Review: Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones (Spoiler Free)

Howl's Moving CastleHowl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
Read: November 28 – December 3, 2012
Format: Paperback (owned book), 212 pages
ISBN: 0-7497-0903-0

Publisher: Mandarin Paperbacks, 1991

Personal read.

Book Blurb: Sophie lived in the town of Market Chipping, which was in Ingary, a land in which anything could happen, and often did – especially when the Witch of the Waste got her dander up. Which was often.

As her younger sisters set out to seek their fortunes, Sophie stayed in her father’s hat shop. Which proved most unadventurous, until the Witch of the Waste came in to buy a bonnet, but was not pleased. Which is why she turned Sophie into an old lady. Which was spiteful witchery.

Now Sophie must seek her own fortune. Which means striking a bargain with the lecherous Wizard Howl. Which means entering his ever-moving castle, taming a blue fire-demon, and meeting the Witch of the Waste head-on. Which was more than Sophie bargained for…

My Opinion:Unlike most people I have encountered, I did not see the movie before picking up the book of Howl’s Moving Castle. Though I had heard of it. So I had no preconceived notions of what the story would be. I like that better… I would rather go into a movie with the preconceived notions than a book, personally. But I digress.

This was a delightful book. If I didn’t have so much going on, I probably would have read it all in one sitting. The story flowed fairly well, though the writing style took some getting used to for me. Diana Wynne Jones has taken on a particular tone with her writing in this book that I have labeled as “detached third person”. While all third person is detached, I can just imagine this entire book being done as a voice-over, probably in a delightful British accent. It lacked warmth and familiarity with the characters. While I liked the characters and the setting, I never felt supremely attached to any of them.

The plot of Howl’s Moving Castle is really quite intriguing. I keep picking up these small books, expecting small stories. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Things kept happening, and yet, nothing really happened. Some of the twists I saw coming a mile away, and some I only got partially right. And some blind-sided me completely.

The characters in Howl’s Moving Castle were really interesting, and I wish the book had been longer so they could have been explored more. In a book of just over two hundred words, the author has to make a choice between characters and back story and the plot moving forward. Any author worth their salt (which Diana Wynne Jones clearly is) will make the choice to keep the plot moving and sacrifice a bit in the way of characters. I want to know more about The Witch of the Waste, and Howl, and Sophie. We get glimmers, but I want the whole damn light bulb!

I am interested to see how the rest of the series goes, because everything did tie up pretty nicely at the end. The big climactic moment was not all that climactic, thus earning it a lower star rating on Goodreads. But overall, enjoyable.

Bottom Line: Enjoyable fantasy book that will keep you engaged with its twisty plot. Be warned though, it is a short book, and the end will come all too soon.

Review: Delirium by Lauren Oliver (Spoiler Free)

Delirium by Lauren OliverDelirium by Lauren Oliver
Read: September 14 – October 12, 2012
Format: eBook (library book), 307 pages
ISBN: 978-0-06-20695-42

Publisher: HarperCollins Canada

Personal read.

Book Blurb: Before scientists found the cure, people thought love was a good thing. They didn’t understand that once love — the deliria — blooms in your blood, there is no escaping its hold. Things are different now. Scientists are able to eradicate love, and the government demands that all citizens receive the cure upon turning eighteen. Lena Holoway has always looked forward to the day when she’ll be cured. A life without love is a life without pain: safe, measured, predictable, and happy.

But with ninety-five days left until her treatment, Lena does the unthinkable: She falls in love.

My Opinion: First and foremost, this book didn’t actually take me that long to read. The copy I was reading auto-returned to the library and I had to wait for another one. One of the downsides of an e-reader versus real books… I can’t choose to eat late fees to finish off a book. But I digress.

Delirium by Lauren Oliver is a dystopian young adult book following Lena Holoway as she prepares to receive the cure for love on her eighteenth birthday. Of course, the plot sets her up to fall madly in love before receiving the cure, and it doesn’t disappoint. Predictable young adult plotting strikes again.

This was the book that prompted me to write my blog post about character appearances. Because Lena is always described as being plain, average, etc. Oliver drives it into our brains at every chance she gets that she is just an average girl. Her best friend is prettier. Alex is, of course, insanely attractive, leaving Lena to wonder what he sees in her. This is a plight in young adult books and is only serving to feed young girls’ insecurities. “I am not pretty, so why does he like me?” Ugh.

For the first 200 pages of Delirium, nothing really happens. There is an incident with some cows, but other than that, the book was boring to me. Lena and Hana talk a lot… about the procedure, about life, etc. They run. It is like following a pair of normal teenage girls in a bit of a different world, but there is nothing exciting there. I will say that the last hundred pages or so picked up considerably, with things happening in fairly quick succession. The ending was pretty well written, and if I wasn’t so disenchanted with the rest of Delirium, the ending alone might have been enough to save it.

The worldbuilding is severely lacking. Some of my friends who have reviewed this book thought that was a good thing, but I personally didn’t. I need worldbuilding. I needed to know more about why they decided love was a disease, etc. It is all just kind of sketched out and instead of leaving me wanting more, it left me dissatisfied.

The characters in Delirium are all pretty one-dimensional, as you would expect teenagers to be. But they lacked sparkle, and something to make me go “Yeah, I want to read about you!”

I shelved this book as romance, and I am looking at it and second guessing myself. It is dystopian for sure, and borderline romance. But it follows the typical young adult path of not allowing the characters to actually take time falling in love. They just… are. To me, there is no romance in that.

Bottom Line: Another disappointing young adult book for me. I hate leaving a series unfinished, but I definitely won’t be rushing out to pick up book two in this one any time soon.

(Image and book blurb courtesy of http://www.goodreads.com)

On Beginnings

Hands down, the beginning is the hardest part of writing a story. Followed, of course, by the ending and the middle.

But something sets the beginning apart. I have, many a time, sat there sweaty palmed with my heart racing as I try to put pencil to paper. (Pen actually, I abhor writing in pencil.) More often than not, the panic sets in so deeply that I don’t write anything, and instead walk away from my desk in search of less stressful endeavours. Open-heart surgery perhaps?

So know that I don’t criticize lightly. I know what it is like to begin a story.

Julie Andrews said “Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start.” Well, as much as I love The Sound of Music, Julie Andrews was a liar. At least when it comes to writing.

A story (and by extension, a novel) may seem like a linear thing. We are told that all stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. But that is misleading. Because stories are far from linear. There are very few novels I have read where the story starts at the actual beginning of the story and progresses linearly through to the end. There are even fewer novels I know of that do it well.

Generally, you come in in the middle of a story. You jump right in at an interesting day and then the main characters tell someone else, or they dream, or they have an inner monologue about what happened before. Then you go back to where you were in the story. And so on and so forth. The holes are filled in, the reader is kept engaged, and the story itself progresses with a life of its own.

But for the love of all that is good and sparkly, do NOT try to tell your story in a completely linear fashion. Remember, the beginning of your story/novel does not have to be the beginning of the events in said story/novel. It can be wherever you want it to be.