A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

8621462I gave this book 3 out of 5 stars.
Although I started this book with high expectations after reading so many good reviews and high-ratings, this book didn’t move me as much as I had expected.
In retrospect, I might have expected TOO MUCH, the ducked stars might not be the book’s fault, the fault may have lain with me after all; I probably should have started this book with a clean slate rather than let the fixed idea of this book being good cloud my judgment.

The illustrations are amazing and the writing and the story line are generally gripping and relatable, I personally think this is a page-turner. The story moves at a brisk pace.
However, I didn’t get invested in any of the characters except for the Monster; they all felt kind of aloof and it was hard to read their emotions. I think it is too bad that I didn’t get to relate to the main character, Conor, in particular.

I understand that Conor is going through a tough time with his mother being gravely sick, but I couldn’t relate to him for closing himself off and not letting anybody emotionally be close to him. He could confide in his father or his grandmother that how badly he has been tormented by the ‘Truth’ which he keeps to himself. He could lift the load from his shoulders by letting out his feelings, but he kind of refuses to face it. I know the ‘truth’ is awfully hard for a 13 year-old boy to bear, but that’s all the more reason why I wanted him to open up and let the others know his true feelings. I felt rather frustrated with him being so distant, he felt so out of reach.
My frustration disappeared and I even felt some sympathy toward Conor in the end, though.
The irony – the medicine made from yew tree fails to bring the outcome what Conor desperately was hoping for – felt so poignant. That was probably one of the scenes that spoke to me most strongly.

Although I was impressed with what the fourth tale has done to Conor, and I think it is definitely worth a read, personally, I found the message the Monster tries to convey to Conor a bit difficult to grasp. It felt a bit too vague and fuzzy so I almost let it slip.
I still enjoyed reading how the fourth tale helped Conor to be honest with his true feelings though. It is really cathartic and therapeutic.

What I really like about this book is the monster’s voice. He is sage and insightful yet I can also see he has a sense of humor. Some of his remarks made me giggle.
I also enjoyed reading the dialogues between Conor and the monster so much. The monster’s words are all pregnant with meaning, which may be a bit hard for kids to understand, but I think there are a lot that resonate with everyone.

That being said though, I was a bit underwhelmed by the ending; I did want it to grab me, break me, or even shatter me. With regard to the point, this book fell short of measuring up to my ‘probably way too high’ expectations.

I generally enjoyed the book, but it failed to reel me in and make me emotionally attached completely and that’s the only issue that I had toward this book.

This is not a straight 5 stars book for me (I’m so sorry about that), yet I think it’s worth a read and you may find this book really touching and moving.

The Reptile Room by Lemony Snicket

the-reptile-roomTitle: The Reptile Room (A Series of Unfortunate Events Book 2)

Author: Lemony Snicket

Length: 192 pages

Lemony Snicket did it again – this book enthralled me from beginning to end.

This is the second book in the series and I love it so much; I adore this book much more than the first book.

His prowess as an author is beautifully displayed throughout the book. There is never a dull moment in this book at least for me and I literally gobbled it up in two sittings. (I’d been reading two books simultaneously so while I was at the other book, this book was on the back burner if you like.)

I particularly like how Lemony Snicket portrays Count Olaf in this book.
In the first book, Count Olaf was portrayed as a despicable, insidious man who is capable of the most horrendous thing we could think of when he flies into rages.

However, I didn’t particularly feel that way; yes, he is such a despicable, cunning and ugly man but the descriptions of him didn’t give me chills running down my spine in the first book.

In the second book, however, I shivered at the thought of him slashing one of the Bourdelair orphans’ throat with his jagged knife (That’s what he says he will do, not what he actually does.)
The knife – the glint of the knife in particular – was also used amazingly effectively to send warnings to the Boudelair orphans as well as displaying how merciless and inexorable Count Olaf can be if he so chooses.
I thought I could even sense the hushed silence filling the room by the mere sight of the knife, how scary it can be! I shuddered. 

I was also mesmerized by his prowess in story-telling.
We all know something bad and miserable is going to happen to the Bourdelair orphans, but rather than unfolding the story bit by bit like untangling twined threads, he blurts out that their new guardian – whom the children adore and find amiable – is destined to die.
He doesn’t divulge how or when, but he does come out and say things are definitely not going the way we readers hope.

I found it worked fantastically to underscore the forthcoming days of doom and gloom in store for the Bourdelair children.
By juxtaposing the grim future that awaits the children TO the ephemeral happy time that they get to spend with their new guardian, I was in a way reminded that only bad things were going to happen to the children and came to yearn to save them out of the misery as the grim realization dawns on me.

As it was two years since I last read this book, I only remembered the fraction of the story so everything in the book felt fresh and I enjoyed so much.

It was such a delightful, entertaining read. I can’t wait to find out what happens next to the Bourdelair children 🙂

The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket

bad-beginningTitle: The Bad Beginning (A series of Unfortunate Events, Book 1)

Author : Lemony Snicket

Length: 192 pages (Hardcover)

Grade: 5 and up  or 8 – 12 years (by Amazon)

 

I have heard a lot of people say this series is depressing to read on, but I’m not quite sure about that.
If anything, I find this book really enticing, even delightful.

I am definitely not talking about the plot; I’m talking about the writing style. It is so unique, if anything, it’s so beautiful.

The story begins with a terrible fire that engulfed the entire Boudelair mansion and Mr. Poe visiting the Boudelair children to deliver the terrible news of their parents having perished by the fire.

In accordance with the very specific direction in Mr. Boudelair’s will, the children are then  entrusted with Count Olaf, the geologically nearest relative of them.
As if to say the fire itself weren’t devastating enough, the author forebodes even grimmer events await the Boudelair children and warns the readers to put the book down immediately if they expect a feel-good, happy-ending story.

As I mentioned earlier, I read with book with much delight. I love his writing style, it’s somewhat quaint and quirky yet it definitely has a very dignified vibe.
I particularly love the moments where he stops right middle of a sentence and then starts explaining the definition of the word he has just used. It makes you feel like having him right in front of you and listening to him narrating the story.

His diction is what I think makes his writing stand out from others’. I don’t know how to articulate this and I can’t possibly find the way how, but I believe you’ll see it when you actually pick up his book and start reading.

The latter half is, in particular, an amazing read. The plot is well-crafted and so riveting and compelling.  I had so many moments when I gritted my teeth and cried, “Ughhhhhhhh!!” out of frustration from things not going in favor of the Boudelair children.

Although the book doesn’t end with a positive note as the author warns, it is definitely an enjoyable read. Trust me, the plot itself is NOT as depressing as some may say. Think of it, this series is for children; what is depressing to kids doesn’t mean it’s depressing to us adults.

I personally highly recommend this book on so many levels 😀

 

The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury

the-halloween-treeHappy Halloween!

I’ve now come to wonder if it’s appropriate to use this common phrase having finished this book.

As I previously mentioned, I managed to finish reading it last Saturday, thanks to my mom going out for a walk for an hour or so.

My gosh, this book amazed me in all respects; the writing is just grand and beautiful, it sounds like a poem and oh, THE BARGAIN the boys make with Mr. Moundshroud to save Pipkin!! It ripped my heart; it was incredibly profound (for children’s book) and pregnant with meaning. Literally mind-blowing. I momentarily lost for words and couldn’t say anything but ‘Oh, my gosh, Oh, my gosh!!

Spoiler Alert: The following paragraphs contain some spoilers. Those who haven’t read this book before, I strongly suggest you read this part AFTER you’ve read the book. For those who have already known how it goes, drag your mouse down to ‘End Spoilers.’

The bargain they make with Mr. Moundshroud to save good-old Pipkin trapped in the world of Death and Darkness is to give up one year out of their lives.

One year doesn’t seem like much with the boys being so young and sprightly, but as Mr. Moundshroud says it carries a significant meaning when their days are numbered. I think they will come to wish to live as long as possible, every single day counts in such situations, but once they make the pledge, Mr. Moundshroud will come to them and take away one year of their lives.

So he asks the boys – Can you make this commitment? Are you willing to sacrifice your precious one year of your life to save Pipkin?? Consider and deliberate this; think about a time when your life is coming to a close.

I literally sucked my breath, thinking, “What a huge decision for the boys to make!” One year out of their lives. What will the boys be thinking of having their one-year taken out of their lives when they want to live longer?

I just couldn’t put it down – completely got wrapped up in reading and was desperate to see how the story ends.

–End Spoilers —————————-

I would not say that I get to comprehend all the-origin-of-Halloween part, but in spite of that, I am glad that I picked up this book for this year’s Halloween.

Having read this book, I now feel sorry for all the craziness and racket that we’ve seen here in Japan (especially in Shibuya, Tokyo): dressed up in crazy costumes and traipse down the streets not knowing what Halloween really is, or what meanings Halloween carries to the dead.

Halloween is a celebration for the dead and personally, I don’t think it should be taken lightly; it shouldn’t be reduced down to a mere festival propagated by some guys who just want to jump on the bandwagon.

A great book does possess a power to change our perspective.
Mine has definitely changed upside down having read this book and I think it’s a wonderful thing.

Now, what do you think?
As I said, I’m glad that I picked up this book in time for Halloween and I am seriously thinking of getting a hardback because I want to read it again and again and again when Halloween rolls around!

Happy Halloween!

 

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

a-little-princessI assume I don’t have to tell you much about this book – this is THE classic loved by both adults and kids around the world and I did love it so much – except the fact that I have never read the actual book; I have only read its comic adaptation or animated one when I was a child.

Back in the day, there was a popular animated program broadcast on Sunday evenings featuring word-classics such as Little Women, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and this, ‘Little princess’ was my absolute favorite.

After all these years, I finally got my hands on this book – the original one not the translated version – and I have to admit, it was as moving as ever; it still holds so much power to enchant me. This book is simply amazing.

However, I’m not sure if it is because of me being jaded and cynical, there are some points that I couldn’t related to Sara wholeheartedly.

First and foremost, she is PERFECT for a mere 11 or 12 something year-old girl. How can a mere child be so matured, calm and collected? Of course, there are scenes where she takes her rage out on her beloved doll, Emily or distances herself from her friends, yet she still retains her dignity and refuses to be reduced down to being spiteful. I think I’ll need to take a page out of her book in this regard.

Secondly, although she eventually amends her remark about Ermengarde before she actually says it, it can’t be denied Sara in fact thinks of her as being ‘stupid.’
In my opinion, ‘stupid’ itself is a very derogatory, strong word and that implies one disregards others, looking down on them.
By the same token, I felt Sara is a bit disrespectful to Miss Minchin after Sara has lost everything – her beloved father, her fortune, anything you can think of – and fallen in a state of a penniless with no one to be looked after.
She could have been dead out on the street had it been for Miss Minchin; she ought to have thought of herself as fortunate to have a roof over her head, yet she refuses to utter a word ‘Thank you.’
It goes without saying that Miss Minchin is very detestable (as we all know too well), but she could have shown her gratitude even a bit, if you ask me.

Other than that, this is a very moving story. Sara teaches us that we don’t have to stoop ourselves to the same level of those who despite us or make fun of us, or we don’t have to resort to the ‘eye-for-eye’ tactic. Instead, we should just hold our heads high and not let them get to us.

As this is a Classic story written more than 100 years ago, it may be a bit challenging for beginners, but I think it would make a nice change to revisit some classic stories that you adored in your childhood 🙂

Jeremy Fink and The Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass

Jeremy Fink and the meaning of lifeTitle: Jeremy Fink and The Meaning of Life

Author: Wendy Mass

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Published: November 1st, 2006

Length: 289 pages

<Synopsis>

Jeremy Fink is a 12-year old boy with his 13th birthday coming up in less than a month.
He lost his father when he was 8 years old. A palm reader predicted his father would pass away at the age of 40, but he wasn’t even 40 years old when he died in an accident; he was only 39 years old.

One day, a mysterious package arrives at his doorstep addressed to his mother. Intrigued, his best friend and next door neighbor Lizzy and Jeremy gingerly open the package and then find an enveloped letter and a pretty, intricately crafted wooden box. Strangely enough, the newspaper stuffed inside the box to prevent the box from damaging was dated just a week after his father’s death.

To make the thing even more confusing, the words “THE MEANING OF LIFE: FOR JEREMY FINK TO OPEN ON HIS 13TH BIRTHDAY” are engraved on the box and Jeremy immediately recognizes that it is his father’s handiwork.
What do all these things mean?

Unfortunately, Harold, his father’s friend who was entrusted with the safekeeping of the box had lost the keys to open the box; the box has got FOUR keyholes and each keyhole needs a different key, which means the box needs four keys to open.
No one knows where the keys are and her mother says there’s no other set; the box is made with very intricate lock system and can’t be pried open or it’ll break the content sitting inside the box.

The only way to open the box is to find the four keys – with Lizzy, Jeremy decides to set off on a journey to find the keys – in a bid to find ‘THE MEANING OF LIFE’ what his father had left for Jeremy before he passed away.
A story of an incredible summer that Jeremy and Lizzy will never forget.

<My thoughts>

A poignant feel of losing the loved one runs through the entire book, as far as I am concerned.
This is a story of a soon-to-be-13-years-old boy, Jeremy Fink, going on a quest to find ‘The meaning of life,’ experiencing a lot of things on the way.

Honestly, this book is so inspiring, so wonderful that I really hate to spill the beans, I really, seriously recommend you read this book and see and experience firsthand what Jeremy and his best friend, Lizzy go through.

Can I just tell you – I actually scribbled down an awful lot of my thoughts about this book in my notebook that I always carry around wherever I go while I’m reading.
However, having finished with this book and deeply moved and enthralled, describing how I felt about the story and the snippets of the story that come with it seems quite a spoiler to me and I just don’t want to crash the excitement you will get from reading this book.

So please, just trust me for once and pick up this book or you may regret not doing so.

Let me just tell you that this little book is, again, too good to be regarded as one of those kid’s books; it’s far from it. This book is pregnant with a deeper meaning and it teaches and reminds us of what shapes us as a person and the importance of being fully in the moment, paying attention to what’s around us and making the most of our lives.

Self development seems to be one of the themes of this book and in that regard, I so enjoyed seeing how Jeremy and Lizzy develop themselves as a person as they go.

I am simply amazed by how every small detail of the plot falls into place and entwines very beautifully. Perfectly-crafted, incredibly exciting read; this is just like a breath of fresh air!
In my perfectly honest opinion, this book wins hands down over ‘Holes’ by Louis Sachar. I’ll bet you will enjoy this book tremendously!

 

Frindle by Andrew Clements

FrindleTitle: Frindle

Author: Andrew Clements

Published: February 1st, 1998

Publisher : Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Length : 105 pages

<Synopsis>

Nick Allen is such a smart-ass 5th grader at Lincoln Elementary School. He always comes up with great ideas to spice things up at school, sometimes in a negative way such as delaying lessons or wiping out school assignments by asking perfect questions at the right time hence the moniker – ‘teacher-stopper’ or ‘the guaranteed-time-waster.’

Then there is this Mrs. Granger, a real stickler for proper spelling and lover of dictionaries. She is a redoubtable figure among the 5th graders with an uncanny x-ray vision that allows her to always catch disruptive students red-handed and make them pay the price in a strict manner.

One day, as a punishment for causing a slight disruption in class, Nick is given an additional report to look into where all the words in dictionaries came from. He somehow manages to pull off the report as well as delay the class progression, and on his way back home from school he comes up with a brilliant idea of switching the word ‘pen’ with a word ‘Frindle’ which he coined on the spot.  And then he gets all his friends to use the newly coined word ‘Frindle’ instead of ‘pen.’ It was his little experiment, what he originally intended just for fun.

However, with a fiery opposition from Mrs. Granger, the word battle spins out of control and things start to get out of Nick’s hand…

<My Thoughts>

I read this book several years ago but I decided to go back to it again now that I started this book blog.

Being a children’s book targeting 6 to 12 year-olds, it is relatively easyly-written so I recommend this book for novices of English books.

My first (technically second) impression was;  Nick is such a prankster and I don’t like him at all. He does all the things thinking he’s doing good for everyone, making school life a bit more fun, but for me, it was just annoying. First of all, school is where you STUDY not pull a prank, isn’t it? lol

That’s all the more reason why I enjoyed Mrs. Granger’s taking the wind out of Nick’s sails when she announces a special report for Nick to tackle when he, as usual, attempted to sidetrack so that Mrs. Granger wouldn’t have time to announce the day’s homework assignment. I inwardly squealed, “Ha! That serves you right!” (I wonder how old I really am… lol)

In the story, the whole ‘frindle’ thing causes quite a ripple effect and sweeps the country, but it didn’t leave that big of an impact on me. The description feels a bit all flat and lackluster to me, which may or may not be because it was the second time for me.

The change of tone comes around three-quarters of the book; having seen all the fuss and maelstrom he have caused by the ‘Frindle’ stuff, he starts to stash what he thinks ‘great ideas’ deep inside himself. He begins to be cautious about his words and deeds.
I found it was a nice change, it was the decisive point that turned this story from a mere typical kids’ story into something with a deeper meaning.

From that point onwards, this story just gets even more interesting and a quiet, yet moving revelation comes in the very end. I’m sure it will warm the cockles of your heart just as it did to me.