Tag Archives: diana wynne jones

Books in May ’13

May turned out to be busier than anticipated. My intention was to catch up with reading and get through 13 books. I wasn’t supposed to be working yet, so that wasn’t supposed to be a problem: well, not all things go according to plan. I’ve been working since the beginning of the month. But I still managed nine books. That would have been ten if I hadn’t had a surprise shift today.

There was some unpleasant paper stuff that I needed to take care for university as well, but that is now more or less sorted.

What with all the work, now that my only co-worker got sick leave on the busiest weekend in all spring, I was hard pressed to get this post out at all. So you guys better enjoy it!

John Scalzi: Redshirts

Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union since the year 2456. It’s a prestige posting, and Andrew is thrilled all the more to be assigned to the ship’s Xenobiology laboratory.

Life couldn’t be better…until Andrew begins to pick up on the fact that (1) every Away Mission involves some kind of lethal confrontation with alien forces, (2) the ship’s captain, its chief science officer, and the handsome Lieutenant Kerensky always survive these confrontations, and (3) at least one low-ranked crew member is, sadly, always killed.

Not surprisingly, a great deal of energy below decks is expended on avoiding, at all costs, being assigned to an Away Mission. Then Andrew stumbles on information that completely transforms his and his colleagues’ understanding of what the starship Intrepid really is…and offers them a crazy, high-risk chance to save their own lives.

(Goodreads)

I have no idea why I’ve been putting this book off. I really enjoyed it. Without spoiling much, I can say it is hilarious and emotional and so meta I’m surprised I liked it, but I did. It’s a quick read, written in a light style, and accessible to people with a rather limited acquaintance with science fiction television like myself.

Just… go grab it. It’s really worth it.

Published: 2012

Pages: 314 (Tor hardback)

Agatha Christie: Elephants Can Remember

Hercule Poirot is determined to solve an old husband and wife double murder that is still an open verdict! Hercule Poirot stood on the cliff-top. Here, many years earlier, there had been a tragic accident. This was followed by the grisly discovery of two more bodies — a husband and wife — shot dead. But who had killed whom? Was it a suicide pact? A crime of passion? Or cold-blooded murder? Poirot delves back into the past and discovers that ‘old sin can leave long shadows

(Goodreads)

For a practiced reader, even one of only my experience, the clues in this one were fairly obvious. The general feeling I got was that this book was produced in a hurry – at times it read like drafts and bits that had been forgotten in. I did enjoy it, nonetheless, and am looking forward to the movie that will air June 9th!

Published: 1972

Pages: 256 (Harper Collins facsimile edition 2009)

Patricia Highsmith: The Talented Mr Ripley

Since his debut in 1955, Tom Ripley has evolved into the ultimate bad boy sociopath, influencing countless novelists and filmmakers. In this first novel, we are introduced to suave, handsome Tom Ripley: a young striver, newly arrived in the heady world of Manhattan in the 1950s. A product of a broken home, branded a “sissy” by his dismissive Aunt Dottie, Ripley becomes enamored of the moneyed world of his new friend, Dickie Greenleaf. This fondness turns obsessive when Ripley is sent to Italy to bring back his libertine pal but grows enraged by Dickie’s ambivalent feelings for Marge, a charming American dilettante. A dark reworking of Henry James’s The Ambassadors, The Talented Mr. Ripley—immortalized in the 1998 film starring Matt Damon, Jude Law, and Gywneth Paltrow—is an unforgettable introduction to this debonair confidence man, whose talent for self-invention and calculated murder is chronicled in four subsequent novels.

(Goodreads)

I watched the movie first, and, frankly, liked that better than the novel; it was more complicated and the ending so heart-breaking I was upset for a good few hours afterwards. My notes say, ‘fairly nice, although nothing spectacular’. Highsmith’s style is a bit on the heavy side, and reading this relatively slim novel took me a surprisingly long time (granted, I did most of the reading at work). I found Tom Ridley to be an interesting character, and the workings of his mind were fascinating to follow. I’m not sure if I’ll look to the sequels, but I might, some day.

Published: 1955

Pages: 249 (Vintage 1999 edition)

Gillian Gill: Agatha Christie

A little too heavy on the summaries of some of the novels, but at the same time I must give credit where credit is due – only a few endings were spoiled, and Gill warned of that in the introduction. Fortunately for me, I have seen the screen adaptations of the ones with spoilers, so they were not really even spoilers to me.

This biography is nice and concise, and the major focus is on the effect Christie’s life had on her writing. I did like the way it is divided to chapters, but am not so sure about the composition. I’m fond of a more linear approach.

Published: 1990

Pages: 208 (plus notes)

Mika Waltari: Tanssi yli hautojen

As regards this blog, this book is a bit problematic. What I know of my own readership (and I realise that is very little), it doesn’t include too many Finns – and Tanssi yli hautojen has not been translated into English. But I did read it, so I want to discuss it, and therefore I’ll do my best to explain it.

Mika Waltari (1908–1979) is one of the best-known Finnish authors, and his best-known work in Finland as well as internationally is The Egyptian (orig. Sinuhe egyptiläinen). It’s impossible to find a list of Books You Must Read Before You Die without having The Egyptian in it, not in this country. Having said that, I haven’t actually read it. Tanssi yli hautojen (lit. trans. Dance over Graves) is my first proper experience of Waltari, except for some short stories and the Komisario Palmu (Inspector Palmu) films.

Tanssi yli hautojen is about the romance between Tsar Alexander I of Russia and a Finnish bourgeoisie girl, Ulla Möllersvärd. This is a fact of history: the two met when Alexander came to the Diet of Porvoo in 1809. In this diet, it was decided that Finland was not to be directly a part of Russia, but could keep the old laws and ways, as well as have autonomy. Waltari describes the anticipation and the resentment the Finns felt towards the Russians, as well as the cultural differences Alexander observes when he crosses the border.

I just thoroughly enjoyed this book. It’s charming and made me giddy on several occasions, and I look forward to reading it again sometime. Maybe even writing my minor thesis on it?

Published: 1944

Pages: 282 (WSOY 2009)

Mary Balogh: A Summer to Remember

Kit Butler, Viscount Ravensberg, is cool, dangerous and fast becoming one of London’s most notorious rakehells – and marriage is the last thing on his mind. But Kit’s family has other plans. Desperate to thwart his father’s matchmaking, Kit needs a bride fast. Enter Miss Laure Edgeworth. A year after being abandoned at the altar, Lauren has determined that marriage is not for her. When these two fiercely independent souls meet, sparks fly – and a deal is hatched.

Lauren will masquerade as Kit’s intended if he agrees to provide a passionate, adventurous, unforgettable summer. When the summer ends, she will break off the engagement rendering herself unmarriageable and leaving them both free. Everything is going perfectly – until Kit does the unthinkable and begins to fall in love. A summer to remember is not enough for him. But how can he convince Lauren to be his, for better, for worse, and for the rest of their lives?

(Piatkus 2010 back cover)

I really liked this one. The hero is likeable, the heroine is more or less sensible, and their relationship progresses not in an absolute rush but at a nice pace that’s not so fast as to be unbelievable but fast enough to keep the book going without too long gaps.

An excellent read for the summer months, if you like romance! There are also other books revolving around the characters mentioned in this book, and I’m actually rather curious to see Freyja Bedwyn’s story, as I disliked her a whole lot in this one.

Published: 2002

Pages: 376 (Piatkus 2010)

Julia Quinn: An Offer from A Gentleman

As the illegitimate daughter of the Earl of Penwood, Sophie Beckett has never been accepted in polite society. And since her father’s untimely death, her step-mother has made her life doubly hard, forcing her to work as an unpaid servant. Sophie’s days are pure drudgery, until one night her fellow servants conspire to help her attend the Bridgerton masquerade ball.

There she meets her very own Prince Charming, handsome Benedict Bridgerton and falls head over heels in love. Benedict is equally smitten, but when the clock strikes midnight Sophie is forced to flee the ballroom, leaving only her glove in his hand…

(Piatkus 2011 back cover)

Not too keen on this one – it was nice, but as usual in Quinn the main conflict gets solved too early for good dramatic effect. The end, I admit, was very sweet! The dialogue is a bit dramatic though, and the Cinderella adaptation was a bit too obvious, especially considering how it got abandoned halfway through the novel.

Also, I’m miffed that I don’t think I figured out who Miss Whistledown is and therefore there’s nothing to it but to read the whole Bridgerton series. (Not that I’m complaining.)

Published: 2001

Pages: 358 (Piatkus 2011)

Diana Wynne Jones: Charmed Life

Cat doesn’t mind living in the shadow of his sister, Gwendolen, the most promising young witch ever seen on Coven Street. But trouble starts brewing the moment the two orphans are summoned to live in Chrestomanci Castle. Frustrated that the witches of the castle refuse to acknowledge her talents, Gwendolen conjures up a scheme that could throw whole worlds out of whack.

(Goodreads)

I do love Diana Wynne Jones, but I do not care for children as main characters. This was a slight problem with this first novel in her Chrestomaci series, as the main character is decidedly a child. The Chrestomanci himself is an interesting character, and if someone can promise me there is more of him in the subsequent books in the series I’ll be happy to read them as well. Actually, reading the other books is a good idea in another respect as well: the proper story seems to start at the very end of this novel, which annoyed me a great deal.

Tim Stevens’s illustrations must be mentioned. The edition I got from the library had a less than appealing cover, but the chapter illustrations made everything better!

Published: 1977

Pages: 267 (Collins Modern Classics 2001)

Mark Lawrence: King of Thorns

The second book in the Broken Empire series, Lawrence takes his young anti-hero one step closer to his grand ambition.

To reach greatness you must step on bodies, and many brothers lie trodden in my wake. I’ve walked from pawn to player and I’ll win this game of ours, though the cost of it may drown the world in blood…

The land burns with the fires of a hundred battles as lords and petty kings fight for the Broken Empire. The long road to avenge the slaughter of his mother and brother has shown Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath the hidden hands behind this endless war. He saw the game and vowed to sweep the board. First though he must gather his own pieces, learn the rules of play, and discover how to break them.

A six nation army, twenty thousand strong, marches toward Jorg’s gates, led by a champion beloved of the people. Every decent man prays this shining hero will unite the empire and heal its wounds. Every omen says he will. Every good king knows to bend the knee in the face of overwhelming odds, if only to save their people and their lands. But King Jorg is not a good king.

Faced by an enemy many times his strength Jorg knows that he cannot win a fair fight. But playing fair was never part of Jorg’s game plan.

(Goodreads)

Finally had the chance to read this!

As with Prince of Thorns, I would be hard pressed to tell you what exactly happens during the course of the novel. The realisation that I don’t know bothered me for a while, until I came to the conclusion that it is because of the same reason that keeps me from actually understanding what happens in Hannu Rajaniemi’s novels: I get distracted by the prose. It doesn’t even matter much what happens, when I can have beautiful sentences that sound good in my head.

Having said that, I was confused by the mixture of past and present whenever they were in the same chapter. The time layers were a bit hard to follow, especially while distracted by beautiful words, and I kind of wish there had been more line breaks to signal time change.

Things I like about this novel include the older Jorg, whom I find to be more approachable, and, as with Prince, the way the novel’s old world – our world – is referred to. It makes me giddy every time I spot a word that looks weird but sounds terribly familiar, like “dena” and the cemetery.

The intensity got really high towards the end, and I was absolutely blown away. I kid you not, I gasped out loud on the bus and then kept grinning like a maniac.

I can’t wait for Emperor of Thorns. I also have a budding hope Lawrence would write a female main character next, as I enjoy Katherine a whole lot!

Published: 2012

Pages: 597

Books bought:

Again, no picture, because I was an idiot and left my camera in the country. Instead I’ll just tell you, although I’m not sure anymore what I got and when. But let’s try.

Agatha Christie: At Bertram’s Hotel

Appointment with Death

After the Funeral

Mika Waltari: Tanssi yli hautojen

Margaret C. Sullivan: The Jane Austen Handbook: A Sensible Yet Elegant Guide to Her World

Currently reading:

Jonathan L. Howard: Johannes Cabal the Necromancer (and enjoying it very much indeed)

That’s all for me for this month! I doubt I’ll be posting much during the summer ­– as I said, work keeps things hectic. I’ve abandoned Project Christie, and the only immediate plan of anything but regular monthly posts is the Finncon report, which hopefully I can manage!

Happy beginning of summer, everyone!

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Books in December ’12

Hello everyone! ‘Tis time for the last monthly post of 2012. Christmas break ensured I managed to read a little more, which I thoroughly enjoyed, although I didn’t repeat last years all-night reading sessions. It makes me wonder whether I’m slowly starting to get old, but I keep telling myself it’s because I have to keep some sort of respectable sleep cycle going on, since I start research for my candidate’s essay pretty much as soon as the year turns. You’ll be hearing more about that later.

There is one thing I’ve neglected to do. Felix nominated me for the Very Inspiring Blog Award at the beginning of the month, and I even wrote the post, but never got around to finishing it, let alone publishing it. I will try my best to get it done during January! Thank you, Felix! ❤

And so on to business!

Sgt Dan Mills: Sniper One

Iraq, 2004. Sgt. Dan Mills and the rest of the 1st Battalion, The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, were supposed to be winning hearts and minds. They were soon fighting for their lives…

Within hours of the battalion’s arrival in Iraq, a grenade bounced off one of their Land Rovers, rolled underneath, and detonated. The ambush marked the beginning of a full-scale firefight during which Mills killed a man with a round that removed his assailant’s head.

The mission had already gone from bad to worse. Throat-burning winds, blast bombs, and militias armed with AKs, RPGs, and a limitless supply of mortar rounds were the icing on the cake for Mills and his men. For the next six months–isolated, besieged, and under constant fire–their battalion refused to give an inch. This is the “breathtaking true chronicle of their endurance, camaraderie, dark humor, and courage in the face of relentless, lethal assault.”

(Goodreads)

Holy cow.

I’m more or less ignorant of what happened or is happening in Iraq, mostly because I don’t do politics, religion or war too well. This book explained some things, and I now feel like I have an inkling. Well, at least of what went on in Al Amarah.

What I most loved about this book is the great ratio of explaining and action. It’s perfectly suited for those of us who know next to nothing about modern warfare. Mills explains clearly what snipers do, what acronyms and codes mean, how things work when you’re posted out. The initial reason I picked this book up was for research on snipers, and boy, did I learn a boatload of important things! And it was engaging, too! Learning history is easier when it’s well written and feels like a story. Trust me, you’ll find affection for all the guys introduced. (Except maybe Gilly.)

My warmest recommendations. So engaging, so interesting, so well written for a description of war. I see I need to get more into this genre. And I’m definitely get my own copy of this.

I just wish Mills had written more books.

Published: 2007 Michael Joseph

Pages: 350 (Penguin 2008)

P.L. Travers: Mary Poppins

From the moment Mary Poppins arrives at Number Seventeen Cherry-Tree Lane, everyday life at the Banks house is forever changed. This classic series tells the story of the world’s most beloved nanny, who brings enchantment and excitement with her everywhere she goes. Featuring the charming original cover art by Mary Shepard, these new editions are sure to delight readers of all ages.

It all starts when Mary Poppins is blown by the east wind onto the doorstep of the Banks house. She becomes a most unusual nanny to Jane, Michael, and the twins. Who else but Mary Poppins can slide up banisters, pull an entire armchair out of an empty carpetbag, and make a dose of medicine taste like delicious lime-juice cordial? A day with Mary Poppins is a day of magic and make-believe come to life!

(Goodreads)

I’ve listened to the Mary Poppins books on tape when I was little, and remember enjoying them very much. I suppose I did so now too – but not as much as I’d expected. I do enjoy Mary’s character: she’s so very stuffy and full of herself, and yet she has a softer side, which is seen most clearly during her Day Out with Bert.

Published: 1934

Pages: 173 (Harper Collins 2008)

Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol

One of the best-loved and most quoted stories of “the man who invented Christmas”—English writer Charles Dickens—A Christmas Carol debuted in 1843 and has touched millions of hearts since.

Cruel miser Ebeneezer Scrooge has never met a shilling he doesn’t like…and hardly a man he does. And he hates Christmas most of all. When Scrooge is visited by his old partner, Jacob Marley, and the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come, he learns eternal lessons of charity, kindness, and goodwill. Experience a true Victorian Christmas!

(Goodreads)

To my utter surprise, I liked this one very much. The story is so familiar from all kinds of animated versions that I find the readability remarkable. True to Dickens’s style it gets a little rambly and there were indeed bits that did not feel relevant at all – but that’s 19th century literature for you, and there’s no way around it. The book is divided into clear sections and it’s an easy read for an evening. It’s at times even creepy! If you’re bored on Christmas eve and this one happens to decorate your shelves, it’s a good one to pick up for an evening’s entertainment.

First published: 1843

Pages: 90 (Purnell Books 1980 edition)

Diana Wynne Jones: Howl’s Moving Castle

Read for the monthly favourite post, which you can read here.

Published: 1986 Methuen Children’s Books Ltd

Pages: 302 (Harper Collins 2005 edition)

 

Leo Tolstoy: Anna Karenina

Acclaimed by many as the world’s greatest novel, Anna Karenina provides a vast panorama of contemporary life in Russia and of humanity in general. In it Tolstoy uses his intense imaginative insight to create some of the most memorable characters in literature. Anna is a sophisticated woman who abandons her empty existence as the wife of Karenin and turns to Count Vronsky to fulfill her passionate nature – with tragic consequences. Levin is a reflection of Tolstoy himself, often expressing the author’s own views and convictions.

Throughout, Tolstoy points no moral, merely inviting us not to judge but to watch. As Rosemary Edmonds comments, ‘He leaves the shifting patterns of the kaleidoscope to bring home the meaning of the brooding words following the title, ‘Vengeance is mine, and I will repay.

(Goodreads)

Yet another Russian classic. The motivation behind reading this one is of course the movie, which will (finally) come to Finland in January. I’m now very excited to see it, despite it being a British instead of a Russian production. I think you can expect a review!

The book is longish, but not a hard one to handle, so don’t be intimidated by the length. There are two main storylines that we follow: the story of the eponymous Anna Karenina (please note that if the names look funny it may be because I use the Finnish spellings) and Count Vronski, and that of Konstantin Levin and Kitty Štšerbatskaja. The comparisons between these couples build the moral of the story, and I did get a feeling that Anna Karenina is very much about what a good marriage should be like and how such a thing can be achieved.  Between dramatic scenes there is some social and religious commentary, mostly on Levin’s side, and it can get tedious, but I advise to brave it.

The characters, as in War and Peace, are well rounded and relatable. Mostly I did not like Anna, particularly towards the end, but she has her good sides just like everyone else. The dysfunctions in her relationship with Vronski are wonderfully depicted, and it is made perfectly clear in what ways they misunderstand and misread each other.

Some wonderful scenes include a horse race and Levin’s day out working in the field with the non-landed people. I feel certain that these, my favourite moments, are excluded from the movie since they do little for the plot, but I have my fingers crossed for a little bit of dangerous horse racing.

First published: 1877

Translation: Eino Kalima 1975

Pages: 493+428

Cassandra Clare: City of Bones

When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder — much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Then the body disappears into thin air. It’s hard to call the police when the murderers are invisible to everyone else and when there is nothing — not even a smear of blood — to show that a boy has died. Or was he a boy?

This is Clary’s first meeting with the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. It’s also her first encounter with Jace, a Shadowhunter who looks a little like an angel and acts a lot like a jerk. Within twenty-four hours Clary is pulled into Jace’s world with a vengeance, when her mother disappears and Clary herself is attacked by a demon. But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother? And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know. . . .

Exotic and gritty, exhilarating and utterly gripping, Cassandra Clare’s ferociously entertaining fantasy takes readers on a wild ride that they will never want to end.

(Goodreads)

There are two reasons why I picked this book up. The first is that I felt I should see what a fellow Potter fanficcer has been up to. The second, the film adaptation that is coming out soon-ish.

I can only say it was all right. It was easy to read, although at times I lost interest and had to fight to finish a scene. The story felt fractured and all the world building messy, and the relationship drama – of which, I’m sure you know, I am very fond – did little to impress me. The only character to catch my interest was Luke, friend of Clary’s mother, and he is present for less than half of the book. There were also some elements that are clearly paralleled with Harry Potter, like Hodge and his raven, but I would not say the book is a thinly disguised fanfic like Fifty Shades of Grey, although the style was very much that of a fairly new fanficcer, which took my by surprise seeing as Clare has experience of writing.

All in all, it is a tolerable book but I can’t say whether I’ll read the sequels or not. Maybe, if I happen upon them and feel like YA. I’m going to go see the movie, however, despite how crappy the trailer looks. Watching it, I wasn’t sure it was a movie about the book I was reading…

Published: Walker Books Ltd 2007

Pages: 442

Neil Gaiman: Neverwhere

Under the streets of London there’s a place most people could never even dream of. A city of monsters and saints, murderers and angels, knights in armour and pale girls in black velvet. This is the city of the people who have fallen between the cracks.

Richard Mayhew, a young businessman, is going to find out more than enough about this other London. A single act of kindness catapults him out of his workday existence and into a world that is at once eerily familiar and utterly bizarre. And a strange destiny awaits him down here, beneath his native city: neverwhere.

(back cover of Headline Review 2005 edition)

I really enjoyed this book. It was for some reason much easier to approach than American Gods, and I felt it was cleaner in outline. The characters were charming, and I grew particularly fond of Marquis de Carabas and, surprisingly, the main character Richard. There were some bits that were also used in Good Omens, but it was actually very nice, since it gave me a better idea of which parts of GO were written by Gaiman. Among other things, the assassins Mr Vandemar and Mr Croup initially reminded me a lot of the demons Hastur and Ligur, although I later also came to think of Mr Venable and Goyo in Sharp Teeth.

That is beside the point, however. What made this book particularly appealing to me is, without a doubt, London. The history of it and the places – I kept a map with both streets and tube stations at hand while reading – made the book so very delightful. I’m inspired now to read something on the history of London!

The reason I picked this book up now is that BBC’s Radio 4 is doing a recording of the book, and the cast is amazing: James McAvoy, Natalie Dormer, Sir Anthony Head, Benedict Cumberbatch… I believe it should be airing early 2013 and it’ll be available internationally on BBC iPlayer. I’m very much looking forward to it!

Published: 1996 BBC Books

Pages: 372 (plus introduction, different prologue, interview, reading group discussion questions) (Headline Review 2005, author’s preferred text edition)

F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby

In 1922, F. Scott Fitzgerald announced his decision to write “something new–something extraordinary and beautiful and simple and intricately patterned.” That extraordinary, beautiful, intricately patterned, and above all, simple novel became The Great Gatsby, arguably Fitzgerald’s finest work and certainly the book for which he is best known. A portrait of the Jazz Age in all of its decadence and excess, Gatsby captured the spirit of the author’s generation and earned itself a permanent place in American mythology. Self-made, self-invented millionaire Jay Gatsby embodies some of Fitzgerald’s–and his country’s–most abiding obsessions: money, ambition, greed, and the promise of new beginnings. “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter–tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…. And one fine morning–” Gatsby’s rise to glory and eventual fall from grace becomes a kind of cautionary tale about the American Dream. …

(Goodreads)

Once again, a book read in anticipation of the movie adaptation. This was a hard one to get into. It might be my lack of understanding of 1920’s America and its society, but it was only around halfway through that I started understanding what the significance of events was, and if the book had been longer I may have abandoned it. When the plot picks up it really picks up though, and finally we got to the kind of drama I understand – mistresses, somewhat creepy and obsessed love, death.

It remains a mystery to me as to why Gatsby is considered such a great work of American literature, but for each their own. I personally preferred Fitzgerald’s short story “Babylon Revisited” (read for class).

Published: 1925

Pages: 163 (Wordsworth Classics 1993)

There be the books read in December.

Books bought (also last month’s):

 

Beyond Heaving Bosoms I got for the candidate’s essay. It’s probably not a proper source, but it’s a lot of fun so I don’t mind owning it. I decided quite soon after reading Sniper One that I needed my own copy, and Moriarty Papers was a must-have.

Currently reading:

Moriarty by John Gardener

That’s all from me! I hope you guys have a fun time celebrating the new year! I’ll see you tomorrow with a collective post and the WOW of the year 2012!

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Favourites: Howl’s Moving Castle

The last favourite book. I still haven’t figured out what to do for bi-monthly post next year, so any ideas are welcome!

FAVOURITES

DIANA WYNNE JONES: HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE

Howl's Moving Castle

Published: Methuen Children’s Books Ltd 1986

Pages: 302 (Harper Collins 2005)

Series: Howl’s Moving Castle #1

“How about making a bargain with me?” said the demon. “I’ll break your spell if you agree to break this contract I’m under.”

In the land of Ingary, where seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility do exist, Sophie Hatter attracts the unwelcome attention of the Witch of the Waste and is put under a curse. Determined to make the best of things, Sophie travels to the one place where she might get help – the moving castle which hovers on the nearby hills.

But the castle belongs to the dreaded Wizard Howl whose appetite, they say, is satisfied only by the hearts of young girls…

I’ve been watching Hayao Miyazaki’s films since I was a kid, and of course I went to see Howl’s Moving Castle when it came out 2005. You have probably seen the film, or at least heard of it. It’s a beautiful, beautiful movie.

However, it’s vastly different from the book, and I like the latter better. Although a children’s book, Howl’s Moving Castle is surprisingly violent and serious. Not too much of those though, only enough to keep an adult reader entertained and just as intrigued as the child reader. I have read the book several times now, and there is always something I have missed before: a literary reference (my particular joy), a hint of an adult topic, a reference to something that to the main character Sophie seems incomprehensible but that comes from our world.

There’s also the matter of ages. Sophie is about eighteen, Howl in his early twenties. I’m still close enough to them in age to see how they think; when I first read the book, they seemed old. This is also one of the messages of the book – the perspective age gives. As an old woman, Sophie sees Howl as a child. Michael, Howl’s apprentice, is even younger. This makes the book so wonderful to read again and again: you are of a different age yourself, so you get a different view on things.

There is also a puzzle in the book. I’m not talking about the spell – John Donne’s wonderful poem ‘Go and catch a falling star’ is here utilized very deftly – but the puzzle of identities and motivations. What is Sophie’s stepmother Fanny really like? What does the Scarecrow want? What or who is the dog? What happened to Prince Justin? You won’t know until the end, although you can take your guesses and, if you’re very clever, be right. The movie will not help you here, as it has excluded all this.

I also have to mention the wonderful chapter titles. My favourites would have to be, ‘Chapter Six, in which Howl expresses his feelings with green slime’, ‘Chapter Fourteen, in which a Royal Wizard catches a cold’, and,  ‘Chapter Nineteen, in which Sophie expresses her feelings with weed-killer’. Of particular charm is also ‘Chapter Eleven, in which Howl goes to a strange country in search of a spell’.

Howl’s Moving Castle is a wonderful book, and a fairly quick read. It’ll keep you entertained on consecutive readings as well, and I promise it will always give you something new.

Also, the scene with drunk Howl is particularly hilarious.

Diana Wynne Jones died in March 2011. A great loss for the field of fantasy literature. She will be fondly remembered by all her readers, even those like me who would like to read more of her works but only seem to manage one every couple of years.

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Great Is the Art of Beginning

The beginning is the most important part of a book. It needs to captivate the reader, make them want to know more, go forward, find out. I’ve fallen into the habit of picking up an interesting-looking book at the bookstore and, instead of reading the blurb, turning to the first page. If there is a prologue, I will also see how the first actually chapter begins.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. In any case, I thought I would gather here some great beginnings of books I have read (and own, since quoting becomes harder when you don’t have the material at hand). Some are just the first sentence, some the first paragraph. Some are from prologues, some from first chapters.

“I am the Vampire Lestat. I’m immortal. More or less. The light of the sun, the sustained heat of an intense fire – these things might destroy me. But then again, they might not.”

–       The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice

“In the land of Ingary, where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, it is quite a misfortune to be born the eldest of three. Everyone knows you are the one who will fail first, and worst, if the three of you set out to seek your fortunes.”

–       Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

“Harry Potter was a highly unusual boy in many ways. For one thing, he hated the summer holidays more than any other time of year. For another, he really wanted to do his homework, but was forced to do it in secret, in the dead of night. And he also happened to be a wizard.”

–       Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling

“Contrary to whatever stories and songs there may be about the subject, there are only a handful of respectable things a man can do after he picks up a sword.”

–       Tome of the Undergates by Sam Sykes

“Ravens! Always the ravens. They settled on the gables of the church even before the injured became the dead.”

–       Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

“As always, before the warmind and I shoot each other, I try to make small talk.”

–       The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi

“At the height of the long wet summer of the Seventy-Seventh Year of Sendovani, the Thiefmaker of Camorr paid a sudden and unannounced visit to the Eyeless Priest at the Temple of Perelandro, desperately hoping to sell him the Lamora boy.”

–       The Lies of Locke Lamora b Scott Lynch

“The game was Carousel Hazard, the stakes were roughly half of all the wealth they commanded in the entire world, and the plain truth was that Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen were getting beaten like a pair of dusty carpets.”

–       Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch

All of these are excellent books, and if any of the beginning appealed to you, I recommend from my heart that you read the book it is from.

I will return at the end of the month!

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