October Minireviews

So I find that I not-infrequently read books that I just feel rather “meh” about and they don’t seem worth writing an entire post about.  However, since I also use this blog as a sort of book-review diary, I like to at least say something.  So, inspired by the way that Stephanie reviews the unreviewed every month, I think that some months (or maybe all of them!) will get a post with minireviews of all those books that just didn’t get more than a few paragraphs of feelings from me.

Endless Night by Agatha Christie


//published 1967//

A while back, as a part of my goal to read all of Agatha Christie’s books, I read a couple of the novels she wrote under the name of Mary Westmacott.  I only reviewed Giant’s Breadbut I did skim through two of her other Westmacott novels.  All of them, although well-written, were rather depressing.  On the whole, I read for pleasure, and I don’t find pleasure in being depressed so I gave her other Westmacott novels a miss.

All this to say, much of Endless Night reads as a novel rather than a mystery.  The actual death doesn’t occur until about 3/4 of the way through the book.  The rest is all about the feelings and actions of our narrator, Michael Rogers.  While there is a story throughout, much of the narration is verging on stream-of-consciousness, as Rogers meanders through various tales of his life, usually weaving his way back to the main thrust of the story.  From the beginning, Rogers hints at a disaster involving his wife.  These insinuations lend to the overall feeling of unease throughout the book.

Honestly, for most of the book I felt like it was a 2/5 read for me as it was just a downer and not much was happening, plus I just wasn’t a fan of Rogers, who was a bit of a whiner (also melodramatic; I was really over his sentences like, “Ellie!  Oh Ellie!  If only I had known!”  Pull yourself together, man, geez).  However, that last 25% of the story brought it up to a 3/5 and an overall recommendation, because when Christie decides to actually pull back the curtain and show the reality of what is happening, everything falls into place like magic, and it made me want to reread the whole book and see if I could see where she was going now that I knew the destination.

Dragon on Trial by Tui T. Sutherland and Kari Sutherland (Menagerie #2)


//published 2014//

The sequel to The Menagerie picks up virtually immediately after the conclusion of the first book (as in, like within half an hour).  Like the first book, I thought this was a great middle-school read.  There is lots of action, and the characters are really fun.  This time, Logan, Zoe, and Blue find themselves working with Marco (a were-rooster, so great), who I thought was a hilarious addition to the team.  With griffins, unicorns, mer-people, and more, these books are just great all-around fun.

All in all, this book did a really good job of forwarding the overall plot of the trilogy while still having its own contained story as well.  So while the main thrust of the story (who murdered the goose who lays the golden eggs??) was concluded, the overall theme of someone is sabotaging the Menagerie is still waiting to be tied together in Book 3.

4/5 and recommended.

The Game by Diana Wynne Jones


//published 2007//

This short story was engaging but a bit confusing.  In the end, it turns out that Jones was basically writing about stars/planets/gods as though they were people, which I started to cotton onto about halfway through the tale, but in some ways it felt like the story would have made better sense if Jones’s afterword had been a foreword instead.

The whole concept was great fun.  It’s a short story, so the characters are terribly well developed, but that didn’t make them less likable.  While this was a fun little romp, I actually think that I would find it more interesting to read now that I know from the beginning what characters I am watching for.  3/5 and kind of neutral as far as recommendation or not.

Krakens and Lies by Tui T. Sutherland and Kari Sutherland (Menagerie #3)


//published 2015//

I am actually really sad that it appears like this series is only going to be a trilogy.  It was a lot of fun, and really like the characters and the setting that the Sutherlands have created.

In this book, we finally find out who is sabotaging the Menagerie and why, and also what happened to Logan’s mom.  While I felt like some of the conclusions were a little bit of a stretch, it was all in good fun.  Overall, I felt like this was a really great children’s/middle school series that I would definitely recommend, especially for kids who love animals.  Even though my youngest sister is a bit older than the target age group, I’m still going to give her the first book to read, as I think they’ll appeal to a wide range of ages.

I have to say that one thing that I really liked was that I felt like the characters acted their age.  They are all around 12-13 years old, and it seemed like there was a great balance between them being independent and them needing adult help/supervision.  I loved the way that Logan had a great relationship with his dad, and how Zoe’s family really gets along, even when they have their differences.  Honestly, all the families that we met in this book were loving and supportive of one another, and that was just a delight, especially when so many children’s/YA books act like it’s impossible for young people and their parents to ever relate to one another.  The Sutherlands presented different family shapes, but all with parents/adults who, even if they didn’t completely understand their children, still loved them and had their best interests at the forefront.

All in all, this book – and the series as a whole – is a sturdy 4/5 and definitely recommended for its anticipated age group, as well as anyone who as ever secretly hoped that unicorns and dragons were real.


The Merlin Conspiracy

//by Diana Wynne Jones//published 2003//

merlin_conspiracy_us_hdOkay, so this is totally my new favorite Diana Wynne Jones book!  I thoroughly enjoyed The Merlin Conspiracy.

This book is a sequel to Deep Secretalthough not a strict one – there’s really only one character who overlaps.  Still, I definitely recommend reading Deep Secret first (especially since it was such a fun read, too!).  In these two books, Jones has created a world similar to that in her Chrestomanci books, where there are many worlds, interconnected, that are much like each other.  The really fun part about this is that she can have a Britain that really isn’t anything like the real one, but because it’s similar, you have a good idea of distances and where places are.  (Or at least you probably would if you were from there.  I still have to constantly reference my map!)

The Merlin Conspiracy is told in alternating voices between Roddy and Nick.  Roddy lives in an AU Britain.  Her parents travel with the king all around the country, so Roddy does, too.  Her best friend/young sidekick is Grundo.  Roddy has been sticking up for Grundo for years, and he always manages to tag along with her.  The second voice is Nick, our friend from Deep Secret.  His adventure starts when he gets knocked clean out of our world and into another, with no idea of how to get home.

Both Roddy and Nick are really likable protagonists with distinct voices.  Jones does a great job of weaving together their two stories that, at the beginning, seem to have no connection to each other.

Per usual, the story is also full of rather exasperated individuals who have been swept up into the adventure unwillingly (usually my favorites).  Plus, in this story, we also get a talking elephant, which is a definite bonus.

Jones always seems (to me) to have a tendency to let her stories run away from her a bit, and this one is no different.  There are definitely a few points/wrap-ups that left me basically going “?????” but, in general, this story did a pretty decent job of tying everything together.  And, as always happens when she is really on a roll, Jones did manage to make me not really care if there were a few loose ends, because the overall tale was so enjoyable.

Overall, The Merlin Conspiracy is just an incredibly fun frolic of a story, and one that I highly recommend.  5/5.

Deep Secret

//by Diana Wynne Jones//published 1997//

Deep_Secret_CoverSo it’s been a while since I read a DWJ book, and Deep Secret was an excellent read to jump back in on.  (Wow, terrible grammar.  Oh well.)  In Deep Secret, DWJ again shows her fantastic world-building skills by creating an alternate universe just enough like our own to make you wonder if she is, in fact, writing about an alternate universe, or simply the way it really is.

Rupert is a Magrid.  These powerful magicians are given jurisdiction over various worlds, and are in charge of making sure things happen the way they are “supposed” to.  This way is determined by a group of magic workers/possibly gods/goddesses who live in the Upper Room and make decisions about what all needs to happen throughout the universes.  We start our story with Rupert having a Very Bad Day as he is called to his least favorite world to solve a problem (and doesn’t; things go rather dreadfully) and then returns home only to find out that his friend and mentor is dying.  Not only is Stan’s death sad on a personal level, it means a lot more work for Rupert.  There must be a constant number of Magrids, so the loss of Stan means Rupert is now in charge of finding a replacement.

Frequently, I find DWJ’s stories very confusing or garbled, but Deep Secret really made sense for me.  I found I was able to keep characters straight (mostly), and the  magic made sense, too.  I also really, really liked Rupert, and ended up liking pretty much everyone on Rupert’s team of friends.  Per usual, the villains are quite villainy, and they meet some very strong just desserts in the end.

This is another of DWJ’s “adult” fantasy books, but far more PG than the last one I read (A Sudden, Wild Magic).

Overall, Deep Secret was a 4/5.  It has a loose sequel, The Merlin Conspiracy, that I’m getting ready to start, so I’m pretty excited about that as well, as it really felt like DWJ had created a very intriguing world in Deep Secret.  

Archer’s Goon


by Diana Wynne Jones

Published 1984

So this may be my favorite DWJ book to date.  This was a fun and rollicking story with a family that works together, and a whole troop of annoying enemies (who are also all siblings; I have a thing for sibling groups).  The interactions and dialogue in this story are fantastic, and there were several points where I actually laughed out loud at something particularly ridiculous.

Howard comes home from school one day to find the Goon sitting in his kitchen.  The Goon explains that he’s come to collect 2000 words from Howard’s father because Archer wants them.  Absolutely none of this makes sense to Howard or his sister at the time, but we gradually find out that Howard’s dad, an author, has been “paying” 2000 words to Archer, who “farms” a section of town–and these words are apparently powerful, because Archer isn’t the only who wants them any more.  All of his siblings, who farm the rest of the town (not geographical areas, per se, but departments – utilities, banks, crime, education, etc.) are also trying to get their hands on those words.  When Howard’s dad goes on strike and refuses to produce them, things get a bit…  chaotic.

Summarizing a DWJ plot is a difficult job, so you’ll just have to take my word for it and give a go.  Jones also actually ended this book strongly (in my opinion), which was a fantastic change from many of her other books I’ve read.  As always, her world-building is excellent, especially in this book where it turns out that normal life isn’t so normal after all.  Archer and all of his siblings are written well and Howard’s family is a team that works together throughout the story.

A solid read for fun and relaxation – 4/5.

A Tale of Time City


by Diana Wynne Jones

Published 1987

I really, really enjoyed this Jones novel (definitely more than A Sudden, Wild Magicwhich is the last title of hers I had read).  This book had lots of time travel, which is always fun when done well.  I got a serious Doctor Who vibe off of this book, that definite sense of time being “wibbly wobbly.”  In this story, Vivian is being sent out to the country to avoid the London bombings of WWII.  She’s kidnapped by a young man at the train station – kidnapped right out of time.  She and her kidnappers end up bonding together to try and save time, which is falling apart.

As with so many of Jones’s books, the fun is in the details almost more than the story itself – little snippets of this new and different world.  I loved the idea of time being circular especially.

Overall, I’ve often been disappointed in the endings to Jones’s stories – I feel like they frequently have a fantastic build-up, but then sort of fizzle out at the end.  However, A Tale of Time City felt like a real ending, one with actual conclusions, and I really appreciated that.  I’ve also noticed a tendency of Jones to have the majority of her adults be selfish and cruel, using the children involved for their own ends.  Refreshingly, A Tale of Time City‘s adults mostly made the mistake of not paying close enough attention to what the children were saying – overall, I actually really liked all of the adults involved in the story, which was a really nice change of pace.

This book was an easy 4/5.  It falls short of the full 5 stars because there still felt like some glossed-over wrap-ups at the end, but I can definitely recommend this fun and lively story of time-travel and friendship.

Mini Reviews & Updates

Well, friends, we are finally in our new house, and life is much, much  better.  It also seems to be returning to a more manageable level of chaos.  Yesterday was my first full day just at home working (or, as I call them, Hermit Days :-D) in ages and it was glorious.  While the house will be an ongoing (and going and going and going) project, every step just makes it a bit homier and happier.

So I’ve read a lot of books over the last two months or so since I last posted, and I thought I’d just give some brief thoughts on the ones that I remember.  (Usually, I write books down when I’m done with them, but I didn’t write them all down and now that little book is in a box somewhere so you’ll just have to rely on my memory – ha!)

  • The Protector of the Small series by Tamora Pierce – 4/5 – First Test; Page; Squire; Lady Knight

So I really wanted to write a lot about these books, but I read them at the end of May/beginning of June, and it’s just been too long ago for me to do them full justice.  I had never read anything by Tamora Pierce before, but I enjoyed these books enough to try some more of her stuff, even though there were a lot of things about these stories that irritated me as well.  I really, really liked the main character (Kel?  Right?  Too lazy to look it up, so we’re just going to go with it), who was intelligent, industrious, forthright, and humble.  I also enjoyed the stories themselves.  The battles were interesting without unnecessarily gory descriptions (usually).  The writing was excellent and the stories were well-paced.

As for dislikes, those always stick out in the memory more, right?  So I may list more of them than positives, but my overall feel for this series was good, so don’t be fooled lol.

First off, there is apparently a series that takes place about ten years before this series starts, and in that series a girl isn’t allowed to be a page/squire/knight, so this girl pretends to be a boy so she can be those things.  (I haven’t actually read this series; this is what I gleaned from reading the Protector of the Small series.)  Somewhere along the line everyone is like, What this chick is awesome!  So they change the law so that girls can be knights, too.  All well and good, right?  Except Protector of the Small is ten years later and in all that time not a single girl has signed up to be a page.  So when Kel does, everyone flips out.  I’m sorry, but first off, really?  In ten years, in the entire kingdom, no other girl was ever interested?  And secondly, in ten years you didn’t have time to adjust yourselves to the fact that a girl could, in fact, be a knight?  But no, everyone has to be all freaking out about this and it’s this huge deal and in fact the whole first book is about Kel’s first year as a page and she’s on probation just because she’s a girl (even though the law says she can be a page) etc etc etc.  To add to the nonsensicalness of this is the fact that loads of women are doing all sorts of other “non-traditional” things, including other types of soldiers, so everyone making a big deal about a girl studying to be a knight just doesn’t really seem to flow with the world-building, and left me feeling irritated (frequently) because all it did was (purposefully) lead to lots of opportunities for conversations about how Girls Can Do Whatever They Want Because They Are Mighty and whatever.  It wouldn’t have bothered me if this series had taken place say, two years after the law or something a bit more reasonable, or if women didn’t do anything other than sit and knit in this world, but neither of those things were true, and so the whole fuss just seemed out of proportion to what was going on.

The second big thing was that Kel is so young when it starts.  She’s ten and she knows all these awesome battle techniques?  The whole series would have made way more sense if Kel was 2-4 years older the entire way through.  Because she’s so young in the first book, she’s still really young when she becomes a squire and we’re suddenly having conversations about using protection if you decide you want to have sex even though you’re only fourteen but even though I’m your mother not a single part of my conversation with you is going to be about how sex is more than a physical act and there is plenty of time ahead of you for these things and oh hey if you get it wrong you end up with a baby so it’s okay that the message I’m giving to younger readers is that sex is 100% A-OK as long as you have protection of some kind have fun!  Excuse me!?

Third and final for this mini-review that is turning into a medium review (although I am talking about four books at once so) is that throughout the stories these various battles are going on against various people, and then there is an actual war going on, and then at the end of the fourth book there’s no real conclusion at all to the bigger picture of what’s going on in the world, and that was a little frustrating to me.  The series just kind of petered out without any real wrap-up.

There were other things, like unnecessary references to Kel’s having a period, some random deaths in Squire that seemed completely out of place, and some over-the-top bullying.  Even though I’ve spent way longer griping about these books than praising them, I really did enjoy them, and really do want to read more of Pierce’s work.  While they’re a bit humorless for me, they were still enjoyable and engaging reads.

  • The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet by Bernie Su and Kate Rorick – 3/5

I totally watched The Lizzie Bennet Diaries as they unfolded on YouTube, and was intrigued to check out the book (from the library, of course :-D).  Short story: if you enjoyed the series, you’ll probably enjoy the book.  It would be fun to read the book and watch the episodes in tandem, but I don’t have that kind of time.  I will say that (spoiler) in the book, we get more details about the Jane/Bing relationship, and it did seem quite out-of-character to me that Jane and Bing would be sleeping together after such a short friendship, and that did bother me a bit, but overall the book added some fun  background to what was appearing “publicly” on the videos, and that was a lot of fun.

  • Bachelors Anonymous by P.G. Wodehouse – 4/5

If you’re feeling stressed, you should read a Wodehouse.  There’s a quote from someone that appears quite frequently on the front cover of Wodehouse books that says something along the lines of “It’s impossible to feel sad while reading Wodehouse,” and that’s really close to true.  Even his weaker stories (like, honestly, this one) are absolutely hilarious.  In this story, the concept of a Bachelors Anonymous club that helps keep its various members out of entanglements with females, is enough to give the story its own flavor, even though all the usual Wodehouse ploys are in play.

  • Borrower of the Night by Elizabeth Peters – 4/5

I enjoyed the Amelia Peabody series so much that I’ve had to make myself be patient and wait a bit before starting the Vicky Bliss series, just to prove that I have some semblance of self-control.  I have heard rumors that at some point in the Vicky Bliss series, reference is made to the Emersons, so I’m excited to see if that’s true.  Borrower of the Night was actually the first Elizabeth Peters book I ever read.  My aunt had a copy that I remember reading when I was probably 12 or 13, and honestly too young to really understand a lot of what was going on.  The story is told from Vicky’s first-person narrative, and she is, to say it bluntly, a tall and buxom woman of high intelligence, and I think that I was confused by a lot of her oblique references to her curves, powers of attraction, and sleeping with Tony.  As an adult, I understood the story (and oblique references) much better!  Vicky isn’t nearly as entertaining a narrator as Amelia, but she’s still quite believable, and Borrower of the Night is full of dark passageways, lost diaries, and seances, making it a great deal of fun.

One thing I love about Peters in general is her ability to not use a lot of foul language.  So many books in general and mysteries in particular that I read that are being currently published seem to substituted a lot of swearing in place of actual witty and useful dialogue.  Peters manages to without, leading to a cleaner narrative without losing the supposed “emotional impact” or “true to life language” that swearing is supposed to bring.  Take this brilliant sentence:

“It’s that Nolan,” said Tony, adding a few qualifying adjectives.  “Do you know what that rat said to me today?”

The phrase “a few qualifying adjectives” entertains me to no end.  Without actually writing any swear words at all, we know exactly what Tony is saying, and I love it.

Overall, this book was great fun, and I’m super excited about reading the rest of the series.  It’s not nearly as along as the Peabody/Emerson series – only six or seven titles – but it should be a good time.

  • Black and Blue Magic by Zilpha Keatley Snyder – 3/5

A while back, I reread The Velvet Room by the same author (the link takes you back to the old tumblr blog, by the way), one of my childhood favorites, and still a classic that I try to read every couple of years.  More recently, I was suddenly struck by the fact that I have quite a few books (like that one) wherein I loved them as as child, but have never bothered to find out what else the author wrote.  As an adult, with access to GoodReads and the library and Amazon, I find and devour every book written by every author I love, but some of those childhood favorites have yet to be explored.  Most recently, I’ve read The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg, who wrote my much-beloved childhood favorite The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and it was an instant hit. That inspired me, and I added the rest of Konigsburg’s books to my TBR, along with a few other childhood loves, including Zilpha Keatley Snyder.

All that to say (I really am a genius for taking an entire paragraph to add nothing of import to a review), Black and Blue Magic was my first Snyder book beyond The Velvet Room.  I really enjoyed it, but it lacked the depth and emotion that The Velvet Room always offers to me.  Still, this was one of those delightful stories where no one is a bad guy, where lessons are learned through relatively harmless mistakes, and where everyone ends as a better person than they were in the beginning.  Books like these are like warm, fluffy blankets, and they are the stories that kids ought to be reading in school.  Black and Blue Magic is about a somewhat-clumsy boy who, through an act of kindness to a stranger, is granted a special magic – wings.  (But only when he wants them!)  Harry is such a lovable kid – helpful and sweet, loves his  mother, and all while still sounding and acting like a real boy.

Actually, probably my biggest turn-off for this book was the illustrations.  I honestly try to avoid books with illustrations a lot because they mess up the pictures in my head and ruin them forever.  (The most tragic is the copy of Rose in Bloom that I read as a child – I know that Mac does not look at all like that picture, but he keeps showing up in my head that way, and it is so frustrating!)  The pen-and-ink drawings by Gene Holton make Mr. Mazeeck look like a strange alien and Harry not at all like someone whose last name is Marco.  Sometimes I wonder if illustrators really read the story…?????

Overall, though, this was a sweet and charming little story that would be an excellent read for 9-12 year-olds.

  • A Sudden, Wild Magic by Diana Wynne Jones – 3/5

This is not a children’s or YA book, but most definitely adult.  Having only read Jones’s books for younger readers before, that was a bit of an adjustment.  Nothing explicit, but just the overall tone of the  book is grown-up, with grown up problems and drama.  While a good story, and one that felt like it actually had an ending (unlike many of her other books), there was nothing about this book that really captured me.  When I was reading it, I enjoyed it, but rarely yearned for it when I wasn’t reading, which is unusual for her books (they usually have this sort of addictive quality that I can’t explain).  I really felt like a lot of the characters were not well-developed, and I was frequently startled when a character would act the way it did – instead of creating characters, it felt almost like she was using puppets that she had do whatever she wanted whenever she needed them to do it.  This was probably exasperated by the fact that there were so many people in this story that it was hard to keep everyone straight, especially since she may refer to them by name at one point, and then by what the other group thought of them at another (e.g., by name of Zillah, but then as “the pretty one” from the POV of those who don’t know her name), which really added to the already-complicated list of characters.  In short, while not a terrible book, this was a pretty solid 3.

  • The rest of the Daisy Dalrymple mysteries

There were about 5-6 titles that hadn’t been printed when I last read through the series, so it was a lot of fun to get to ones I hadn’t read.  Overall, the series was a lot of really happy cozy mysteries.  I love the main characters, Daisy and Alec, and enjoyed watching their little family grow and bond.  I was consistently entertained (as I always am when I read books set in that era) over how everyone has servants.  Even before she was married, Daisy and her flat-mate had a housekeeper who came to do the “heavy” cleaning for them – and they go on and on about how broke they were, living on sardines, etc.  But they still have a servant!  Anyway, the fact that Daisy, solidly middle-class, has a housekeeper, a cook, a maid, a nanny, and a nanny’s assistant, blows my mind.  No wonder she has time to gallivant about discovering dead bodies!

As with any series of this length (around 20 titles now, I think), there were some good and some weak.  For instance, I really enjoyed the characters and story of Anthem for Doomed Youth, especially the way that Alec’s mystery was running parallel to Daisy’s, but the (current) final title, Heirs of the Body, was really just a terrible mystery, one that I had solved from the outset, and one that delivered absolutely nothing in way of a twist.  Heirs of the Body is obviously freshest in my mind, so I’ll add that in that book I was confused by Alec’s behavior – he is usually respectful and patient of Daisy, but in this book he was frequently short-tempered and abrupt, dismissing and cutting her off in a way that seemed completely out of the character that’s been developed for him over the rest of the series, a trend that I found quite distressing, as I’m very fond of Alec.

Still, overall the series is fairly solid.  While they lack the depth of the Cadfael books (still my all-time favorite mysteries), and definitely aren’t as engaging as the Amelia Peabody books or even most of Hercule Poirot’s adventures, they’re fun and fluffy cozy mysteries.

  • Sophie’s Heart by Lori Wick – 3/5

Spontaneously purchased this second-hand the other day (because when one is in the midst of moving a thousand books, one feels the urge to add to said collection).  Wick wrote one of my favorite relaxation romances, The Princessbut overall her works are a mixed bag for me.  Her historical novels are, honestly, rather terrible, as they are completely modern language and action set in historical times wearing costumes, but her modern novels are sometimes good.  Sophie’s Heart was a pleasant and happy read, but ran tooooo long (another problem I frequently  have with Wick).  Still, I really liked Sophie and the Riley family, and while this book held absolutely zero surprises (young intelligent beautiful immigrant woman goes to work as a housekeeper for young widower with three children what in the world will happen next?!), everything moved along pleasantly and relaxingly (new word), making it a very nice oh-hey-I’m-actually-supposed-to-be-unpacking-but-I’ll-read-for-just-five-minutes kind of book.  Like all of Wick’s books, it’s rather long on religion, but her characters are honest and engaging, and the religious aspect feels honest and realistic instead of coming off as overtly preachy.


Well, my friends, that went on way longer than I was expecting to – and I’m sure there are more that I’ve read recently but just aren’t coming to mind!  Hopefully, as I said, life will be settling back into some semblance of a new normalcy, and regular book reviewing can resume!  I’ve missed being more engaged in the book-reading community on WordPress and am excited about getting back into the groove!  :-D

The Lives of Christopher Chant



by Diana Wynne Jones

Published 1988

In this installment of her Chrestomanci books, Jones goes back in time.  Her earlier books (Charmed Life and The Magicians of Caprona) have the same Chrestomanci (which is a title, or office, not a proper name), Christopher Chant.  In this book, we learn much more about Christopher’s childhood and how he came to be Chrestomanci.  I’ve had several people tell me that this is their favorite of the Chrestomanci books, and I have to say that I really enjoyed it.

Per usual, Jones is brilliantly creative.  The entire premise of the Chrestomanci books – that there are many parallel worlds, created whenever a major decision could have gone two different ways (one world for each way the decision could have gone) – is fantastic.  It gives her so much freedom to have a world similar yet slightly different to ours.  Throughout the entire book, I found myself constantly being surprised by yet another intriguing premise (in a good way).  The story moves right along.  Even though this is the first book chronologically, I am trying to read them in published order (although I somehow accidentally skipped Witch Week, whoops!), and I do think that Christopher Chant was more enjoyable and interesting because I had read two of the other books (and actually several short stories from Mixed Magics, which I haven’t reviewed yet, as well).

Negatives for me are similar to what they usually are for Jones.  First off, she very rarely writes a good adult.  And I don’t mean “good” in the sense of “well-written” – I mean good – an adult who is unselfish and actually cares about the children in the story.  She pretty consistently writes adults who are self-centered and who use the children around them to further their own ends.  After a while, this begins to wear on me.  These are books written about children, for children, and I feel that the constant message that no adult is to be trusted really isn’t a positive one in the long run.  In Jones’s books (the ones I’ve read, anyway), children are brilliant and clever and adults are bumbling and silly at best and selfish and cruel at worst.  And while I realize that this is part of the appeal of her books for many younger readers, it just isn’t true and I don’t think it’s a healthy message.

My second negative is that, sometimes, I feel like she crosses a line into something rather gruesome.  For instance, early in the book, young Christopher meets and befriends some mermaids.  We don’t really learn their names or anything like that, but we know that they talked with him and were obviously intelligent beings.  Later, we find that these mermaids have been murdered and harvested for their parts (!!!!!) and that just seems a bit extreme to me.

But still, overall, I loved this book – it was exciting and interesting, and I loved the way that it tied into other aspects of the Chrestomanci series (especially the Goddess!).  A fun, solid read – 4/5.

The Magicians of Caprona

by Diana Wynne Jones

Published 1980

In this next installment of the loosely-connected “Chrestomanci” series, Jones takes us to an AU Italy:

The World of Chrestomanci is not the same as this one.  It is a world parallel to ours, where magic is as normal as mathematics, and things are generally more old-fashioned.  in Chrestomanci’s world, Italy is still divided into numbers of small States, each with its own Duke and capital city.  In our world, Italy became one united country long ago.

The story, with a Romeo and Juliet undertone, focuses on two great magical families in Caprona:  the Petrocchis and the Montanas.  Generations ago, a rift occurred between these families, and they have been bitter enemies ever since.  With the rise of an evil magic, the two houses must decide whether or not they can set aside their differences.  The great Chrestomanci may be the only one who can make them see how necessary it is for them to work together.

This book’s storyline seemed to hang together much better than some of Jones’s other books I’ve read in the past (or maybe I’m just getting more used to her writing style).  I greatly enjoyed the large and boisterous families.  Excitable, noisy, and fiercely loyal, she wrote about them in a way that easily created a background of a family even larger than the specific individuals of the story’s focus.

Quiet Tonino was immediately lovable as well.

To Tonino, reading a book soon became an enchantment above any spell.  He could never get enough of it.  He ransacked the Casa Montana and the Public Library, and he spent all his pocket money on books. … And the best book would be about the unimaginable situation where there were no spells.  For Tonino preferred fantasy.  In his favorite books, people had wild adventures with no magic to help or hinder them.

Such a simple twist of ideas, a world wherein “fantasy” books mean the characters have no magic, but brilliant.

The villain of this story was honestly quite a bit terrifying to me, someone just so ruthless and cruel.  But that, combined with the fact that Jones actually has no compunctions about killing off anyone and everyone in her stories, added quite a bit of zing to the story.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Magicians of Caprona.  The Chrestomanci books are shaping up to be some of my favorites of hers, and I am looking forward to reading the rest.  4/5.

Charmed Life



by Diana Wynne Jones

Published 1977

So I’m afraid that my reading (and thus this blog) has been in a bit of a rut lately …  frankly, I’ve cheated a bit on my usual rotation because I’ve been enjoying the Amelia Peabody books so much that keep skipping over the boring looking books so I can get to the next Peabody story!  That, combined with the fact that I’ve also read several Pride & Prejudice variations/sequels that were so dreadful/fanfictionish that I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve read them, means that this blog has been a tad repetitive.  And while that trend will likely continue (because let’s face it, I read basically the same types of books all the time), I’ve branched out a bit by starting Diana Wynne Jones’s “Chrestomanci” series.

This is a series that I’ve been meaning to read for quite some time (pretty much every since I found out about Jones about a year ago when I read Fire & Hemlock).  The problem is that everyone seems to have a different opinion on the order in which the books should be read.  Some people are adamant that they be read chronologically.  Others are just as determined that they only be read in published order.  Some people are ambivalent, saying that they can be read in any order – except you have to read first (there are multiple opinions one which book is).  I just couldn’t decide how to do it!

In the end, I ran into someone on tumblr who convinced me to go with the published order, mainly because we got into a passionate discussion about the injustice of the Chronicles of Narnia being republished in chronological rather than original published order; we agree that this is a terrible, terrible decision, and we both spend time thrusting The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe into people’s hands and demanding that they read it before reading The Magician’s Nephew no matter what the numbers on the spine say.

ALL THAT TO SAY that Charmed Life is the first-published of the Chrestomanci books, and so I read it first.

The other problem I have with reading/reviewing Jones’s books in general is that she has an almost cult following.  I’ve discovered over the years that I’m simply not clever.  I read books and more or less take away the actual story from them.  But extrapolating theories and making insightful and subtle connections – not my thing.  (Case in point: I have been mocked by multiple people online for my personal indifference towards the A Series of Unfortunate Events books.  I just didn’t “get” them.  No one ever bothers to explain what it is that I haven’t gotten, but I’m apparently incredibly obtuse for not getting what I’m supposed to get, because while I appreciated the intriguing writing style, the point of those books is just beyond me.)  So sometimes, while I enjoy Jones’s stories and characterization, I find her endings a bit abrupt and disappointing.  But I’m scared to say so because the entire We-Love-Diana-Wynne-Jones-Club jumps all over me for my inability to “get” her writing (tumblr, I’m mostly talking to you).  Ah well.  I guess what I’m saying is – reading is about opinions and is incredibly subjective, so if I decide I do or don’t like one of Jones’s books, please don’t let that take away from your ability to enjoy (or not) what she’s written.

Wow, this is a really long entry that, thus far, hasn’t actually reviewed a book!  Gracious.

So.  Charmed Life.  It was a good book and I liked it.  I found Gwendolyn to be above-and-beyond disturbing.  She gave me the legit creeps, and while I could somewhat understand Cat’s love for her, since she was his sister, etc., I couldn’t really understand why he continued to yearn to have her back even after discovering how she had used and abused him.  Consequently, Cat kind of got on my nerves.

The concept, however, that every time there’s a major battle or decision or whatever, that another world is created that has the opposite result, so that there are multiple worlds all similar yet different – I love that idea.  It’s perfect, and it gives Jones the ability to write about a world that is a lot-but-not-exactly-like our own.

Overall a strong 4/5, and I’m really looking forward to the rest of the series (I’ve only read The Magicians of Caprona so far).

House of Many Ways



by Diana Wynne Jones

Published 2008

In this sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle (following, it appears, Castle in the Air),  a young girl heads off to house-sit for a relation (by marriage) whom she has never met.  Of course, it turns out that the relation is a wizard and his house is, to say the least, a bit unusual.  As with Castle in the Air, old friends return (Howl is, if possible, even more annoying in this book than the first) and complicated plot twists abound.

While I really enjoyed this book, I will say that the villain, a strange creature whose name I can’t remember, really gave me the weirds, as it reproduces by inserting its eggs into innocent passersby (usually they are not even aware that this has happened).  If the egg-host happens to be male, the young hatch from the eggs and kill the host while emerging (!?!?!?) and if the egg-host is female, she gives birth in a  normal fashion, except instead of having a baby, she has a humanoid version of this creature.  And there’s just something about having some strange monster lay eggs in you when you don’t even know it that seems extra gross to me.  So I didn’t like that.

But the humor was strong and the dialogue delightful.  And, per usual when reading a Jones book, I could barely put it down.  4/5.