Review: House of Many Ways & Enchanted Glass, Diana Wynne Jones

I love Diana Wynne Jones, and because I have not told you why I love her with sufficient vehemence or frequency, I will tell you why right now.  It is because her characters discover things about themselves!  They discover things, and they learn!  Glorious!  People in her books proceed by instinct and guesswork, and although these are not my own preferred means of proceeding, I like it that Diana Wynne Jones’s characters succeed.  Their approach to magic is beautifully matter-of-fact.  People can learn to do magic better, or more specifically, from teachers; but at a fundamental level, and often very successfully, they do it by instinct.  Charmain in House of Many Ways says “Pipes!  Freeze!”, and they do it.

House of Many Ways is about a sheltered girl called Charmain who only wants to sit and read.  Her family sends her to care for the house of her grandfather while he goes away to be healed by the elves.  There are piles and piles of dirty laundry there, and a kitchen full of dirty dishes, and Charmain, without the first idea of how to do regular household chores, settles for reading books and learning how to do magic and helping the king and princess organize their library.  Unlike in most books where the protagonist likes to read and her parents wish she would desist, Charmain’s reading has served her ill in some ways (well, that and her mother’s determination that she should be Privileged).  She’s incapable of doing regular chores like laundry and dishes and cooking, which gives rise to much mockery by a boy called Peter who comes to stay at her grandfather’s house to be his apprentice.

Oh, and Howl and Sophie make an appearance.  And Calcifer.  Howl and Sophie and Calcifer and Morgan all make an appearance.  Though the book is not about them, and I do not feel there is enough of them, they are their usual delightful selves.  More Sophie!  More Sophie and Howl!

Other reviews:

Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog
Becky’s Book Reviews

In more recent news, Enchanted Glass is about a professor called Andrew who inherits a house from HIS grandfather.  Having failed to reach his grandfather in time to get instructions as to how to care for the magical area over which his grandfather held dominion, Andrew has to figure out how to care for it his own self.  His memory is helped by the arrival of a young boy called Aidan, who is running away from Social Workers and scary magical monsters.  There is a cantankerous old neighbor who seems obsessed with barbed-wire fences, Security, and what he calls “counterparts”.  I could have done with more cool glass-related magic, but otherwise I was very happy with it.  The glass is plainly the glass from Deep Secret, by the way – I’m glad she found a use for that glass, which did not get any real (as opposed to theoretical) play in Deep Secret.

Diana Wynne Jones!  I love you!  Live forever!

Other reviews:

Charlotte’s Library

Did I miss yours?  Surely I missed some reviews of Enchanted Glass!  Tell me if I missed yours!

Review: If You Come Softly, Jacqueline Woodson



I particularly hate to say meh when it’s a young-adult book to which I am saying it, because I feel like if I say meh to a young-adult book, I am becoming one of those people who turn up their noses at young adult books and do not pay any attention to YA rock stars like Laurie Halse Anderson and Patrick Ness and, well, and Jacqueline Woodson.  I am not one of those people!  Except that I have only read one of Jacqueline Woodson’s books after hearing about her all over the place, and it was If You Come Softly, and I could have lived without it.

It’s about a Jewish girl and a black boy at a fancy private school, and they fall in love.  There was no single aspect of the book that I disliked.  I thought it was great that Woodson didn’t dive into the pool of forbidden love clichés, with raging, unreasonable parents.  Miah and Ellie were both fully realized characters with fully realized family backgrounds and problems in their lives.  Woodson touches on a lot of YA staples – race, gay characters, divorce, abandonment – without turning the book into a by-the-numbers YA Issue Book.

Still, though: Meh.  Turns out, avoiding pitfalls is not enough to make a book awesome.  I like it that Woodson didn’t get all Romeo-and-Juliet melodrama on us, but I got a bit bored with the quiet, peaceful tone.  I wanted some ACTION.  And when something finally did happen, it was, let us say, unsatisfactory to me.

I have not been reading very much lately.  I reread the first through third Harry Potter books, and I’ve been reading this one book about modern India, but I am stressed about moving, and when I’m stressed, I read fewer new books.  I watched The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Supremacy and then I saw this interview where Matt Damon called James Bond an imperialist misogynistic sociopath, so then I watched him on Inside the Actors Studio to see what other awesome things he would say.  And you know, when I watch one episode of Inside the Actors Studio, I have to watch ten more.  So I have been doing that too.

Other reviews:

Regular Rumination
Rhapsody in Books
Book Addiction
My Friend Amy
Reading in Color
Maw Books Blog
One Librarian’s Book Reviews
You’ve GOTTA Read This!

Tell me if I missed yours!

Review: The Wee Free Men, Terry Pratchett

You know how sometimes you really, really want to like a book?  Because maybe people have suggested it to you with great enthusiasm, and you think they are lovely people, and you don’t want to hurt their feelings by disliking their book?  And also it is a book by a British author full of British humo(u)r, and when you were in England maybe several different people told you that Americans have bad senses of humo(u)r and don’t understand irony, and even though you know those people were absurd and Alanis Morrisette is Canadian, there is still a tiny portion of your brain that wants to continue to prove them wrong by appreciating British humo(u)r wherever you encounter it, even if in this case you find it self-conscious and prone to telegraphing its punch lines a bit?  And you spend maybe half of the book feeling frustrated because it’s not enjoyable in exactly the way you expected it to be not enjoyable, but then after a while you start liking it a bit better and at the end you feel perhaps a little fond of its heroine and you think you might read another?  And you wonder if it’s the same sort of “think you might have another” that happens when you encounter a new cookie that proves ultimately to be addictive and before you know it you’ve eaten twenty of them, or the sort of “think you might have another” where you want to want another so you go ahead and have another even though you are not sure you really want one?

Well, that’s where I’m at on this book.  The Once Upon a Time Challenge this year is turning into the Deeply Ambivalent Challenge for me here.

Reviews by people not overwhelmed by conflicting motives:

Book Lust
Fyrefly’s Book Blog
The Written World WITH Stephanie’s Confessions of a Book-a-holic
Valentina’s Room
Adventures in Reading

Tell me if I missed yours!

Better than Running at Night, Hilary Frank (not properly reviewed because I have news!)

This YA novel, which the lovely trapunto recommended me, is all about going off and doing a new thing (art school), and meeting new people (art people), and growing up.  It explores that opening-up of choices that happens when you leave home, when your world gets bigger in good ways and in bad, and because it is bigger it is hard to navigate.  Growing up into adulthood has turned out to be way more difficult than I anticipated as a kid.  Because I remember when I was little, and grown-ups would go on and on about how I didn’t know how good I had it being a kid, I’d think, Yes, yes, I do too.  I have it very good.  It is fun to be me.  But, see, no.  I was wrong to think they were wrong.  I was going on the fact that I liked childhood.  I completely failed to factor into my calculations that ADULTHOOD SUCKS.

I feel like that wasn’t where I meant to go with this.  I feel like I was heading in a different direction.  Oh, that’s right, I was aiming for hope and possibility.  Missed it by a hair.  On to hope and possibility:

I applied for, and then got, a summer internship!  In the editorial department of an Impressive Academic Press!  Won’t that be good?  I love editing.  I will learn all sorts of new things.  My big sister lives in the Impressive Academic Town where I will be living, which is exciting because she and I have not had high quality extended bonding time for, like, years.  We’re going to get hooked on Damages (it’s about lawyers, Anna!  I am sure we will love it!), and build pillow forts, and see Eclipse, and then, you know, we’ll talk about our goals and dreams and the Supreme Court nominee.  Because that’s what sister bonding is all about.

Review: Remembrance, Theresa Breslin

Once again I am extremely behind on reviews.  I can tell that I am because when I finish a book before going to sleep at night, I chuck it over the side of my bed (carefully, so it lands flat), and right now there are four books piled up next to my bed, and it would be five if I hadn’t returned Remembrance to the library yesterday.  Eek.  But can I just say before I say anything about Remembrance that y’all are awesome and have given me many lovely ideas for fantasy books to read.  And now onward.

This book never got promoted past the loo, I’m afraid, but it nearly did.  I nearly took it up to bed with me one evening, and then I remembered I had The Writer’s Tale up there, and with Doctor Who about to start up again, and The Writer’s Tale talking about Steven Moffat, that proved more tempting than Remembrance.  You can see how that would happen.

Remembrance is about two families of teenage kids in Scotland during World War I.  Wealthy young Charlotte Armstrong-Barnes and John Malcolm Dundas, whose parents are shopkeepers, have fallen in love, but soon John Malcolm must enlist to fight in the war, while Charlotte works at a hospital to feel that she is helping soldiers like John.  John’s sister Maggie grows to resent gender inequality more and more, while little Alex yearns to be old enough to enlist.  Charlotte’s brother Francis believes that the war is unjust, and earns the scorn of many villagers for his failure to participate in it.

When I started Remembrance, I found the writing style clunky, with every character’s motivation spelled out and the emotional beats predictable.  I wanted to stab Charlotte in the eyes, even though poor thing, she wasn’t doing anything wrong, just being a bit insipid.  The book really picked up for me when the point of view shifted more and more away from Charlotte, as that was when it began to explore in more depth the cultural changes that World War I created.  Francis, for instance, opposes the war, and the reader can see why easily, deplore the loss of life, etc.; but when John Malcolm writes of seeing soldiers just coming from the front, and they are saying “It’s only a few inches of dirt, but it’s our dirt”, it’s still moving.  People finding meaning in the meaningless.

My favorite thing was the contrast between Francis’s life and Maggie’s.  As much as she hates the war, and as much as she loses to it, it also opens up Maggie’s life.  The opportunities she has for relationships and meaningful work would not have existed without the war, and Maggie rebels against the idea of having to give it all back when the war ends.  By contrast, the war gives Francis far fewer options for what to do with his life.  As a wealthy young man, he would have been able to do anything had the war not happened.  As it is, he’s shunned for his opposition to the war, and the only socially acceptable choice for him is to participate in it, which he eventually does.  And I think that is interesting.

Other reviews:

things mean a lot
A Comfy Chair and a Good Book

Anyone else?  Did I miss yours?

Review: Gunnerkrigg Court, Tom Siddell

Can this count as part of the mini-challenge where we read graphic novels with animals in?  Animals are not main characters exactly, but they are around, and rather important.  And I didn’t like the other graphic novel I read for the mini-challenge, so I hereby decree Gunnerkrigg Court counts.  So let it be written; so let it be done.

Gunnerkrigg Court is about a girl called Antimony Carver, who goes to live at a boarding school called Gunnerkrigg Court, following the death of her mother.  (Her father is off somewhere doing some sort of we don’t know what he’s doing.)  It is a webcomic that gets updated three times a week, so if you want to read the whole of it from the beginning, you easily can at its website.  I read the first volume in book form (at the recommendation of Bride of the Book God), and the rest of it at the website. It is still going on!  You have not come to it too late to join the webcomic party!  And Gunnerkrigg Court just gets better and better as it goes on!

Boarding school stories are wonderful.  Gunnerkrigg Court follows Antimony, with her magicky powers, and her best friend Kat, with her sciencey wisdom, as they learn more about the school and the world of science and magic around them.  Their parents were at the school before them, doing magic-and-science type things, and Kat and Antimony find out about that too.  Siddell incorporates elements of different mythologies into the world – Antimony, for instance, encounters Muut out of Egyptian mythology and Reynard from Alsace-Lorrain-ian folk tales.  (I remember that because MY PEOPLE were from Alsace-Lorrain, lo these many years ago, so I used to really like the Reynard myths.)

This is the second of two graphic novels I have read recently that reminded me of a particular good things comics can do, that books can’t.  When a comic is released serially, it can deviate from the ordinary narrative of the series, for one or two issues or even loads of them at a time (cf. World’s End, Dream Country, Fables and Reflections) and tell other stories.  These stories can illuminate some other part of the comic’s fictional world, or expand on the themes of the series, or give you the whole thing from a different character’s perspective.  The story about Rudyard Kipling and Oscar Wilde in The Unwritten contributed something to the reader’s understanding of the world, definitely, but it wasn’t directly related to Tom (er, as far as I know).  It was its own separate thing.  Similarly, Gunnerkrigg Court has several chapters that are self-contained stories, looking into characters’ backgrounds, or just letting the characters have some fun.

I guess books can do this – cf. American Gods – but it tends to irritate me, when it’s a book.  I am all, STOP IT.  LET ME GET BACK TO MY STORY.  I am all, WHERE ARE SHADOW AND MR. WEDNESDAY? and I stomp about in a temper.

Other reviews:

Bride of the Book God (thanks for the recommendation!)
Reading Rants

Tell me if I missed yours!

Review: The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien

What do you know?  Life sends such unexpected blessings (and this review contains lots of spoilers).  I reread The Hobbit for the first time since I was small, and didn’t want to stab anybody in the eyes.

Except for the dwarves in the beginning; and then Gandalf throughout because, frankly, who made him the king of the world?  He just gets to decide that Bilbo would be good on an adventure and risk his whole life to get a couple of bags of gold?  When it all works out, Gandalf nods and winks and makes wry comments about how good Bilbo was, but, dude, things could have gone another way.  Bilbo pisses off Smaug rather than intriguing him, you’ve got a dead hobbit on your hands.  I bet Gandalf wouldn’t have done so much wry commenting and winking if that had happened!

The Hobbit is about a little hobbit called Bilbo who mostly likes to sit at home comfortably in his hobbit-hole and drink wine and eat cheese; but he is descended from the family of Took, and the Took in him yearns for adventure.  Gandalf the Wizard senses this (for my feelings on that, see above) and sends him off on an adventure with a pack of dwarves who are questing to take back Thorin the Dwarf’s ancestor’s treasure from Smaug the Dragon, who lives in the Lonely Mountain.  On the way, Bilbo becomes intrepid and brave and clever, and he and the dwarves have all sorts of adventures with spiders and Wargs and Gollum.

The thing about episodic books, of which The Hobbit is one, is that each episode has to really grab you in order to keep you engaged.  Many of the events of The Hobbit don’t matter to the overarching plot, killing the dragon and getting the treasure, except insofar as they all contribute to making Bilbo a little braver.  I like Gollum; I like it when Bilbo cleverly helps his friends to escape the wood-elves; and I like it when Bilbo is chatting to Smaug.  I am neutral on Elrond and the spiders, and on Bilbo’s handling of the Arkenstone.  I do not care for the trolls, the goblin tunnels, the Warg fighting, or the fact that, dude, some random human guy shows up and gets to kill Smaug!

The best thing, to me, was definitely Bilbo himself.  He grows as a character, getting braver and more sure of himself, and ultimately being considered the leader of the expedition, but whatever happens, he is always most interested in getting back to his comfy hobbit-hole.  Towards the end he even kinda sells out Thorin to get himself home faster, which, you know, I understand the sentiment, but I’m not sure I applaud the action.  I am curious to see how he changes between the end of The Hobbit and the start of Lord of the Rings, though.  Having read Lord of the Rings a good seven to eight years after The Hobbit, I remember being confused by references to Bilbo’s backstory.

The Lord of the Rings Readalong continues apace!  Loving the Lord of the Rings Readalong!