Title: A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares
Author: Krystal Sutherland
Genre(s): YA, Contemporary
Ever since Esther Solar’s grandfather met Death, her entire family has been doomed to suffer one great fear in their lifetime—a fear that will eventually lead each and every one of them to their graves. Take Esther’s father, for instance: He’s an agoraphobe who hasn’t left the basement in six years. Then there’s her twin brother, Eugene, whose fear of the dark goes far beyond the things that go bump in the night. And her mother, Rosemary, is absolutely terrified of bad luck.
As for Esther, she’s managed to escape the curse…so far. She doesn’t yet have a great fear because she avoids pretty much everything. Elevators, small spaces, crowds—anything that might trigger a phobia is off-limits and is meticulously recorded in her semi-definitive list of worst nightmares.
Esther thinks she has it all figured out, until she’s reunited with an old elementary school classmate—and first crush—Jonah Smallwood. The encounter leaves her stranded at a bus stop and swindled out of her phone, all her cash, a Fruit Roll-Up she’d been saving, and her list—not to mention her dignity. But the theft is also the beginning of an unexpected friendship between the two, one that sends the pair on a journey of self-discovery as they try to break the curse that’s consumed Esther’s family. Together they face their greatest fears, one debilitating phobia at a time, only to discover the one fear they hadn’t counted on: love.
My Rating: 3/5 stars
Oh, this book. This book was a bumpy ride for me. It was like a roller coaster, but the worst kind, where the line is super long and the slow uphill climb takes longer than the actual ride. This simile is really bad. Let me explain:
The beginning of this book is so charming. I thought this book was going to be an instant favorite for the first 50 pages or so. The set-up for the plot was so interesting. Esther, the main character, and her whole family was cursed to die from their biggest fear once her grandfather met Death and befriended him. The curse destroyed the lives of her family, so Esther made a list of everything she was half-afraid of and decided to confront them one by one so she doesn’t end up controlled by the curse like everyone else. From that, I thought this book was going to be a fun and whimsical magical realism romp and I would love it. That’s not what happened.
Things that frustrated me:
This book went from whimsical to ridiculous in .5 seconds. I like whimsy. I like forgetting about the conventions of reality for a while and enjoying some fun happenstance that never actually happens. But the events in this book…are just…too much. To the point where some of the things that happen could only exist in the universe of some late night sit-com. Like, for example, the two main characters go to a conservatory to see a butterfly garden. Which is cute, except they didn’t just go to a conservatory. They snuck into the conservatory, all of the butterflies flew out of a tree at once and blocked out the sun, they got caught and chased by someone working there, and I don’t remember how but they end up soaking wet by the time they escape. Like…what? What just happened?? Why did that happen?
There was a major tone problem. This books would switch from scenes like the one at the conservatory to something really dark with no warning. I respect that the author is trying to tackle hard subjects and shed some light on them, but they really don’t mesh well with the larger-than-life feel of the rest of the book. It makes some of the more serious beats feel out of place and inauthentic.
The writing was a liiiittle too flowery at times. Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely times where poetic prose and metaphors and exaggeration work for me, but in parts of the book with serious discussions of abuse and mental illness, it just felt badgered in and wrong.
Why I ended up kinda liking it:
The humor was spot on. It might not have always been timed out well or appropriate, but I loved this book’s sense of humor when it fit the story.
The ending was great. I don’t know why. I’m just as surprised as you are. How can you not like a book but then love the way it ends, you may say. I’m not going to spoil the ending, because I do think this book is worth a read (even if just for the interesting plot and the humor) but I left this book feeling hopeful and warm, which sadly does not happen often for me when I finish books. This book might have had a few (or a lot) of hitches along the way, but it managed to pull together a really strong message by the end of it, and that’s something I really appreciated.
Title: Howl’s Moving Castle
Author: Diana Wynne Jones
Genre(s): YA, Fantasy
Sophie has the great misfortune of being the eldest of three daughters, destined to fail miserably should she ever leave home to seek her fate. But when she unwittingly attracts the ire of the Witch of the Waste, Sophie finds herself under a horrid spell that transforms her into an old lady. Her only chance at breaking it lies in the ever-moving castle in the hills: the Wizard Howl’s castle. To untangle the enchantment, Sophie must handle the heartless Howl, strike a bargain with a fire demon, and meet the Witch of the Waste head-on. Along the way, she discovers that there’s far more to Howl—and herself—than first meets the eye.
My Rating: 5/5 stars!!
Guys, I think I just found my new favorite book of all time. I’m not really that sure yet since I just finished it and my emotions are all over the place, but this book was wonderful. Is it worth the 6 star rating that I’ve been saving for the perfect book?? I mean, probably not, but it’s the only book I’ve read since starting this blog that has even come close. So that’s something. Okay, I’m gonna stop mildly gushing and start actually reviewing this book now:
Jamie, why do you love this book so much?
The characters are well-written and lovable. None of this book’s main characters fall flat. They all have their own unique quirks and personalities and somehow it shines through in every scene they have without being too blatant about it. (Except for Howl, of course, who is a complete diva and always has to have his elaborate entrances.)
Howl backed into the door to shut it and leaned there in a tragic attitude. “Look at you all!” he said. “Ruin stares me in the face. I slave all day for you all. And not one of you, even Calcifer, can spare time to say hello!”
Michael sprang up guiltily and Calcifer said, “I never do say hello.”
The dialogue and character interactions are so realistic. The dialogue is 100% this book’s best feature. I mean, everything else this book has going for it is wonderful and dear to my heart but I don’t think I’ve read a book with better dialogue than this one. I honestly can’t remember the last time I smiled so much while reading conversations. I tried highlighting and bookmarking all my favorite interactions and there ended up being maaaybe over 50 in total. I just love how they talk like real people. They might be in an enchanted castle with a fire demon and spell ingredients lining the shelves but they still squabble over petty things and cook breakfast and study together. This book does such a good job blending together reality and fantasy. I mean, in one scene, Howl is literally eating onion rings out of a human skull. It doesn’t get better than that, folks.
She found she had forgotten every word of the careful, delicate things Howl had told her to say. But she had to say something. “He sent me to tell you he’s not going to look for your brother,” she said. “Your Majesty.”
She stared at the King. The King stared back. It was a disaster.
The plot was interesting and original. A book that has a good plot? Okay. A book that has good characters? Even better. A plot that has both amazing characters and engaging plot?? Very hard to pull off. But Howl’s Moving Castle did it effortlessly. And with a plot that contains wizards and spells and lost princes, it is very easy to get too convoluted or go overboard, but this book never had that problem. It was fantastical yet still realistic, with a fun mystery element and consistent humor, and had exactly the right amount of romance to balance it out. I honestly don’t know how Diana Wynne Jones did it but I am eternally grateful to her.
But is it perfect?
It’s so so so sosososo close to being perfect. I just felt like the ending was a little bit rushed. I had to read the last couple of pages over and over again because there was so much information to process with each new line and my brain couldn’t handle it. Also I was crying so I couldn’t really see the words. But this is honestly such a nitpick- this book is so good that I overlooked the format of the ending almost instantly. It’s not gonna stop me from rereading this a million times. Not even close.
Those are my reviews!! Did any of you guys read these books? Do you agree or disagree with my thoughts? Let me know! ❤