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 – Candyfloss (Jacqueline Wilson)

Play this narration while you read!

Keywords: fiction, light reading, slice of life, female protagonist, friendship, family, comedy, growing up, illustrations, stand-alone book, recommended by a friend.

Maple 🙂

This book was recommended to me by one of my closest friends: Maple! When I asked her for books that she loved as a child, Candyfloss was the first one she suggested. She said she loved it for its interesting story and cute illustrations. I agree! This might be a bit of a long review. (There are just so many things to talk about!)

The first thing you’ll probably notice about this book is the extremely pretty front cover. I mean, look at it! How often do you come across a book cover of this quality? In fact, it’s so pretty, it deserves to be in the centre of the page:

Now that we’ve basked in the glow of the front cover, let’s talk about the story itself!

Candyfloss tells the tale of Flora Barnes, a 12-year-old girl who likes to be called ‘Floss’. Her family is a bit all over the place; Floss’s mother has remarried to a flashy guy and has had a son with him (‘Tiger’). They live fairly comfortably. On the other hand, Floss’s father owns a struggling cafe with a specialty in chips and chip butties. (Chip butties are basically chip sandwiches!) Floss is able to spend every weekend with her father but has to live with her mother and her new husband for the rest of each week. Floss highly prefers to be with her father, as he gives her all the love and attention that her mother doesn’t seem to provide.

So, when Floss’s mother and new family move to Sydney, Australia for six months, Floss has to make a decision: should she move with her mother or stay with her father?

While all of this is happening, Floss also needs to deal with her so-called ‘best friend’ Rhiannon. I don’t want to spoil too much, but let’s just say that Rhiannon is, um, not a good friend. You’ll see what I mean.

Poor Floss! The entire book is such a rollercoaster for her. So many things change in her life that you cannot stop reading! Every chapter is engaging and filled with life. The dialogue and behaviour of every character is realistic. (That’s surprisingly uncommon in books!)

The illustrations for the first chapter!

One of the best things about this book is the illustrations. Before every chapter there’s a page of drawings. Each drawing represents something that will happen in the chapter. It’s fun to look through each illustration and try to guess what’s going to happen next!

The best best thing is the relatability. I have read many books meant for children and teenagers. One of the most annoying habits of these books is that sometimes, the characters don’t act realistically! They’re either too nice or too evil with no complexity. What I love love love about Floss is that everything she does makes sense. She doesn’t always like what’s happening around her, yet she acts as kindly as possible. She shows the most kindness to her father. She knows exactly how sad he is and how much he fears failure. Because of this, she pretends to like everything he does even if it doesn’t go quite so well. Here’s an example:

“Oh, there’s your swing. How…lovely.” Rhiannon said.

“I know it’s not lovely,” I whispered. “But Dad’s fixed it all up for me especially.”

“Sure. OK. I understand,” said Rhiannon. She raised her voice so that Dad could hear in the kitchen. “Oh, Floss, your swing looks great hanging on the apple tree.”

Do you see what I mean? It’s genuinely relatable!

Candyfloss!

One last thing: Candyfloss teaches you a lot of British words. Of course, they speak English in England, but they have some slang words that we don’t have in Australia. For example, I didn’t know what ‘Candyfloss’ meant until I read the book. Apparently, it’s the British word for fairy floss! I suppose ‘candyfloss’ makes a bit more sense, but I still prefer ‘fairy floss’ 🙂

Because of its easy-to-read writing style and relatability, Jun and Jenny recommend this book!