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review 2018-07-25 17:54
For whom the clock ticks
The House With a Clock in Its Walls - Edward Gorey,John Bellairs

The House with a Clock in its Walls by John Bellairs is the first in a series which (mainly) revolve around a boy named Lewis Barnavelt and his adventures living with his uncle who is a magician. I originally searched this book out because I saw the trailer for the upcoming film and got that familiar itch of "I must go to there". Then I found out that Edward Gorey was the illustrator and that clinched the deal. Bellairs blends mystery and magic to tell the story of a lonely little boy who is suddenly orphaned and thrust into the custody of a man he has never met before. Uncle Jonathan is unlike any person that Lewis has ever known and that's not only because he's a magician. Uncle Jonathan's house (a character in its own right) contains a mystery that all starts with the man who originally owned the property and who was himself a magician...a dark wizard in fact. With the combined forces of Uncle Jonathan and their neighbor (and witchy friend) Mrs. Zimmerman they begin a desperate search for the source of a mysterious ticking inside the walls of their house because they are certain it was magicked their by the original owner who no doubt created it with nefarious intentions. Our main character, Lewis, is at the same time struggling to fit in at his new school and while trying to impress his new friend he finds himself going against his uncle's wishes and trying a little magic of his own. Surely nothing could go wrong... This was a strong start to a series which began in 1973 and ran until 2008. [A/N: Books 4-6 were written after the death of John Bellairs from outlines and notes he left behind. The remainder were written entirely by Brad Strickland.] This book was a solid 8/10 but (as a heads up) I'll be reviewing 2 & 3 in the not too distant future and they didn't quite live up to this first book.

 

Check out the trailer which initially piqued my interest: The House with a Clock in its Walls.

 

 

 

One of the Edward Gorey illustrations from inside the book. [Source: Pinterest]

 

 

What's Up Next: The Outsider by Stephen King

 

What I'm Currently Reading: Only Human by Sylvain Neuvel

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2018-01-03 18:05
Vivid worldbuilding with vintage vibes like a Wes Anderson film in book form.
The Wonderling - Mira Bartok

Disclaimer: reviewing a pre-publication digital proof via Netgalley, so not all images were available, some formatting and text may have changed,etc.

 

Reading like a classic children's novel, The Wonderling takes you on an illustrated, Dickensian journey of adventure, discovery, and identity.

 

The character who eventually becomes known as Arthur is a nameless groundling (a talking, humanoid fox child) in a nightmarish prison of an orphan's home. He's essentially good and proceeds through his adventures by being so pure, goodhearted, kind etc. etc. etc. that he wins out over the fiendishly unpleasant and evil cartoonish villains. So, like I said, classic kids lit. Think anything by Frances Hodgson Burnett, but with animal hybrids. Arthur is a bumbling but well-intentioned naif who goes about making friends and allies and more or less sailing through some admittedly hairy situations without much real danger or tension. Creepy settings, but not terrifying. Shoutout to his best friend, a tiny flightless bird-creature - she's an engineer-inventor and consistently saves the day and moves the story along.

 

The art is pretty, delicate, pencil-shaded drawings (though, as noted, not all of it was present in the proof copy). The story is slow, meandering and dreamy in a probably-intentional way. It's long (again, kids lit of the past-style), with masses of description, and will get varying mileage depending on the reader. If you adore illustrated classics, fantastical worldbuilding and simple, traditional stories, or your kid prefers dreamy fantasies of the past over fast-paced modern thrills, it'll be right up your alley. If you're an impatient reader, or giving it to a kid who's a reluctant reader or has trouble focusing, I doubt it'll hold your attention. Some good ideas around art, music, and hope expressed in a very simple style that either lacks in sophistication and depth, or is child-appropriate, depending on your perspective/age. I didn't adore it, but ten-year-old me probably would have happily spent the time to push through.

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review 2017-12-23 00:52
Fed up and gonna do something about it
Thornhill - Pam Smy,Pam Smy

Just to show how long I've had some of these books on the back burner, today's book was actually read around Halloween of this year. Thornhill by Pam Smy immediately caught my attention because of its stark black and white illustration on the cover (and the black edges of the pages). This is one of those times that the cover was not misleading as to the artistic style found within the graphic novel. Reminiscent of Brian Selznick, the art was done with pen and pencil and was entirely black and white. That definitely helped to lend a creepy vibe to the text (although it didn't need much help). This is the story of Mary, an orphaned girl, who spends her time making dolls and writing diary entries about her miserable existence at Thornhill, an all-girls orphanage. The reader is introduced to Mary through her diary entries which are read by Ella, a lonely girl, who lives with her absentee father next to a desolate, run-down building with Thornhill written above its gate. At first, it's rather confusing as to which point-of-view we are seeing and which time period we are inhabiting but I think that's done on purpose by the author. Both girls are very similar especially in terms of their circumstances i.e. they're both very lonely. As mentioned before, the tone is quite eerie but at the same time I felt that it was very realistically written. Alienation, abandonment, bullying, and emotional and psychological abuse are explored in a very interesting way. If you like Gothic horror with a dash of realistic drama then this is the perfect book for you. I read it at Halloween for the ambiance but you wouldn't be wrong reading this on a dark, stormy night either. 9/10 (with a deduction because creepy dolls are creepy)

 

I mean look at this stunning artwork. [Source: Macmillan]

 

 

What's Up Next: Woolly: The True Story of the Quest to Revive One of History's Most Iconic Extinct Creatures by Ben Mezrich

 

What I'm Currently Reading: it's 3 days til Christmas so I'm all over the place

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2017-12-16 01:06
Where's a Sherpa when you need one?
The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey - Diana Sudyka,Trenton Lee Stewart

When we first met the intrepid, orphaned quartet that made up a large part of the Mysterious Benedict Society we were left feeling that surely this couldn't be the last adventure that they'd be on together...and we were absolutely right. The whole gang is back in the second book in the series by Trenton Lee Stewart titled The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey. (Note: A new illustrator, Diana Sudyka, has penned the drawings for this book and forthcoming books in the series.) The beginning of the book starts off with the kids separated and trying to live as close to normal as possible. The reader is once again following the main character, Reynie, as he heads to meet up with everyone on the anniversary of their last adventure together. However, when they are all reunited at Mr. Benedict's house they are met with a very unpleasant surprise. (No spoilers here!!) What follows is a treacherous journey (hence the name of the book) that takes them on boats, trains, and up the side of a mountain in another country. While the central theme of friendship and working together is still present, this book is much darker in tone and a sense of foreboding lingers over every page. (In some ways, it reminds me of the progression of the Harry Potter series.) The illustrations again accompany a portion of the text and even though it's a different illustrator the sense of whimsy is ever-present. Overall, very enjoyable and fun to see how the author expands on each of the characters personalities and abilities. (Constance plays a much larger role in this book.) I have to confess that I've had the third book in the series gathering dust on my desk at work (and a copy of it here at home) but I haven't felt an overwhelming urge to pick it up just yet. I have a feeling this will be one of the first books I get to in the new year. XD If you read the first book in the series then I'm confident you'll enjoy the sequel. 8/10

 

 

A sample of the new illustrator's style [Source: Kinder Books]

 

 

What's Up Next: The Time Quartet series by Madeleine L'Engle

 

What I'm Currently Reading: Scythe by Neal Shusterman

 

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2017-11-23 19:22
Some great ideas that stumble in execution
Halayda (Star-Fae Trilogy, #1) - Sarah Delena White

Disclaimer: I'm reviewing an uncorrected proof via NetGalley, so it's possible the final draft changed some of the issues. Also, I made it about 10% before throwing in the towel.

Basically, something's gone wrong with the worldbuilding on this one. It kind of seemed like a second in series or spin-off series, where lots of people and places are being referenced as if to remind you of who/what/why? But I checked Goodreads, and this is a debut book, so I think the author was trying to do too much worldbuilding and it came at the cost of story and characters.

 

OTOH, maybe the problem was with where the story started. I think the author could have backed up a few scenes and let us get to know the characters and their stakes before diving into chaos and it would have given her space to spin out the worldbuilding in a more natural manner. Instead, there's just a string of extended info-dumps with a lot of running around in between and . . . I wanted to care, I really did.

 

I liked the striking cover design. I liked that there was obviously a big, fully-realized world with rules and tensely-navigated interactions between fae and humans and magic/alchemy-users, and . . . I mean, there's royalty, there's orphans with powers a la X-Men, there's lady alchemists and shady politics and freakin' faerie wings and that's all great, except in practice it just felt really dry. So, pass. Maybe a strong developmental editor could turn this around, but my tbr is too big to keep wading through all the words to find the story.

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