Did you read these as a kid? I had one that was about a mystery in a horse stable (Google tells me it was #127, Showdown.) These type of books are sometimes called “gamebooks,” because the narrative structure allows you to participate in the story by making choices. There are multiple plot threads and endings to the story, which can be “good” or “bad.” It can even end with you dying!
These books were targeted at young teens, but I read two books recently that update this concept in a more mature fashion, though each in a distinct way.
This novel, the latest release by Graceling author Kristin Cashore, was originally written in the second person as a choose-your-own-adventure with five different possible endings. However, in the revision process the protagonist developed into the titular Jane, and the different endings, which split off about a quarter of the way through the book, should be read in order to get the most out of them.
The story begins with Jane being invited for a visit to the island mansion Tu Reviens; her late beloved Aunt Magnolia curiously made her promise to go there if she ever got the chance. At Tu Reviens, Jane’s curiosity gets her embroiled in a number of mysteries, and each of the different ending spin out of which one she chooses to tackle first. Though she’s struggling to find her place in the world, Jane is a fun and quirky protagonist; she likes Doctor Who and Winnie-the-Pooh and makes umbrellas as a hobby. She also reads as bisexual, though the romance aspects are relatively minor.
In short, don’t judge this one by the ugly cover. It’s one of the most creative books I’ve read this year. Though the endings build on each other, each one also takes on qualities of a specific genre: heist story, spy drama, psychological thriller, sci-fi, and fantasy. I don’t want to say too much else, just be ready to hold on and enjoy the ride.
One neat concept that is threaded through the endings, and is in fact tied to the choose-your-own-adventure format, is the idea of a multiverse: summed up by one character, “everything that could conceivably happen does happen, somewhere, in alternate universes across the multiverse.”
“…every time something happens, everything else that could have happened in that moment also happens, causing new universes to break off from the old universe and come into being. So there are multiple versions of us, living different lives than the ones we live, across multiple universes, making every decision we could possibly make. There are versions of us we wouldn’t even like, and some we’d barely recognize.”
It’s a great concept, and one that makes me want to re-read Jane, Unlimited to really appreciate its depth. Is each ending taking place in a different dimension? Is one of those dimensions “ours?” There is some evidence that says yes…and some that says no.
Lastly, this book owes a lot to two classic Gothic stories of “orphan comes to a house of mystery:” Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, which has inspired me to read and re-read them, respectively (they are both also selections for the Great American Read). There are a few other interesting literary and artistic references as well.
My Lady’s Choosing
This entertaining book is billed as an “interactive romance novel.” It reminded me greatly of the old Choose Your Own Adventure format. You begin the story as a penniless companion to Lady Craven and can go on to have any number of adventures including getting kidnapped in the Egyptian desert, delivering a foal in the Scottish Highlands, visiting a London brothel, and staying at a creepy Gothic manor.
There are four main love interests that you can end up with: Lady Evangeline, Lord Craven, Sir Benedict, and Captain McTaggart. Each has several storylines and endings, plus there are a few other “side” endings you can also choose. My favorite was ending up with Kamal, the nerdy curator of Lady Evangeline’s Cairo museum of artifacts. We also have “many adorably studious children.”
This is not a serious romance book, but rather a bit of a satire of one. It pokes fun at Regency romance tropes, including using a plethora of terrible puns and creative euphemisms in the sexy parts. I found it absolutely hilarious, possibly because I read a lot of Regency romance. If you would laugh at phrases like “a vision of Scottish virility” and “You kiss as though you are discovering islands off each other’s hidden coasts,” plus a mansion named “Manberley,” you are in the right place.
The “choose” points come up pretty frequently, and have hilarious little flavor text such as:
What, did you actually think you could fight off four enormous henchmen single-handed? Come on now. Think of a better plan and turn to this page.
I was reading this on a Kindle which was an interesting experience for a choose-your-own-adventure. It was nice because of the automatic links at the choose points that immediately direct you where you want to go. But the links also mean there is no easy way to go back one choice and try a different path, which I used to do in the print versions by holding pages. You’d have to keep making and deleting bookmarks or something.
I read through many of the endings because I was having so much fun. I don’t think I would buy this book to read again, but it was definitely good for a few hours of entertainment.
Welcome back to our Star Wars coloring book club, where Kiri at Star Wars Anonymous and I color the same image every month to compare and contrast.
This month I decided I was tired of coloring everything in a symmetrical pattern, so I wanted to do the four Captain Rex clone trooper helmets all different colors.
For some reason, an inspiration immediately sprang to mind: my childhood heroes, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Four helmets, four Ninja Turtles. The more I looked at the picture, the more I liked that idea. The circle in the center even kind of looks like a turtle shell.
Thematically, it works really well also. The Ninja Turtles may be an American creation, but they are inspired by the culture of Japan, just like Star Wars. The style of the helmets of Vader (and consequently the storm troopers) seem partly inspired by Japanese samurai helmets. Obi-Wan’s sojourn on Tatooine seems much like the life of a ronin. And most specifically, the Kurosawa’s movie The Hidden Fortress was a huge inspiration to George Lucas when making the movie that would come to be known as A New Hope.
This one was pretty quick and fun; maybe not one of my favorites, but I enjoyed it. And for the record, Michelangelo is the best Ninja Turtle. Cowabunga!
After I had my kid last year, I was kind of in a reading slump. A good 80% of my reading was being done only on my Kindle between the hours of 11pm-6am while feeding the little Jedi, and I was reading mostly Regency romance novels. There is nothing wrong with romance novels; it is simply a very uncharacteristic choice for me, a habitual reader of fantasy and sci-fi. In any case, I felt like I was missing something. I guess I was missing the way I used to read.
A Darker Shade of Magic was the book, and then the series, that released me from my slump. From the first chapters I knew it was going to be special, just as countless other bloggers and readers had told me.
Kell is one of the last Antari—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black. (Goodreads)
As an ambassador (and the adopted son) of the king of Red London, Kell is tasked with visiting both the brutal monarchs of White London (and their Antari Holland) as well as George III of Grey London. But he also runs an inter-world smuggling business on the side, and when a hand-off goes wrong he gets mixed up with Grey London street thief Lila Bard and a magical conspiracy that spans all four worlds.
This series has many strengths (world building and a neat magic system, an exciting and suspenseful plot), but to me its biggest asset is its characters. Kell and Lila are so well crafted they feel real, and the supporting cast has wonderful depth as well—particularly Holland, Kell’s brother Rhy, and the pirate Alucard.
Kell is probably my favorite character, and he reminded me strongly of another favorite character of mine: Edward Elric from Fullmetal Alchemist. Both Kell and Ed are completely dedicated to their brothers, willing to do anything to protect them. They both have serious personalities, their default expression generally being kinda frowny. They both do magic by drawing circles. And of course, they both have awesome red coats.
Lila is another fun one. Her dream in life is to have a ship and be a pirate, and she prefers wearing men’s clothes. I pictured her in my head looking a bit like Tilda from Into the Badlands because of her hair and knives, but her personality is really more like MK, impulsive and a bit immature.
I loved the pacing of the trilogy, because a lot of the plot structure remind me of the Star Wars original trilogy. Vitari and Osaron kind of reminded me of the first and second Death Stars. The Essen Tasch in the second book was like Lila’s version of Luke’s Dagobah training. And the cliffhanger ending of that same book, where Lila rushes off to help a captured friend, is straight out of The Empire Strikes Back. I loved that cliffhanger, which is such a weird thing to say when normally people hate them.
My only real complaints about the series are that I didn’t get a real “Regency” vibe from it, especially Lila who’s from our London but doesn’t use any thieves’ cant or anything, and also that perhaps the last bit of the third book was not quite as tight as the rest. But I felt satisfied with the ending. I’m already planning to buy the series so I can see those beautiful covers sitting on my shelf and relive the magic whenever I want.
From Portland, Oregon.
I figured I had paid my debt to society
By paying my overdue fines at the Multnomah County Library, at the library
They said “Son, go join up
Go join the youth and beauty brigade”
–The Decemberists, California One/Youth and Beauty Brigade