Backlist Bonus: Howl’s Moving Castle

2294528by Diana Wynne Jones
YA Fantasy
5 of 5 stars

This author creates some of the most original and vivid fantasy worlds and characters that I’ve ever encountered. This is one of my favorites, but honestly when it comes to her work, it’s hard to choose! But this one has the wizard Howl, and he remains one of my favorite characters to this day.

We don’t start with Howl, though, we start with Sophie, the eldest of three sisters, and thus doomed to lead a boring life. Everyone knows the youngest of three is the prettiest, cleverest, and will live happily ever after. Sophie is resigned to her lot, running her family’s hat-making shop and trying to remain invisible. Unfortunately, she still manages to draw the jealous attention of the Witch of the Waste, who curses her with old age. Sophie, not one to take this lying down, sets off on a journey away from town, and stumbles across a strange castle wandering over the hills–the dreaded home of Howl, known to eat the hearts of young ladies. But she isn’t young anymore, and she goes inside to rest. And when Howl comes home to find her befriending the fire demon Calcifer, things really get interesting!

There’s so much whimsy and humor mixed in with the thoughtful examination of connections between people and meeting the expectations of others. Howl isn’t what everyone thinks, nor is the Witch of the Waste, or even the scarecrow following Sophie behind the castle. This a quick, fun read that any lover of fantasy will like! It’s very different from the movie, but the film is excellent too.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Howl’s Moving Castle is available on Goodreads and its parent company Amazon. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • The Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones – A close second to Howl’s Moving Castle as a humorous take on people traversing a fantasy realm in search of adventure, and what happens when the Dark Lord is tired of participating.
  • The Chronicles of Chrestomanci by Diana Wynne Jones – Four different stories based around the Chrestomanci, the sorcerer who manages all the different worlds and their interactions. A bit darker than some of her other work but still has that touch of suspense and wit.
  • The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones – A travel guide book to Fantasyland that is essential for every reader hoping to have an Adventure. It details who will be in your party, the dangers you’ll encounter, the people and monsters to avoid, and the likely outcome of your route. A funny, sarcastic nod to all the tropes of the genre.
  • Stardust by Neil Gaiman – A traditional fantasy story that follows Tristan as he tries to bring a fallen star to the girl he loves, and finds himself stuck on the other side of the Wall, where magic is very real and returning to his world won’t be easy.
  • Inkheart by Cornelia Funke – Meggie’s father brings characters out of their stories when he reads them aloud. Once he read from the book Inkheart, and brought the characters out as Meggie’s mother was sucked into the story. Now Meggie and her father must contend with the villains in the book who want his power as they try to save her mother. Highly original and a good read.

Backlist Bonus: The Bone Season

13636400by Samantha Shannon
Fantasy/Science Fiction
3 of 5 stars
Debut novel – August 20, 2013

This 2013 genre-mashing novel was hyped as a seven-book series by a 21-year-old author slated as the next J.K. Rowling. So you know, no pressure! Although I was hesitant to believe all the gushing reviews, I knew I had to check it out. The world combines Victorian-esque England with the magic of clairvoyant abilities and the paranormal existence of the Rephaim, all set in the year 2059. The Rephaites took over the government, called Scion, and systematically hunt voyants to use for their own purposes. Ordinary people hate and fear voyants, so the only refuge for them are underground organizations, much like the mafia.

Paige is a dreamwalker, able to break into other people’s minds and steal information, which is why her crime lord Jaxon Hall keeps her safe for his use. When Paige is captured by the Rephaim as part of Bone Season XX, she discovers the hidden world within her own. If she doesn’t escape she’ll die in the service of the beings who enslaved her people.

As you may have guessed, there is a lot of information to absorb from beginning to end! In addition to the political workings of the oppressive Scion government, there is the underground network of voyants, a long glossary of terms and slang, and a large cast of characters to keep straight. It’s extremely ambitious for a debut novel and for that reason I was intrigued enough to finish it. I wasn’t “wowed” at first, but about 250 pages in, it becomes much more impressive and engrossing. What I enjoyed most was the villainous Nashira, always two steps ahead of our heroine and not prone to excessive dialogue regarding her plans for world domination.

The sequel, The Mime Order, came out earlier this year, and it was far more enjoyable, so for that reason I definitely recommend checking out this series! It’s sure to get even better as it progresses.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Bone Season is available on Goodreads and its parent company Amazon. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – Samantha Shannon touts this as one of her favorite books, and there are similarities in style and narration here, as well as the idea of an all-seeing government. See my review here.
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley – This is similar in that ordinary people are controlled through pleasure and trust in the system, and questioning that existence or treatment of other humans is rebellion.
  • The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker – In 1899 New York City, the titular characters escape their masters and try to forge an existence in a land they don’t understand. It has similar pacing, with a touch more magic, a smaller cast, and no political layers. See my review here.

The Handmaid’s Tale

38447by Margaret Atwood
Science Fiction
4 of 5 stars

I’ve been meaning to read this book for years, in order to complete my trifecta of totalitarian futures – the first two being 1984 by George Orwell and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. All three had different visions for how the government would seize control of our daily lives, and although I view this one as the least likely scenario, it had enough merit to encourage some good questions.

In a world where a woman’s only value is getting pregnant and she has no rights of her own, Offred guides us through her existence as a Handmaid, a mistress of sorts for men whose wives are sterile. She still remembers the time before, when she was independent. She had a family, a career, her own bank account and an education, but those memories are fading. Offred’s narration jumps between present and past tense, and occasionally she sees something that sparks a memory tangent.

The beginning was a bit slow, but as she reveals more about her world and how women were suppressed it becomes harder to put down. As a protagonist she’s passive for the most part, but since that’s her expected behavior this isn’t an annoyance like it can be in other genres. I enjoyed the ending, and of the three books I mentioned this is the easiest to read. It’s worthwhile, although in my opinion the previous books I mentioned have more realistic views, if that’s what intrigues you about this genre.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Handmaid’s Tale is available on Goodreads and its parent company Amazon. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • 1984 by George Orwell – The quintessential novel about a totalitarian state. Eerily accurate, engrossing, depressing, and a must-read. Control of the common man through surveillance and fear of violent retribution.
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley – A more pleasant but just as disturbing version of the future under a totalitarian government. Control of the common man through pleasure and societal pressures.
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – A YA take on the same concept. Control of the common man through lack of resources, knowledge, and fear of violent retribution. If you like this, the realm of YA dystopian novels is open to you, but be warned, this is one of the best. See my review here.

Backlist Bonus: The Hero and the Crown

1124884by Robin McKinley
YA Fantasy
5 of 5 stars

I discovered this book when I was 13, and it shaped my childhood. I’ve read it quite literally at least twenty times! As one of the building blocks of my reading and writing world, it’s impossible for me to give an unbiased review, but as with Sabriel, I refer to it often enough that I had to have something here.

Robin McKinley’s motto is writing about “girls who do things” and after reading the majority of her novels, this one about Aerin the dragon-slayer has my favorite female protagonist. She has all the typical aspects of her dead mother (rumored to be a witch), being more comfortable around books than people, and slowly discovering her magical destiny. It also has subtle romance, mischievous humor, and the anthropomorphic animal characters that McKinley is famous for. I have yet to encounter many stories with girls slaying dragons and saving the prince, and that’s a huge reason this novel is so close to my heart.

Aerin’s journey has two parts–accepting herself, then saving the kingdom that rejected her, and the double arc is part of what kept me returning again and again. Her transformation from the an awkward, shy teenager to a brave, selfless warrior has gradual depth. McKinley’s writing is beautiful and the story of a girl in a boy’s role was more unusual then. Still, I think every lover of YA fantasy should check it out!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Hero and the Crown is available on Goodreads and its parent company Amazon. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Fire by Kristin Cashore – Another heroine finding and fighting her destiny, with a similar world, pacing, and tone.
  • Sabriel by Garth Nix – My other favorite story of all time about a girl trying to save her father from the Dead spirits in the Old Kingdom, but there is a greater evil is stirring that she must expel from the land. See my review here.
  • Crown of Midnight by Sarah J Maas – Celaena the assassin contends with the evil lurking in the king’s castle as she comes to grips with the fact that she’s meant to be more than a killer. See my review here.
  • In the Hand of the Goddess by Tamora Pierce – The kingdom’s first lady knight has a lot to learn about life and an evil sorcerer to defeat. See my review here.
  • Seraphina by Rachel Hartman – A girl with unusual talent for music gets drawn into royal politics as tensions rise between the humans and dragons living in Goredd. She has to hide her own secrets during a murder investigation that brings her close to the prince. This is a thoughtful YA novel that explores individual identity. See my review here.
  • I am Morgan le Fay by Nancy Springer – A first-person narrative about the Arthurian legend’s female villain and what drove her to seek revenge.


23399192by Sharon Cameron
YA Fiction / YA Dystopian
4 of 5 stars

This is a genre-mashing action-packed read and I loved it! Centuries after a global cataclysmic event, the Sunken City that was once Paris finds itself on the brink of revolution once again. The Razor beheads anyone who disagrees with the new regime. The Red Rook liberates prisoners from their fate in the dead of night, and everyone wonders who he is and how he does it. Everyone except Sophia Bellamy, because she is the Rook.

This story of spies and smugglers takes place over the course of a few weeks, as the Rook evades capture and the net tightens around Sophia’s secret identity. It’s full of plots, counter-plots, betrayals and surprises and the pacing is marvelous! I’ve never read The Scarlet Pimpernel, so I’m not sure how much of the plot would be easier to guess thanks to the intentional homage by the author, but that being said, everything comes together in the end in a satisfactory way, rather like an old movie.

It’s a bit long, and the characters don’t experience much of an arc, but it’s a standalone novel and it was too fun for those critiques to annoy me. I’d recommend this for something different in a very genre-based market.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Rook is available on Goodreads and its parent company Amazon. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey – This is a similar tone and way of wrapping up the plot strings. Alliances are formed and changed as Echo and her companions seek the Firebird to save their world from destruction. See my review here.
  • Holes by Louis Sachar – An older story that has a similar feel of narration. We follow Stanley Yelnatz as he tries to break an old curse on his family while at a summer camp with questionable activities.
  • Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion – A zombie who doesn’t want to be undead finds himself experiencing strange feelings around Julie, a beautiful girl who doesn’t want to accept the zombie apocalypse as the end of the world.

Backlist Bonus: Shadow and Bone

10194157by Leigh Bardugo
YA Fantasy
4 of 5 stars
Debut novel – June 5, 2012

When I picked up this book a few years ago I couldn’t believe it – old school fantasy maps are coming back? YA fantasy from a female first person perspective? A world based on Russian mythology with nods to Russian architecture and names? Most of all – a villain that is around for more than harping on about his world domination plans? A sexy antagonist with a backstory and complexity? Fresh world, fresh magic, fresh characters – I was enthralled.

Although it took some time to warm up to Alina, all the elements more than made up for her moments of indecision and self-pity. More female friendship would have been nice too, but that improves throughout the trilogy. What I really liked about this story was Alina discovering with us how magic works and what you can do with it. They use the elements (fire, air, water) but magic also has tinges of spirituality. “Like calls to like,” if you keep your mind clear. Your power will connect to you and work for you if you understand its nature. Alina has to harness her power for the good of her country, but she doesn’t feel particularly indebted to Ravka (she’s a poor orphan soldier, taken by the Darkling to study magic), and the politics of the royal court don’t suit her either. All she really wants is to be with her best friend, Mal, which becomes more difficult as she advances.

Getting acquainted with the Darkling is the real treat of this story. One of the more unique antagonists I’ve encountered, he’s a character that winds through the story as Alina tries to determine his true motivation. Their scenes are the best and always leave you wanting more. This is an excellent fantasy adventure that maintains its energy and mystique throughout the trilogy.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Shadow and Bone is available on Goodreads and its parent company Amazon. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch – Another first person fantasy novel in a unique world governed by Rhythms and Seasons. Meira wants to save her fallen kingdom, Winter, but isn’t prepared for her true destiny. See my review here.
  • Fire Arrow by Edith Pattou – A teenage archer seeks revenge for her father’s murder and must defeat an evil sorcerer – if the deadly power of the fire arrow doesn’t destroy her first. This is an older story and a sequel to Hero’s Song.
  • The Whim of the Dragon by Pamela Dean – The conclusion of this trilogy is filled with magic and betrayal. The four cousins who found themselves in the magical land they made up as a game must figure out how to fulfill their roles, and whether they will destroy their creation to escape.
  • The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon – A genre-mashing novel told from 19-year-old Paige’s perspective. A clairvoyant in a country where clairvoyance is illegal, she finds safety in London’s underworld until agents of the government find her–and reveal a world hidden within her own. See my review here.
  • Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo – This companion novel takes the magic and mayhem to the next level! Six criminals, the ultimate heist, betrayals, and the fate of the world hanging in the balance. See my review here.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

12700353by Jesse Andrews
YA Contemporary
3 of 5 stars
Debut novel – March 1, 2012

Like many other people, I grabbed this once I saw the movie trailer. This doesn’t happen often, but I think this story might make a better film than a novel. Maybe it’s because the main character is an amateur filmmaker and is constantly describing how he would direct key scenes. Mostly I think I’ll prefer the movie because it will spend less time in Greg’s head with his weird attempts at comedic riffs that tend to fall flat.

You’ll know from the first few chapters if the sense of humor will work for you, and although it wasn’t my favorite it definitely didn’t keep me from finishing it. The ending alone makes up for much of the meandering first half. This actually feels like a realistic take on handling an acquaintance with a terminal illness, and it leaves you with an interesting perspective to take away when you reach the end, regarding the impact people have or don’t have on your life. Humor is hard to pull off in a book and this did reasonably well, so I recommend it. It was just as funny as some of the professional comedians’ books I’ve read in the last year.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
is available on Goodreads and its parent company Amazon. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green – Obviously, the teens with cancer book of the moment. Along with Looking for Alaska, this is his best work and worth checking out. See my review here.
  • Mosquitoland by David Arnold – A teenage girl comes to terms with the mental illness in her family as she makes a solo journey to Ohio and her mother. See my review here.
  • Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell – Two teens with less-than-charming lives realize they might find solace in each other, if their families don’t keep them apart. See my review here.
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky – Quiet freshman Charlie befriends some fun-loving seniors and learns to open up in spite of the issues within his immediate family. See my review here.

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