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 – 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 – 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 – 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 – Artemis Fowl (Eoin Colfer)

Read the review along with this narration!

Keywords: Action, fantasy(ish), explosions, male protagonist, female protagonist, crime, magic, villainy, anti-hero, strategy, 8-book series, first book.

The first book’s cover.

Ah, Artemis Fowl. He’s technically a villain, but you can’t help but admire him. After all, he’s clever, quick-witted, and he has a large vocabulary! What’s not to love?

Well, he did kidnap a fairy to collect a ransom, so…let’s just say that he’s a complicated protagonist!

This book is the first of an 8-book series about Artemis Fowl II and his somewhat evil adventures in the world of magic. What’s so interesting is that the main character is a villain. You don’t see that very often in books, especially middle-school books. This kind of character is called an ‘anti-hero‘. It can seem a bit strange at first to root for a villain, but as soon as you know that this character shouldn’t be a role model, it can be very enjoyable! We all have a villain inside of us, after all.

Holly Short (AKA the best fairy captain EVER)

This book is about Artemis’s plan to kidnap a fairy and collect the ransom. The magic world lives underground, hiding from humans. Nobody knows about them; nobody but Artemis. Armed with a secret magic book, he’s able to exploit the fairy rules for his own gain. The fairy he kidnaps, though, is much stronger than he expects. Holly Short, the first female captain in the magic police force, does everything she can to fight back. What follows is an epic battle between fairies and Artemis Fowl which takes place at Fowl’s mansion in Ireland. There are explosions, trolls, and farting dwarves – everything an amazing battle needs!

This book is a thinker. It’s the type that will need concentration, as the strategies of Fowl and the fairies can be quite intricate. There’s backstabbing and double-bluffing galore! If you’re into strategic thinking and outsmarting people, this is definitely the book for you!

As this is a fantasy/action book with plenty of thought-provoking scenes, both fantasy-loving Felipe and big thinker Louise recommend Artemis Fowl.