Book Review: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Book Review: A Monster Calls by Patrick NessA Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
Published: September 27, 2011
Format: Hardcover (215 pages)
Genres: Fantasy, Horror, Middle Grade
Source: Library

 
The monster showed up after midnight. As they do.

But it isn't the monster Conor's been expecting. He's been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he's had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming...

This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.

It wants the truth.
5 Stars

The beautiful first line of A Monster Calls drew me into the story.

The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do.

– Patrcik Ness, A Monster Calls

But the best part is that what comes next is not what I expected.  It’s a bittersweet story about a boy facing something that is scarier than monsters.  The monster is scary, yet endearing.  A Monster Calls is kind of like A Christmas Carol since the monster comes to teach him something – and it’s not lessons in kindness.  Instead of showing him his past, present, and future he tells him stories that have very unconventional endings.

Stories are wild creatures, the monster said. When you let them loose, who knows what havoc they might wreak?

– Patrick Ness, A Monster Calls

I would call this book mild horror.  It has a Princess Bride vibe since the kid gives sassy commentary about the monster’s story while he’s telling it.  I guess even ancient monsters can get impatient with boys who ask too many questions.

Some people might call the ending “open-ended.”  I would not.  I think it ended perfectly.  If you think about the conflict of the story, it does resolve it but leaves the rest up to your imagination.  Kind of.  You know what happens next.

I loved this book.  Beautiful illustrations. Beautiful symbolism.  Get it in print to appreciate the art inside.

Overall – beautiful, bittersweet, moving.  You need to read this book.  

Content Rating: Mild for mild horror with monsters and mild spoiler View Spoiler »

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About Patrick Ness

Patrick Ness

Patrick Ness, an award-winning novelist, has written for England’s Radio 4 and Sunday Telegraph and is a literary critic for The Guardian. He has written many books, including the Chaos Walking Trilogy, The Crash of Hennington, Topics About Which I Know Nothing, and A Monster Calls.

He has won numerous awards, including the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, the Booktrust Teenage Prize, and the Costa Children’s Book Award. Born in Virginia, he currently lives in London.

Book Review: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Book Review: Northanger Abbey by Jane AustenNorthanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Published: 1817
Format: eBook (251 pages)
Genres: Classic, Romance
Source: Purchased

 
A wonderfully entertaining coming-of-age story, Northanger Abbey is often referred to as Jane Austen’s “Gothic parody.” Decrepit castles, locked rooms, mysterious chests, cryptic notes, and tyrannical fathers give the story an uncanny air, but one with a decidedly satirical twist.

The story’s unlikely heroine is Catherine Morland, a remarkably innocent seventeen-year-old woman from a country parsonage. While spending a few weeks in Bath with a family friend, Catherine meets and falls in love with Henry Tilney, who invites her to visit his family estate, Northanger Abbey. Once there, Catherine, a great reader of Gothic thrillers, lets the shadowy atmosphere of the old mansion fill her mind with terrible suspicions. What is the mystery surrounding the death of Henry’s mother? Is the family concealing a terrible secret within the elegant rooms of the Abbey? Can she trust Henry, or is he part of an evil conspiracy? Catherine finds dreadful portents in the most prosaic events, until Henry persuades her to see the peril in confusing life with art.
5 Stars

Northerner Abbey might be my favorite Jane Austen novel.  One of the main reasons is because Catherine is my new favorite heroine.  She’s a tom boy and she treats her life like it’s a fictional novel.  Catherine is the kind of person that would yell “plot twist!” at an unfortunate event in her life.  I aspire to be this way.  It’s the kind of attitude I try to have when, say, I go to the ER because I’ve been awake and in pain and on Google and have convinced myself that I have appendicitis when all I really have is severe constipation and get sent home from the ER with a laxative.  Again.  See, in a novel that’s freakin’ hilarious.  In real life it sucks paying $200 for a laxative.  Catherine has quite the imagination and I want to be her in every way.

Also, could someone explain to me how Jane Austen can just tell her stories and backgrounds in an info-dumping way but keep my attention completely because she makes it fun and visual and easy to imagine?  Jane Austen has this biting honesty that is delightful to read even though her books are old.  Don’t dismiss Jane Austen.  She writes the truth.  Don’t tell me you’ve never met a person like this:

Mrs. Allen was one of that numerous class of females, whose society can raise no other emotion than surprise at there being any men in the world who could like them well enough to marry them.

– Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey (p. 7)

And I love, love, love the two ladies who are constantly talking at each other but never have an actual conversation because one talks about her kids and one talks about clothes.  Jane Austen doesn’t really show many of these conversations but I can totally imagine them.  As much as Catherine is living in a fictional novel, her friend Isabella is overdramatic because she’s got the lead role in this play called life.  Isabella is clingy and scheming.  I think Jane Austen didn’t mind scheming but I think she hated it when it was obvious.  Jane Austen is the queen of sarcasm, irony and relatable characters.

Book shaming has been around since the 1800s and Jane Austen is having none of it.  Catherine loves reading novels but is also ashamed that she reads “only novels.”  Jane Austen has this to say about mere novels:

… in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed …

-Jane Austen,  Northanger Abbey (p. 23).

Overall, I loved this novel and if you haven’t read it, fix that immediately.

Content Rating: None. Clean read.

This post contains affiliate links and I receive a small percentage of sales made through these links.  

About Jane Austen

CassandraAusten-JaneAusten(c.1810)_hires

She was an English novelist whose works of romantic fiction, set among the landed gentry, earned her a place as one of the most widely read writers in English literature. Her realism and biting social commentary have gained her historical importance among scholars and critics. Jane Austen lived her entire life as part of a close-knit family located on the lower fringes of the English landed gentry. She was educated primarily by her father and older brothers as well as through her own reading. The steadfast support of her family was critical to her development as a professional writer.

Visit her grave

Book Review: Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Book Review: Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria SempleWhere'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
Published: August 14, 2012
Format: eBook (330 pages)
Genres: Adult Fiction
Source: Library

 
Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she's a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she's a disgrace; to design mavens, she's a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.

Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette's intensifying allergy to Seattle—and people in general—has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic.

To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence—creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter's role in an absurd world.
5 Stars

Where’d You Go, Bernadette is a literary book that is full of witty, intelligent humor.  The voice of the teenage girl, Bee, who narrates this book is delightful and sarcastic especially about some of the crappy things that happen to her.  I love the humor of the unpopularity of Bee’s dad working at Microsoft where they are “acronym-happy (pg. 123).”  Bee has a sweet personality, too.  She is collecting letters, emails, transcripts, and blog posts in this journal that she is writing about where her mother went.  I ADORE the blog post that Bee puts in the book that is 500 words long and literally all the post says is that it’s going to rain.  Ah to love something that much that you could write 500 words about the smallest detail.

The writing is amazing in this book.  I don’t think there is a single cliche thing said in the entire book.  There’s a scene where people freeze as they stare at an argument.  But does she just say that they froze? No.  She describes them as this:

Nobody had moved.  Some hands were frozen in midair, in the middle of doing a fold.  It looked like a wax museum diorama of an origami presentation.

– Maria Semple, Where’d You Go, Bernadette pg 275

I love it.  This was an example of the ultimate show not tell with everything from the unique structure of emails, faxes, and letters, to the writing itself.  Where’d You Go, Bernadette was very entertaining and full of personality.

The crazy small community that this story is set in was hilarious and it kind of reminded me of the small town charm and quirkiness of Gilmore Girls.  This book was full of interesting characters.  Literally all of them exaggerate.  We get to see different perspectives and how each character tends to bend the story a little in their favor to make themselves the victim.

I learned so much from the character of Bernadette.  She showed me that creativity is sometimes found within extreme limits.  I admired her ability to use her interpersonal skills to help her thrive in the male dominated professions of architecture.  Remember to embrace your talents – even the weird ones – and use them to do something you love that no one else can do.  I also loved the theme of Bernadette getting lost literally and figuratively in motherhood which I found very relatable.  Even though Bernadette doesn’t say this particular quote, I think it describes motherhood perfectly.

I felt so alone in this world, and so loved at the same time.

– Maria Semple, Where’d You Go, Bernadette pg. 199

Overall, it was a impeccably written and hilarious story full of fascinating characters that taught me a lot about embracing your talents – even the weird ones.

Content Rating: High, for some strong language – about a dozen or more f-words.

This post contains affiliate links and I receive a small percentage of sales made through these links. 

About Maria Semple

Maria Semple

Maria Semple's first novel, This One is Mine, was set in Los Angeles, where she also wrote for television shows including Arrested Development, Mad About You, and Ellen. She escaped from Los Angeles and lives with her family in Seattle, where her second novel takes place.

Book Review: The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson

Book Review: The Crown of Embers by Rae CarsonThe Crown of Embers by Rae Carson
Series: Fire and Thorns #2
Published: September 18, 2012
Format: eBook (410 pages)
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Source: Purchased

 
Elisa is a hero.

Her enemies come at her like ghosts in a dream, from foreign realms and even from within her own court. And her destiny as the chosen one has not yet been fulfilled.

To conquer the power she bears, once and for all, Elisa must follow a trial of long-forgotten—and forbidden—clues, from the deep, hidden catacombs of her own city to the treacherous seas. With her go a one-eyed spy, a traitor, and the man whom—despite everything—she is falling in love with.

If she's lucky, she will return from this journey. But there will be a cost.
5 Stars

Spoiler free even if you haven’t read the first book in this series. 

The Crown of Embers reminded me a lot of Indiana Jones.  There was a religious quest, skeletons turning to dust, and hidden artifacts. We get to journey through the ocean this time instead of the desert and it was a lot of fun.  This was a great second novel in a series.

In the last book, we saw Elisa grow as a person who gained confidence in herself.  Elisa continues to grow as a character but this time it’s about finding the power from within herself.  I liked watching her learn that just because she is young, she shouldn’t let people walk all over her or dismiss her.  She has to learn one of the biggest lessons we all learn when we grow up – that we have to decide what is best for our own future instead of letting people decide for us.

She has not always wanted what is best for me. She has always wanted what she thinks is best for me. And she has never hesitated to work around me or anyone else to accomplish it.

– Rae Carson, The Crown of Embers  (Kindle Locations 4037-4039).

Religion continues as a theme in this book.  Elisa is slightly irked when she constantly meets people telling her what “God’s will” is which I found amusing but also very truthful.  Religion is part of the clash of the different cultures in the story.  How do you end a war that’s been going on forever between cultures that don’t understand each other? I thought that was such a relevant question and I enjoyed the exploration of the answer to that and what part ignorance can play.

I have a theory.  I don’t think it’s a spoiler since it’s never answered and it’s left up to your imagination.  Elisa’s people were supposedly brought from a dying world into the world where Crown of Embers is set.  I couldn’t help but think that maybe the dying world referred to was actually our world.  I have one quote to support this theory.  The quote sounds very similar to the bible which is what spawned this theory in the first place.

“I swear my life and service unto you. I swear to protect you and to honor you. I am yours to command in all things. For as long as I live, your people shall be my people, your ways my ways, your God my God.”

-Rae Carson, The Crown of Embers (Kindle Locations 3653-3655)

What do you think? Did you have any theories about this book?

Overall, it was a great adventure novel about a girl who learns to find power within herself that I couldn’t put down.

Content Rating: Medium, for a mildly detailed scene of a girl observing herself naked.

This post contains affiliate links and I receive a small percentage of sales made through these links. 

About Rae Carson

Rae Carson

I write books about teens who must do brave things. I'm originally from California, but I moved to Ohio to marry my husband, who is the smartest and therefore sexiest man I know. We live in Columbus with my teenaged stepsons, who are awesome. My books tend to contain lots of adventure, a little magic and romance, and smart girls who make (mostly) smart choices. I especially love to write about questions I don't know the answers to.

Book Review: Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson

My 4 year old and his brother imagining somethingBook Review: Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett JohnsonHarold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson
Series: Harold #1
Published: 1955
Format: Paperback (64 pages)
Genres: Childrens
Source: Library

 
"One night, after thinking it over for some time, Harold decided to go for a walk in the moonlight." So begins this gentle story that shows just how far your imagination can take you. Armed only with an oversized purple crayon, young Harold draws himself a landscape full of beauty and excitement. But this is no hare-brained, impulsive flight of fantasy. Cherubic, round-headed Harold conducts his adventure with the utmost prudence, letting his imagination run free, but keeping his wits about him all the while.
5 Stars

I’m trying to read more books from my to-read list and I happened to see Harold and the Purple Crayon at the library.  It was on my to-read list only because it was mentioned on Gilmore Girls.  But my 4 year-old son saw it and wanted to read it with me.  So we read it together and he enjoyed it a lot.  Which of course means we read it about 5 more times.  It is an adorable, creative book with a cute message about imagination and finding home.  My review is probably longer than the book itself, but I really wanted to feature it on my blog because the day after I read this book to my son, I found a huge stack of drawings, all in purple, and they are clearly inspired by the book.  It was touching to me that a book would stick with him that much.  So I decided to share all the drawings he did that I could find.  You’ll notice in a lot of the drawings that there are two people.  The other person is his older brother who he considers his best friend.

Click images to view them larger.

 

Content Rating: None. Clean read.

This post contains affiliate links and I receive a small percentage of sales made through these links.  

About Crockett Johnson

Crockett Johnson

Crockett Johnson (1906-1975) was the writer and/or illustrator of over 20 books for children, including his beloved classic HAROLD AND THE PURPLE CRAYON (Harper, 1955), as well as seven subsequent adventures starring Harold, and THE CARROT SEED, written by his wife, Ruth Krauss (Harper, 1945). He was also the creator of "Barnaby," one of the most popular comic-strips of the Twentieth Century. (A Barnaby selection appears in LITTLE LIT: STRANGE STORIES FOR STRANGE KIDS, Harper, 2001.)

Mr. Johnson received his art training at New York University and Cooper Union, and in his later years exhibited a series of geometric paintings, which were well-received by both the mathematical and artistic communities.