For my birthday this year, jeeperstseepers got me what she referred to as "bowling ball" gifts. You know the stereotypical husband who gives his wife a bowling ball as a present? (Does that really happen?) A bowling ball gift is one you want someone to have whether they want it or not. She set me up for disappointment so I was instead quite pleased to receive my gifts, as I intended to enjoy them quite heartily.
She gave me Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones since I had liked the movie. Many, many people recommended I read the book, which I had previously assumed was a children's book with pictures, but, no, it was a real book with words. Luckily, I never did get around to reading it before I received it as a gift!
Howl's Moving Castle is about Sophie, the eldest of three daughters, who becomes even elder when she's turned into an old woman by the Witch of the Waste. She takes refuge in the titular moving castle, where she meets the wizard Howl and his fire demon, Calcifer. Somebody ought to be able to turn her back into a teenage girl, right? Problem is, she can't tell anyone she's under a spell. Oops.
I already knew I would like the book when I saw that Diana Wynne Jones was using one of my favorite chapter-naming conventions, leading to chapters called "In which Sophie expresses her feelings with weed-killer" and "Which is far too full of washing." That sense of humor carries into the prose as well, which is light and clever, especially when it comes to Sophie's inner monologue, which is very amusing. She is entirely too adjusted to being an old woman, but it's just that kind of book.
There is a lot going on in the book, and about halfway through, it becomes apparent that it's not all just there for flavor! Every fucking thing is important. EVERY FUCKING LITTLE THING. I don't even think I'm kidding. Every single little throwaway detail ends up mattering. It's pretty amazing and very impressive how well constructed the plot is. There are like fifteen thousand plot twists at the end; my head was spinning.
I can definitely see why fans of the book may have disliked the movie, which took out many key aspects of the book and cut out major characters and gave other characters complete personality transplants and added in all this weird mumbo-jumbo bullshit until it became a rather loose adaptation indeed. I enjoyed the movie, but the book makes way more sense and is totally better. Best bowling ball gift ever!
I also received the Johnny Maxwell Trilogy by Terry Pratchett, three short young adult novels about the adventures of Johnny Maxwell. Each book is self-contained and can be enjoyed individually and in any order, really, but there's just the slightest hint of continuity and there are recurring characters.
In Only You Can Save Mankind, Johnny is playing a computer game in which the object is to kill a lot of aliens...except the aliens try to surrender. For them, it's not a game! Johnny dreams himself into gamespace and tries to save the aliens in the game from being obliterated by human players hungry for killin'. It's a neat premise, even though it's fairly heavy-handed with its anti-war message: the book was inspired by the Gulf War, when war started to look like a videogame and videogames looked like war and maybe things began to blur a bit.
In Johnny and the Dead, Johnny sees dead people! He begins communicating with the inhabitants of the Blackbury Cemetery, which is about to be razed and built upon by a faceless corporation that does...whatever it does. It's no Graveyard Book; the dead bear some resemblance to the ghosts in that book, but that's probably because Gaiman and Pratchett clearly share similar senses of humor when it comes to the talking dead.
In Johnny and the Bomb, Johnny and his friends time travel to a day in 1941 when bombs destroy Paradise Street and kill nineteen people. Should they change history and save them or let the past take its course? Time travel mayhem ensues! It's basically an episode of Doctor Who where the TARDIS is a shopping cart.
The books are quite enjoyable but clearly geared toward a younger audience than the Discworld novels. Johnny himself is terribly endearing, so idealistic and hopeful about the world, and he comes to several great Truths that I appreciated. His group of friends is also entertaining. Kirsty is a hyperintelligent—nah, just very intelligent girl who is always right, even when she's wrong. Wobbler is a l33t hacker. Bigmac is a skinhead with a penchant for stealing cars. Yo-less is a decidedly unstereotypical black kid, a trait Pratchett milks a lot of humor from.
The books are very short (each clocks in at about 200 pages), entertaining, and amusing. Because it's Pratchett, they can be LOLarious at times. They don't always make a whole lot of sense, but that's okay. They still make you think about the world in different ways. Probably moreso if you're thirteen, but even now, they have something to say.