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Archive for the ‘Fantasy’ Category

The 13 Clocks

Title: The 13 Clocks

Author: James Thurber

Published: 1950

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Rating: 3 of 5

The 13 Clocks is a fairy tale-like story about an evil and cold Duke, his captive and beautiful niece-Princess, and the mysterious stranger who seeks to marry her.  To free the Princess, the stranger must complete an impossible task in an impossible amount of time.

I became aware of this book through an NPR story about the reprinting of this classic children’s tale.  Intrigued by Neil Gaiman’s forward claiming it to be “probably the best book in the world,” I picked it up at my library.

Though I wouldn’t go as far as Gaiman’s claim, I can say that this book was entertaining.  It was a very fast and quirky read, full of jabs at fairy tale cliches and clever word usage.  I read an older edition of the book and found that its whimsical illustrations added to my enjoyment of the story.  I can understand how this book was likely a progenitor to many of the modern fantasy novels I’ve enjoyed.  Maybe part of its charm lies in its concise simplicity, but ultimately, it wasn’t long enough or interesting enough to bring me under its spell.

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Don’t take my word for it.  Check out what others are saying about The 13 Clocks:

Eyrie – The 13 Clocks

LA Times – Thurber’s world of wonders

The New York Review of Books – The 13 Clocks

NPR – Beloved Children’s Book ‘Thirteen Clocks’ is Back

Things Mean a Lot – The 13 Clocks by James Thurber

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The Witches

Title: The Witches

Author: Roald Dahl

Published: 1983

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Rating: 3.5 of 5

The Witches is about a young orphaned boy who learns about witches from his grandmother, a retired witch hunter.  His grandmother teaches him how to distinguish witches from other normal women, and soon, the boy finds himself hiding and observing the annual English witch convention.  Witches vehemently hate children, and when they discover him, things do not go well!

When I was doing research for my new book club, I encountered this book mentioned in The Book Club Companion (the book solely responsible for doubling my reading queue size).  It reminded me of my fond memories of Roald Dahl – The BFG, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach – and since I’d never read The Witches, I picked it up at my library.

I can’t decide if my younger self would have found this book funny or scary.  Dahl is so dark, yet so entertaining.  Who else would write about witches getting pleasure from ‘doing away’ with at least one child a week?  At one point, they even break into a bizarre and highly Dahlesque song that begins:

Down vith children!  Do them in!

Boil their bones and fry their skin!

Bish them, sqvish them, bash them, mash them!

Brrreak them, shake them, slash them, smash them!

This was an immensely quick read, and I think I enjoyed Dahl’s writing style more than I enjoyed the actual story.  The plot and the characters just didn’t enchant me as some of Dahl’s other creations have (especially The BFG, who remains one of my favorite children’s literary characters).

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Don’t take my word for it.  Check out what others are saying about The Witches:

Things Mean a Lot – The Witches by Roald Dahl

SMS Book Reviews – The Witches by Roald Dahl

Maw Books Blog – The Witches by Roald Dahl

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The Graveyard Book Title: The Graveyard Book

Author: Neil Gaiman

Published: 2008

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Rating: 4.5 of 5

I have enjoyed Neil Gaiman’s books in the past, so when The Graveyard Book won this year’s Newbery Award, I quickly added my name to the growing list at my library.  Eventually my turn came and, after wrestling the copy away from my thieving brother, I was not disappointed.

The Graveyard Book is Gaiman’s loose take on The Jungle Book.  It tells the story of Nobody Owens, Bod for short, who is raised in a graveyard by ghosts and other cemetery-dwelling creatures.

At first, I was pretty unsure about the book.  The beginning pages depict the murder of Bod’s entire family, and although the descriptions are not overly gruesome, I was still surprised to find a children’s book open in this manner.  In fact, I asked my husband and brother to each read the first three pages.  They did and after I told them the book was a young adult novel, both said, “Are you serious?!”

As the book progressed, I became less concerned about the content and more enthralled by Gaiman’s incredible storytelling ability.  His descriptions created such atmosphere that in my mind I could almost see the mist swirling around the headstones.  While reading this book, I experienced the rare but lovely sensation of losing complete awareness of my own surroundings.  I still wouldn’t hand this book to a young child – it remains deliciously creepy throughout – but I would happily recommend it to a slightly older child reader.

My one complaint about The Graveyard Book actually stems from one of its strengths.  Gaiman employs a crisp and well-crafted simplicity in his narrative, which delivers much of the book’s charm.  But that very simplicity results in a slightly hasty resolution that left many backstory questions unanswered.  By the end, I felt like I had read only the very top of a giant glacier of a story.

Despite this minor flaw, I was pleased to see the Newbery bestowed on a book that departs from previous winners.  When I think of other Newbery novels, it occurs to me that their themes often circle around race, self-discovery, perserverance, and the importance of family.  The Graveyard Book highlights family as well, although ‘family’ for Bod means a motley mix of hundred-year old ghosts and Silas, his solemn but endearing guardian.  In addition to family, however, Gaiman threads questions of death and life, the supernatural, and even revenge through Bod’s story.

I would definitely recommend this book – it would be a particularly great read during a storm or late at night!

Don’t take my word for it.  Check out what others are saying about The Graveyard Book:

Devourer of Books: The Graveyard Book – Book Review (includes a hilarious clip of Gaiman’s visit to The Colbert Report)

Shelf Love: The Graveyard Book

The New York Times: Raised By Ghosts

The Guardian: Ghost Stories

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