Book of the Month: Howl’s Moving Castle

71sst0-sdELI’ve had a soft spot for Miyasaki movies ever since I first watched the acclaimed Spirited Away and so reading one of the books that inspired another Miyasaki movie was a treat. There is a bizarreness to these stories that is both refreshing and thought-provoking.

About the book:

Howl’s Moving Castle is the story of Sophie Hatter, the oldest daughter of three, who is destined by birth to be a failure. Or so she thinks.  When she is cursed by the Witch of the Waste to be an old woman she finds it an inconvenience albeit she is somewhat relieved. Being an old woman grants Sophie a much greater freedom in her actions and speech than what she’s felt as an adolescent.

With this new found freedom she leaves the hat shop which has been her prison and heads into the countryside. It is there that she runs across Wizard Howl’s magical castle drifting along. She forces her way inside to get out of the damp and meets Calcifer, a fire demon who powers the castle, and Michael, Howl’s young assistant.

Howl himself is a selfish and vain man who has too much interest in the ladies and not enough in common sense.  Throughout the book we see how Sophie wins her way into his heart by not putting up with his foolishness.  They help each other in turns as they prepare to face the ultimate battle with the Witch of the Waste.

My Review:

There’s a lot to be said about having characters with strong opinions and preferences. In this book we see the importance of speaking up for yourself when we read about Sophie’s life both before and after her transformation. This is contrasted against Howl, who refuses to have any useful discussion with anyone and because of it comes across as cold and uncaring, even though he secretly does care deeply for Sophie.

Then there’s the inventiveness of the story elements themselves.  First, the totally awesome castle that wanders around the countryside and has a magic door that opens into different cities all over the realm. Not only does this provide Howl and Sophie ease of access to different places but it allows for some whimsy as well.  One of the doors is anchored to the very real Wales while the rest are in the magical world. Then you have my favorite character, the fire demon Calcifer who is cursed to live within the confines of chimney and hearth and at times acts like a petulant child, even though he is the most magically powerful of the three main characters.

It’s a fun and lively story and a great read for upper middle grade readers all the way to adults. I’d recommend it to readers of Piers Anthony, David Eddings, and Rick Riordan.


Want to recommend a book? Let me know in the comments!

Have you read Howl’s Moving Castle? What was your favorite part? Favorite Character?


Next month (February) I will be reading Inkheart by Cornelia Funke, and in March, Everneath by Brodi Ashton. Come join me!

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2nd Quarter Reading – Done!

I’m happy to report that I’ve finished the second quarter reading with a few weeks to spare, namely because I fell in love with  The Lovely Bones and read it in four days. The longest read from this quarter clocks in at a mind-boggling six weeks to finish Midnight’s Children.

Here are this quarter’s books –

Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie: As mentioned before, I struggled to get through this book, not because it is poorly written or uninteresting but because it is extremely long and the prose is very dense. This isn’t to say there isn’t some fascinating reading in there, only that the reader is required to patiently sift and sort through a mixed jumble of thoughts and ideas that bounce back and forth in the time line of the main characters life.  It’s confusing.  Rushdie does a masterful job weaving different themes in and out of the story so by the time you get to the end you can see the whole picture – that is if you get to the end.

Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro: Reading this was like watching Downton Abbey from the perspective of the butler.  It is a melancholy and thoughtful read as we are shown the highlights of his life and efforts to become a truly great British butler at the expense of missing out on having a life of his own.  Like Midnight’s Children, it is not exactly a story but rather an experience of someone else’s life experience.

The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold: After reading these other books, this book was a wonderful breath of life.  Finally, a real story with conflicts and problems to be solved instead of a rambling narrative. The main character narrates her story, sharing her point of view and feelings about what’s happening in her family, but the kicker here is that she’s dead.  The book opens with her remembering the details of her murder and she continues to follow her family as they struggle to cope with her loss.  Riveting, fascinating, and the best book on the list so far.

Here are the rest of this year’s picks, feel free to read along with me!

  1. A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving200px-PrayerForOwenMeany
  2. Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
  3. A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
  4. Dune – Frank Herbert
  5. The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
  6. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee


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1st Quarter Reading – Done!

Back in the beginning of the year I set forth to read 12 books from the popular BBC Big Read list.  Now the first quarter is over and three of those books are complete. Here’s  here are my reactions to each book –

A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens: I wanted to like this book, I like the story and have enjoyed the different movies from Patrick Stewarts down to Albert Finneys versions.  It’s a classic and I don’t regret reading it.  What better way to invite a feeling of Christmas than to read about Scrooge and his magical transformation from miserable miser to generous soul. What I do regret is that I couldn’t find quiet alone time to give it the attention and focus it deserves.  Dickens is not the easiest reading even for experienced readers. I wanted to be sucked in and be able to live through the story in the same way I enjoy modern fiction but it wasn’t to be.  The words refused to come alive for me and I didn’t have the patience to force them to do so either. This book is best enjoyed in front of a fireplace with a glass of wine and time for quiet contemplation – not from one’s phone while holding a wiggly toddler who is watching one of their obnoxious TV shows.

Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte – Somehow I escaped reading this in High School and perhaps it was for the best that I did.  Along the same lines of Christmas Carol, this book requires lots of attention to keep track of what’s going on.  I had more quiet time to work on reading this time, which helped, but in the end I can honestly say I didn’t enjoy the experience.  The characters are not likable which makes it hard to empathize with their multitude of plights.

conradjoetext96hdark12aHeart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad – Once again, this was a harder read, although it seemed easier than Wuthering Heights. Maybe I’m finally getting the hang of 18th century literature, who knows? Then again, Heart of Darkness takes place deep within the Congo, a setting I find fascinating.  It also deals with more urgent matters than Wuthering Heights, such as life and death situations and slavery, which I prefer over stories where the main plot question revolves around the question, “Does he really love me?”

So far I’ve been enjoying the challenge of reading books that fall far outside my preferred reading bubble.  The language of these books is distinct and delicious and meant to be savored, like foreign chocolate. I can’t wait to get a taste of the next one!

Here are the remaining books left on my personal list for this year –

  1. A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving200px-PrayerForOwenMeany
  2. Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
  3. Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
  4. The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
  5. A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
  6. Dune – Frank Herbert
  7. The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
  8. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
  9. The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro

What are you reading this year?  Share in the comments!