Also, I apologize for the lateness of this post. It just took longer than I thought it would, which is kind why I slightly rushed the second review. Sorry about that.
We shall start with the review for Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard!
Twelve-year-old Sophie Quire is at odds with the people in her town. Bustleburgh has decided they shall be rid of all nonsense--and that includes all fiction. They are rounding up all novels and creating the Pyre of Progress, which shall be lit in a short while. Sophie is having none of that. Her father is the owner of a bookstore, and as the bookmender of said store, she understands the magic of stories.
Her talents don't go unnoticed, and the blind thief, Peter Nimble, and his companion--the man-cat-horse known as Sir Tode--show up on her doorstep. They've brought a book with them that needs to be repaired, and it is anything but ordinary. The Book of Who is a thing of magic and nonsense, one that answers to your "who" questions by flipping to the correct entry.
Caught up in something bigger than herself, Sophie must join forces with Peter and Tode as they search for the other three books, which are What, Where, and When. Villainous folk lurk, and they would love to get their hands on the power contained within the books' pages. To save the world, Sophie will have to become . . .
The last Storyguard.
Oh, where do I start? I think the beginning is a very good place, because with the first paragraph, I was reminded just how much I loved Jonathan Auxier's writing style. Allow me to share it with you:
It has often been said that one should never judge a book by its cover. As any serious reader can tell you, this is terrible advice. Serious readers know the singular pleasure of handling a well-made book--the heft and texture of the case, the rasp of the spine as you lift the cover, the sweet, dusty aroma of yellowed pages as they pass between your fingers. A book is more than a vessel for ideas: It is a living thing in need of love, warmth, and protection.
In fact, I firmly believe that Auxier's voice is one of the reasons both Peter Nimble and Sophie Quire were so enjoyable. Take away his whimsical way of writing, and you take away one of the stories' key ingredients. A writing style is like the wheels of a car: if they're flat, no matter how good that car looks, it isn't going anywhere. I think he definitely nailed his own unique approach to a novel.
Something he's also succeeded at is his worldbuilding. While the setting of Peter Nimble was the mixture of clockwork machinery and fairy tale castles, this one has a very different flair to it. I wouldn't know how to describe it, but I very much enjoyed the backdrop he created. It fit the overall story quite nicely. One might say it resembled that of a classic fantasy adventure, but not in a bad way.
I'd like to point out--and appreciate--the fact that some of my cons from the previous book are now pros. A big issue for me was that some characters had felt a little flat and could've used some rounding out. If they had been given more oomph, the story would've come alive that much more. This time around, that was a non-issue. The main characters were teeming with more life than they had in the first book, and no side character was uninteresting. Considering that Auxier has only written one novel between the two Peter Nimble books, he's come a long way.
I also mentioned that there were times when Peter suddenly felt something, liked tiredness or hunger, with no build-up to be found. Not a trace of that problem remained in Sophie Quire. It seems Auxier has learned from his mistakes, a much-needed quality in a writer.
I loved the plot. Just as the first book turned the orphan saga trope on its head, this title did the same for the chosen one trope. I was never once bored by the story, nor felt that any part of it was shoddy. I couldn't put it down for long; it got me hooked and didn't lose me at any point in the story. But what I really want to touch on is the theme of the story, which is both strangely profound and vastly different from anything I'd ever read. So, just in case . . . POTENTIAL SPOILER ALERT!
Auxier's message is that books are magic. When we lose that magic--that "nonsense"--our world becomes bleaker. There's one scene where Sophie peers into another world, where children are doing school. They'd lost their stories of wonderment and imagination, and now they're dreary from all the boring information they have to read.
That's what Auxier hits so perfectly. He inspires you to go read other books and renew that sense of awe. For a writer like myself, by the end of the story, I felt a strong desire to go out and contribute to that magic as well. I can't recall the last novel I've read that has ever had this effect on me.
He also disabuses the notion of escapism, which I've never appreciated or cared for. He demonstrates this perfectly in one conversation:
"I don't understand," Peter said. "How can burning a bunch of books hurt things in the real world?"
"The real world," Professor Cake repeated with a tone of notable contempt. "The very notion is absurd. Worlds and everything in them are made real by the stories that inhabit them."
I totally agree. Books can give us hope for brighter days, help us to see something from a different perspective, or just find some simple enjoyment. It's interesting to note that Auxier also proves this in the story's finale (ACTUAL SPOILER ALERT!): when a monster is unleashed to destroy all nonsense, the first thing it does is to gobble up the villain who brought it forth, then head right for Bustleburgh, as if they're the ones who are full of nonsense. ALL SPOILER ALERTS OVER!
I could go on and on about this story, but I still have to do the cons and another novel, so I better get in gear.
As is often the case with middle grade stories, twelve-year-olds do far more than they technically would. Both Peter and Sophie are this age, and they put their lives on the line a lot. However, because I enjoyed this book so much, it's something I can easily overlook.
Now, I have to ask, how much have middle grade books evolved since I was last part of the target audience? There are things I wouldn't have imagined back in the day. For starters, there's one use of "d--n," though said character is reprimanded. (I can't recall if there were a couple uses of "bloody" or not.)
Violence-wise, it happened less often than it did in Peter Nimble, though it was still the same level. Again, I don't remember all the instances of violence, but here are a few that stuck out to me: a character is gobbled up by a monster and suffers a most painful death; someone is shot in the throat; someone's hand gets chopped (off-screen); a man is eaten by wild animals; stuff like that.
But the biggest concern of this story is more of a . . . sensual matter. A woman gives Sophie a dress that bares her neck and shoulders (because her original clothes were torn in a "disadvantageous" way), but Sophie isn't comfortable with that. The woman tells her:
"A walled garden must have a lattice gate. Before a woman can be desired, she must reveal a bit of what makes her desirable."
Said female character later does things like slit her dress up to her thigh to garner pity and . . . male attention, I suppose. Now, if this was a YA novel, I would say it's a very clean one; I wouldn't really bothered by it. But because it's in the juvenile section of my library, then I feel weird about it being in here.
If someone were to ask me what my favorite book of the year was, it'd be a toss-up between Moonblood and this one. Sophie Quire was an immensely enjoyable read. Aside from my opinion that it should be labelled a YA story, I enjoyed everything this book had to offer.
Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard is one of those rare books that refuses to be pushed back by those who claim we read only to escape reality. Auxier believes stories are magical things that need to be loved and cared for, and he weaves a gripping tale that makes you want to go out and just read as many novels as possible. Too often, we abandon childlike wonder and hope when we age, but this story is a call for us to come back to that.
To conclude, Auxier included a quote at the beginning by Scottish author Kenneth Grahame, who said, "The most priceless possession of the human race is the wonder of the world. Yet, latterly, the utmost endeavours of mankind have been directed towards the dissipation of that wonder . . . Nobody, any longer, may hope to entertain an angel unawares, or to meet Sir Lancelot in shining armour on a moonlit road. But what is the use of living in a world devoid of wonderment?" Auxier absolutely nails this message, tucked away in a delightful, imaginative read.
I give it five out of five stars!
Now, here's the review for Half Moon Investigations!
Twelve-year-old Fletcher Moon is a detective who's seen it all. That's what he thought, anyway, until he gets a new case that is unlike anything he's dealt with in the past.
It all started with him proving that Herod Sharkey stole an organizer at school, and when Fletcher reveals that Herod is indeed the culprit, Red Sharkey doesn't like it. Fletcher's prized badge disappears, and he knows that the Sharkeys--the town's biggest criminal family--are behind it.
But in trying to get it back, he becomes involved in a new case . . . one in which he is framed for the crime. He has to clear his name, but time is running out fast.
And the criminal is still out there, waiting for another opportunity to strike.
As I mentioned in my last Monthly HapPENings post, I love me a funny detective story. My love for this sub-genre started when I read Sherlock Johny's Case Files on the MBs. Here, I even got the author's permission to share an excerpt. I wanted to include the whole scene, but it'd probably end up being longer than the actual review.
As soon as we entered the first floor, we were met with AP's voice. "What will the Moderators do next? NOTHING! As usual. I'm AwesomePythor for MBN. We'll be back! Right after these commercial messages." The TV above MKM's desk cut to commercials.
"AP's so annoying," Darthy said. "And weird. He's like, addicted to chocolate milk."
"Addicted?" I asked.
"Yeah," Darthy said. He lowered his voice. "I heard he can't go without a bottle of chocolate milk a day."
"That's crazy talk," I said, turning for the door.
"No it's not, look," Darthy said, grabbing my shoulder and pointing at the TV. A giant glass bottle full of brown liquid had just appeared.
"What's that?" I asked. 5 seconds later, I wished I hadn't. Out of the screen belted the most obnoxious voice I've ever heard.
"Coco Sippies taste so good!
You should drink them, yes you should!"
On the screen a user suddenly grabbed the bottle and started chugging it. It took me a moment to realize the user was AwesomePythor.
"When you're grumpy, when you're sad!
Coco Sippies make you glad!"
That story is where my love for comical mystery began, and if you enjoy that too, this is the perfect story for you. I really appreciate Eoin Colfer's sense of humor, and he succeeded at it in this story. But it's not all fun and games. The plot has some very interesting twists and turns, and even had a reveal in the end that I didn't see coming (but is apparently a trope used in old detective shows).
No one can ever say that Colfer creates boring characters. Well, The Supernaturalist might be an exception, but for the most part, they are all unique, and very much so. While there isn't necessarily a lot of emotional connection to the characters, by no means does that entail a disinterest in them. I very much wanted to find how whodunnit (see what I did there?). What's very clever is how Colfer made things seem really grand and conspiratorial, when in reality the whole thing was on a lower scale than Fletcher might be willing to admit.
I think those are probably the biggest pros of the whole thing: the spot-on humor, the intriguing plot, and the characters who tie them both together.
Very few. There's the occasional use of "oh my God." Fletcher finds himself in perilous situations, but there really isn't any strong violence (the one thing that really sticks out to me is Fletcher being struck forcefully by a bat). He also has to escape the police and break into one place, but that kinda comes part and parcel with the genre. Someone uses his computer to illegally download music. It's just little stuff that I mention just so people are aware, not because I'm actually offended by it.
After reading The Supernaturalist, I was hesitant to read another one of Colfer's stand-alone books. Half Moon Investigations seemed the most promising, but would it hold up to the awesomeness that is the Artemis Fowl series?
In short: yes. It was very different from that series, but it was very good. Would I say it was as good as Sophie Quire? No, because that book left me inspired and gave me food for thought. This was just a fun, fast-passed read, and it's most certainly worth your time. (I don't want to give the impression that I don't like the story. I just have less to say about it, and I want to get this post up.) I really hope it gets a sequel, seeing as it even got a small TV show.
I also hope that other authors pick up on the whole comedy mystery idea. We could use some more of those types of tales.
I give it four out of five stars!
So what're your thoughts on my double review? Would you read either one of these books? Which looks more appealing, and why? Should I do more book reviews in the future?