Review – A Man and his Cat (Umi Sakurai)

Keywords: manga, Year 3+, adorable, cats, feel-good, light-hearted, friendship, love, pets, animals, really cute!

Okay, so we’ve spoken about graphic novels like Nimona and comic books like Dogman. But what about manga? Manga is the name given to Japanese comic books. You can find lots of manga translated to English. The main difference between manga and other comic books is how you read them. In English comic books, you usually read each panel and speech bubble from left to right, right? Well, in manga, you actually read them right to left! This is because Japanese books are written right to left. I think that everyone should read at least one manga book in their lifetime. And what better place to start than with an adorable manga about cats?

The front cover of the first volume

A Man & His Cat is exactly what it says: it’s the story about a man who adopts a cat. The cat lives in a pet store for the first year of his life. Nobody wants to adopt him because they think he’s ugly (which is just objectively wrong, since he’s so adorable!). He comes to the conclusion that nobody will ever adopt him or even want him around. He resigns himself to living alone in the pet store for the rest of his life.

But then, an elderly man visits the store. And without a second of hesitation, he chooses the cat. He adopts the kitty joyfully, calling him ‘Fukumaru’ (which loosely means ‘joy’ in Japanese). And so begins the adventure of Fukumaru the cat and his human Mr Kanda.

Fukumaru: cat, main character, and absolute cutie who deserves the world!!

The manga follows Fukumaru and Mr Kanda’s friendship as they grow used to each-other. You see, Mr Kanda has never had a cat before, and Fukumaru has never had an owner. Thankfully, Mr Kanda is an incredibly kind person who tries his best to take care of his new kitty. He’s actually a great role model for any readers who want to adopt a cat (or any pet!).

Of course, this manga would probably be more enjoyable for cat people, since the story centers around a cat. There are many moments in the story that are just so relatable to humans who live with cats. I laughed with utter joy many times while reading this! For example, this is one of my favourite parts:

The amount of times my cats have done something cute, only to stop doing it as soon as I get my camera…it happens way too often! So yeah, that particular comic strip is very relatable.

But throughout the cute and fluffy chapters are moments of real emotion and love. To be honest, there were many times that I was actually about to cry. And I mean actual sobs. The best example of an emotional, tear-jerking moment is the very first chapter, where the man decides to adopt Fukumaru.

I’ve read this manga at least a dozen times. Every single time I read that first chapter, I start tearing up because it’s just so sweet and emotional and ah! I love this book!!

So, a word of advice to end this review: read A Man And His Cat when you’re feeling sad or lost or hopeless. This is one of those rare books that remind you of the sweetness of life. There is no problem that pops up in this story’s plot that cannot be solved with love. But beware! Those with tender hearts will definitely cry of joy while reading!

While these two cats are usually at odds with each-other, Jenny and Alfie both agree that this is a wonderful book! Jenny recommends it to those who love adorable and love-filled stories. Alfie recommends the book as a good way to start reading manga for the first time.

Review – Kiki’s Delivery Service (Eiko Kadono)

Keywords: fiction, ages 8+, fantasy, slice of life, light-hearted, coming of age/growing up, 13-year-old female protagonist, talking animal sidekick, magic, quirky, funny, inspired a movie!

When you see a movie before reading the book it’s based on, it can change what you expect from the book. I first saw Kiki’s Delivery Service as a film when I was a kid. It’s one of my favourite movies ever and I’ve watched it dozens, maybe even hundreds of times! So when I picked up the original book Kiki’s Delivery Service by Eiko Kadono (and translated from Japanese to English by Emily Balistrieri), all I could think about was the movie. How similar is the movie to the book? What things did the movie leave out from the original story?

The front cover.

Comparing the book to the film is fun, but it can be a little unfair. After all, the book deserves to be read and enjoyed for its own niceness, not because it happened to inspire a nice movie! So, I will try to talk about the book first – only the book.

The story starts with Kiki, a witch just about to turn 13. To be a proper witch, she needs to have a ‘coming-of-age day’: a tradition where 13-year-old witches go and live in a different town for a year and survive on their own magic. There’s a problem with magic, though. Over the years, witches have lost their knowledge of certain skills and spells. So now there are very few magical skills left. For example, Kiki’s mother Kokiri can make magical medicine (like her famous sneeze potion!), but she’s actually the last witch left in the world who knows how to do this properly. And while Kokiri tried to teach Kiki how to make magical medicine, the young girl hates it. Instead, Kiki has one magical skill that she truly loves: flying on her broomstick.

Kiki flying away from her hometown.

While she flies and does her magic, Kiki is accompanied by her little black cat Jiji. Kiki and Jiji grew up together and are constant companions. The wonderful thing is that Jiji can talk…but only to Kiki! Everyone else just hears meows. How amazing would it be to talk to cats and have them talk to you? I want to be a witch now!

So, Kiki and Jiji fly off to find a new town to live in. All Kiki wants is to see the sea for the very first time, so she looks for a town close to the ocean. And luckily, she finds one! The town of Koriko (lots of ‘K’ words in this book!) is a big seaside town with no witch living there yet. The rest of the story is about Kiki’s adventures in the town as she lives there (on her own!) for a whole year.

Kiki’s adventures are really fun to read! You see, this clever witch decides to run her own business – a delivery service, of course! So basically she flies around the town to deliver random things to people. And when I say ‘random things’, I mean it. I don’t want to spoil too much, but here are just a couple of things Kiki delivers:

Kiki on an average delivery.

– A trumpet

– A pair of underpants

– A pacifier

– New Year’s Eve

I won’t tell you how or why she delivered any of these things; you’ll need to find out for yourself!

So, what was it like reading this book? In a word: magical. I really enjoyed following Kiki’s growth into a true witch as she helped people around the town. My favorite part of the book was the characters, especially the two kids Kiki meets in Koriko. One is a boy who is obsessed with airplanes and looks like a dragonfly. The other is a girl who has interesting strategies when she wants to give a present to a boy she likes. It’s fun to see how Kiki interacts with kids her age, because it shows you just how different we can be from each-other. Just because you’re the same age as someone doesn’t mean you’re exactly the same!

I’d say the only thing I didn’t like too much was the book’s pacing (how quickly the story goes). Kiki arrives at the town, we’re told about some of her deliveries, then BAM! It has been a full year and pretty much the end of the book! I would have liked to hear more about her life during that one year.

Here’s the thing: there is a way to learn more about Kiki’s adventures and read about her life. There are actually sequels! However, we cannot read them – unless you’re fluent in Japanese. Yup, none of the other books in the Kiki’s Delivery Service series has been translated to English! Only the first one! So if anyone reading this review is fluent in Japanese, please read the other Kiki books and tell me about them. I’m super curious about what she does next!

By the time I finished reading the story, I completely forgot about the movie version. Both are really nice in their own ways and I recommend both!

This book has fantasy elements to it (of course! there’s a witch in it, after all!), but it’s also a slice-of-life sort of story. So, both fantasy fanatic Felipe and slice-of-life lover Jenny adore Kiki’s Delivery Service!

Review – Eliza Vanda’s Button Box (Emily Rodda)

Keywords: Year 4+, fantasy, magical, light-hearted, emotional management.

The front cover, complete with Sultan and a box of buttons! Can you find Victor and the magic mirror?

Before we start, I just gotta say that I miiiiight be a little bit biased. You see, Emily Rodda – the author of Eliza Vanda’s Button Box – also wrote The Key to Rondo, which happens to be one of my all-time favourite books from my childhood (and a book we have reviewed before!). So there was a part of me that already liked Eliza Vanda before I even read it. I mean, it’s written by a beloved author and it has a pretty cover? Sign me up!

Of course, there is far more to a book than how it looks and who wrote it. There is definitely truth to the idiom, “Never judge a book by its cover”! This review is my attempt at being fair; I’ll try not to like or dislike the book for no good reason at all.

The character of Eliza Vanda is similar to Mary Poppins!

Okay, so let’s start with the plot. Despite its title, the main character of Eliza Vanda’s Button Box is not actually Eliza Vanda! It’s a girl named Milly Dynes, an 11 year old who lives in the seaside town of Tidgy Bay. She lives with her dad Rory and together they take care of holiday houses, which they rent out to people. One of these people is the titular Eliza Vanda, a mysterious woman who brings magic and buttons along with her. Think ‘Mary Poppins’ but with more dress-making!

Other characters include a snobby mouse named Victor, a grumpy black cat named Sultan, and a witch who will remain unnamed, because I don’t want to spoil the plot too much! I will, however, say this:

  • Yes, there is a hidden world that Milly explores;
  • Yes, there are magical creatures and characters;
  • And no, the hidden world is not what you think it is.
Lots of fantasy books involve characters travelling to hidden worlds, like Alice in Wonderland.

After you read a lot of fantasy books, you start to pick up on a lot of similarities between them. You even start to predict what a book must be about. For example, when I picked this book up, I said to myself, “Oh, there has to be a hidden world and the main character has to save the day with magic or something!” While this is the case for Eliza Vanda, the plot is actually not as predictable as it seems. Ugh, I wish I could tell you why it’s unpredictable but I can’t ruin the surprise! Just trust me on this one!

I would like to divulge one spolier, though, because it’s just too cool to ignore.

Every person in this hidden world has emotions. Those emotions, however, take the form of ‘mysies’, which are little creatures that live outside of their bodies. They’re mostly kept in hats, though some people keep them in pockets and bags. Some mysies include ‘Temper’, ‘Memory’, and ‘Sense of Humor’. So whenever someone needs a certain emotion, the mysie comes and whispers in their ear to help out! For example, when one character forgets who Victor is, his memory mysie helps him out:

The man stared at him blankly, then fumbled in a silver mesh purse hanging from his belt. A small, neat, lizard-like creature sprang from the purse and ran up his arm to perch on his shoulder and whisper in his ear…

“Victor!” cried the man, his face lighting up. (Chapter 6, page 71.)

This is what I think a memory mysie looks like!

But if you lose a mysie, then you lose that emotion. It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “losing your temper”!

I truly love the idea of mysies. Actually, it’s a wonderful way to think of your own emotions; they can be easier to control and understand if you think of them as creatures and pets rather than something untouchable and invisible. The mysies are a vital part of the book’s plot and provide a lot of moments to think about our own emotions. What happens if you lose your ‘Courage’? How would you control a wild ‘Temper’ mysie? You could spend hours thinking about it!

The author, Emily Rodda

Having said all that, the book isn’t without areas of improvement. For example, it seemed a bit too fast-paced to me. There is a main villain, but we don’t hear about them until we’re three-quarters of the way through. It would’ve been much more engaging if the villain was hinted at much earlier in the book then revealed triumphantly near the end. That would be much more enjoyable and dramatic!

This also seems less like a stand-alone book and more like the first book in a series. Everything wraps up a bit too quickly for my liking. Hopefully, this will turn into a series. There are just too many unanswered questions!

The delightful fantasy of this plot appeals to fantasy-loving Felipe, so he had a great time reading it. Surprisingly, Gus actually liked it too! When I asked him why, he just shrugged and said, “You said it was fast-paced, so I decided to read it slowly. It was pretty good, not gonna lie.” So yeah, both Felipe and Gus recommend Eliza Vanda’s Button Box!

(Psst! If this book looks familiar, it’s because I wrote a reading comprehension exercise based on its first chapter! Check it out here!)

Review – Dogman: Grime and Punishment (Dav Pilkey)

Keywords: Year 1+ (ages 6 and up), fiction, comic book, humour, adventure.

Okay, so it took me a while to finally get into the Dogman series. In my ignorance, the first Dogman book I ended up reading was actually the 9th in the series: Grime and Punishment. So, yeah, not exactly the best place to start a series but I actually enjoyed it. A LOT!

I confess that I was reluctant to read the book. It looked a little too silly for me. (And I can be quite silly, so that’s saying something!)

The front cover.

So my expectations weren’t very high when I first dove into Dogman. The only reason I even began reading it was because there was a group of Year 1 students in my last class who loved – and I mean loved – this series. They’d even take their whole collection outside with them to read during recess and lunch! Now THAT is dedication!

“Just because lots of people like this book doesn’t mean I will too!” I said to myself. And that’s true! A book being popular doesn’t automatically mean that absolutely everyone will like it.

So imagine my surprise, my complete shock, when I actually read the book and absolutely loved it.

Sure, the story is a bit silly, but it’s a good kind of silly. It’s the type of silliness that has a meaning behind it. Silliness without a purpose can get tiring after a while, but silliness that has a clear role in the story? Now that I like! The humor isn’t always my cup of tea. (That means that I don’t always find it funny.) But there aren’t any jokes that I find stupid or weird in a bad way. My absolute favourite joke in the whole book was this one about an English teacher fish teaching adverbs:

A laughing Petey.

As for the characters, I adored Petey! (And not just because he’s a cat!) He’s my favorite character for two reasons:

1. He’s the classic ‘bad guy turned good’ that I love so much in stories.

2. His relationship with Lil Petey/Cat Kid is so gosh dang adorable!

If ‘love’ was a cat, it would be Cat Kid.

I was blown away by the depth and significance of Petey and Cat Kid’s familial relationship. The main idea of this book – Love vs Hate – is illustrated best by Petey and Cat Kid’s conversations. Petey represents ‘Hate’, because he was fueled by hate for most of his life. Then Cat Kid, to nobody’s surprise, represents love. I mean, just look at him! He radiates love and compassion!

Something that completely knocked my socks off was a note at the very end of the book. George and Harold (the authors of the book even though it’s actually Dav Pilkey) say that a part of Chapter 3 was inspired by a poem. This poem (‘Do not stand at my grave and weep’) is by Mary Elizabeth Frye and it is one of my all-time favourites! I reckon I’ll even publish a reading comprehension exercise for it soon (*wink wink*). You can check the full poem out here!

Dogman’s title references this Russian classic. It’s very serious and long.

There are other references too! For example, the title (Grime and Punishment) references a classic book by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment. So, this book’s title is actually an excellent example of a pun. A pun is a play on words to change the meaning in a funny way (like saying ‘What do you call two dinosaurs in a car crash? Tyrannosaurus wrecks!’). I think in Dogman‘s case, the title ‘Grime and Punishment’ refers to ‘Crime and Punishment’ just for the silliness of it! After all, Crime and Punishment is about a man who commits a serious crime, thinks about whether or not he should go to jail, then decides to go to jail. Dogman‘s story does involve crime and punishment, but it doesn’t follow the same plot as the original classic. (And it’s not quite as serious or scary!)

My attempt at drawing the characters (the only thing I had to draw on was a paint sample card)!

One last thing that I loved about this copy of Dogman: there are step-by-step drawing tutorials at the back! Apparently this is something every Dogman book has, but with different characters each time. It was so much fun drawing them! What a wonderful way to engage with the story! I think I had the most fun drawing Snug (the muscular cat with the ‘J’ shirt). Let me know if you drew him too!

As this is a funny, light-hearted comic book, Alfie absolutely loves Dogman: Grime and Punishment! Jun loves it too. He thinks that the story is easy to follow and that it’s perfect to read when you just want a laugh. Both cats recommend this book!

Review – The Magic Misfits (Neil Patrick Harris)

Keywords: Year 5+ (ages 8 and up), fiction, humor, adventure, magic, first in a series.

The front cover

I’ve always known Neil Patrick Harris as the womanizer from How I Met Your Mother or Dr Horrible from Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. He filled my childhood with his acting and singing skills. Knowing all of that, I was still surprised to see that he’s talented in yet another area: writing!

The Magic Misfits is the first middle-school book Neil Patrick Harris has written. Once I knew that, I was very impressed. This book has the strong plot and witty narration of someone’s second, even third middle-school book!

But enough about the celebrity author. It’s time to get down to the good part: the book itself. The main character, Carter, starts his journey by doing someone all of us have dreamed of doing at some point: running away from home. (Wait, it’s just me who has dreamed of that? Oh. Okay.) After hitching a ride from a train, he finds himself in the town of Mineral Wells. Like all fictional small towns, it’s all very charming and full of wonder. And yet, something seems…off. Maybe it’s the circus where everyone frowns at you. Maybe it’s the circus boss that has the creepiest smile in history. Maybe it’s literally just the circus, because it’s a crime gang that sullies the honorable name of magic and entertainment. Clearly, they must be stopped. The Magic Misfits tells the story of how Carter tries to bring them to magical justice. As Carter meets like-minded magicians, he gradually understands the meaning of friendship but also of magic.

The author (Neil Patrick Harris) playing Dr Horrible

…Sorry if that last line was corny, but it’s true! The strongest themes in this book are, in fact, friendship and magic. The friends Carter makes are exactly the sort of people you’d want to befriend. For instance, there’s Leila, the confident and wise-cracking escape artist who always makes you feel welcome. Then there’s Ridley, the clever magician who seems mean at first but becomes her true, kind-hearted self once she trusts you. Finally, there’s my personal favourite: Theo, the violinist who can levitate objects with his music. Honestly, if I had a group of friends like these in my childhood, things would’ve been much more magical!

The main strengths of this book lie in the witty narration, adorable illustrations by Lissy Marlin, and “How to do magic” sections (drawn by Kyle Hilton) that are sprinkled throughout the pages. The humour is the main spectacle, though. There were quite a few things in this book that made me chuckle and laugh (out loud!). The first giggles came when I saw the chapter names:

One – the first

Two – the second one

Three – the third of these

Four – one more than three

Five – one less than six

My two favourite chapter names are definitely these:

Eleven – looks like two lines. Or two lowercase Ls, which could be confusing. For example, this is two lowercase L’s: ll. Looks like this 11, right? Confusing.

Seventeen – six more than nine, multiplied by ten, plus three, then divided by nine

So, those are the strengths! Now onto the weaknesses.

The mysterious Mr Vernon

I’d say my main point would be the very late introduction of the twin siblings Olly and Izzy. You can see them on the front cover on the far right wearing green plaid suits and matching hats. Since I saw them on the front cover, I was expecting them to be significant side characters like Carter’s magic friends. I was pretty disappointed to see that Olly and Izzy were only introduced three-quarters into the book and barely had any lines! Hopefully, we’ll get to see more of Olly and Izzy in future books.

The Magic Misfits isn’t a fantasy book. It does, however, deal a LOT with magic. (I mean, ‘magic’ is literally in the title!) Therefore, magic-loving Felipe can’t help but love it! Light-reader Jun was entranced by the light and witty writing style and the genuine fun he had while reading it. Both cats heartily recommend The Magic Misfits!

Review – Sense and Sensibility (Jane Austen)

Keywords: fiction, classic, romance, drama, Regency period, for older readers (Year 8+), old-fashioned language.

Image result for jane austen
Jane Austen

So. We’re finally here: the moment where I review something by Jane Austen. As one of the most famous and venerated authors of all time, it was inevitable that I talk about her. This is where things get a bit controversial, though. You see, despite all of the hype and acclaim, I’ve never really liked Jane Austen’s books.

Image result for sense and sensibility art
One of the prettiest book covers ever.

I know, I know, but let me explain! While I grew up adoring all the films – Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey etc. – I never really got into the actual books. It’s one of the rare occurences where I found the films better than the books (as blasphemous as that sounds). Austen’s writing style and tendency to focus on unnecessary details made it difficult for me to enjoy her work. On average, I’d spend 80% of the time sludging through descriptions of money and social activities that I just did not care about. Perhaps it’s because of how books have evolved since the 18th century. We’re just much more used to books that get to the point rather than waltz around a topic. While many people enjoy that lengthy writing style, I do not (unless it’s particularly gorgeous and interesting, like Tolstoy’s stuff).

Having said all of that, there are still some parts of Austen’s books that I enjoy. For example, I love it whenever she’s sarcastic (which is fairly often!). Also, the scenes where characters confess their love are second to none. Mr Darcy’s proclamations of love in Pride and Prejudice, for example, will always be one of my favourite moments in literary history. It makes me sigh just thinking about it!

Anyway, I’m getting off-topic. Let’s talk about Sense and Sensibility, the first book Jane Austen ever published.

Image result for elinor dashwood
Elinor Dashwood played by Emma Thompson (you might know her as Nanny McPhee!)

The story is based on one of my favourite tropes: two main characters who are polar opposites. Sisters Elinor and Marianne are completely different in disposition. Where Elinor is completely sensible and in control of her emotions, Marianne is a hopeless romantic. They are on totally different sides on the spectrum of emotion management. Marianne’s tendency to fully give into her emotions and be as clear as possible with her opinions can seem a bit much, especially when compared to Elinor’s behaviour. However, we soon see that Elinor herself is pretty flawed too. She’s able to control herself, yes, but she never communicates about her emotions. Ever. When the sisters meet men they’re interested in – soft-spoken Edward for Elinor and rambunctious Willoughby for Marianne – their personality flaws come into full view. Basically, Sense and Sensibility is a classic tale of “two opposites learn from each-other and become better people by the end”.

The drama and plot twists add to the novel’s spiciness and were by far the most enjoyable parts to read. I also loved whenever Colonel Brandon was in a scene. Despite being rejected by Marianne, he still cares about her and strives to make her happy. He’s just such a sweet guy and I want to give him a huge hug. The fact that he’s played by Alan Rickman in the 1996 film probably influences my opinion too. 🙂

Image result for colonel brandon
Colonel Brandon played by Alan Rickman (you might know him as Snape from Harry Potter!)

As for the flaws, I’ve already detailed them at the beginning when I ranted about Jane Austen. There were many unnecessary descriptions and scenes that added little to the plot or to my own enjoyment. The writing style was a bit difficult to comprehend sometimes, but that’s because of how old-fashioned it is (I mean, it was written in the early 1800’s!).

Please know that I don’t hate this book. On the contrary, I recommend it! For one thing, it’s a good reading comprehension exercise. If you’re finding your reading to be too basic, try challenging yourself by reading this. It’ll certainly add muscle to your reading comprehension skills as well as your vocabulary! Also, I found it fascinating to see the differences between the book and the 1996 film adaptation (a movie I’ve seen approximately 50 times). The actress who plays Elinor, Emma Thompson, wrote the screenplay and she basically did what I would’ve done: she trimmed out the unnecessary details and focused on the main plot. Plus, she added one or two things that made the film so much more enjoyable. Definitely consider watching the 1996 film after reading the original book!

Clearly, this is a classic book. Because of its historic value, Dmitri heartily recommends it. The book is technically slice-of-life since it shows the daily lives of those in the 18th-19th century. So, Jenny also quite enjoyed Sense and Sensibility.

Review – The Key to Rondo (Emily Rodda)

Key words: fantasy, adventure, fairytale elements, male protagonist, female protagonist, first book in a series, trilogy, 2007.

A short and sweet review for today! If you want a fantasy book with loveable characters, wholesome friendships and a world inside of a music box, this is the book for you. Seriously, it has everything you could possibly want like a model pig named Bertha and a giant talking duck named Freda. (They are the best characters in the book, to be honest.)

Image result for key to rondo front cover
The front cover (featuring Mutt!)

The story revolves around Leo and Mimi, two cousins who don’t particularly like each-other. (Leo thinks Mimi is rude while Mimi thinks Leo is boring. It’s a whole thing.) Their Great-Aunt Bethany Langlander passes away, leaving an old music box to Leo. There are rules that Leo has to follow if he is to take care of this music box:

  1. Wind the box three times only.
  2. Never wind the box while the music plays.
  3. Never move the box while the music plays.
  4. Never close the lid until the music has stopped.

Naturally, Mimi decides to disobey and does the exact opposite, much to Leo’s horror. That’s when the Blue Queen arrives. I don’t want to spoil the plot, but I will say this: the Blue Queen comes from the magical world inside of the music box. The world itself is called, you guessed it, ‘Rondo’. All the music box’s rules are to protect this world and to guard it from intruders. Since they didn’t follow these rules, Leo and Mimi find themselves inside the music box. Why? Because the Blue Queen stole Mimi’s dog (‘Mutt’) and took him back to Rondo. As we all know, stealing dogs is one of the worst crimes you can commit. It makes sense that Leo and Mimi would try to rescue him!

The Key to Rondo: Emily Rodda: 9780545103817: Amazon.com: Books
The blurb (feat. Tye the awesome tiger lady)

Rondo itself is a lovely world to read about. Everyone is named after their occupation (e.g. Posie is the town florist) or their personality (e.g. Jolly is…well, a jolly person!). There are also talking animals. They are definitely my favourite characters, especially Bertha and Freda. They’re hilarious. “How are they hilarious?” you ask. You’ll need to find out for yourself!

The book is the first of the Rondo trilogy. Although it may feel a bit unfinished when you complete the book, remember that there are two more books to read! The Key to Rondo introduces us to the main characters and the setting, which helps us to grow attached to everything in the story. Plus, one of the novel’s main messages is about the importance of imagination!

The Key to Rondo is a marvellous fantasy that’s perfect for light readers. Fantasy enthusiast Felipe and casual reader Jun recommend this book!

Review – The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Alan Bradley)

Listen to this narration while you read!

Keywords: mystery, chemistry, 1950’s, fiction, murder, poison, England, detailed descriptions, first in a series, recommended by a friend.

Luci 🙂

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Now, you don’t see a title like that every day! This was recommended to me by my book-loving friend Luci. When she first suggested this book, I was taken aback by the name. What kind of book could this be? Is it a book about pies?

Not quite! It is, in fact, a mystery book filled with murder, poison, and…well, pie, actually. The main character is named Flavia De Luce (a name as interesting as the book’s title!). She is no ordinary 11 year old (but then again, there’s no such thing!). Living in a literal mansion in the English countryside, she spends her days studying chemistry and taking revenge on her mean-spirited sisters.

The front cover

One day, a dead snipe (a kind of bird) shows up on her doorstep. A red stamp is found pushed through its beak (Take note of that; stamps are a HUGE part of this story). If that’s not weird enough, Flavia’s father reacts to the bird in an incredibly suspicious way. He turns pale and pretty much runs for his life. So that’s, uh, something to consider. Dead birds aren’t pleasant to look at, sure, but to look as though you’re about to be murdered? Highly suspicious.

Flavia thinks so too. So begins her detective work into the issue: who delivered the dead bird and why? Who is that dead body in the garden? Why are her sisters so annoying? (I’d really like to know the answer to that last one!)

Flavia’s vocabulary is something to behold as well. There are some words and phrases in her narration that thoroughly impressed me! The best narration, though, is when she describes her chemical experiments. If you already like chemistry, you’ll love these parts; Flavia takes the time to explain all the chemicals and processes she studies. If you’re like me and you’re a little scared of chemistry (it looks difficult, not gonna lie), don’t worry. Plot twist: you’ll probably like the chemistry parts too! Flavia’s descriptive language makes even the most mundane parts of chemistry seem magical. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to understanding why some people love chemistry so much! Here’s an example:

Flavia de Luce by Brigette Barrager (this is exactly how I pictured her!)

“With the water bubbling furiously, I watched as the steam found its way through the tubing and escaped into the flask among the leaves. Already they were beginning to curl and soften as the hot vapour opened the tiny pockets between their cells, releasing the oils that were the essence of this living plant.

This was the way the ancient alchemists had practised their art: fire and steam, steam and fire. Distillation.” (pg. 11)

How lyrical! It is by far the most enjoyable description of distillation I’ve ever read!

As for flaws, the one thing I can think of is the pacing. When I say ‘pacing’ I’m talking about the speed at which the plot moves. This book – to me at least – felt a bit too slow at times. There were moments where I thought, “Come on, get to the good parts faster!” That’s the only criticism I have, though. Everything else was splendid!

Obviously, Millie loves this mystery book. Louise loves it too, if only for its wonderful description of chemistry experiments!

Psst! Something to think about:

This book’s title is based on a quote you can find on the first page. It goes: “Unless some sweetness at the bottom lie, who cares for all the crinkling of the pie?” (The Art of Cookery, William King). What do you think this means? How does it relate to the book?

Review – Book of a Thousand Days (Shannon Hale)

Listen to this narration while you read!

Key words: fantasy, adventure, diary fiction, friendship, romance, growing up, royalty, illustrated, stand-alone, 2007.

Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
The edition I read as a child.

This is honestly one of my favourite books ever. No, I’m not being hyperbolic. If someone asked me what books I would bring if I was stuck on a desert island, I’d choose Book of a Thousand Days. Twice. (Then I’d bring Little Women, but that’s a story for another post.)

The story is written like a diary, which means its genre is ‘diary fiction’. Adding a bit of spice, the author Shannon Hale decided to create her own world: The Eight Realms. This world prays to seven gods, all of whom represent different things (e.g. Under is the god of mischief). Every kingdom is named after a different god or goddess. One of the kingdoms is named after Titor, god of animals. This is where the majority of the story takes place!

Shannon "buy stuff from ur local bookshop" Hale on Twitter: "More interiors of  BOOK OF A THOUSAND DAYS. 10 years later, I still feel honored that I got to  tell this story… "
One of Dashti’s drawings (this is her self-portrait!)

The main character, Dashti, is a strong and wise teenager who finds herself trapped in a tower for seven years. Trapped with her is Lady Saren, the Lady of Titor’s Garden. Dashti is Lady Saren’s maid. Because of this, she takes care of Saren and pretty much does all the work around the tower (cooking, cleaning etc.). Not gonna lie, you’ll probably be annoyed by Lady Saren a few times. However, she develops into a braver and more self-realised person, as does Dashti. In fact, I’d say that this book is one of the best examples of character development I’ve ever read!

Without revealing too much, I will describe what’s in this book: war, royal romance, executions, wolves, jokes about ankles (it makes sense in context) and an adorable cat named ‘My Lord’. Plus, Dashti adds her own drawings into the diary, which allows us an even closer glimpse into her life.

A map of The Eight Realms

Dashti’s descriptive language is also something to behold. I’d estimate that the way she writes about the world influenced 30% of my own writing style. It’s just so unique! She describes people as having ‘kind eyes’ and uses wonderful phrases like “Ancestors, forgive me”. Some of the most delightful parts of the story are when Dashti sings. Instead of singing full songs, she instead crafts little poems that heal and comfort. Literally. Her songs genuinely heal people, it’s amazing.

Look, I cannot overemphasise how much this book means to me. If you read it, hit me up; I desperately need someone to talk to about this gem of a story!

This is a great fantasy diary, meaning that Felipe and Jenny adore this book! They cannot recommend it enough.

Review – Quirkology (Richard Wiseman)

Listen to this narration while you read!

Keywords: non-fiction, science, quirky, light-hearted, research, funny, reasonably strong vocabulary, scientific terms, stand-alone book.

The front cover

This is quite possibly one of the most interesting books I’ve reviewed on this blog. You see, I’m not usually one for non-fiction – especially ‘sciency’ stuff. It generally comes across as needlessly complex and dull to me. Richard Wiseman’s Quirkology, though, completely destroys the ‘science is boring’ stereotype! It’s genuinely fun and interesting to read. However, the most important thing is how it speaks to the reader. Unlike most scientific texts, it doesn’t talk to the reader like they’re dumb and the author is oh so smart. Do you know what I mean? Like, when you can just tell that the writer is only using fancy words to say, “Oh, look to me, I am so intelligent! My writing is only for people who are at my level of fanciness!” Blergh.

Richard Wiseman is nothing like that. On the contrary, he is a scientist for everyone – particularly those who like the quirkier side of life. He writes scientifically, yes, but never in a patronizing way. His stories are engaging as well as educational. Honestly, just the summaries of each experiment are interesting enough on their own! For example, one of Wiseman’s experiments tries to figure out – once and for all – what is the world’s funniest joke? Wiseman’s experiment was this huge worldwide thing that involved online surveys, polls, and chicken costumes. No, I will not elaborate further. Go read it for yourself! 🙂

Professor Wiseman

Every chapter is categorized by a quirky aspect of human nature. One section is all about superstitions and how they develop. Another is all about horoscopes and personality tests. The best thing about this book is that you don’t need to read the chapters in order; just look at the sections and see which ones interest you most! My personal favourite section is the one about personality tests and their viability. It’s amazing what people will choose to believe about themselves (and how those beliefs actually change who they are!).

Profesor Wiseman and an esteemed colleague

This is a great book to study or to simply enjoy. I have used this book as study material for my private English students and they generally like it! Finding books that are both educational but in a quirky and non-patronizing way is surprisingly uncommon. I’m glad people like Richard Wiseman exist. The world would be much more duller without them!

Quirkology is filled to the brim with research. Naturally, Sakura the research-loving cat adores this book beyond words. Scientific Louise also loves this book and recommends it heartily!

Psst! Fun fact: Richard Wiseman has his own YouTube channel named Quirkology! You might have even seem some of his videos (he has been popular on YouTube for a decade now). Definitely check out his videos! This is one of my favourites.