The Dollhouse Murders by Betty Ren Wright

The Dollhouse Murders by Betty Ren Wright
The Dollhouse Murders by Betty Ren Wright

Title: The Dollhouse Murders by Betty Ren Wright
Scored a: B+
Status: Finished!


This was a book that was around in my childhood (I even chose to represent it with the cover I knew it by) that I never read and often conflated with another story where a little girl finds an old dollhouse with dolls that move on their own. In the one I mixed it up with, the girl refurbishes their dollhouse and gave me an untrue expectation of wallpaper sample availability. Still can’t remember its name.

In this one? There’s murder and screaming. Perfect late night read.

Plot: Amy is having a hard time at home, so she temporarily moves in with her Aunt Clare. When she finds her Aunt Clare’s old dollhouse, she’s enchanted. Until the dolls begin acting out the brutal murder of her great-grandparents. With her little sister Louann and her friend Ellen’s help, she sets to find out what the dollhouse is telling her. Even if Aunt Clare wants them to leave well enough alone.

Ah, I loved this. It had me leaning in to read more, and I could almost hear the thunderstorm raging around in the scariest moment of the book.

Amy is 12 (turning 13 over the course of the book) and life isn’t easy for her. Her little sister Louann has brain damage and taking care of her is wearing Amy down, especially since she blames her sister for how other children avoid her after meeting Louann. This was something I’d seen myself in person – in this case an extremely frustrated little brother with his older low-functioning autistic brother, so it rang pretty true to me.

If you’re worried, Louann does okay for herself. She has her own interests and her own life going on, and is pretty essential to how the book plays out and not in a magical savant way. The only problem with her part of the story I had is where Aunt Clare suddenly knows better than everyone else to help the niece that she just met. It felt unfair, narratively.

That said, gosh, I like this book. Amy realizing she has friends, Amy discovering things, Amy being brave, the creepiness of the dolls. All of it.

If you want a ghost story with a lot of atmosphere (but remember it’s aimed at middle grade), definitely check this one out.

I purchased another book by the author, Christina’s Ghost. Looking forward to it.

All The Lovely Bad Ones by Mary Downing Hahn

All The Lovely Bad Ones by Mary Downing Hahn
All The Lovely Bad Ones by Mary Downing Hahn

Title: All The Lovely Bad Ones by Mary Downing Hahn
Scored a: C+
Status: Finished!


Found this book as a recommended other when I was purchasing The Dollhouse Murders. And while I don’t regret buying this book, and would still do it if I knew what I know now about it, I couldn’t give it a very high score.

Plot: A brother and sister are staying at their grandmother’s B&B for the summer. They decide to pretend to be ghosts to bring more business and in the process wake up the real ghosts.

The problems with this book was one minor thing and one major thing.

The minor was whenever it would delve into referencing real things, like Harry Potter, or the Murder at the Vicarage it stood out like a sore thumb. In fact, the Murder at the Vicarage scene, where a woman purchases the book, is overly long and makes no sense in the context of the story to even be there for that amount of space. I mean, I’m a big fan of that book, but it was odd. Coupled with the fact that previously in the same scene there was a heavy bit of foreshadowing that is immediately forgotten by the rest of the book and never comes to pass, bits like that were just out of place.

The big problem? The conflict and suspense runs out two thirds in, when it’s announced exactly what’s going on and how they’ll solve it and after that it’s just a by the numbers conclusion. There’s a final fight, but it’s not an unexpected one in the slightest.

I did like the characters, and for the most part the writing was an easy read. I don’t regret buying this, that’s for certain. It was good for a little ghost story to read at three am.

There’s a lot of children ghosts in this story who met very bad ends, so if you dislike the deaths of children, give this a pass. If you don’t mind ghost children and a very wicked villain, give it a go.

Warning: A teddybear dies. But it is sufficiently mourned.

The Homeward Bounders by Diana Wynne Jones

Cover of Homeward Bounders by Diana Wynne Jones
Cover of Homeward Bounders by Diana Wynne Jones

Title: The Homeward Bounders by Diana Wynne Jones
Scored a: A-
Status: Finished!


The Homeward Bounders! I’ve been wanting to reread this for ages, but was unable to because it was region locked for sale. So during a trip to the USA my billing address magically changed to match my current IP and I got a lot of books I’ve been wanting for a while.

The plot of the book is Jamie sees something he shouldn’t – what appears to be two hooded figures standing over a map of the world in a strange room. As punishment, he is sent into other worlds with the promise that one day he may be allowed ‘back into play’ if he finds his way home. Until then no one can interfere with his journey, but there’s nowhere for him that he can belong. For every time one of the mysterious Them make a move, Jamie is forced into a new world.

Along the way he picks up two very important allies.

I really like this book and my only disappointment is that Adam (he shows up later) is never set on fire.

If I had to compare it to something, I’d say DnD and Sliders.

On the cover I chose, incidentally, the character most prominent is not Jamie. It’s a girl (one of the allies I mentioned) named Helen who has a very special gift and is coded as Pakistani, if that sweetens the pot for any potential readers.

What I really liked is how they managed to fit a preteen and an old man’s world-weary perspective into one character with Jamie. The story ends with the trademark DWJ ‘DONE NOW’ so don’t get your hopes up for anything lingering.

If  you’re into fanfic, this book crosses over with anything. Anything.

Its genre is that mix of sci-fantasy that DWJ does sometimes that I’m a big fan of.

Hexwood by Diana Wynne Jones

Title: Hexwood by Diana Wynne Jones
Scored a: A+
Status: Finished


Cover of Hexwood by Diana Wynne Jones
Cover of Hexwood by Diana Wynne Jones (It actually took me a year to realize it had a face)

Hexwood was my favourite book for years and years. It didn’t fall out of favour with me so much as The Neverending Story fell into favour, but it’s still dear to me.

Hexwood is a book with a lot going on in it. And when you think you know the plot, it turns out you don’t. And even when I was rereading it with that fact in mind, it still totally side-swiped me, because my memory is terrible and I got caught up in believing the narration.

One of the plots is one day a young girl is very sick and notices that people are going into the Hexwood Farm and not coming out again, and she decides to investigate. In the process she gets caught up in an Arthurian legend. Then there’s all the other plots.

Diana Wynne Jones books have one major flaw, and that’s usually their endings. But in this case the ending is pretty solid and all the threads running around the story tie up together pretty tidily.

A problem with stories with a lot of moving pieces is they can leave you frustrated from the feeling things are being kept from you, but in the case of Hexwood you don’t get that feeling at all, as things aren’t kept from you, but things are added instead as things go on. You think you’ve got a stick figure and then it turns out to be an elaborate oil painting.  Like pieces clicking into place.

If you forget things like I do, this book has an excellent reread value.

Just a warning though, later on in the book is some pretty intense child abuse. Like Dogsbody‘s animal abuse it makes sense in context, but it’s fairly shocking. When I got to that part I had to stop and look at the ceiling for a while. I’d managed to totally forget that part.

I’m glad a lot of Diana Wynne Jones’ oeuvre has been made available digitally, as it allows me to revisit my old favourites since my paper books seem to continually shift around the house and into hiding.

Year of the Griffin

Title: Year of the Griffin by Diana Wynne Jones
Scored a: B
Status: Finished

Cover of Year of the Griffin
Year of the Griffin by Diana Wynne Jones

The sequel to Dark Lord of Derkholm was a typical Diana Wynne Jones sequel, in that it was just elaborating the world the first one took place in and wasn’t a continuation of the struggle in the first. Definitely not a complaint, that’s part of what I love about her writing.

Now, you’ll notice this has a lower score than the first one but that’s because some of the brutality in the book didn’t seem to mesh with the writing in other sections, so it’s a technical score that lowered it.

This is also, apparently, a book where Everyone Gets Paired Off, Even The Cameos. But since none of the pairings are repellant, I’m not docking points for that.

So! The plot is that Elda, Derk’s youngest daughter and griffin (although not the youngest anymore. Still a griffin) has gone off to wizarding college. She meets up with five other students and becomes fast friends, but each one (except her) has people back home who’d really rather they not be there. By lethal force, if necessary.

On top of that, most of the teachers are incompetent and amoral.

The students are great. I loved them. The dwarf Ruskin and Claudia the marshlady were my faves that weren’t Elda. The teachers were a recurring ‘toxic authority figure’ that shows up in Diana Wynne Jones’ books a lot, but just because I’m used to that doesn’t make them less frustrating to read, because oh boy do I feel for the people they’re being inflicted on.

Like Dark Lord of Derkholm, Year of the Griffin had a more solid, if abrupt, ending than a lot of her books do. So. Huzzah.

And the premise, which was griffin goes to wizarding school, delivered. Oh goodness, did it deliver. The similar premise, ‘wizard raises griffins as own children’ from the first is what grabbed me the first time. I’m running out of Diana Wynne Jones books I haven’t read yet, but the stuff remaining has been real gems.

Oh god I miss Diana Wynne Jones she was such an amazing author.

If I could make a book wish, I’d like for her to have written another book about the adventures the other half of Derk’s family had that got mentioned as a ‘that’s where they are’ when Elda’s relatives would show up. Because it sounded neat. And I wanted to hear more of the continent of griffins. And more about Elda’s new little winged siblings.  But I do not get book wishes.

Anyway! The two griffin books are just aces. I totally recommend them.

The Dark Lord Of Derkholm

Title: The Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones
Scored a: A+
Status: Finished


The cover of Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones


When people asked me what I was reading, I said it was a book about a pair of wizards and their human and griffin children. This seemed like a good blurb! And I was right, people were immediately interested after that.

Sometimes I’d go further, and explain that it was about a magical world that had been enslaved by a man from a world like ours, to perform as a sort of magic theme park for tourists to have ‘magical quests’ and that it was actually pretty dystopic, and this was how the wizards and their children saved everyone.

I really really liked this. I needed this book after something terrible happened. I had actually been reading James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small which, given its plethora of dead animals, was the exact wrong book for me at that moment.

Something I really enjoy in stories is unconventional families, and races that are as smart or smarter than us, but look nothing humanoid, and wizards raising griffins hit that exactly. There is also, if this sweetens the pot, dragons.

Diana Wynne Jones is my favourite author for a lot of reasons, and one of them is that she can write a story with a lot of threads that all tie up tidily as the ending approaches. The ending itself can be hit or miss, but the moment where it all comes together is one of my favourite feelings when reading.

I warn you, if you read this, that there is an upsetting scene that could be read two ways, bad and horrifying, that happens to Shona, the older human daughter during the soldier escorting.  I had to put down the book for a few moments after that and I had been expecting it.

I had already purchased and begun the sequel, Year of the Griffin, before getting started writing this review. It’s about one of the griffins going to a wizard school. Yessss.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and Fuan no Tane

A wight from Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs ended on a sour note because I didn’t realize it was part of a series so the ‘TUNE IN NEXT TIME’ ending was more’n a little annoying.

That said, I liked it! Ransom Riggs is good at atmosphere, and his description of the world around Jacob is great. The vintage photographs used to illustrate the characters and concepts throughout are a nice touch.

The plot is, Jacob’s grandfather always told him stories about the magical children he grew up, as well as monsters he fought. When Jacob grew up, his father told him that the children’s magic was that they were Jewish, like Jacob’s grandfather, and the monsters were the nazis.

Then Jacob finds out his grandfather was telling the truth.

Like I said, I overall liked this and my only stylistic complaint is the mythos in the book didn’t mesh fully with itself.

The other thing I read was Fuan no Tane by Masaaki Nakayama without realizing I’d read a book until I was entering Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children into the spreadsheet and went ‘oh wait, that counted, didn’t it!’. It’s a collection of ghost stories in scenes, some stories no more than two pages. One of the stories is here, it takes place in a hospital.

Don’t expect an origin or explanation to the ghosts, it’s just a nice little capsule of horror. My favourite is early on, The Giant. I will enclose it in this post, since there’s no legal English version of this comic and I can’t just tell you to buy it.

Below is The Giant:
Continue reading Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and Fuan no Tane

The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents & Only Human

Read The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett years ago, the day it first came out in Canada. I went to the bookstore, bought it, went to the food court and finished it before I got home.

A couple years ago I got the audiobook, which is good but it was a couple ipods ago and I lost my place, so I figured for my challenge it would do perfectly (Book 63, I am now working on book 67).

It’s technically set in the Discworld, but except for a mention of some wizards and it taking place in Uberwald, it’s not a big detail.

The plot is Maurice, a talking cat, a bunch of talking mice, and a stupid looking kid are running a Pied Piper scheme and end up in a town where something really creepy is afoot. And there’s a girl named Malicia who likes to make up stories. In the audiobook she’s got this great sort of Transylvanian accent, which isn’t actually in the book beyond where she comes from, so I had to mentally put it there as I read.

Maurice is great narrator. He’s very much a cat, with cat priorities. And the rats are forming their own civilization bit by bit, and learning what it really means to think. It’s a pretty solid piece of kid’s fiction, and again if you’re worried about needing to know about the Discworld series, it’s not even relevant.

I also read Only Human by Tom Holt which was aggressively mediocre mixed with casual racism. And thus, Only Human has been rated a D.


Hell yes Bunnicula! Deborah and James Howe wrote a funny little story that I liked as much now as when I read it as a kid. Harold the dog is quite the narrator, with very typical dog priorities (although I went NO when I found out his favourite snack was chocolate cake) that make him pretty endearing, since it’s mixed with a mature, humanlike viewpoint.

To those not familiar with the plot, it goes: The family that Harold the dog lives with goes to see Dracula, and in the theatre seats they find a baby bunny and bring it home. The bunny is then named Bunnicula in honour of the film.

Chester the cat, the last character, senses something is immediately Not Right when white, drained vegetables start appearing…

A lot of the appeal of this book is the writing. It has Harold’s narration, Chester’s catlike ways of trying to stop a vampire rabbit, and really adorable descriptions of Bunnicula. The characterization of the family is pretty ace too.

Emperor Mollusk versus The Sinister Brain

Art by Ann Larimer

Emperor Mollusk versus The Sinister Brain by A. Lee Martinez was great! The plot: Emperor Mollusk, former Warlord of Terra (he retired after conquering the planet and deciding he didn’t feel like ruling anymore) has been targeted for assassination. Taken into protective custody by the Venusian warrior Zala (she can’t bring him to justice for his crimes against Venus if he’s dead), Mollusk is swept into finding out who wants him dead (in the narrowing down sense), and what to do if for the first time ever, he might not win? Also along for the ride is his pet ultrapede Snarg. Good girl, Snarg.

The Earth in this book’s world is an alternate history of ours, where we’ve been fighting off alien attacks for centuries and there’s even a Viking colony on Ceres (no one knows how they got there). Our narrator and main character is Mollusk, a moral-less little octopus from Neptune, but he doesn’t mean anything by it. He’s friendly and reasonable, without much blood lust. His likeability carries you through some of the weaker parts of the book quite tidily.

My only complaint about this book was that Zala and Kreegah (a Jupitron) are criminally underused. There’s some very interesting characters waiting there to be written, but unfortunately that doesn’t really happen, especially in Kreegah’s case.

A nice, light book. Shouldn’t have taken me as long as it did to read this, but I made the mistake of starting writing again and it’s hard to shift my brain from one gear to the other.