Series Week VI: Conrad’s Fate

Conrad’s Fate is the fifth book (second chronologically) in the Chronicles of Chrestomanci by Diana Wynne Jones. It was published in 2005 by Greenwillow.

General Spoilers.

Summary/Blurb:

“Someone at Stallery Mansion is changing the world. At first, only small details, but the changes get bigger and bigger. It’s up to Conrad, a twelve-year-old with terrible karma who’s just joined the mansion’s staff, to find out who is behind it. But he’s not the only one snooping around. His fellow servant-in-training, Christopher Chant, is charming, confident, and from another world, with a mission of his own — rescuing his friend, lost in an alternate Stallery Mansion. Can they save the day before Conrad’s awful fate catches up with them?”

~Goodreads

What I Liked:

I absolutely love the domestic servant aspect of this book. I kept thinking of Downton Abbey as I was reading it. This book isn’t so much about magic as it is about running a household. It’s wonderful.

Also, Christopher-before-he-is-Chrestomanci is back! And now he’s got the fancy clothes. Millie’s back, too, and the ending is especially wonderful if you like them together. I thought it was hilarious when Millie was grousing about Christopher, since I as the reader knows what goes on with them. Also, he doesn’t seem to have adopted the vague look yet, since he doesn’t use it at all here. Perhaps he was too busy looking for Millie. Or perhaps it’s something he perfects as he gets older.

Cover Art

I found Conrad’s mother hilarious. I think Jones was poking fun at feminism a little bit through her character, but in a very kind, same-side type of way. Or perhaps a parody type of way.

(Spoilers below!)

I think it’s interesting how there was no clear “good guy” in this book, not counting the Chrestomanci Team™. Sure, Mr. Amos is the primary antagonist, I guess, as well as Uncle Alfred, but Conrad’s mother and the fake Count are also not that great, either. Sure, Conrad’s mother was forced out, but she didn’t treat Conrad and Anthea very well, so she’s not an antagonist, but she’s not really a protagonist, either. The only clear protagonist is Conrad, and maybe Anthea. And Lady Mary was just random.

(End spoilers)

What I Didn’t Like:

Jones always tends to wrap up things very quickly, with as little explanation as possible. The ending is a bit fast, and I had to reread the revelations a couple of times before I completely understood everything.

Fan art

Rating: 5/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

Passages/Quotes:

“So neither of you have the sort of experience I mentioned,” Mr. Amos said. “Good. I like my trainees ignorant. It means they don’t come to Stallery with all the wrong habits. Next big question. How do you both feel about serving as a valet, a gentleman’s gentleman? This means dressing your gentleman, caring for his clothes, looking to his comfort, running errands if he asks it, even cooking for him in certain cases, and generally knowing the gentleman’s secrets—but never, ever breathing a word of those secrets to another soul. Can you do all that?”

Christopher looked a little stunned by this. I remembered how Christopher, so oddly, had not seemed to know why he was here, and I realized that this was my best chance ever of making sure I got this job. “I’d like doing that a lot,” I said.

“Me, too,” Christopher said promptly. “Looking after clothes and keeping secrets are the two things I do best, Mr. Amos.” I began to think I hated him.

~Jones 61

The door led out onto a small wooden balcony thing with a low, flimsy-looking rail around it. Almost at our feet, a square hole led into a crazy old wooden stairway down the side of what seemed to be a tall wooden tower. Our heads both bent to look through the hole. And we could see the stairway zigzagging giddily away, down and down, getting smaller and smaller, outside what was definitely the tallest and most unsafe-looking wooden building I had ever seen. It could have been a lighthouse—except that it had slants of roof sticking out every so often, like a pagoda. It swayed and creaked and thrummed in the wind. Far, far below, something seemed to be channeling the gale into a melancholy howling.

~Jones 149-150

Overall Review:

Conrad’s Fate is a book about domestic servitude, and only marginally about magic. Christopher is still a little annoying, but he’s more grown up and is a much better character (and person) because of it. Conrad is clueless, but a good character point-of-view despite that. The ending epilogue is especially sweet. One of my favorites from the Chronicles.

You can buy this book here: Conrad’s Fate

Coming Up Next: The Pinhoe Egg

Series Week VI: The Magicians of Caprona

The Magicians of Caprona is the fourth book (fifth chronologically) in the Chronicles of Chrestomanci by Diana Wynne Jones. It was published in 1980 by Greenwillow.

Summary/Blurb:

“Tonino is the only person in the famous Montana household who wasn’t born with an instinct for creating spells, but he has other gifts. His ability to communicate with cats just might help defend the city of Caprona against a mysterious enchanter — but only if Tonino can learn to cooperate with a girl from the hated Petrocchi family of spell-makers.”

~Goodreads

What I Liked:

It’s Romeo & Juliet! Except better, because it doesn’t end in death! I liked the fact that it was three pairs that ended up uniting together against the Big Bad, rather than just the obvious one. Tonino and Angelica, obviously, and then Rosa and Marco, and then, finally, Renata and Paolo. I also enjoyed the fact that it was children who overcame the barriers first, rather than the adults, since children usually do in situations like this (adults are more bitter and are liable to hold onto past grudges for a longer amount of time).

I felt kind of sorry for the Duke, but he was also pathetic, and he knew it. He knew what was happening the entire time, essentially, and yet did nothing to stop it. I suppose he couldn’t, but still. At least he helped out at the end.

Cover Art

I wonder if Benvenuto is in any way, shape or form related to Throgmorten? They have very similar personalities. Perhaps Jones is trying to hint that there’s a Temple cat connection. Or maybe not.

I liked how the magic came through singing. Jones’ magic is always very hands-on; spells have to be made. This way, it’s easier to see who the powerful ones are—they don’t have to make spells or write them down on slips of paper to be able to use them. Although, maybe they’re written down so non-magic people can use them? In any case, the aspect of magic explored here was very neat.

The Punch & Judy scene is magnificent. I don’t know why. It just is.

What I Didn’t Like:

The ending was a little anticlimactic in regards to the “evil enchanter.” It came very abruptly and ended just as abruptly. I expected a bigger scene, I guess, although the Angel was the important part, I suppose.

I wish there had been a bit more elucidation on Tonino’s skill. Jones doesn’t mince words, and she explains things very briefly. But, perhaps there wasn’t more detail because Chrestomanci didn’t quite know what Tonino could do, himself.

Fan art. Left to right is baby Tonino, Rosa, Lucia, Paolo and Corinna. By gyldenstjerne.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

Passages/Quotes:

“No, boys, the Angel has not got the right words. The words you sing are a makeshift. Some people say that the glorious Angel took the words back to Heaven after the White Devil was vanquished, leaving only the tune. Or the words have been lost since. But everyone knows that Caprona cannot be truly great until the words are found.”

“In other words,” Uncle Umberto said irritably, “the Angel of Caprona is a spell like any other spell. And without the proper words, any spell is only at half force, even if it is of divine origin.”

~Jones 56

“And I haven’t got any filthy habits!” snapped Angelica.

“Yes you have. All the Petrocchis have,” said Tonino. “But I expect you don’t realize because they’re normal to you.”

“I like that!” Angelica picked up the broken tap, as if she had half a mind to throw it.

“You eat babies.”

“How dare you!” said Angelica. “You eat cowpats for pizzas, and you can smell the Casa Montana right on the Corso.”

“The Casa Petrocchi smells all down the Via Sant’ Angelo,” said Tonino, “and you can hear the flies buzzing from the New Bridge. You have babies like kittens and—”

“That’s a lie!” shrieked Angelica. “You just put that about because you don’t want people to know that the Montanas never get married properly!”

“Yes we do!” bawled Tonino. “It’s you who don’t!”

“I like that!” yelled Angelica. “I’ll have you know, my brother got married, in church, just after Christmas. So there!”
“I don’t believe you,” said Tonino. “And my sister’s going to get married in Spring, so—”

“I was a bridesmaid!” screamed Angelica.

~Jones 141-142, 149

Overall Review:

The Magicians of Caprona uses a different aspect of magic that we haven’t seen yet from the world of Chrestomanci. The Punch & Judy scene is creepy and terrifying (and wonderful), but is also a big moment for Tonino. I liked this quite a bit better than Witch Week, character-wise, but the ending left a little to desire.

You can buy this book here: The Magicians of Caprona

Coming Up Next: Conrad’s Fate

Series Week VI: Witch Week

Witch Week is the third book (fourth chronologically) in the Chronicles of Chrestomanci by Diana Wynne Jones. It was published in 1982 by Greenwillow.

Spoilers!

Summary/Blurb:

“Someone in 6B is a witch. And, in the alternate reality described in Diana Wynne Jones’s Witch Week, that’s not at all a good thing to be. Jones plunks her readers directly into the life of Larwood House, a school in a present-day England that’s a lot like the world we know, except for one major difference: witches are everywhere, and they are ruthlessly hunted by inquisitors. With witty, erudite writing, Jones tells of the adventures of the class of 6B as they set about to discover who among them is a witch. Clearly it’s not the popular Simon or the perfect Theresa. Could it be fat Nan or sluggish Charles? Mysterious Nirupam or shifty-eyed Brian?”

~Goodreads

What I Liked:

Witch Week is perhaps my least favorite book in the Chronicles of Chrestomanci. That being said, I love Chrestomanci’s appearance in this book. His reprimands to the students who sought him out, and in fact, his entire dealings with them were spot-on and satisfying, if only because here, at last, is someone who can handle them. I love this passage: “[Chrestomanci] seemed astounded, and not vague at all. The room seemed to go very quiet and sinister and unloving” (Jones 480). When Chrestomanci is not vague, that is the time to pay attention to what he is saying or doing.

Cover Art

I also like how the problem was resolved. It was essentially turning a bad, destructive thing into a good thing. What previously could have torn apart the world fixed it, instead. And everything leading up to it was great, as well, especially Charles’s turn-around. And the last few sentences of the book were a great parallel to the beginning. I also found it hilarious that nearly everyone in the classroom was a witch. Essentially, I liked everything in the book after Chrestomanci showed up. I also liked seeing the school life, and Nan was probably my favorite, if I had to pick, although Nirupam is up there, too.

“The note said: SOMEONE IN THIS CLASS IS A WITCH” is the best way to start a book ever.

Also, I think Jones is hinting that Charles is the one who saved Brian’s mother.

What I Didn’t Like:

Ugh, the students. Especially Charles and Brian. Charles is okay, at first, but towards the end he’s just mean, and arrogant, and really, really stubborn. He’s ornery for the sake of being ornery. Brian is whiny and a bit arrogant, as well. I got sick of Charles, towards the end, and once Brian started playing a bigger role, I got sick of him, too.

The book has a good start, and a great end, but the middle really just drags a bit, and Charles gets more and more irritating with every viewpoint (and his attitude towards “Simon Says” is just awful). I started disliking him when Simon says “Drop dead” to Theresa and Charles thinks it’s a pity that the truth spell doesn’t work anymore. Really? Chrestomanci was right, you weren’t thinking, Charles.

Witch Week also lacks some of the humor and charm that I love about Jones’s works.

Fan art by monotogne

Rating: 3/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

Passages/Quotes:

As Nan levered loose the first greasy ring of potato, the urge to describe came upon her again. It was as if she was possessed. “Now the aim of this dish,” she said, “is to use up leftovers. You take old potatoes and soak them in washing-up water that has been used at least twice. The water must be thoroughly scummy.” It’s like the gift of tongues! She thought. Only in my case it’s the gift of foul-mouth. “Then you take a dirty old tin and rub it around with socks that have been worn for a fortnight. You fill this tin with alternate layers of scummy potatoes and catfood, mixed with anything else you happen to have. Old doughnuts and dead flies have been used in this case—”

~Jones 308-309

“Now the geography of Finland is very much affected by the last Ice Age. Simon, what happens in an Ice Age?”

Simon dragged his mind away from dreams of gold and glory. “Everything is very cold,” he said. A blast of cold air swept through the room, making everyone’s teeth chatter. “And goes on getting colder, I suppose,” Simon added unwisely. The air in the room swiftly became icy. 6B’s breath rolled out in steam. The windows misted over and froze, almost at once, into frosty patterns. Icicles began to grow under the radiators. Frost whitened the desks.

There was a chorus of shivers and groans, and Nirupam hissed, “Watch it!”

“I mean everything gets very hot,” Simon said hastily.

Before Mr. Crossley had time to wonder why he was shivering, the cold was replaced by tropical heat.

~Jones 403-404

Overall Review:

Witch Week is not my favorite Chrestomanci novel. In fact, it’s probably my least favorite. Everything after Chrestomanci shows up is great, but everything before that is a little tedious and hard to get through, especially when Charles gets more and more nasty (although the part where I disliked Charles the most is when Chrestomanci shows up). The ending almost makes up for it. Almost.

You can buy this book here: Witch Week

Coming Up Next: The Magicians of Caprona

Series Week VI: The Lives of Christopher Chant

The Lives of Christopher Chant is the second book (first chronologically) in the Chronicles of Chrestomanci by Diana Wynne Jones. It was published in 1988 by Greenwillow.

Summary/Blurb:

“Christopher often makes night-time trips to the Twelve Related Worlds. He thought there was nothing unusual about this until his Uncle Ralph hears of it and sends him on mysterious missions. One such mission reveals Christopher’s very special magic powers—gifted with nine lives, he is destined to become the next Chrestomanci, the greatest magician in the country. Christopher goes to study at the formidable Chrestomanci Castle, but even here he is not safe. Outside, the forces of evil are poised for attack and Christopher is losing his lives at an alarming rate. Can Christopher defeat his enemies alone, before his remaining lives run out?”

~ http://www.leemac.freeserve.co.uk/chresto.htm

What I Liked:

Here’s the backstory to the Chrestomanci in Charmed Life! This book has the origin of his vague looks, the infamous “I took the roof off the house” story from Charmed Life, how he got to Chrestomanci Castle, and how he met Millie. It’s really interesting reading how they meet since you know that in Charmed Life they’re married.

Christopher has a lot of development in this book. He starts out as a little hard to like because of his attitude, but by the end he’s made several realizations and it really shows in his actions and attitudes towards other people. Speaking of the other people, I find it a little sad that they never show up again in the next books (unless I’ve forgotten something). The entire staff has been changed in Charmed Life, and so we don’t really know what happens to Tacroy and the rest. It’s a little sad, but inevitable, I suppose.

Cover Art

Millie is really interesting. Her character as a young girl and her character as an adult are really quite different. Or maybe that’s because we don’t actually see too much of her as an adult. She seems a lot more outspoken and forceful in this book. Her background is really interesting, too.

We don’t see Throgmorten again, either. Sad.

I wonder if it’s ever explained where Christopher got his taste for clothes (Maybe in Conrad’s Fate, the sequel)?

Wow, Christopher loses a lot of lives. In fact, he loses almost all of his lives in the span of, what, a month? He loses three right in a row in the Castle. And then for the next twenty-five years, he loses none, because he still has two in Charmed Life. That…pretty much explains his character development right there, honestly.

What I Didn’t Like:

Christopher is not nearly as endearing a protagonist as Cat is. He’s a bit reckless, a bit proud, and a bit uncaring at the beginning. He’s not that likeable. However, his development is fabulous.

Fan art (chirat)

Passages/Quotes:

“Who are you?” said a voice from the darkness. It sounded surprised and haughty. “You’re not supposed to be here.”

“Who are you?” Christopher said cautiously, wishing he could see something beside blue and green dazzle.

“I’m the Goddess of course,” said the voice. “The Living Asheth. What are you doing here? I’m not supposed to see anyone but priestesses until the Day of the Festival.”

“I only came to get a cat,” said Christopher. “I’ll go away when I have.”

“You’re not allowed to,” said the Goddess. “Cats are sacred to Asheth. Besides, if it’s Bethi you’re after, she’s mine, and she’s going to have kittens again.”

~Jones 316

Everything in the room went upwards except Christopher, the mirror, the tiepin, the tooth-brace and the money. Those slid to the floor as the table surged upwards, but were collected by the carpet which came billowing up after it. Christopher hastily stepped off the carpet and stood watching everything soar around him—all the clocks, several tables, chairs, rugs, pictures, vases, ornaments, and Dr. Pawson too. He and his armchair both went up, majestically, like a balloon, and bumped against the ceiling. The ceiling bellied upwards and the chandelier plastered itself sideways against it. From above came crashing, shrieks, and an immense airy grinding. Christopher could feel that the roof of the house had come off and was on its way to the sky, pursued by the attics. It was an incredible feeling.

~Jones 393

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

Overall Review:

The Lives of Christopher Chant is not as good as Charmed Life, but it is great background and really goes in-depth into the other worlds that were introduced in the first book. Christopher has really great character development, and you would never expect how he meets Millie. The humor and such is still there, and there are some interesting moral dilemmas that take place. I feel a bit sad that most of the characters never appear again, though.

You can buy this book here: The Lives of Christopher Chant

Coming Up Next: Witch Week

Series Week VI: Charmed Life

Charmed Life is the first book (third chronologically) in the Chronicles of Chrestomanci series by Diana Wynne Jones. I will be reading these books in the order Jones recommended, which follows neither the publishing order nor the chronological order, so my ordering of the books will reflect this. It was published in 1977 by Greenwillow.

Summary/Blurb:

“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

General spoilers for The Chronicles of Chrestomanci.

What I Liked:

I love this series so, so much. Charmed Life, along with Howl’s Moving Castle, was among the first Diana Wynne Jones books I ever read, and I immediately fell in love with both of them. In fact, The Chronicles of Chrestomanci and Howl’s Moving Castle are the only Jones books I own; not because I don’t like any of her other books, but because I love these so much.

Chrestomanci is very similar to Howl in that they both dress extravagantly and both of them know more than meets the eye. Chrestomanci may seem vague and distracted most of the time, but, as Cat astutely notices, the vaguer he seems, the more acutely he is paying attention to it. It’s a rather neat trick, if you think about it, because it lulls the person he is observing into the false sense of security that he’s not paying attention to them, when he actually is. Cat is also rather like Sophie, in that he doesn’t know the half of what Chrestomanci is, knows, or is doing. The revelation of it all at the end is very satisfying, and in some ways, very awesome.

Cover Art

Gwendolen is that type of antagonist who seems extremely powerful, stubborn, and unstoppable at the beginning, but as the plot goes further and further along it is revealed that she is much more childish, selfish and ignorant than she at first appears, and the level of her antagonism goes down quite a lot, until you realize that she’s really just a spoiled brat who thinks she knows everything. She’s a nasty spoiled brat, but a much tamer antagonist.

Jones really is just letting us dip our toes in the water with this book, by simply introducing us to things such as nine-lived enchanters and other worlds. It is in the next few books in the series that her worldbuilding really takes off, and we learn much, much more about the world of Chrestomanci.

What I Didn’t Like:

Nothing, but I’m slightly biased when it comes to Dianna Wynne Jones. Everything she writes is made of angels (except for Aunt Maria).

I have no idea if this is Janet or Gwendolen, but I think her pose is hilarious.

Rating: 5/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

Passages/Quotes:

 The two children looked at her placidly over their cliffs of marmalade. “Oh, I wouldn’t know,” said Roger.

“Pudgy is comfortable,” said Julia. “It must be a nuisance to look like a china doll, the way you do.”

Gwendolen’s blue eyes glared. She made a small sign under the edge of the table. The bread and thick marmalade whisked itself from Julia’s hands and slapped itself on Julia’s face, marmalade side inward. Julia gasped a little. “How dare you insult me!” said Gwendolen.

Julie peeled the bread slowly off her face and then fumbled out a handkerchief. Cat supposed she was going to wipe her face. But she let the marmalade stay where it was, trundling in blobs down her plump cheeks, and simply tied a knot in the handkerchief. She pulled the knot slowly tight, looking meaningly at Gwendolen which she did so. With the final pull, the half-full jug of cocoa shot streaming into the air. It hovered for a second, and then shot sideways to hang just above Gwendolen’s head. Then it began to joggle itself into tipping position.

~Jones 48-49

“What do you mean, Henry the Fifth?” barked Mr. Saunders. “Richard the Second was on the throne until long after Agincourt. What was his greatest magical achievement?”

“Defeating the French,” Janet guessed. Mr. Saunders looked so exasperated that she babbled, “Well, I think it was. He hampered the French with iron underwear, and the English wore wool, so they didn’t stick in the mud, and probably their longbows were enchanted too. That would account for them not missing.”

“Who,” said Mr. Saunders, “do you imagine won the Battle of Agincourt?”

“The English,” said Janet. This of course was true for her world, but the panic-stricked look on her face as she said it suggested that she suspected the opposite was true in this world. Which, of course, it was.

Mr. Saunders put his hands to his head. “No, no, no! The French! Don’t you know anything, girl?”

~Jones 135

Overall Review:

Charmed Life is a fantastic start to the series. It is quite definitely a stand-alone novel, but the next books build and expand on the world and the characters that Jones introduced to us here. Cat is a little thick during the course of the book, but the revelation at the end is very satisfying, and has a good deal of cool magic in it. This is probably my favorite book in the whole series, simply because of how charming it is.

You can buy this book here: Charmed Life (Chronicles of Chrestomanci)

Coming Up Next: The Lives of Christopher Chant

Justin Thyme: Justin Thyme Is Just In Time! Get It? Get It?

Justin Thyme is written by Panama Oxridge. It was published in 2010 by Inside Pocket (actually, I believe this is a self-published book). It is the first book in a duology (or potential trilogy?) called The Tartan of Thyme. Oxridge’s website can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“Justin Thyme is a self-made billionaire living in a castle overlooking Loch Ness. The day he turns thirteen, he receives an anonymous gift: a fabulous watch with a puzzling message hidden on it. When he tells his father of his plans to build a time machine, the Laird of Thyme reveals tantalizing fragments of past espionage and warns his son of a ruthless enemy keeping him under constant surveillance. At first, Justin fails to take Sir Willoughby seriously, but when a stranger arrives claiming to be his long-lost grandfather, Justin is wary – especially after his beloved Nanny insists the old man is an impostor. Justin’s TV celebrity mother departs on a Congo expedition with her eccentric film crew and Eliza, a computer-literate gorilla. Whilst returning, Lady Henny is abducted, and clues prove that the kidnapper has inside information; someone in Thyme Castle must be a spy – or possibly Sir Willoughby’s old enemy in disguise. Everyone is under suspicion: Justin’s nervy tutor; their snooping housekeeper; the theatrical gardener; an ex-royal butler; and Mrs. Kof, their freakishly strong cook. Suddenly, the race against time is on. Can Justin convert his vintage motorbike into a time machine, rescue his mum and discover the identity of their resident spy in less than a week…or will the dreaded Thyme Curse claim another life?”

~Goodreads

What I Liked:

Okay, so when I first started reading this, I thought it was really weird. But then, as I read more, I got really, really into it. The technical jargon comes complete with a dictionary in the back, and the dialogue is rather humorous at times. The notebook pages are mind-bogglingly complex and the mystery is suspenseful and hooks in all the right places.

My favorite aspect was by far the mystery. It was fantastically done. It really kept me wanting to read “just one more chapter” before I could put the book down. I think my favorite part was the revelation about Polly because it was so unexpected to me. I actually did a double-take, and then had to read the section again. Also, Oxridge uses footnotes to great effect in this book.

Both Justin and Robyn are endearing characters and virtually every character is memorable in some way. They are all also very suspicious, although some of that is cleared up by the end of this book, while others are left for the next.

The ending of the book was really well done, I thought, although it made me a little frustrated because I want to know everything, darn it! It left plenty of hook for the next book.

Cover Art (The words are the same upside-down)

What I Didn’t Like:

It was a tad unrealistic at times; most of the time you can suspend your disbelief but at some points it was very hard. It did take me a little bit to get into the book because of it.

This has nothing to do with the book itself, but my library doesn’t have the next book. This makes me very sad, especially since now I’ll never know who Agent X is…

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Science Fiction, Realistic, Young Adult, Mystery

The cover of the second book, which continues the “time” puns, of course.

Passages/Quotes:

The old gentleman smiled and a single tear trickled down the side of his nose.

“What can you see?” murmured Justine.

“A beautiful young woman.”

Justin’s voice became sharp and incisive. “What’s her name?” he demanded.

A furrow of concentration puckered the old man’s brow. Then all at once, his eyes flew open with an expression of pure bewilderment. “I know her name! I haven’t the foggiest idea how I know…it just popped into my head out of nowhere. It doesn’t mean a thing to me, yet…yet somehow it feels vaguely familiar, almost as if…”

WHAT’S HER NAME?” shouted everyone.

The old man gazed at them, his eyes brimming with hope and unshed tears. Finally, he spoke in a hushed voice:

“Lady Isabel.”

Nobody spoke.

After what seemed like an eternity, Robyn broke the silence:

“That’s grandma,” she whispered, her voice scarcely audible. “so…so you must be…”

“Grandpa Lyall,” shouted Willoughby.

~Oxridge 53

“I see you’re admiring MAC,” remarked an unexpected voice behind him.

The sergeant jumped and turned sharply. The door remained closed and he had heard no footsteps, yet somehow, Justin had magically materialized in the centre of the room.

“Mac who?”

Morphing Analytical Canvas,” Justin explained. “There’s a hidden micro-camera—here—transmitting every detail of your physical appearance to a computer. An iridology programme scans your iris, automatically generating artwork to match your personality profile. It can even sense subtle mood fluctuations and adjust according.”

~Oxridge 170

Overall Review:

Justin Thyme is a book that I think even adults would like, mainly because it’s almost jaw-droppingly scientific and invention-y. It also has some quite humorous scenes, great characters, and a fantastic, suspenseful mystery. My only complaint is that it’s a little hard to get into simply because of the jargon, and it’s also a little unrealistic in regards to characterization and things, but not anything way out of the norm for fiction.

You can buy this book here: Justin Thyme (Tartan of Thyme 1)

Coming Up Next: Series Week VI! Join me as I review Diana Wynne Jones’s Chronicles of Chrestomanci!

Aunt Maria: The Only Diana Wynne Jones Book I Don’t Really Like

Aunt Maria is written by Diana Wynne Jones. It was published in 1991 by Greenwillow. Jones’ website can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“Mig loves happy endings, but can there be any in Cranbury-on-Sea? Mig’s family is staying with old Aunt Maria in this seaside village, which they’ve quickly realized isn’t as peaceful as it seems.

The men are gray-suited zombies; the children are orphans who cat like well-behaved clones; and the women nervously flock around Aunt Maria’s tea parties to do her bidding. She looks like a sweet little old lady, but she’s as deadly as poison.

Then she turns Mig’s brother Chris into a wolf! If Mig’s family is to escape, Mig must find out what has given Aunt Maria her power—and defeat her!”

~Back Cover

What I Liked:

I love Jones’ descriptions. They’re so very unique and effective and so distinctly hers. I mean, you can tell you’re reading a DWJ book when you see those descriptions.

Mig wasn’t so much the hero here as her mother was. Go, Mum! Seriously, mothers need to Save The World more often in books. Also, that thing with Antony Green? Totally called it, but then again it was pretty obvious.

Mig, by the way, is an awesome nickname. I wonder if it’s British or if Jones made it up?

Another thing that I wondered if Jones made up: “poopling/pooples,” as in “she had a poopling sort of voice,” and “gooped,” as in “Mum and I sort of gooped at one another.” Strange words, those. I laughed hysterically at “gooped,” though, and read it about five times over.

Cover Art

What I Didn’t Like:

This is probably my least favorite DWJ book that I’ve read, which makes me kind of sad. The back cover makes it sound so much more exciting than it actually was. It was a good book, don’t get me wrong, but it wasn’t great.

The whole male/female magic thing was just…blarg. It was all, “No, men and women are the same, really! It’s when they’re treated as different that things go wrong! See, look, we shut away all the men’s virtue in this box because that’s not manly! And all the women dress like they’re from the Victorian era because patriarchy rant rant!” First, that’s just a bad way to make that argument. Second, it really just overshadows the entire book. Third, what do the characters even learn from this, anyway? Nothing! Everything remains the same. If you want to make the point this obvious, then at least show some change.

So, this book is called “Black Maria” in places other than the US. Probably because some library here would think “black” was a racially-charged term rather than, you know, a synonym for “gloomy” or “dismal”, and then ban the book rather than risk offending somebody.

Rating: 3/5

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Realistic, Middle Grade

Passages/Quotes:

When I set the table, Aunt Maria said, “We’re just camping out tonight. Don’t bother to put napkins, dear. It’s fun using kitchen cutlery.”

I thought she meant it, so I didn’t look for napkins until Mum whispered, “Don’t be silly, Mig! It’s just her polite way of saying she’s used to napkins and her best silver. Go and look.”

Mum is very good at understanding Aunt Maria’s polite way of saying things. It has already caused her a lot of work. If she doesn’t watch out, she’s not going to get any kind of holiday at all. It has caused her to clean the cutlery with silver polish and to roll up the hall carpet in case someone slips on it in the night, and put the potted plants in the bath, and force Chris to wind all seven clocks, and help Aunt Maria upstairs, where Mum and I undressed her and put her hair in pigtails, and plump her pillows in the way Aunt Maria said she wouldn’t bother with as Lavinia was not there, and then to lay out her things for morning. Aunt Maria said we were not to, of course.

“And I won’t bother with breakfast, now Lavinia’s not here to bring it me in bed, dear,” was Aunt Maria’s final demand. Mum promised to bring her breakfast on a tray at eight-thirty sharp. It’s a very useful way of bullying people.

~Jones 11-12

I think the lid was even more beautifully green and complicated on the inside. But I didn’t really notice, because whatever was inside the box started to come out at once. It wasn’t quite invisible. You could tell it was bulging and billowing out of the box in clouds, fierce and determined and impatient. The clones all stepped back a solemn pace to give it room. It was all round me. The air felt thick, so that I had to press against it to move, even just to breathe, and it fizzed in a funny way in my hair and on my face. I didn’t know what it was, but I could tell it was very forbidden.

~Jones 105

Overall Review:

Aunt Maria is not very exciting or riveting; it’s mostly dull with a few bright spots here and there. I think Jones’ point ran away with her a little bit and really just overshadowed the entire book. Mig’s mother was fantastic, though. It’s better than a lot of other Middle Grade stuff out there, but Jones has written better books.

You can buy this book here: Aunt Maria

Coming Up Next: Justin Thyme by Panama Oxridge

Daughter of Smoke and Bone: This Actually Disgusted Me. I Fear For The Future Of YA Lit.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone is written by Laini Taylor. It was published in 2011 by Little, Brown and Company. It is the first in a, yes, you guessed it, trilogy. Taylor’s website/blog can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.
In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grows dangerously low.
And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherworldly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she speaks many languages—not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.”
~Inside Flap

What I Liked:

Kudos to Taylor for the worldbuilding, which was really quite impressive. The writing was decent, too, when I didn’t have a problem with it.

Cover Art

What I Didn’t Like:

So, where do I start?

I knew on page 18 that I would not like this book. On page 18 Karou is described. The moment I read that description, I immediately thought, “Uh-oh.” Just take a look at this: “Creamy and leggy, with long azure hair and the eyes of a silent-movie star, she moved like a poem and smiled like a sphinx” (18, emphasis added). Who describes someone like that? Seriously? What the heck does it mean to “move like a poem?” What type of poem? What exactly are silent-movie stars’ eyes like? Which silent-movie star? Karou is also about as perfect as you can make someone while still trying to stay marginally realistic, which only adds to the Mary Sue vibe. Really, the girl has no flaws.

I hated the fighting scenes. By that point, though, I didn’t really like Karou, so it only makes sense that seeing her fight so…perfectly…would make me grit my teeth. Oh my goodness, those fighting scenes. She’s beautiful and mysterious and she can hold her own in a fight (even against supernatural forces)? Blarg. Excuse me while I try to erase all the bad fanfiction vibes I’m getting.

Really, this whole book screamed “bad fanfiction” at me. Karou is exactly the type of protagonist you would find in a (bad) Harry Potter or a Lord of the Rings fanfic. Blue hair and all, because normal hair color is so last year. I mean, blue hair. BLUE HAIR. Just…why?

It depresses me to post fan art of this novel, but here it is…

The italics killed me. Taylor really went overboard on them. I never realized I could hate the use of italics so much. What’s wrong with using an adjective every once in a while? I got so sick of hearing about Karou’s “lostness.” Why must everything—and I mean everything—be italicized for emphasis and repetition? That last sentence was an example of how Taylor utilizes italics in the book. Really. That was another example.

The romance—sorry, the lust and soul-mate-y business—made me want to vomit. I am so tired of reading about sparks and tingles and aches. One of them should have been ugly. It would have been so much better.

Some of the dialogue was cringe-worthy. It was meant to be slick/witty/funny/charming, but it just sounded all wrong.

Didn’t really appreciate how all the hunters were depicted as Gross, Sleazy Men because they kill Poor Defenseless Animals. Karou even calls them “subhuman.” No, I don’t think so. What’s terribly ironic is that Karou later describes “inhumanity” as “the absolute absence of mercy.” Not being very merciful to hunters, now, are we? Also, “the invaders are always the bad guys?” I’m surprised you didn’t start ranting about colonialism, Karou, since that’s obviously what you were trying to imply. And no, the invaders are NOT always the bad guys, my dear. Also, “She had the dead eyes of a jihadist?” What is that supposed to mean? Have you seen a jihadist’s eyes to qualify that they are, in fact, “dead”, instead of, say, “fevered” or “passionate” or “crazed” or any number of words that could describe a jihadist’s eyes?

Rating: 1/5

Recommended Age Range: 16+ (although I recommend not letting anyone even touch this book, least of all a teenager)

Warnings: Kissing and sensual scenes and descriptions, violence.

Genre: Supernatural, Young Adult

Passages/Quotes:

On the surface of the door was a large black handprint. That wouldn’t have been so very strange, except that it gave every appearance of having been burned into the wood. Burned, but in the perfect contours of a hand. This must be what the rabbis were talking about. She traced it with her fingertips, finding that it was actually scored into the wood, so that her own hand fit inside it, though dwarfed by it, and came away dusted with fine ash. She brushed off her fingers, puzzled.
What had made the print? A cleverly shaped brand? It sometimes happened that Brimstone’s traders left a mark by which to find portals on their next visit, but that was usually just a smear of pain or a knife-gouged X-marks-the-spot. This was a bit sophisticated for them.
~Taylor 46

At the same moment, though Karou didn’t know it, across the world, at every door emblazoned with the black handprint, fires raged. They couldn’t be doused, and yet they didn’t spread. Flame ate away the doors and the magic that clung to them and then swallowed itself, leaving charred holes in dozens of buildings. Metal doors melted, so hot was the fire, and witnesses who stared at the flames saw, in the nimbus of their dazzled retinas, the silhouettes of wings.
Karou saw them and understood. The way to Elsewhere had been severed, and she was cast adrift.
~Taylor 138

Overall Review:

Daughter of Smoke and Bone made me never want to read another book about angels/demons again. I should have learned my lesson from Hush, Hush. What an absolute terrible book. The problem is that it’s disguised as a good one.

Coming Up Next: Aunt Maria by Diana Wynne Jones

Choke: Why Must Trilogies Always Degrade?

Choke is written by Obert Skye. It was published in 2010 by Shadow Mountain. It is the second book in the Pillage trilogy (my review of the first book, Pillage, can be found here). Skye’s website can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“Beck Phillips has spent his time since the dragon pillage of Kingsplot inflating a huge weather balloon inside a tiny building, exploring all the forbidden rooms in the manor, and showing his natural propensity to act first and think later.

But, he is a Pillage and dragons are part of his heritage. Try as he might, he can’t ignore their obvious lure. Confronted with conflicting stories from adults who claim to know what’s best for him, Beck retrieves the last dragon egg in existence and takes it to a mountainside cave to hatch.

Kate should be jealous when Beck becomes too attached to the dragon queen Lizzy, yet she too is irresistibly drawn in. When Lizzy starts her own rampage, Beck realizes he can’t let the devastation happen again. Will he, once and for all, be able to change the course of events his family curse has destined for him?”

~Inside Flap

What I Liked:

I knew that if there was a sequel to Pillage that it would involve the stone that Beck threw away. Of course, it was blindingly obvious…it’s really too bad, because the first book is a great stand-alone and ends on a high note. This book does not. But then again, isn’t that the Trilogy Formula (FSASCH!)?

Contrary to what I said about the first book, I like the fact that these books are not very How To Train Your Dragon-ish and that the dragons are always a threat. I mean, I love taming-dragons stories, but let’s be honest here…if dragons were real, they would probably act a lot like the ones in these books.

I can see glimmers of Beck starting to develop, which helps me get through his utter stupidity. He’s also still just as wise-cracking as ever, which is, on occasion, pretty funny.

Cover Art

What I Didn’t Like:

Beck annoyed me throughout the entire book. I mean, he’s sixteen and he’s acting like he’s ten. He’s also the Wise-Cracking Boy Hero, and I’m actually starting to get a little tired of that trope, which might be why he annoyed me so much. Kate is an extremely flat character and Wyatt might as well not even exist for all the benefit he gives as a character.

The revelation at the end comes out of nowhere. There is no prior set-up to it, no foreshadowing (that I caught). Skye set up Van as the (obvious) antagonist more effectively than he did with Whitey. When it’s not really well-integrated and interwoven into the plot of the book, it just smacks of machination and clumsiness, at least in my opinion. It was like Skye decided to do it last minute just to give Beck some more trouble.

Rating: 3/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Realistic, Young Adult

DRAGON

Passages/Quotes:

“In seven days it will be too late and that stone will hatch, regardless of where you have put it.”

“How…?”

“Listen,” he interrupted. “It will produce a queen. And you must tend it or it’ll be a perverted mess of a dragon with a mind of its own and no way to stop it.”

“That’s not true.”

“Yes, I’m afraid it is,” he said, his chin quivered in the candlelight. “You’re the only one who can hatch it and destroy it.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“You have the book,” he insisted.

The Grim Knot?

He nodded.

“I’ve already read it,” I informed him.

“I’ve heard there’s more to it than words.”

“I don’t even…”

“Stop,” he snapped. “You have started the ending by bringing those dragons to life, but now you have to finish it. You must plant it within seven days or she will destroy everything.”

“She?”

“The queen,” he growled impatiently. “Find the stone, nurture it as it grows, and then destroy her when she is born.”

~Skye 73-74

Lizzy grumbled, and I scratched harder. I looked around the cavern and saw that three of the barrels had been knocked over and were broken open.

“So, you just ate the whole time I was gone?”

She opened her mouth, and I could see her long purple tongue. It flicked out and then curled back in. Like the rest of her, her teeth had increased in size. I made a mental note never to stick my hand in her mouth.

Lizzy lifted her head and nudged me under the chin.

“You’re like a big dog,” I told her while patting her on the side of her long neck. “Making me pet you—the other dragons never did that. Of course, they didn’t grow as fast either.”

~Skye 196

Overall Review:

Choke follows in the same vein as Pillage, and it’s a fun read—but I’m getting a bit tired of fun reads that have no depth to them. I couldn’t stand Beck in this book and none of the other characters are well-developed enough for me to even begin to like them. The revelation at the end was too abrupt, and overall it smacked of Trilogy Formula all over. But, still, props where props is due: Choke is entertaining and occasionally even funny. Good for younger readers, but not for me.

You can buy this book here: Choke (Pillage Trilogy)

Coming Up Next: Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Spellbinder: Eh! Steve!

Spellbinder is written by Helen Stringer. It was published in 2009 by Feiwel and Friends. It is Stringer’s first book. Stringer’s website can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“Belladonna Johnson can see ghosts. It’s a trait she’s inherited from her mother’s side of the family, like blue eyes or straight hair. And it’s a trait she could do without, because what twelve-year-old wants to be caught talking to someone invisible?

It is convenient, though, after Belladonna’s parents are killed in a car accident. They can live with her the same as always, watching the same old TV shows in their same old house. Nothing has changed…until everything changes.

One night, with no warning, they vanish into thin air—along with every other ghost in the world. It’s what some people think ghosts are supposed to do, but Belladonna knows it’s all wrong. They may not be living, but they’re not supposed to be gone.

With the help of her classmate, Steve, a master of sneaking and spying, Belladonna is left to uncover what’s become of the spirits and to navigate a whole world her parents have kept well-hidden. If she can’t find her way, she’ll lose them again—this time, for good.”

~Inside Flap

Cover Arts

 What I Liked:

When I first started reading this book, I thought it was very interesting since the author seemed to be going for a sort of snarky, parody-ish style of writing. I mean, the girl’s name is Belladonna, her aunt’s last name is Nightshade, and their school is named Dullworth’s. I think it was also supposed to give a sort of gothic atmosphere to the whole book. I did get that feeling strongly, in the beginning.

I thought this was actually quite a unique supernatural story, worldbuilding-wise. It was intriguing, for the most part, and mildly entertaining.

What I Didn’t Like:

 Unfortunately, this book was a little boring. There were also way too many revelations made at the end of the book with no prior set-up, and Belladonna as the Spellbinder was horribly cliché and obvious. I don’t know what a Paladin is, or why Steve is it, but that was also horribly convenient since he’s literally the only person Belladonna talks with or interacts with during the entire book. Also, what the heck was up with the random Greek mythology? The book has a good premise, and a unique one at that, but the delivery is not very good, the revelations are too abrupt, and the tone of the book just really works against it, I think.

There is a sequel to this book, but I’m not sure if I will read it because this book was a trudge to get through and I don’t feel like trudging my way through the next.

Helen Stringer

Rating: 2/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Supernatural, Fantasy, Young Adult

Passages/Quotes:

“Dad,” she was trying to keep the panic out of her voice. “What is it?”

He looked at her, as if he didn’t know who she was. Then he was himself again.

“Something’s wrong,” he said.

“That’s what Elsie said, but—”

“No, listen, I don’t know how long I’ve got,” he was speaking rapidly, urgently, not the way he usually spoke to his daughter.

Belladonna’s eyes widened. There was a knot in her stomach.

“You’re going to have to call your Aunt Deirdre. She’ll know what to do. Tell her what’s happened. Tell her the doors are closing.”

“But what has happened? What doors?”

“The doors to the Other Side. Tell here there’s only one left. She’ll know which one. And don’t go out. Whatever you do, don’t go out until she gets here.”

“But—”

She never got any further. The words froze in her throat as she saw her father seem to compress inward and squeeze upward until he became a thin line from floor to ceiling before both ends of the line shot together and he vanished, leaving a small bright spot, which faded to nothing.

~Stringer 47-48

The flames in the braziers flared blue, then green, and filled the room with a sweet, acrid smoke that made Belladonna and Steve feel dizzy. Through the light and smoke, Belladonna almost imagined she could see the Sibyl as she once was, sitting in the stone chair, gripping its arms, and throwing her head back to allow the gods entry to her mind.

“Peering proudly through the welkin way,

The radiant raptor rends the ruddy day,

Protecting the paragon in plain sight

Under arches and angles in motley light.”

The flames sank to orange and the Sibyl seemed to sigh.

“Um…is that it?” asked Belladonna.

“Did it make sense?”

“No, it didn’t make sense!’ said Steve. “It was like something from one of those crosswords where the clue is a train and the answer is a caterpillar.”

“Oh, good,” said the Sibyl, “I was afraid I’d lost my touch.”

~Stringer 158

Overall Review:

Spellbinder is a (mostly) unique supernatural book with an interesting style of writing, but, unfortunately, those don’t save it from the fact that it’s a boring read. Steve is too convenient of a plot device, and the revelation about Belladonna is obvious and cliché. Too much happens at the end with too little foreshadowing, and the Greek is just weird.

You can buy this book here: Spellbinder

Coming Up Next: Choke by Obert Skye

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