The Feats of Strength are an integral part of our annual Smugglivus Tradition. In previous years, the Feats of Strength were a challenge in which we dared each other to read a book that we knew was so far beyond the other’s comfort zone as to put it in another galaxy altogether. This year, we changed the rules: we each get to read and review 5 books, in 5 different genres (including one Dare book and one What She Said book) and with the following TWIST: each review can contain no more than 50 words. For people like us whose reviews are generally written with no less than 800 words and often with more than 1000, this is a true Feat of Strength!

This is Ana’s turn! Wish us luck.

THE DARE:

wizard-and-glassTitle: Wizard and Glass (Dark Tower series, book 4).

Author: Stephen King

Genre: Horror, Fantasy

Publisher: Plume/ New English Library
Publication date: First published 1997
Paperback: 668 pages

How did I get this book: Bought

Roland and his band have narrowly escaped the city of Lud and boarded Blaine, a train that will take them to, of all places, Kansas, where the ghost city of Topeka has been depopulated by a superflu and where, alongside Interstate 70, an emerald palace rises enchantingly. Before Roland and the companions of his “ka-tet” continue along the Path of the Bean, Roland must tell his companions the tale that defines him both as a man and hero, a long-ago romance of witchery and evil, of the beautiful, unforgettable Susan Delgado, of the Big Coffin Hunters and Reah of the Coos. And when his tale is finished, Roland confronts a man who goes by many names, a man who “darkles and tincts” and who holds perhaps the key to the Dark Tower.

The stunning Plume edition features full-color illustrations by Dave McKean and is a collector’s item for years to come.

50-word Review: Not my favourite in the DT series. Although I liked Roland’s origin story (Susan! Alain! Bert!) and the Western- meets- Wizard of Oz feel of the book, SK’s unnecessary verboseness made this overlong flashback book kind of boring overall despite being awesome and freaking heartbreaking in parts. Missed our Ka-Tet.

Rating: 6 – Good

What She Said: Thea’s review

A Brief History of Montmaray (US Pbk)Title: A Brief History of Montmaray

Author: Michelle Cooper

Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult, WWII

Publisher: Random House Australia (Aus) / Random House Children’s Books (US)
Publication date: June 2008 (Aus) / March 2011 (US)
Paperback: 320 pages

How did I get this book: Bought

“There’s a fine line between gossip and history, when one is talking about kings.”

Sophie Fitzosborne lives in a crumbling castle in the tiny island kingdom of Montmaray with her eccentric and impoverished royal family. When she receives a journal for her sixteenth birthday, Sophie decides to chronicle day-to-day life on the island. But this is 1936, and the news that trickles in from the mainland reveals a world on the brink of war. The politics of Europe seem far away from their remote island—until two German officers land a boat on Montmaray. And then suddenly politics become very personal indeed.

A Brief History of Montmaray is a heart-stopping tale of loyalty, love, and loss, and of fighting to hold on to home when the world is exploding all around you.

50-word Review: Historical epistolary narratives of eccentric families are my Kryptonite. Loyalty, love, loss, politics, World War II, LGBT issues and social critique present as narrated through eyes of super young and naïve protagonist who matures as time passes. OTT ending kind of diminished pleasure but overall, very good. Want more.

Rating: 7 – Very Good

One Salt SeaTitle: One Salt Sea (October Daye Series, Book 5)

Author: Seanan McGuire

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Publisher: Daw
Publication date: September 1 2011
MMP: 354 pages

How did I get this book: Review copy from publisher

October “Toby” Daye is settling into her new role as Countess of Goldengreen. She’s actually dating again, and she’s taken on Quentin as her squire. So, of course, it’s time for things to take a turn for the worse.

Someone has kidnapped the sons of the regent of the Undersea Duchy of Saltmist. To prevent a war between land and sea, Toby must find the missing boys and prove the Queen of the Mists was not behind their abduction. Toby’s search will take her from the streets of San Francisco to the lands beneath the waves, and her deadline is firm: she must find the boys in three days’ time, or all of the Mists will pay the price. But someone is determined to stop her-and whoever it is isn’t playing by Oberon’s Laws…

50-word Review: Toby Daye books remains fave UF series. Toby is now the Knight to save ALL the Children which I think suits her really well. Love the characters, the world and the ongoing story of resilience, hard choices and fitting in. Will not mention Tybalt in respect of bittersweet ending (#TobyTybaltForever).

Rating: 7 – Very Good

I was a RatTitle: I Was a Rat

Author: Philip Pullman

Genre: Fantasy, Fairytale Retelling

Publisher: Corgi
Publication date: 1999
Paperback: 179 pages

How did I get this book: Bought (signed by author!)

“Bless my soul!” said Bob. “Who are you?”
“I was a rat,” said the little boy.

When a grubby young pageboy knocks on the door of Bob the cobbler and Joan the washerwoman’s house, the kindly couple hardly knows what to think. Could this delusional boy be the answer to their prayers for a little one of their own? And was he really once a rat? It seems so. He shreds his bedding, for example, and he chews his toast swiftly with his front teeth. He eats an entire pencil and bites his teacher. Despite the fact that he is a little ratty in his habits, the old couple grow quite fond of the young fellow.
In time, the word spreads that there’s a rat-boy in town, news that intrigues everyone from the Royal Philosopher to the P.T. Barnum-inspired freak-peddler Oliver Tapscrew to a reporter from the local rag The Daily Scourge. As the harmless, well-meaning boy is transformed into “The Monster of the Sewers” through pure sensationalism and mass hysteria, Philip Pullman playfully satirizes the power of the press and society at large.

What does it mean to be human? In this often darkly comic Dickensian tale, rats start to look pretty good by comparison. But in a fairy-tale ending, Bob and Joan teach us that humans, corrupt as we are, can always take solace in toasted cheese, love, and good craftsmanship. Kevin Hawkes’s black-and-white illustrations enliven the already vivacious adventure that, thanks to Pullman’s ever lovely wordplay and sly satire, is every bit as enjoyable for adults as it is for young readers.

50-word Review: “I was a rat” says the young boy to the elderly couple as he knocks on their door starting a twisterific tale of a boy getting in trouble and finding a family. Supremely lovely retelling of a surprising minor fairy-tale character. Bonus: fun and astute social critique peppered throughout narrative.

Rating: 8 – Excellent

The Lives of Christopher ChantTitle: The Lives of Christopher Chant (Chrestomanci, book 4)

Author: Diana Wynne Jones

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Publisher: Harper Collins
Publication date: 1988
Hardcover: 176 pages

How did I get this book: Bought

Discovering that he has nine lives and is destined to be the next ‘Chrestomanci’ is not part of Christopher’s plans for the future: he’d much rather play cricket and wander around his secret dream worlds. But he soon finds that destiny is difficult to avoid, and that having more than the usual number of lives is pretty inconvenient — especially when you lose them as easily as he does! Then an evil smuggler, known only as The Wraith, threatens the ways of the worlds and forces Christopher to take action!

50-word Review: LOVE the Chrestomanci books (comfort reading FTW). This is the story of Chrestomanci’s childhood and how he lost (but found) his lives and as he grows up and powerful. The question of choosing and of responsibility are foremost. Best part: finding out Millie’s (his future wife) awesomely powerful origin story.

Rating: 8 – Excellent

Final Thoughts: I am getting the hang of these short reviews, it wasn’t too hard to write these thoughts, although obviously all of these books deserve more, better in depth reviews. I was kind of surprised to see how little I connected to the Stephen King book (sorry, Thea) especially given the romantic storyline. Although I really enjoyed One Salt Sea (will read Ashes of Honor very soon) and A Brief History of Montmaray, my favourites were by far I Was a Rat which was so, so lovely and The Lives of Christopher Chant which you know, it’s a Diana Wynne Jones.

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3 Responses to Ana’s Smugglivus 2012 Feats of Strength

  1. Liz says:

    Diana Wynne Jones! I just recommended some of her books to a friend who has been a huge reader her whole life and yet had never heard of her as a kid. I told her it was never too late to start — she really can’t be beat.

    One Salt Sea was so good, but you’re right about the ending being bittersweet. You MUST read Ashes of Honor; it’s definitely the best in the series so far! Not to mention it’s practically written for Tybalt fans. Although whenever something starts going well for Toby and her friends Seanan McGuire has me living in perpetual fear that she’ll take it all away again…

  2. Michelle says:

    The Lives of Christopher Chant is one of my comfort reads also. The audioversion is quite lovely. Millie is awesome, and don’t forget Throgmorten-he is one of my favorite characters. I think Conrad’s Fate is fantastic, and I recommend people read it after The Lives of Christopher Chant.

  3. Eliza says:

    It was because of Thea’s reviews (thanks, Thea!) that I read the Montmaray Journals and by read, I mean devoured. I was lucky to be introduced to this trilogy right when the last book was released so I was able to read all three in a row and become completely immersed in that world. I think because of that immersion, the characters, the author’s willingness to be true to the horrors and privation of war that I count this trilogy books as my second top read of 2012, right after Code Name Verity.

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