Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman

No good deed goes unpunished, as poor Richard is about to find out…

Richard Mayhew is just a guy–a normal, ordinary, run-of-the-mill guy with really nothing very special about him. Nothing, that is, except one thing: he helps a girl he spots broken and bleeding on the street. But he doesn’t really think anything of it; why would he? He just did what any decent, ordinary person would do. Right? Right?

Yeah, no. The next day his whole world falls apart. The house agents are showing his apartment to prospective tenants, his fiance can barely remember him, his coworkers have no idea who he is. Bewildered and upset, he tracks back to the last person he knows for sure saw him: the injured girl, named Door. As it turns out, his invisibility’s a side effect of sorts, one he picked up by helping her in the first place: she comes from London Below, the other London, the one that fell through the cracks, that people forgot about. And by helping one of its denizens, he’s become all but invisible, too.

Door tells him that he can be returned to London Above, but first she’s got more pressing problems: someone’s after her, and whoever they are, they’re dangerous. They’ve already taken out her family; she’s the only one left. She’s heading out with a couple of allies to find an angel, the Angel; since the Angel is the guardian of all of London Below, if anyone would have some insight as to who would want her dead (and why), it’s him. Richard, still a bit befuddled and a lot upset over his whole situation, tags along, seeing as how he literally has nothing to go back to.

I know I say this all the time, but I really do love this book. The contrast between a completely ordinary schmo like Richard and the bizarre, funhouse-mirror world of London below is wonderful and eerie in equal measure. It’s clever and brilliant and very, very different from anything you may have read before.

Will Door find out who killed her family? Can Richard get his old life back? Just how scary is Knightsbridge, anyway? Pick up a copy of Neverwhere, and join them as they journey through a London made not of concrete or steel, but rather of darkness and dreams.

Favorite Line:

Mind the Gap.

Don’t read if: you don’t like anthropomorphic personification, being underground, riding the Underground, or London in general.

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The Big Over Easy, by Jasper Fforde

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall; Humpty Dumpty had a great fall–and it’s Detective Inspector Jack Spratt’s job to find out what happened.

DI Spratt runs the Nursery Crime Division of the Reading Central Police.  He and his small (yet plucky!) band of misfits solve the unconventional crimes that crop up in Berkshire–illegal straw-into-gold dens, serial killings by some guy with a brightly colored beard, anything involving talking animals. But it’s not all happy ever after for Spratt and his crew; their latest investigation resulted in an acquittal and the Chief Constable is threatening to shut them down.

Then a local, D-list celebrity named Humpty Dumpty is found dead. At first it looks like suicide, but then others start to die, too–the next-door neighbor, the ex-wife–and the clues keep pointing to murder by person or persons unknown. But who? And why?

If that wasn’t enough, Spratt is hoping to gain entry to the Guild of Detectives and join the ranks of famous detectives like Miss Maple, Lord Peter Flimsey, and Reading’s very own DCI Friedland Chymes. Membership means a following, legitimacy, and the chance to have one’s cases not only published in Amazing Crime Stories magazine, but adapted for prime-time television as well. It’s major, and Jack wants the credibility membership would give to him and, by extension, the entire Nursery Crime Division.

I’ve got to be honest–this one is a bit out there (but in a good way, I promise!). It’s very much a standard mystery that pokes fun at the conventions so prevalent in the genre, and does it very, very well. The nursery rhyme characters fit in seamlessly, and add a little zest that most other mysteries lack. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, yet presents a puzzling and compelling mystery (Bonus points if you can spot all the puns and references!).

Can Spratt, his DS Mary Mary, and the rest of the team solve the murder before the case is taken away from them? Will Spratt get accepted into the Guild of Detectives? And what on earth is the huge green thing growing in his mother’s front garden? Check out The Big Over Easy, and find out.

Favorite Line:

The lights were off, the interior dingy, and someone, somewhere, was playing the violin.

Don’t read if: you object to eggs, faded movie stars, verrucas, immortal Titans, or accidental giant killing.

The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster

For my first review here (no pressure!) I’m looking at the book that, in many ways, started it all. I’d read about a book in another book, and it sounded interesting, so I went to the local library to see if they had it. They did, and the rest, as they say, is history…

The Phantom Tollbooth is a book about Milo, a boy with plenty of time. He comes home from school every day to a room filled with every toy imaginable and is far too bored to play with any of them. One day, though, he comes home to find a very large package addressed to him, and (having nothing better to do) opens it. It’s…a tollbooth. A purple, undersized tollbooth, to be sure–but it’s very definitely a tollbooth. A bit bemused, but still feeling like he has nothing better to do, he hops into his toy car, drops some change in the booth, and finds himself–

Somewhere else. It’s an entirely unfamiliar world, but he soon acquires two companions to help him on his way–a faithful watchdog named Tock (who goes ticktickticktick) and a slightly unpleasant, rather unhappy fellow named the Humbug. Tasked with rescuing two lost Princesses and saving the land from encroaching doom, they travel throughout the Kingdom of Wisdom, and meet strange people (Officer Shrift,  Dr Kakofonous A. Discord, and the Everpresent Wordsnatcher) and see even stranger places (Dictionopolis, the Island of Conclusions. and the Forest of Sight), along the way.

This book is fantastic. It’s one huge metaphor taken very, very literally, and it’s full of clever–well, I hesitate to call them puns, because they go so far beyond a simple surface play on words, but that’s the best I can manage.

I loved it as a kid; I thought it was a great adventure story. I love it even more now that I actually get all the references and little asides. For any kid who finds chapter books a little too easy, and for anyone beyond–hop in Milo’s little car and join in on the adventure.

Favorite Line:

Being lost is never a matter of not knowing where you are; it’s a matter of not knowing where you aren’t–and I know perfectly well where I’m not.

Don’t read if: you don’t like fun, or adventures, or literal interpretations of abstract concepts.