Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Howl's Moving Castle - Book Review

Howls Moving Castle – Book Review
Diana Wynn Jones
YA Fantasy
Synopsis:
In which a witch bewitched the hatter's daughter--and then some…
Sophie lived in the town of Market Chipping, which was in Ingary, a land in which anything could happen, and often did--especially when the Witch of the Waste got her dander up. Which was often.As her younger sisters set out to seek their fortunes Sophie stayed in her father's hat shop. Which proved most unadventurous, until the Witch of the Waste came in to buy a bonnet, but was not pleased. Which is why she turned Sophie into an old lady. Which was spiteful witchery. Now Sophie must seek her own fortune. Which means striking a bargain with the lecherous Wizard Howl. Which means entering his ever-moving castle, taming a blue fire-demon, and meeting the Witch of the Waste head-on. Which was more than Sophie bargained for...
Review:
Howls Moving Castle
has always been, and I imagine always will be, one of my favourite childhood books. Written by the late Dianna Wynn Jones who, sadly, passed away a few years ago, it is a magical tale of friendship, sorcery and mayhem.
The story follows the life of Sophie Hatter, a plain, non-descript girl who is content to live her life according to the plans of her mother. But then, after a run in with a witch she is put under a powerful spell that changes her into old women. Afraid of what people will think and uncertain of what the future will old for her, Sophie sets off to the wastes to find Howl, a legendary wizard who is notorious for eating the hearts of beautiful girls.
Yet finding Howl, Sophie is surprised to find that he’s nothing like the heart-eating monster she expected. Vain as a peacock, this strange Wizard from the land of Wales spends more time dying his hair and removing wrinkles then doing magick. Yet living with Howl is far from dull. Along with his apprentice, Michael, and the fire demon, Calcifer, Sophie finds her life now full of catastrophes, changing doors and magically induced chaos. Yet before she can be rid of her own spell, Sophie must first find a way to help Howl break his…
I truly love this book. Set in a far off, magical world where there are seven league boots, love potions and moving castles, this book is bursting with fairytales and fantasy. With beautiful descriptions and captivating prose, it will hold you spell bound for hours.
The plot is exciting and its conclusion interesting. Full of twist and turns, I liked watching how the character’s developed, and enjoyed reading the strange and unique ways each of their problems were solved.
Not only is each character distinctive, but I loved how well Sophie fitted into her role as an old women. I also liked how with the loss of her youth she loses her inhibitions and as the story goes on, voices what she really thinks rather than saying what others want to hear.
Howl is also hilarious and you can’t help but like him. Watching the relationship between him and Sophie develop is so entertaining and as couples go they fit each other so well. Calcifer however, probably remains my ultimate favourite of the cast. He’s witty and interesting and the plot around him is full of knots and tangles that are fun to unravel.
Ultimately this is an amazing work of children’s fiction that will challenge your imagination and leave you awestruck. Although Diana Wynn Jones may be gone, I like to think that she still lives on through her books which continue to inspire and captivate children throughout the world. Fantastical, inspiring and beautifully written, ‘Howls Moving Castle’ is a must read. 5 stars!
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Thursday, 14 March 2013

Changeling - Book Review

Changeling – Book Review
Philippa Gregory
YA Historical Fantasy
Book #1 in The Order Of Darkness Series

Synopsis:

Italy, 1453. Seventeen-year-old Luca Vero is brilliant, gorgeous—and accused of heresy. Cast out of his religious order for using the new science to question old superstitious beliefs, Luca is recruited into a secret sect: The Order of the Dragon, commissioned by Pope Nicholas V to investigate evil and danger in its many forms, and strange occurrences across Europe, in this year—the end of days.

Isolde is a seventeen-year-old girl shut up in a nunnery so she can’t inherit any of her father’s estate. As the nuns walk in their sleep and see strange visions, Isolde is accused of witchcraft—and Luca is sent to investigate her, but finds himself plotting her escape.
Despite their vows, despite themselves, love grows between Luca and Isolde as they travel across Europe with their faithful companions, Freize and Ishraq. The four young people encounter werewolves, alchemists, witches, and death-dancers as they head toward a real-life historical figure who holds the boundaries of Christendom and the secrets of the Order of the Dragon.

The first in a series, this epic and richly detailed drama is grounded in historical communities and their mythic beliefs. It includes a medieval map of Europe that will track their journey; and the interior will include relevant decorative elements as well as an interior line illustration. And look for a QR code that links to a note from the author with additional, detailed information about the setting and the history that informed the writing. With Philippa Gregory’s trademark touch, this novel deftly brings the past—and its salacious scandals—vividly and disturbingly to life.
Review:
For as long as I can remember, Phillipa Gregory has been one of my favourite authors of historical fiction. When I heard she had written Changeling, her first ever book aimed at young adults, I was itching to get my hands on a copy. However I must admit, I think I placed my expectations a little high as, while the story was interesting and most certainly enjoyable - It wasn’t the amazing, gripping read that I thought it would be.
The story is told from a dual perspective and begins with seventeen year old Luca. A priest in training, he suddenly finds himself cast out from his monastery on a charge of heresy. Yet while many of his fellow priests view his analytical mind as a sin, there is one branch of the Catholic Church who sees his ability for the gift it is. And so rather than the burning death he expected, Luca finds himself named as the Churches newest inquisitor. Responsible for uncovering evil in whatever form it may take, Luca now wields the power to save lives… or end them.
Yet in another part of Italy, the Lady Isolde has just lost everything she knows and loves. Beautiful and intelligent, she was raised as her father’s heir; to one day preside over his lands and castle. Yet somehow, her scheming brother has managed to take it all leaving Isolde destitute. Now, faced with the choice to either marry a repugnant Prince or join a nunnery, Isolde chooses the church and a vow of celibacy. Knowing either way, she will be condemned to a life of misery.
A few months later, these two people find their fates crossing. When Luca is sent to investigate a nunnery, whose occupants are said to be plagued with possession and mad visions, it is there he meets Isolde who quickly becomes his lead suspect. Yet as their lives become more and more entangled in a web of sorcery, intrigue and politics, they begin to realise that the fate of their lives may just be in the others hand…  
I did enjoy this book but I think part of my disappoint lay in that for a YA book, it was rather short and I seemed to finish it all too quickly. Yet the book did move at a good pace and the story has a unique concept. I also loved that it was set in 14th century Italy as one thing Phillipa Gregory does very well is description, and with her words she truly brought the time period to life.
The mysteries within the story were also interesting to read as they played upon the fears of the time. And I liked how Luca’s eventually revealed what was behind the smoke and mirrors of these ‘supernatural’ occurrences.
Yet it was the characters of this book that really made the story for me, and surprisingly, not the main ones. While both Lucas and Isolde where unique characters, I felt like with the book being so short there wasn’t much in regards to their development, and they didn’t change much over the course of the story.
However it was the supporting characters such as Frieze and Ishraq who I loved the most. Both with distinct personalities, they created conflict and humour throughout the novel and towards the end, there were hints of a possible romance that was just too sweet. It was them that really made this book for me.

Overall though, while it wasn’t my idea of a perfect read this book still has much to offer and I think the younger market of YA would really enjoy the story. Fans of authors such as Mary Hooper and Mary Hoffman will definitely want to check it out. Mysterious, intriguing and all set within the beautiful world of medieval Italy, Changeling is sweet read with which to idle away an afternoon. 3 ½ stars!
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