Alyss Heart is the young heir to the throne of Wonderland -- she's charming and mischievous, has a loving family and her powers of imagination are stronger than anything anyone has ever seen before. Her best friend is Dodge, the son of a high-ranking palace guard. She spends her time playing practical jokes on her tutor, Bibwit Harte, and running from the only other child of her station, the dreadful Jack of Diamonds.
Life is good.
Until her Aunt Redd, exiled for years on Mount Isolation, returns to Wondertropolis. With the help of her smiling shape-shifting nine-lived assassin, The Cat, and her army of cards, she murders the King and Queen. Alyss is forced to flee for her life with the help of the Royal Bodyguard, Hatter Madigan.
During their rapid journey through the Pool of Tears, they are separated. Alyss ends up in Victorian London, where no one believes her story. Eventually, she meets the young Charles Dodgson, who promises to write it all down.
I wanted to like this book a whole lot more than I actually did. I was looking forward to it so much.
But, as much as I liked the idea and the plot, the actual writing didn't do a whole lot for me. (Rather like my reaction to Jasper Fforde books, actually.) For the most part, I didn't develop any sort of affection for the characters.
I liked the idea of Hatter Madigan's weaponry, and even the idea of him as a character, but he himself didn't do much for me. (Although -- there's a comic book miniseries starring Hatter Madigan with art by Ben Templesmith which looks extremely cool. If nothing else, the marketing campaign for this book is outstanding.)
It's a great, rip-roaring action-adventure novel. If that's what you're looking for, you'll be very happy with it.
Okay, in The Hidden Staircase, we learn that Nancy gardens, is good with tools, knows how to glean information from footprints in the mud and has read up on hidden passageways and secret doors. She also knows how to deal with a wild owl in the house, of all things. She still loves speeding -- what's the point of having a new blue convertible if you don't participate in a few car chases?
She also has the amazing ability to determine a very detailed judgment of a person's character after a two-minute conversation:
Nancy had taken an instant dislike to Gomber and now it was quadrupled. She judged him to be the kind of person who stays within the boundaries of the law but whose ethics are questionable.
I mean, really.
Carson Drew is supposed to be one of the smartest guys in River Heights, right? I find it interesting that he gets what basically amounts to a death threat, then a few pages later he is almost run over by an "out of control" car, yet makes no connection whatsoever between the two events. He also continues his totally icky flirtation with Nancy:
In a flash, Nancy was out the back door and running to meet her father. "Oh, Dad, I'm so glad to see you!" she exclaimed.
She gave him a tremendous hug and a resounding kiss. He responded affectionately, but gave a little chuckle. "What have I done to rate this extra bit of attention?" he teased. With a wink he added, "I know. Your date for tonight is off and you want me to substitute."
Dirk Jackson is the date that Carson Drew mentioned above. He's a "red-haired, former high-school tennis champion" -- no word on what he does now. He "doesn't like to be kept waiting" -- especially, Nancy says, "by any of my mysteries". No wonder no one remembers him.
Regardless of the fact that the narrator always stresses Hannah Gruen's position as "part of the family", she continues to do all of the work around the house. She also gives Nancy advice -- probably whenever the writer felt that the "Nancy decided/exclaimed/deduced" bit was getting a bit repetitive.
Poor Helen Corning. She's around to:
A) Tell Nancy about the case. B) Ask all of the reader's questions, no matter how obvious and lame. C) Get dirty. She's the one who opens the damper in the fireplace and gets all sooty, falls through the hole in the old stable, and gets covered in plaster when the ceiling collapses. (Nancy, romantically, gets knocked out during the ceiling collapse episode. No mention of dust mussing up her titian hair.) D) Be the boy. When Nancy and Helen dress up in old costumes to entertain the old ladies with an old-fashioned dance, Helen has to be the boy.
Remember the flapping-jaw syndrome I mentioned in Book One? Well, apparently, Nancy has it, too. At least everyone is consistently jabbering, I guess. Speaking of, this book features the Wimpiest Henchmen Ever. The police aren't able to get anything out of them, but Nancy bats her eyelashes and they spill almost immediately.
The Hidden Staircase continues the trend of old ladies being portrayed as doddering -- but sweet -- old bats who can't remember anything.
Book One had lots of descriptions of clothing. This one has lots of food:
"...the delicious dinner of spring lamb, rice and mushrooms, fresh peas and chocolate angel cake with vanilla ice cream..." "...steak and French friend potatoes, fresh peas, and yummy floating island for dessert..." "...cup of steaming chicken bouillon, a thin slice of well-toasted bread, and a saucer of plain gelatin."
Since when do police officers ENCOURAGE young women to continue their amateur sleuthing? The cops in this book rival Abe Carver and the Salem Police Force for the Worst Cops Ever award.
And, I'm happy to say: The unintentional humor continues! This next bit is from a scene where Nancy is trying to track down clues about her missing father at a train station -- she just happens to run into a nurse who just happens to have taken the train at the same time her father rode into town and who just happens to have seen him get into a taxi and just happens to overhear Nancy questioning taxi drivers and just happens to recognize Carson Drew from Nancy's description and just happens to realize that one of the taxi drivers is lying (the strange spelling of kidnapped is from the book, not me):
When the man did not reply, Miss Skade said, "Now look, Harry. This girl's afraid that her father has been kidnaped. It's up to you to tell her all you know."
"Kidnaped!" the taximan shouted. "Oh, goodnight! Now I don't know what to do."
Nancy had a sudden thought. "Has somebody been threatening you, Harry?" she asked.
The cab driver's eyes nearly popped from his head. "Well," he said, "since you've guessed it, I'd better tell you everything I know."
A meeting at District 214 that began Thursday night lasted into the early-morning hours. Fire officials were called in to control the crowd of about 1,500 people who gathered for the debate at District 214 -- the largest school district in the state. Its schools include Hersey, Prospect and Buffalo Grove.
At 1 a.m., the school board voted 6-1 to keep the books in the district.
Super news, right? Here's the absolute-best part of the article:
"I think most of us instinctively know that sex with an animal is 'eww,'" Penney said.
But Thursday night, most students and teachers disagreed.
This is the sequel to The Lightning Thief, which I raved about last week. I had bemoaned the fact that I, stupidly, didn't pick up The Sea of Monsters for way-cheap at the Scholastic Half-Price Sale recently, so you can probably imagine my joy at finding an ARC of it in a pile of books at home. (Once I found it, I remembered picking it up at PLA -- I just hadn't read it yet due to my must-read-books-in-series-order issue.)
It was great. While Riordan provides the background that makes it possible to pick up the series from here, I'd still suggest beginning at Book One. (Mostly because it's so much fun.)
Percy's school year has gone pretty uneventfully -- oddly enough, no monsters have tried to kill him and he hasn't been expelled from his new, "progressive" school:
The whole middle school had to read this book called Lord of the Flies, where all these kids get marooned on an island and go psycho. So for our final exam, our teachers sent us into the break yard to spend an hour with no adult supervision to see what would happen. What happened was a massive wedgie contest between the seventh and eighth graders, two pebble fights, and a full-on tackle game. The school bully, Matt Sloan, led most of those activities.
Due to the almost disturbing lack of monster attacks, Percy has spent most of his school year defending his new friend Tyson from the aforementioned bully:
Tyson was the only homeless kid at Meriwether College Prep. As near as my mom and I could figure, he'd been abandoned by his parents when he was very young, probably because he was so . . . different. He was six-foot-three and built like the Abominable Snowman, but he cried a lot and was scared of just about everything, including his own reflection. His face was kind of misshapen and brutal-looking. I couldn't tell you what color his eyes were, because I could never make myself look higher than his crooked teeth. His voice was deep, but he talked funny, like a much younger kid--I guess because he'd never gone to school before coming to Meriwether.
Then, the night before his last day of school, he has a nightmare about his friend Grover the satyr. Things start to go downhill from there. When he and Annabeth (and yes, Tyson) arrive at Camp Half-Blood, they find it under attack. Once that threat is dealt with, they are informed of an even greater threat -- Thalia's tree (which usually protects the camp from attack) has been poisoned and Chiron has been blamed, fired and replaced by Tantalus.
So begins the quest for the Golden Fleece.
Everything I said about The Lightning Thief still goes, and then some. Rick Riordan continues to come up with brilliant chapter headings:
2. I Play Dodgeball with Cannibals
6. Demon Pigeons Attack
11. Clarisse Blows Up Everything
14. We Meet the Sheep of Doom
I continue to be reminded of the Harry Potter books, but again, only in basic structure. Percy & Co. meet Chiron's centaur relatives, and they are the complete opposite of the JKR centaur -- frighteningly enough, they reminded me of some guys I hung out with during my college years.
The series continues to be smart, funny, exciting, and sure to please. Book Three is probably (I hope, I hope!) coming out next year.