can handle really decently scary situations and descriptions of death, then go for it, but for the average 10 year old? Maybe a bit TOO scary at times.

Overall, though, this was a GREAT book! I enjoyed it so much that I plan to pick up the next in the series on my next library run. 🙂 I highly recommend it for people who enjoy adventurous/magical/humorous novels…which, who of us doesn’t, right? 😉

Similar Book(s):

In feel, if not in content…

The True Meaning of Smekday (Adam Rex)

The Book of Storms (Ruth Hatfield)

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Book Review – The Book of Lost Things

Book: The Book of Lost Things – Author: John Connelly

Genre: Fiction, Adventure, Fantasy, Coming-Of-Age, Allegory

Description from Goodreads:

High in his attic bedroom, twelve-year-old David mourns the death of his mother, with only the books on his shelf for company. But those books have begun to whisper to him in the darkness. Angry and alone, he takes refuge in his imagination and soon finds that reality and fantasy have begun to meld. While his family falls apart around him, David is violently propelled into a world that is a strange reflection of his own — populated by heroes and monsters and ruled by a faded king who keeps his secrets in a mysterious book, ‘The Book of Lost Things’.

My Review:

I am a huge fan of fairy tales and lore, plus a gigantic bibliophile, so this book sounded right up my alley. I was right; it was even better than I anticipated!

This book managed to be a classic fairy tale itself, with David having to go on a heroic quest, fight beasts & fiends alike, save the girl, and free the kingdom; while also incorporating (and reimagining) a ton of existing fairy tales. It was really interesting to see how the original tales were twisted to fit David’s perception of what they would be like in ‘real life’.

I don’t want to give away too much, but I will say that I ended up putting this into the “allegory” category for a reason. In a similar fashion to books like A Monster Calls and Four Kings, everything that happens in the ‘fairy tale’ world has a meaning for David’s life in the real world. Nothing is really thrown in just for the sake of it; pretty much everything that happens has a purpose. Certain characters are manifestations of ‘real life’ people, with a twist based on how David perceives them; and the events that happen around them all have a deeper meaning, if you are willing to look for it.

That being said, even if you are looking for just a fun tale without any hidden meanings, you should definitely read this one! The adventure on its own was insane! It read like a true Grimm Brothers tale, with genuinely scary monsters & people and real danger for the characters, with actual death for some of them. I was on the edge of my seat for the vast majority of the book.

I highly recommend this one for people who love old fairy tales (the dark & dangerous kind) or just a great adventure/coming-of-age tale. 🙂

Similar Book(s):

A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness

Four Kings – M.D. Elster

Coraline – Neil Gaiman

Book Review – The Juliet

Book: The Juliet – Author: Laura Ellen Scott

Genre: Adult, Adventure, Western?, Treasure Hunt

Description from Goodreads:

During Death Valley’s great wildflower bloom of 2005, retired cowboy actor Rigg Dexon gives a rootless woman a gift that will change her life forever: the deed to The Mystery House, a century old shack long thought to be the hiding place of a legendary emerald known as The Juliet. Willie Judy remembers Dexon from cereal commercials she watched as a kid, but now she’ll spend the next seven days searching for the truth about him, the house, and herself, as the history of The Juliet reveals the American Dream’s dark side—one that is corrupt, bawdy, and half insane. (see listing here)

My Review:

Where to start…

This was an odd one. Though the description above focuses on only two characters, the book itself is more about the history of the jewel and ALL of it’s owners, not just Rigg & Willie. The entire lifetime of the Juliet is shown, along with all the despicable things people did to each other in order possess the gem.

I will say, the novel hopped around quite a bit in the Juliet’s history, going back and forth between all the owners’ stories at once, instead of running a direct timeline. This made sense in the context of the story, but it was somewhat difficult to follow. The author DID include the dates at the beginning of each section, but I still had some trouble remembering who lived in which year, though not enough to throw me out of the story.

It helped that I really liked the author’s writing style. All the characters seemed completely believable, which, considering the wide variety, was pretty impressive. Even though most of the characters were all similarly greedy, the author managed to imbue each of them with their own sense of purpose and individuality. And, as easy as it would have been to go overboard with the ways in which the characters obtain the Juliet, you never have to throw on the “suspension of disbelief” switch in this novel. Even the most unbelievable of twists seemed entirely believable with this cast of characters.

The author also managed to encapsulate the time periods in which she was writing fairly well, without falling into the common pit of overdoing the accents & dialogue or focusing too much on historical details. The scenes in older time periods were just as easy to follow as the modern ones and, though there was some description of the locations/clothes/etc, the focus stayed where it should, on the Juliet and her devotees.

I ended up really enjoying this book. Putting all the bits and pieces of the story together into one cohesive storyline made me feel like I was also on a treasure hunt, the treasure being the Juliet’s history rather than the stone itself.

Similar Book(s):

Yyyyeeeaahhh…I got nothin’. So I’m just going to list the author’s other works. 😉

Death Wishing & The Mean Bone in Her Body

 

Book Review – Welcome to Night Vale

Book: Welcome to Night Vale – Author: Joseph Fink & Jeffery Cranor

Genre: Fiction, Adventure, Supernatural-ish

Description from Goodreads:

Located in a nameless desert somewhere in the great American Southwest, Night Vale is a small town where ghosts, angels, aliens, and government conspiracies are all commonplace parts of everyday life. It is here that the lives of two women, with two mysteries, will converge.

Nineteen-year-old Night Vale pawn shop owner Jackie Fierro is given a paper marked “King City” by a mysterious man in a tan jacket holding a deer skin suitcase. Everything about him and his paper unsettles her, especially the fact that she can’t seem to get the paper to leave her hand, and that no one who meets this man can remember anything about him. Jackie is determined to uncover the mystery of King City and the man in the tan jacket before she herself unravels.

Night Vale PTA treasurer Diane Crayton’s son, Josh, is moody and also a shape shifter. And lately Diane’s started to see her son’s father everywhere she goes, looking the same as the day he left years earlier, when they were both teenagers. Josh, looking different every time Diane sees him, shows a stronger and stronger interest in his estranged father, leading to a disaster Diane can see coming, even as she is helpless to prevent it.

Diane’s search to reconnect with her son and Jackie’s search for her former routine life collide as they find themselves coming back to two words: “King City”. It is King City that holds the key to both of their mysteries, and their futures…if they can ever find it.

My Review:

The Podcast – Joseph Fink & Jeffery Cranor have built something so completely unique with this podcast that it’s very difficult for me to describe. The cast of characters is extremely diverse: from our favorite radio host, Cecil Palmer, to the real 5-headed dragon, Hiram McDaniels, this is a crazy wonderful cast. The plots of the show are all based loosely (and not so loosely) on real conspiracy theories and contain everything from a giant glow cloud that drops dead animals (ALL HAIL) to a mysterious desert other-world to an overreaching corporation run by a smiling god. See? Very hard to explain. The best I can do is share my all-time favorite review of the podcast: “It’s like Steven King & Neil Gaiman got together to build a Sim City and just left it running for a few years”. Seriously awesome. 🙂

The Book – This book was just as wonderful as the podcast. It gave us an in-depth look at several “side characters” from the show and tied up a few plot lines. It also contained a full storyline of its own, though with several call backs that pointed out some rather clever foreshadowing they had done in the podcast.

I especially liked the Library sequence, since I’ve always been curious as to what those exactly those horrible Librarian monsters are and what a Library in Night Vale actually looks like. Turns out it looks like any other library…filled with horrific monsters that want to kill you, making any attempt to use the Library like running a gauntlet where you have to remain completely silent and hope your weaponry holds out. You know, just the usual. 😉

The King City mystery was really interesting and finally took us outside of our small town for a glimpse of what else this world holds. The authors described the town so well, that it felt like I was actually walking down the streets, looking at the abandoned shops myself. The plot line with the Man in the Tan Jacket finally cleared up the story behind this mysterious character who has been wandering around Night Vale for quite some time. Wow, I was not expecting that!

And the thing with the pink flamingos was great. I just love all the completely off the wall things these the guys come up with!

No review is complete without giving props to the Voice of Night Vale, Cecil Baldwin. I was lucky enough to purchase the audio version of this book, so I got to spend several hours basking in his melodious tones. (Really, he has a GREAT voice.) He didn’t do super well at trying to sound like the female main characters, but his voice is so naturally deep, that I’ve forgiven him for it. 😉 The rest of the book was very well done; he just makes the reading sound so natural, like he’s having a conversation with you. I’m very glad I got the audio version, reading it on paper just isn’t the same experience.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants an interesting, touching, completely crazy adventure. You don’t necessarily have to have listened to the podcast to understand what’s going on, but it would definitely help. There are some small details that you won’t pick up on if you haven’t done your homework. 😉 You can find out how to listen to the show here: http://www.welcometonightvale.com/listen

Similar Book(s):

Can I just list all the WtNV books here? Lol!

Mostly Void, Partially Stars – WtNV Episodes, Year 1
The Great Glowing Coils of the Universe – WtNV Episodes, Year 2

And the new book, It Devours, is now available for pre-order!

Book Review – Kingston Raine and the Grim Reaper

Book: Kingston Raine and the Grim Reaper – Author: Jackson Lear

Genre: Fiction, Adventure, Supernatural-ish

Description from Goodreads:

The Grim Reaper finds himself confronted with his most challenging death ever: that of Kingston Raine, an industrial thief and all-round smartass. Soon he comes to realize that Kingston may be the only one capable of thwarting a coup that threatens the entire afterlife. Unfortunately, Kingston just did the impossible and found a way to escape back to his own universe.

My Review:

::opens mouth to speak::
::closes mouth::
::opens mouth again::
“….uh…well?…”
::closes mouth::

Ok, first things first: I liked this book, I really did. But how to describe it without spoilers? Hm….

General description time: Limbo is run by a corporation called Death Inc, whose CEO is, of course, Death himself. During the latest coup, Death accidentally manages to kill a fictional character named Kingston Raine. Kingston turns out to be clever and crazy enough to steal Death’s scythe and zap himself back into the fictional universe…just not HIS fictional universe. Mayhem ensues.

Bibliophiles will get a kick out of this one, as Kingston manages to stumble into some of the greatest literary characters of all time during his journey to get back home. I had fun trying to guess along with Kingston which book he was in, so I won’t divulge WHICH characters, but there’s some good ones in there. And I want to applaud the author for sticking to the original version of the tales (you’ll know which one I’m talking about when you get to it).

This book was hilarious. Who knew Death and Satan could be so humorous? 😉 Their banter and the quips coming from Kingston & crew kept everything fairly upbeat. You can tell that the author has a good sense of humor.

He also writes people very well. All of the characters, both “real” and “fictional”, came across very realistically. These were people you could see yourself hanging out with; my favorite type of characters. And, come on, the author actually got a cheer out of me when Satan turned up towards the end, that’s just good writing. 😉

All in all I highly recommend this book for people looking for a fun read. One of the other reviews I read called it “madcap” and I heartily agree. If you can suspend your disbelief enough to just go with it, this book will take you on quite the ride.

Special note: The Kindle version of this book is currently free on Amazon (3/8/2017). Also, subscribe to the author’s mailing list, you can download this book and the sequel for free (http://www.jacksonlear.com/).

Similar Book(s):

I honestly really just want to write “Dogma” here, because the movie has a similar feel (although a LOT more vulgarity and drama). That’s probably not super helpful, though, so I’m going to go with:

Good Omens – Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman

 

 

Book Review – The Princess Bride

Book: The Princess Bride – Author: William Goldman

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure

Description from Goodreads:

Here William Goldman’s beloved story of Buttercup, Westley, and their fellow adventurers finally receives a beautiful illustrated treatment.
A tale of true love and high adventure, pirates, princesses, giants, miracles, fencing, and a frightening assortment of wild beasts—The Princess Bride is a modern storytelling classic.
As Florin and Guilder teeter on the verge of war, the reluctant Princess Buttercup is devastated by the loss of her true love, kidnapped by a mercenary and his henchman, rescued by a pirate, forced to marry Prince Humperdinck, and rescued once again by the very crew who absconded with her in the first place. In the course of this dazzling adventure, she’ll meet Vizzini—the criminal philosopher who’ll do anything for a bag of gold; Fezzik—the gentle giant; Inigo—the Spaniard whose steel thirsts for revenge; and Count Rugen—the evil mastermind behind it all. Foiling all their plans and jumping into their stories is Westley, Princess Buttercup’s one true love and a very good friend of a very dangerous pirate.

My Review:

The Princess Bride has been in my ‘top 5 movies of all time’ for decades. I LOVE this movie, to the point where I could probably quote the entire thing and have been known to put my dvd on in the morning and let the movie repeat until bedtime. Needless to say, I was a bit mixed about reading the book. Would I love it as much? Did they change whole swaths of the book when they made the movie? Normally, I’m all for reading the book before seeing the movie for this very reason, but this was a movie from my childhood. A beloved, cherished memory. A memory I was frightened of tainting. Even knowing that the original author, William Goldman, had written the screenplay, I was nervous.

I needn’t have worried. The book was just as fun, quirky, romantic, and adventurous as the movie. There ARE quite a few small changes. Some swapping of dialogue, some slight changes of scenes (and I’ll be honest, I flat out disliked Buttercup for a large part of the book), but overall it was a wonderful experience. There was a lot more background to the characters; whole life stories on Inigo, Fessik, and the Prince. And the story was wonderfully interspersed with ‘the history’ of the writing of the book, so confident and detailed that I actually had to double check that it was fictional, even though I know that Florin isn’t a real place.

My edition even ended with ‘the first chapter’ of Buttercup’s Baby, a teaser for a book that will never arrive. It was a horribly mean, nasty…magnificent thing to do. Nice play, Mr. Goldman. 😉

All told, I’d definitely recommend this book for anyone, from the newest newcomer to the oldest fan. There is something in it for everyone.

Similar Books:

Stardust – Neil Gaiman

Fun Addition:

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride – Cary Elwes