“Horton Halfpott” by Tom Angleberger

May 9, 2011

(This review is also posted at the Book Nook Club, a group blog to which I contribute.)


(Disclosure: I did not receive anything for reviewing this book. I bought it, and the only discount I got was because I have a Barnes and Noble membership card. I do consider Tom Angleberger to be an online friend, and did receive an ARC from him for Stonewall Hinkleman and the Battle of Bull Run a couple of years ago.)

On Friday, I found myself in the bookstore and spotted the display for Horton Halfpott, and cursed myself for forgetting that the release date had come for that. Naturally, I grabbed a copy.

The full title of the book is Horton Halfpott, or The Fiendish Mystery of Smugwick Manor, or The Loosening of M’Lady Luggertuck’s Corset. The cover glows in the dark. This, by the way, is only the fun that you get to have before opening the book.

This story is a whole lot of fun. As the titles suggest, the story starts as M’Lady Luggertuck wears her corset a little less tight one day, setting off a strange feel in the air, which sets off all kinds of peculiar events. These culminate in the theft of the Luggertuck family treasure, and all manner of chaos and mayhem as the crime is investigated.

Make no mistake, this is definitely kidlit. It’s written at a great level for children. Were I to choose a primer for the later reading of Dickens, though, this would be it. If Charles Dickens himself wrote a piece of modern children’s literature, I think it might look a lot like Horton Halfpott. Being a huge Dickens fan, by the way, I do not say this casually.

Horton Halfpott himself could well be a Dickensian protagonist. He’s a hard-working, loyal-to-a-fault kitchen boy in Smugwick Manor who gets caught up in the mystery and a plot to kidnap the young lady Celia, a young lady from nearby with whom he falls in love. The boy is every bit as lovable as Oliver Twist, which is saying quite a lot.

The villains and various scoundrels around the story (the head of the kitchen, the Shipless Pirates, etc.) are a true joy to read. The story is a delight. Tom’s Acknowledgments credit Charles Dickens with inspiring the story, and it really shows. The sympathy for the poor and downtrodden, contempt for the rich and stuck-up, and celebration of the wealthy and compassionate are so very enjoyable.

The book doesn’t take itself too seriously, though. Whenever the story turns to romantic thoughts, the narrator assures us that he won’t dwell on such things too much. We are assured once that while Horton was dwelling, the narrator won’t do so.

When my wife and I are reading in the living room, we will frequently read a sentence or passage out loud because it’s so well-written, so expressive, or otherwise worth sharing. I must have read a quarter of the book to my wife, and I felt like I was being too selective. In a way, I think I should have just read the book out loud to her.

Having read all four of Tom Angleberger’s novels (two of which are written under the pseudonym Sam Riddleburger) — The Qwikpick Adventure Society by Sam Riddleburger, Stonewall Hinkleman and the Battle of Bull Run by Sam R. and Michael Hemphill, and The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom A. — I feel like I need to comment on his writing style. In all cases, the narration is a lot of fun. But he has not used the same voice in any of them. The other three books have been in wonderful first-person narration, but by very different characters (Yoda having been by more than one character). Horton uses a wonderful third-person narration brilliantly executed in order to maintain the humor of the story.

Coming in at 206 pages and with plenty of Tom’s illustrations, it’s a pretty quick read, and well worth the time. This is a feel-good book that carries on the Dickensian spirit without the work of getting through Dickens’ language. Even so, Tom’s use of wordcraft is every bit as enjoyable.

A heartily-deserved five stars.

(Addendum: I have been told that sometimes I need to tone down my reviews to keep from seeming like I’m so excited to gush … I just can’t do it for this one. I really love this book.)


It’s National Ellipsis Day …

April 25, 2011

… or, at least, a friend of mine has declared it so.

My brother-in-law then noted that Google seems not to have heard of National Ellipsis Day.

I’m hoping that by posting this, I’ll fix that problem AND hit the front page of a Google search …

… even if it’s one that no one is really searching.

Geek Factor 10

March 30, 2011

I wish I’d thought of this … an a capella retelling of “Star Wars” to the tune of various John Williams classics. As someone who embraced my geekdom at an early age, this is an absolute delight!

Quote of the Day – 3-15-2011

March 15, 2011

(I’d redefined my rules for the quote of the day … and apparently summarized them with “I won’t bother anymore. Oh, well … here goes!)

“If I was to die, there was no better way to go out than to open the door of a Winnebago that had managed to fly into outer space.”

The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet by Reif Larsen, p. 229.

ISBN 978-0-14-311735-3

Penguin Books (2009)


(… and, although “2001: A Space Odyssey” is mentioned on the same page as a space-Winnebago, there’s no reference to “Spaceballs.” A missed opportunity, methinks.)

Quote of the Day – 2/3/2011

February 3, 2011

My 3-year-old daughter:

“I did it all by myself, and you helped!”

Quote of the Day – 1/12/2011

January 12, 2011

“… he learned but three things in two years at Oxford. The first, on which he placed the greatest value, was that ‘Yea’ might be turned into ‘Nay’ and vice versa if a sufficient quantity of wordage was applied to the matter. The second was that in any argument, the victor is always right, and the third that though the pen is mightier than the sword, the sword speaks louder and stronger at any given moment” (p. 2).

The Mouse that Roared by Leonard Wibberlry

Curtis Publishing, 1954

Quote of the Day – 1/11/11

January 11, 2011

(Not a great quote, but I read it yesterday and it’s worth sharing.)

“She was the type to like things that were concrete, like the ocean” – Harry, The Dead-Tossed Waves.

The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan

Delacorte Press, 2010. ISBN: 978-0-385-73684-8

Quote of the Day – 1/10/2011

January 10, 2011

Not from anything read this time, but really funny yesterday. Said while knitting:

“I accidentally made a moebius strip!” – my wife (nicknamed “Zeta”), 1-9-2011

It’s the end of the end of the world

December 18, 2010

So, I think it’s time that I move off of post-apocalyptic books.

In the past few months, I’ve read Darkwood by M. E. Breen, The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan, the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Cooper, and the Sword of the Spirits trilogy by John Christopher. That’s kind of a run.

I picked up The Neverending Story last night, thinking that that might be the way to go. But, you know, it’s about preventing the end of a world. I think I might try to get a little farther from the previous theme.

This time I mean it … Charles Dickens, here I come!

Quote of the Day – 12/18/2010

December 18, 2010

“I happen to be a very good nerd-to-Asgardian translator” – Tony Stark, Thor #617.