Book Review: The Pit

thepitThe cover of The Pit by Ann Pilling captured my attention straight away. I knew by the “bird man” that the plot involved the plague and I was right.

Briefly, the book is about Oliver, who lives in London. He’s a 12 year old boy who has a fascination with all things spooky – horror films, spooky comics, death. He’s a bit of a loner, so doesn’t have a lot of friends. A girl tries to befriend him but he’s not really interested, but somehow gets talked into having a “shared” rat for a pet (even though he knows his mother will be angry if she finds out about it). At the same time a strange old man moves into his parents boarding house. Then, things start getting strange.

A “darkness” keeps coming for him. It takes him back in time to 1665 when London was experiencing the plague. He experiences life through the eyes of a five year old, whose family is struggling to stay alive as thousands of people die around them. For several weeks, Oliver lives two lives – awake in the present day; and, at the oddest moment he passes out and is taken back in time. Can he solve the riddle that brings the events of the past and present together? Is he strong enough to handle the truth? Will life ever be the same again?

The first two chapters of the book were mediocre, but after that it came alive. Being interested in the historical references, I knew the author had done her research. Yet it wasn’t until the end that I discovered that the idea for the book came about from a real event written in the diary of Samuel Pepys, who lived in London during the plague and recorded the daily events and happening of the people. This diary is referred to in many books and does exist.

The subject matter drew me in, and the plot held me. I liked the way the author put real events into the present day. I enjoyed following Oliver’s journey and his sense of discovery. And I learned that, in children’s books, you can write about death, suicide and mangled bodies and get away with it.

This is a book for young readers. Yet all readers will reach the end of the story and know what life was really like in 1665, during the plague. It was a great read. I wasn’t disappointed.

Assassin’s Apprentice

Assassin's Apprentice (The Farseer Trilogy, #1)Last night, I finished reading Assassin’s Apprentice (The Farseer Trilogy, Book 1) by Robin Hobb. There were things I loved about this book, and things I hated.

First, a short blurb on the storyline (so skip to the next paragraph if you haven’t read the book, and don’t want it spoilt). Fitz is a royal bastard (as in born outside of wedlock). At age five his mother’s family deliver him to the royals and abandon him. The boy looks just like his King-in-Waiting father, but this doesn’t win Fitz any favours. His father, and his wife, abdicate and move away from the castle, leaving Fitz to be tended by the stable master. Over the years, Fitz is treated badly, but one day the king finds a use for little Fitz, and he is apprenticed to Chade, the king’s assassin. From here everything that can go wrong, does, but I’ll let you read the book to find out how it turns out.

I loved the characters and the plot. Both were deeply woven together. There were a number of surprises, some of them tear jerkers. It is written in first person, but Robin Hobb did a beautiful job with this. She allowed the reader to get right inside the main characters head, and this paid off, because I really felt connected with him – I felt his pain and loneliness. It was enough to shatter the heart.

As I said, Assassin’s Apprentice was written in first person, so the author felt she had to include a short passage at the beginning of each chapter (ranging from a few lines to one and a half pages), which explained the history and other characters. These were things that the main character didn’t know and was mostly “telling”. This is the main thing that I disliked about the book. I found it distracting and…well, boring. After reading the first few, I stopped reading them and I feel I didn’t miss anything. The story was just as rich without these “info dumps”.

There were places where the author also described too much. For example, it took something like five pages to describe a city. By the time I’d read 3 pages, I was well and truly over it and just wanted the story to continue – so skipped the rest of the description. Other sections were over described too, but not as bad as the section I just mentioned. These long descriptions were also distracting and managed to pull me out of the story I was thoroughly enjoying.

Taking these things away, this book is excellent. The story and characters are so real that the reader has no choice but to “get over” the bad things and move on. I did, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The book is the first book in a trilogy, but it is also a stand alone novel. I don’t have to read the next book, but I will because I want to see where the story will go (and how the author improves because, I believe, this was her first published novel).

Highly recommended; and, I think it will gain a place in my top ten books. 😀

Book Review: The Star of Kazan

The Star of KazanThe Star of Kazan by Eva Ibbotson is a young adult novel. The first chapter was excellent and pulled me right in, but I found the following few chapters a bit lacking. They all served a purpose but I felt it took too long to get to the point and my attention started to wonder. However, once the ‘set up’ was over and the real story began, I was drawn back into the characters and was held tight.

Warning: Spoilers may follow, so if you haven’t read the book but intend to do so, you may want to stop reading now.

Yet this post is to do with titles, and how they relate to the story. In the case of The Star of Kazan — which was a set of jewels left to a foundling who befriended an old, sick woman but naturally circumstances kept the girl and the jewel apart — I was greatly disappointed because the Star of Kazan played such a small role that I felt the title was misleading. Up to the very last page I expected the young foundling girl to end up with the jewel but she only ever set eyes on the thing once and she never saw it again. To me, this felt like a broken promise.

Sure, the title is catchy but I would have preferred the author to use a title that was fitted better, that didn’t leave me feeling cheated. Perhaps other readers don’t care about this type of thing, and to be perfectly honest I’ve never cared in the past, but on this occasion the title felt wrong. The title should have been connected with the foundling.

Overall, the title was misleading, but the story (after an extra long lead in) was captivating.

Enchanted Forest Chronicles

I’ve been reading this series by Patricia C Wrede and must say that this writer is good. She’s taken all the old fairytale elements and crafted an interesting and funny series out of it. It’s so easy to read, and really entertaining.

The first book – Dealing with Dragons – is about a not so typical princess who runs away from home to live with the dragons. The second book – Searching for Dragons – is about the king of the enchanted forest, who with the help of the princess (well, that’s what he wants to believe anyway) is trying to find the King of the Dragons. The two have a great adventure and there’s a bit of romance blossoming too.

These books are perfect examples of how a writer can take what’s been done before and put a new spin on it. Patricia Wrede does an excellent job of doing just this.

Book Review: School of Wizardry

Last night I finished reading School of Wizardry (Circle of Magic, Book 1)by Debra Doyle and James D. Macdonald. This were slightly like Harry Potter…hang on, I checked the publication date and must change that to Harry Potter is slightly like School of Wizardry (first published in 1990).

The boy has no training but suddenly finds himself a wizard apprentice. There’s the “can’t do the spells” thing, the fiesty girl and the nasty master wizard but other than that it had a different feel to it – more medieval. I liked the way we got inside the boy’s head and although this was book 1 of 6, I liked the way it ended too. It was obvious what the next book will be about but with the addition of a couple of paragraphs, I felt satisfied with the ending and don’t have to read the next book. I hate being forced to do so, so this gave the book an extra point.

The book was entertaining. I enjoyed it.

The Children of Green Knowe

The Children of Green Knowe by L. M. Boston is a classic from the 1950’s. Before reading the book, I had read a few reviews that compared it to The Secret Garden.

This book didn’t do much for me. In fact, it annoyed me greatly.

It was a spooky type fantasy story, with ghosts of children from many years past visiting a child from the present. There were lots of wild animals and birds that came right up to people to be fed (this was the bit that really got to me) and then the story just ended. I didn’t feel as if there was a plot or a satisfactory ending.

Obviously, things have changed over the last 55 years and the kids of today would expect more – not to mention the publishers. I believe this was a good “what not to do” experience.

Clockwork

Yesterday, I started and finished reading Clockwork : Or All Wound Upby Philip Pullman. Sounds like a great feat, doesn’t it? There was only 81 pages so I can’t imagine anyone taking too long to read a book that thin.

This was the typical “Once upon a time…” type story. In fact, that’s exactly how it started. Those words alone told me not to take the story seriously, and although the story was put together well, in my opinion it wasn’t the best book on the face of the earth.

There was a page at the beginning that claimed that the book was based on an old German story. The surprising thing about this book was that, although it was written for children, the main characters were all adults, which is unusual. There were two children in the story who ended up having the roles that “saved the day” but they were really minor roles up till the end.

The other surprising fact about this story was the way the author talked included gory details. Remember, this book is read by children and I thought it was strange that the publishers allowed characters to be splattered, chopped up, sewn together and dead on their feet. It proves that it’s all in the wording and the tone and I felt the way the author did this was acceptable.

My recommendation? Hmmm. I can’t say I recommend it but it was a good distraction for a cold Saturday afternoon.

Update: Drowned Wednesday

Well, what can I say, I’ve outdone myself and managed to read Drowned Wednesday (Keys to the Kingdom, Book 3) in under two weeks. Not often does that happen. 🙂

As I said before, Garth Nix has let his mind run wild with this series but in my opinion it works well. The story is fast paced and fun to read. The entertainment value is high. There was no talking eye brows in this book but I lived, as I’m sure most readers will. Strangely, the very last paragraph didn’t make sense to me. I suppose it was a set up for the next book – Sir Thursday (The Keys To The Kingdom, Book 4) – but maybe I missed something in the storyline – I’m really not sure.

No matter, I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to all young at heart readers who enjoy wacky stories.