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. 🙂

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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.

Review – Nevermoor (Jessica Townsend)

Listen to this narration while you read!

Keywords: fantasy, clever, witty dialogue, imaginative, magic, dramatic, a cat is in it and she’s amazing, first in a series.

Leaf 🙂

I’m not exaggerating when I say that this has been on my ‘to-read’ list for years. The only reason I didn’t read it earlier was because of all the glowing praise it was receiving. I know it’s very cynical of me, but whenever I hear that a book is popular and flawless, I’m afraid that actually reading it will disappoint me. Thus, it takes me a while to get around to reading it! It was only when my particularly well-read friend Leaf recommended this that I finally bought a copy of Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow.

The front cover

Dear readers, I severely regret not reading this book earlier. It wasn’t the type of book where everything seems unoriginal. The world of Nevermoor is entirely its own. Before reading it, I was afraid that it would be copying Harry Potter. Other than magic playing a part in the story, the Harry Potter and Nevermoor worlds are completely different!

Can I just say how much I would love to live in Nevermoor? It’s a hidden world where you travel via umbrella (a bit like Mary Poppins) and meet fantasy creatures every day. The world is run on a sort of magic called ‘Wunder’, which makes things even more interesting. You see, the only person who knows how to use Wunder is a guy called the Wundersmith. Spoiler: he is not a good guy. You’ll see what I mean.

The one and only Morrigan Crow (I kinda want to be her best friend, honestly)

As for the main character, Morrigan Crow is an interesting protagonist to root for! She has been treated as a ‘cursed child’ for her entire 11-year-old life. Every time someone in the town has something bad happen to them, they blame Morrigan! It’s ridiculous, I know, yet it happens so often that an official literally has to come to her house every month. This worker then gives a list of all the bad things that happened in the town along with a bill. Yup, a bill. Morrigan’s father has to pay fees for misfortunes that Morrigan supposedly caused! Poor girl. Her ‘curse’ pervades her daily life. Her family doesn’t help. In fact, they loathe her and often pretend as if she doesn’t exist. Imagine that! Morrigan’s father is particularly heartless. I’d like to give him a curse or two and see how he likes it. 😡

As a cursed child, Morrigan is doomed to die at midnight on Eventide (which is this world’s version of New Year’s Eve). She has been preparing herself for her inevitable death since she was an infant. I hope you don’t mind me giving you a tiny spoiler: she doesn’t die. How did she escape death? Read and find out! (It involves a mechanical spider and time travel.)

Fenestra in her grumpy glory

There are many fascinating characters in this book, especially in the secret world of Nevermoor. For example, there’s a giant grey cat who works at a hotel. Fenestra the giant Magnificat is…how do I put this…flawless? I actually love her?? I might be biased due to being a humongous cat person, but there are other reasons for my admiration too! Fen is courageous and hard-working. She comes off as grumpy at first, but once you become closer to her, she reveals her softer side and loves you fiercely. In other words, she is a cat! Hm. Maybe my love for cats is influencing me a bit. Oh well.

This is the type of rollercoaster I was desperately trying to describe haha

This book was a roller-coaster of emotions. It’s a cliché to call something a ‘roller-coaster of emotions’, I know, but that’s what it was! I honestly couldn’t stop gobbling up Morrigan’s adventures in Nevermoor. Things that seemed unlikely or unexpected kept happening at an exhilarating pace. Reading this book was like one of those ‘drop-fall’ rollercoasters (the one where you go up and down on a tower thingy and you never know when you’re going to fall next)! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I am going off to buy the sequel: Wundersmith. 🙂

It’s a gorgeous fantasy book, so of course Felipe recommends this! Also, there are elements of mystery in the plot (what is Morrigan’s talent? Why was she rescued?), so Millie encourages you to read Nevermoor as well.

Review – The Iliad (Homer, translated by Kathleen Olmstead)

Listen to this narration while you read!

Keywords: classic, Greek, historical fiction, Greek mythology, Greek gods and goddesses like Zeus and Aphrodite, abridged, war, politics, revenge.

My flawless drawing of how the Trojan war started 😂

I know what some of you must be thinking: “But Miss, The Iliad is one of those boring classics that we’re forced to learn about. It’s not fun. Why are you reviewing it?”

I understand. Honestly, I was the same when I was a younger student. Classic books that I heard about from adults and TV (The Iliad, The Odyssey, Oedipus Rex etc.) sounded too difficult for me to read. To be honest, some of them are — especially in their original old-fashioned format! But this book is different.

This version of The Iliad has been translated and rewritten by Kathleen Olmstead. Homer – the original author – wrote the book in an ancient Greek (Homeric Greek). It’s a mixture of different Greek dialects. For most of us (including myself), that’d be very difficult to read. Plus, the original book was actually an epic poem (‘epic’ as in the type of poem, although it is very epic and awesome as well!). It was 15,693 lines long. Imagine how long it must’ve taken Homer to write it and Kathleen Olmstead to translate it! To understand just how tricky it would have been to write and translate Homeric Greek, here are the first seven lines of the original version:

Zeus showing off how cool he is (he does this a LOT)

Μῆνιν ἄειδε, θεά, Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος
οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί’ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε’ ἔθηκε,
πολλὰς δ’ ἰφθίμους ψυχὰς Ἄϊδι προΐαψεν
ἡρώων, αὐτοὺς δὲ ἑλώρια τεῦχε κύνεσσιν
οἰωνοῖσί τε δαῖτα· Διὸς δ’ ἐτελείετο βουλή·
ἐξ οὗ δὴ τὰ πρῶτα διαστήτην ἐρίσαντε
Ἀτρεΐδης τε ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν καὶ δῖος Ἀχιλλεύς.

(Listen to how these Homeric Greek lines are spoken here! Skip to 34 seconds.)

This language is so beautiful! As it’s a dead language, not many people learn it anymore (or even want to). That’s a shame. Sure, it’s a complex language, but its history and alphabet are just too cool to be ignored! Having said that, you’ll probably want to start with a translated one first. Don’t worry: the Classic Starts version of The Iliad is far more readable than Homer’s original. You get to learn more about Greek mythology and how the gods and goddesses made decisions. The book is about the Trojan war, a 10-year battle between the city of Troy and the Achaeans (AKA the Greeks). You’ll hear a lot of famous names in this book, like Achilles, Zeus and Odysseus. It’s fun to see what kind of people these famous characters are! (Apparently, Achilles is the kind of person who throws temper tantrums. You also find out how stubborn Zeus really is.)

Helen of Troy (looking very annoyed for some reason)

Basically, the whole reason for the Trojan war is because of a fight between three goddesses: Hera, Athena and Aphrodite. They fight over an apple that’s meant for the ‘fairest’ goddess. In this case, ‘fairest’ means ‘most beautiful’. The goddesses decide to ask Paris, prince of the city of Troy, to state who is the most beautiful. He chooses Aphrodite as the winner. As a reward, she gives prince Paris the most beautiful mortal woman in the world: Helen. Unfortunately, Helen was already married to Menelaus, king of Sparta. So, Aphrodite basically stole the king’s wife and gave her to another city’s ruler.

That’s how the Trojan war began. It was fought for ten years. That’s right: ten years. The soldiers must have been exhausted! I bet their distress and tiredness is even stronger in the original version. All the more reason to study Homeric Greek!

Let’s just say that The Iliad is a classic for a reason. It’s filled with drama, godly powers and fighting. Even though he doesn’t read many books, Gus is a fan of The Iliad. It’s a great story to read through slowly just before you go to sleep! Since he’s a historian, Dmitri, of course, is a huge Homer fan. He has read every version of The Iliad, even the original Greek one! Both Gus and Dmitri recommend the Classic Starts version of The Iliad.

Review – Ella Minnow Pea (Mark Dunn)

Listen to this narration while you read!

Keywords: fiction, formal vocabulary, advanced reading, Year 8+, quirky, stand-alone book.

The front cover (do you get the joke the pictures are telling?)

Okay, before we start, I need to let you know that this book uses a lot of fancy words. Like, a lot. Definitely read this book along with a dictionary!

If you need to expand your vocabulary, this is absolutely the right book for you. Also, if you are a huge English nerd (no judgment, I’m one too!), this will probably be one of the most clever books you have ever read.

Ella Minnow Pea tells the story of Ella, a girl who lives on the (sadly fictional) Nollop Island. On this island, they praise Nevin Nollop, the man who wrote the famous sentence, “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” It’s famous because it uses every letter of the alphabet. Go over the sentence and you’ll see!

Since the island’s hero is a person who contributed to the English language, it’s no surprise that every islander is obsessed with English. They’re all incredibly educated writers whose vocabularies are unimaginiably huge! You get to see how great their writing skills are in this book. Ella Minnow Pea is an epistolary novel, meaning that it’s a book made up of letters. (‘Letters’ as in the things you write to others, like emails.)

It gets even more interesting. There’s a statue of Nevin Nollop on the island with his famous sentence displayed with metal letters. One day, the letters start falling off! The island’s government decide that Nevin Nollop is sending them all a message: to stop using whatever letter falls off the statue. Soon, it becomes illegal to write or even speak certain letters, like L or T. As the book continues, Ella’s letter-writing skills become simpler and more mispelled. She can’t use certain letters of the alphabet, so it would be difficult to write properly! Imagine trying to write something without the letter ‘a’ or ‘t’.

So, it goes from this:

“How different the world would be today if not for the sentence which the lexically gifted Mr. Nollop issued forth!” (pg. 5)

To losing a few letters:

“Insane woman name Ella: Retreat is what we want. Go away. Let we alone. Anonymess.” (pg. 158)

To eventually only having “LMNOP” to use, like this:

“No mo Nollop pomp! No mo 4 pop/1 moll Nollop looloo poop! No no no mo plop, plop, plop, plomp!” (pg. 197)

The book itself is good! I found it a bit difficult to be hooked by its first chapter. However, the plot quickly becomes interesting after the first couple of chapters, so don’t give up!

It’s a book that’ll need concentration and careful reading. So, both Louise and Gus heartily recommend Ella Minnow Pea!

Review – Murder Most Unladylike (Robin Stevens)

Listen to this narration while you read!

Keywords: fiction, murder mystery, female protagonist, 1930’s England, diary fiction, detective novel, boarding school, first book in a series.

Wow. Wowie wowie wow. I absolutely loved reading this book!

The front cover

Look, I know that I say that in pretty much every book review, but I mean it: this was one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read all year! The plot was engaging, the characters were interesting…it was all so wonderful!

First, let’s talk about the main character: Hazel Wong. Despite how she speaks about herself sometimes, she is so clever and strong. Thankfully, she becomes able to see just how great she is by the end! This book is a casebook (which is pretty much a diary) written from Hazel’s perspective. We learn a lot about her: how she feels like an outsider at Deepdean School for Girls; how homesick she is for her family in Hong Kong; even how overshadowed she feels around her friend Daisy. (But more on that later!)

Hazel is Chinese which, in 1930’s England, makes a lot of people treat her strangely, even disrespectfully. The book doesn’t shy away from the racism Hazel faces. It handles it with care, presenting the racist characters as undesirable. Hazel speaks of her emotions about this unsavoury behaviour. She often feels saddened, angered, and like an outcast. However, she remains strong and soon, she finds people who like her for who she is!

Enter Daisy Wells, Hazel’s best friend. She’s as clever as Hazel yet far more impulsive. Where Hazel is careful and nervous, Daisy is headstrong and confident. Honestly, I didn’t like Daisy that much at the beginning. I thought she was a bit spoiled. Also, she is occasionally mean to Hazel without realising it. By the end of the book, though, Hazel helps her grow into a better person and vice versa. This is not only a book about murder; it’s also a book about friendship.

Oh, by the way, this is a murder mystery book. Sorry, I got a bit carried away talking about the characters! Anyway, Hazel and Daisy form a Secret Detective Agency. They’re the only members and they’re both enthusiastic detectives like Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson. When a teacher is murdered in their boarding school, the detectives search for clues and try to solve the case. I will not tell you too much, but let’s just say that there are MANY twists and turns in the plot!

As for the writing style, there are quite a few lovely words to learn. Since the story takes place in the 1930’s, Hazel uses slang terms from that time. The definitions of each word can be picked up from context. For extra help, Daisy has written a glossary at the very end of the book! Some of my favourites are ‘bunbreak’, ‘shrimps’ and ‘view-halloo’!

All in all, it’s an excellent book! And good news: it’s the first in a series, so there are many more to read! I’ve already bought the second and third books and I honestly can’t wait to read them. Because of its engaging mystery and historical setting, mystery-loving Millie and historian Dmitri recommend Murder Most Unladylike.