Review: Anthony Horowitz – Eagle Strike

Eagle Strike
Anthony Horowitz
‘Eagle Strike’ is the fourth book in the Alex Rider series. Again, Horowitz manages to produce a new plot filled with exciting action that is different from the ones before. Hit the jump for more…
851344Alex Rider is growing up. He has an almost girlfriend – who refuses to believe he is a spy. After a near fatal accident for Sabina’s father, and the recurrent presence of Yassen (a professional killer), Alex is left on his own. He’s not quite without resources – he has the requites set of gadgets all built into a special device. Certainly though, it’s a struggle because he’s against a man everyone finds likable.
The ideas in this novel I have come across before (particularly the coins – you’ll understand when you read it). Also, the gadgets are not particularly new. The video game concept was a good one, although I am sure I have read other novels that use the same idea (think Gillian Rubinstein – Space Demons).
The chase scene seems contrived, as it often does in movies, but I guess it had to be there. The novel did keep me reading to find out what happened though. The ending is a bit of a surprise, but the whole text had been leading up to it. Alex is always courting death, but we know that the hero will always survive (that’s the problem with a series).
Not a bad try for a series novel, but if it was a stand alone (and I wasn’t already attached to Alex) I wouldn’t be interested in trying more books. Probably just an offshoot of having read the four books in a row. I think this novel is equally bloody compared to the last novel.

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Review: Anthony Horowitz – Skeleton Key

Skeleton Key
Anthony Horowitz
‘Skeleton Key’ is the third book in this series about Alex Rider, a teenage spy. Alex is sent on an expensive holiday to Skeleton Key in Cuba. Well, it’s supposed to be a holiday, but really he’s there to do his job – nuclear war is coming. Hit the jump for more…
103983Alex is given the opportunity to see tennis live at Wimbledon. However, instead of the interesting time he expected to have, he uncovers a sinister plot by the Triad. He heads off on a surfing holiday with his budding girlfriend Serena, but is followed there by the Triad. MI6 says that they will put him out of harm’s way by sending him on a tropical vacation. What could go wrong? Everything in fact.
I think the most enjoyable thing of this novel was the ending, seeing Alex push through the terrors he had been through to become a better person on the other side. In this novel you can really see him grow up, and start taking an interest in girls. Horowitz has managed to take a series that could become quite stale with the same character and same spy elements and make it continue to develop.
This novel is more bloody than the first two novels (in the same way that the Harry Potter series became more adult as it progressed). I’d still say that children could read it, but not those with impressionable minds or those who were likely to be scared. If they enjoyed the first two novels, this is certainly not too much of a step forward.

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Review: Anthony Horowitz – Point Blanc

Point Blanc
Anthony Horowitz
‘Point Blanc’ follows Alex Rider, the teenage spy. This time he is sent to a prestigious boarding school for the troubled teens of rich men around the world. The action is fast paced, the hero realistic and the scenery really quite breathtaking.
224500Alex Rider, introduced first in ‘Stormbreaker’, is a reluctant spy, forced into action by MI6 (Englands’s Secret Service). Again he is up against a psychopath who wants to destroy England and all her countries. Armed with only a couple of special gadgets (not even a gun, to his great dismay) he is sent into the icy wilderness of Point Blanc.
Alex is a believable hero, not too heroic, but always on the side of good. It is hard to believe that MI6 wouldn’t care about bringing him home safe. But then again, the government never seems to have the individual’s (or even the majority’s) best interests at heart. Horowitz includes some nice scenery details – but not too much, just enough to set the scene. The narrative is again told in third person, which allows for including some extra details about the bad guys that aren’t immediately obvious to Alex.
I knocked this book over in maybe 2 hours, but it would take younger readers longer no doubt. It feels like cheating to review it, but my goal is to review ALL of the books on my shelf, not just the ones that suit me best!
The ending of the novel is quite unsettling – if you didn’t know there were more books in the series you could be seriously worried. All in all, it is an enjoyable book, and although not worth a reread by an adult perhaps, younger readers will enjoy rereading to catch each of the important turning points in the novel.
This is a great novel for the reluctant reader. Although it is probably best to read it after the first book in the series, you could probably get away with reading it first (although some of the suspense when you got around to reading the first book would be lost).

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Review: Anthony Horowitz – Stormbreaker

Anthony Horowitz
Horowitz is a prolific writer, and has produced a number of series and stand alone books for younger teens and children. ‘Stormbreaker’ is the first in a long line of Alex Rider spy stories. As a young teen’s book, it’s a very easy read for me, and also very predictable. I think it would be great for kids who are too young for James Bond (particularly boys) just to get them into reading. Hit the jump for more…
826379Alex Rider’s uncle has just been killed in a suspicious car accident. His parents have died years before, and now the only person looking out for him is Jack, an American immigrant to London whose visa is about to expire. Alex wouldn’t be worried – except for the bank that his uncle worked for is hunting him…
Alex is a somewhat sketchy character, but certainly enough to satisfy younger readers. The entire focus is on Alex, despite the book being written in 3rd person perspective. The main driver of the book is the plot, which leaps ahead very quickly – that is the element that would make this book attractive to younger readers with a short attention span. The language is quite simple as well.
This novel was shortlisted for the 2001 Children’s Book Awards, and I can understand why. Yes, there is violence and death in it, but only of the bad guys! Alex himself isn’t allowed a gun, which I think was a wise move by Horowitz, given the current climate. This book is a number of years old (obviously), but it’s certainly still relevant and enjoyable today.
This book, and the others in the series (which I will probably get around to reading and reviewing soon), are good books for children and reluctant readers.

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Review: Diana Wynne Jones – House of Many Ways

House of Many Ways
Diana Wynne Jones
‘House of Many Ways; is another sequel to ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’. Similarly to ‘Castle in the Air’, Howl and Sophie feature less prominently and the novel is about a new character – Charmain ‘Charming’ Barker. More after the jump…

3267466Charmain has so far lead a sheltered life, going to the most respectable school, keeping her hands clean and reading many books. So when she finds herself ordered to look after her sick Great Uncle William’s house, she finds herself a bit lost – even with his unearthly directions. Charmain finds herself going in every dimension, but then things are complicated further by the arrival of Peter and a Lubbock.

While elements of this novel are funny, I wouldn’t have said it was up to the standards of Jones’ usual masterpieces. Charmain is engaging, but you feel like she’s too much of a lazy idiot (despite her interjections to the contrary) to be too likeable. This isn’t a fault with Jones’ characterisation – indeed Jones has said that the characters often write themselves, so she has done the best she could with what she had. The narrative builds similarly to the other two books in this series, but it is certainly not formulaic in any kind.

I’d recommend this novel again for teenagers, and older children. At times it can be quite scary for a young child, so I would advise supervised reading.

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Review: Diana Wynne Jones – Castle in the Air

Castle in the Air
Diana Wynne Jones

‘Castle in the Air’ is officially a sequel to ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’, however to me it is more like a loosely connected novel in the same world. Sophie and Howl play minor parts as themselves, although they do feature in the text playing interesting roles.


The novel concerns Abdullah, a young carpet dealer who spends his time daydreaming about a princess. Much to his surprise, he finds himself one night floating on a magic carpet to the castle (and princess) of his dreams. Some laughter occurs, as the princess accuses him of being a female. However they both sort out their differences, and things are going along smoothly until Flower-in-the-Night is snatched away.

The narrative builds quickly, and the reader finds themselves enjoying Abdullah’s relationships and personality more as the plot progresses. This is a fast paced narrative that crescendos to a satisfying finish with many unexpected twists.

This novel is likely to suit younger readers for being read aloud to, and for teenagers. I’m not so sure of its appeal to adults, but if you enjoyed ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ it’s probably worth reading.

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Review: Diana Wynne Jones – Howl’s Moving Castle

Howl’s Moving Castle
Diana Wynne Jones
I am so glad I got this book, and gave into the temptation to read it. The movie, which was made by Studio Ghibli, is one of my favourite movies of all time. It seems to pick the most important and interesting elements from the novel, and merge them into a seamless whole. Normally I’m disappointed with movies made from a book (like the Harry Potter franchise), but this one is good in its own right.

Howl'sMovingCastle_B_PB‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ concerns Sophie Hatter, the eldest of three daughters. While technically she should have been an ugly sister (the youngest sister is the product of a second marriage), instead she is just boring, and bored with her life. The whole town fears Howl, the resident ‘wicked’ wizard. Sophie goes out to visit her sisters, and meets Howl. The required ‘baddy’, the Witch of the Waste, takes a dislike to Sophie and casts a spell on her. Sophie isn’t the kind to give up easily, and she chooses to chase Howl instead.

This book is great. Ok, sure, it’s aimed at younger readers, but the characters are so engaging and funny that you’d have to have a stone heart to not enjoy it as a teenager and adult. I’d probably suggest it for independent reading 10 years and up, and for younger readers who are being read to.
Do yourself a favour, and buy this book and watch the movie. It’s something you won’t regret.

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Review: Diana Wynne Jones – The Chronicles of Chrestomanci: Volume 3

The Chronicles of Chrestomanci: Volume 3
Diana Wynne Jones
I have to say that by the time I got to reading this book, I was getting a little sick of Jones’ style and was dying to read something else. Probably just me though – younger readers will probably love it.

2141877‘Conrad’s Fate’ concerns Conrad Grant, a boy with a horrible fate that is ordered by his uncle to go and destroy another person who is purported to be causing all Conrad’s bad luck. This is complicated by the presence of multiple other magics in the mansion where he finds himself serving as an Improver (footman). Conrad and Christopher Chant (from ‘The Lives of Christopher Chant’) explore the mansion and the changing possibilities, often with quite humorous results. As usual, the Chrestomanci must step in at the end of the novel to save the day.

‘The Pinhoe Egg’ was really very enjoyable – who doesn’t love griffins? I empathised with the main characters, and enjoyed the struggle of the various witches vs enchanters. I found it a bit confusing to read straight after ‘Conrad’s Fate’, but by around half way through the book I started following on again. The ending could be seen as a little ambiguous and disappointing – but only because you longed to hear more about Cat and Marianne Pinhoe.

Having now read all 6 books in a row (I’m waiting to get my hands on ‘Mixed Magics’ a book of short stories set in the same world) I’d have to say I would have preferred to read them in strict chronological order. The order I would suggest (and will reread them myself in this order) is:

  1. ‘The Lives of Christopher Chant’
  2. ‘Conrad’s Fate’
  3. ‘Charmed Life’
  4. ‘Witch Week’
  5. ‘The Magicians of Caprona’
  6. ‘The Pinhoe Egg’

Books 1 and 2 are about Christopher Chant, Books 4 and 5 have only a secondary role of Christopher Chant as Chrestomanci and Books 3 and 6 involve Cat (Eric) Chant.

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Review: Diana Wynne Jones – The Chronicles of Chrestomanci: Volume 2

The Chronicles of Chrestomanci: Volume 2
Diana Wynne Jones
After reading the first book in this pair, I realised that I hadn’t read either of them before. I was glad, as it would enable me to review the book from an adult’s perspective as well as a teen’s.
34290The first novel ‘The Magicians of Caprona’ is very similar in nature to Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ or the film ‘West Side Story’, although of course it is set in a world with magic. The protagonist, Antonio Montana, is able to speak to cats but his magical skills seem lacking. The spells in his part of the world are fading – Caprona is under internal and external attack. Then, when things just seem to be sorting themselves out, Antonio Montana and Angelica Petrocchi are kidnapped.
Although this book is in the same world as Chrestomanci, those hoping for a sequel to Volume 1 in these Chronicles will be disappointed. These books are chronicles, not sequels. That being said ‘The Magicians of Caprona’ was an enjoyable read, and I’d recommend it for ages 10 and up. Not a speck of bad language, and only a small fear element. You’ll probably never look at Punch an’ Judy the same way again though!

The second novel ‘Witch Week’ is still light hearted in tone, but deals with heavier issues, such as bullying and individualism. The four main characters who happen to be witches cause mayhem in school. This is in a world which burns witches where the worlds have no split correctly. It is a problem that only the Chrestomanci can solve, but he needs a lot of help as he’s out of his home world. Again, the Chrestomanci element comes in only at the end of the narrative to save the day.

It is the vivid characterisation that makes this book, rather than extensive descriptions of Larwood house. I would probably recommend this book for ages 12 and up due to the somewhat contentious themes.

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Review: Diana Wynne Jones – The Chronicles of Chrestomanci: Volume 1

The Chronicles of Chrestomanci: Volume 1
Diana Wynne Jones
I read this book when I was much younger, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I was introduced to the works of Diana Wynne Jones through ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ (which is now a film by Studio Ghibli) – I’ll get around to reviewing that when my new copy arrives.
34284This is a relatively new edition of the two novels ‘Charmed Life’ and ‘The Lives of Christopher Chant’. They concern the nine-lived enchanters called the Chrestomanci.
Within ‘Charmed Life’ Cat and Gwendolen are siblings orphaned in a tragic steamboat accident. Gwendolen is a powerful witch, foretold to rule the world. What she doesn’t seem to realise is that there are multiple worlds in the series. The Chrestomanci adopts her and Cat, and brings them to his wonderful castle – where magic is forbidden to beginners like Gwendolen. Thus begins the battle of wills for the lives of Eric Chant…
‘The Lives of Christopher Chant’ comes chronologically before ‘Charmed Life’, but Jones suggests the reading order for being the second book in the series. Christopher is a relatively ordinary boy, who just happens to be able to travel between worlds in his dreams. He has nine lives, but no desire to live in Chrestomanci’s castle – he would rather play cricket.
These two books are an enjoyable, honest read. The worlds are described in beautiful detail that manages not to be too overwhelming for the younger reader. Although some aspects are unsuitable for younger readers (such as the guns and mermaid deaths), they are dealt with delicately. Parents of children ages 10 and up can feel confident that their child will be introduced to concepts such as loyalty and honesty in a fantastical, sympathetic, enjoyable environment.

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