strange_complex: (Chrestomanci)
I learnt via [livejournal.com profile] fjm this morning that Diana Wynne Jones has finally lost her long battle with cancer. She was easily my favourite children's author, and indeed quite probably my favourite living author full stop. The world will feel several shades greyer without her in it.

It's often said that the best children's literature works well for adults too, but that is a poor understatement in the context of Diana's books. I really can't think of any other author whose work had so much to offer whatever phase of life or state of mind the reader was in. I know that her books entranced and captured me as a child, even when I didn't always understand everything that was going on in them. I read Charmed Life in school around the age of ten, and long after I had forgotten its title, the name of the author or anything but the most rudimentary elements of the plot, it stayed with me and haunted me. Eventually I tracked it down as an adult and was amazed by how rich, insightful, honest and yet optimistic it was about childhood, and the relationship between children and adults, and the process of growing up. Now I know that that is par for the course with her work, and have a considerable stretch of book-shelf devoted to the pleasure of the discovery.

I was lucky enough to meet Diana at a reader's day in Bristol in 2006, and hear her talking about her work in general, and particularly Howl's Moving Castle and the forthcoming The Pinhoe Egg. So I did at least get a chance to tell her how much I enjoyed her work. I think, too, that given the passion and enthusiasm of her fan-base, she knew very well how universally she was loved and admired. But how sad, still, to know that that conversation is over now. :-(

Click here if you would like view this entry in light text on a dark background.

strange_complex: (Tonino reading)
2009 was my third year of reviewing all of the (non-work-related) books I read and films I watched here in my journal, and my second year of also doing the same for Classic episodes of Doctor Who. My overviews of 2007 and 2008 are at the links, and the same for 2009 follows below.

Books )

Films )

Doctor Who )

Other telefantasy )

Click here to view this entry with minimal formatting.

strange_complex: (Tonino reading)
One of the things that happened when I moved into my lovely proper new house here in Leeds is that I finally took possession of all the accumulated gubbins which I had left behind with my parents when I first moved out at the age of 18. Mainly, this meant the books of my childhood and my teens - with which I am now at leisure to get nostalgically re-acquainted.

The Oz books were, in no uncertain terms, the central axis of my childhood. In fact, see this picture of me reading to my little friends on my sixth birthday? )
Well, that's an Oz book I'm reading to them - The Land of Oz, I think, judging from the colour of the spine. I had all fourteen of the original L. Frank Baum series, in lovely bright paperback covers as published by Del Rey, and read them religiously and repeatedly from the ages of approximately four to seven years old. (I had a random hardback copy of Lucky Bucky in Oz, too, but even as a child, I sneered at it and looked down upon it for not being a 'proper' Oz book). Dorothy, the Wizard, Ozma and all their little friends were fiercely real to me, and I was quite, quite convinced that the magical Land of Oz existed, if only one knew how to get there.

This all got a bit longer than is really polite to leave uncut )

strange_complex: (Tonino reading)
The 'unread books' meme, as created by [livejournal.com profile] nhw, alphabetised by [livejournal.com profile] loganberrybunny and last seen by me on [livejournal.com profile] huskyteer's journal:

LibraryThings's top 106 unread books )

strange_complex: (Snape by JKR)
It's very exciting to go to Mugglenet right now and see their counter to The Half-Blood Prince enumerating the remaining time in terms of a few hours! I was perfectly sanguine about it all when I woke up this morning, and genuinely spent the day thinking more about Timgad than Hogwarts - but that's entirely out of the window now! :)

In an hour, I shall be setting off for town to queue up in front of WHSmiths, armed with chocolate biscuits, cakes and of course my precious pre-order receipt (and [livejournal.com profile] davesangel's!). My plan once I've got the book is to return home, make coffee and spend until at least 4am getting a sense of its overall plot and shape: much as Oscar Wilde used to do. Once I wake up again, I'll then continue learning more about the major plot details and developments over the course of Saturday, but also allow a bit more time for reading interesting-looking passages in a linear fashion.

The reason for this approach is two-fold. One, it will mean that by the time I go to sleep I'll already be essentially immune to spoilers, and will be able to start taking part in online discussions of the book almost straight away. But two, after the end of Saturday, I'm really going to have to all-but-drop-it again in order to concentrate on preparing for my Reading interview. Saturday is Harry-day, but I can't really let myself remain wrapped up in it any longer than that, and so I need to get as much as out of the book as possible during that time. Slow, linear reading can then be enjoyed at my leisure once I'm done at Reading.

Naturally, I faithfully promise assiduous use of lj-cuts and spoiler warnings in my LJ once I'm ready to start chewing over it myself - you lot know me better than to think I'd blow it for you, right?
strange_complex: (Chrestomanci)
I did finish Conrad's Fate last night, as I had expected to. My final verdict is that it was a real delight to read, and it is now my third favourite in the Chrestomanci series1. Since no-one on my friends list will have read it (with the exception of [livejournal.com profile] pickwick who, like me, bought an advance copy on Ebay), and a few might want to, I shall note down my impressions of it in general terms, without giving away plot details.

Some of the book's themes will be familiar to DWJ fans of old: neglectful or dead parents, overbearing older siblings, a central child character who gets manipulated by adults intent on their own interests, and that same child character having unrealised magical abilities (although this latter is, I was pleased to see, much less central to the plot than it is in Charmed Life, The Nine Lives... or The Magicians of Caprona). But none of this is to say by any means that she is simply re-treading old ground: rather, she's bringing in enough that is familiar to make the book recognisably part of the Chrestomanci series, while also introducing enough that is new and playing around enough with her own formulae to make it feel fresh and exciting.

On a very basic level, this is the first Chrestomanci novel to be set entirely outside Series 12. This wouldn't necessarily count as a literary leap in its own right, but it seems to come hand in hand with some new explorations of the concept of the related worlds, which are very welcome, and build nicely on ideas developed in Witch Week2. Can't really say what those explorations entail here: you must learn the full meaning and implications of 'pulling the possibilities' along with Conrad.

Another change is the use of the first-person narrative voice. This I liked because it gave DWJ greater scope for exploring both the confusion and the hurt felt at various stages by the main character, and also because it helped to make the prolonged tension between Conrad's imperfect understanding of what was going on around him and the actual situation (itself another classic DWJ device) all the more convincing.

Other notable features included some interesting playing about with the theme of acting (both in the regular sense and more metaphorically), a cast of consistently complex and three-dimensional characters and, of course, Diana's apparently effortless, yet rich and melodic, prose style.

All in all, I'm definitely glad I bought it: not just because I was right to believe it was a pleasure which should be enjoyed as soon as humanly possible, but because I'm proud to own a proof copy of a book which I now know to be truly excellent. I'll almost certainly buy an official copy once it is published on March 7th, as I very much feel Diana deserves my contribution to her royalty cheques. But I may just wait to do so until I've moved to wherever I go next after Belfast, as it's just silly to buy a book I've already read now, when I could wait until I've moved again.

-------------
[1] The complete order for me is now: 1) Charmed Life, 2) The Nine Lives of Christopher Chant, 3) Conrad's Fate, 4) Witch Week, 5) The Magicians of Caprona (although even that is still very good). Mixed Magics is unclassified, because I like some of the stories in it better than others, with 'The Sage of Theare' probably being my favourite.

[2] Although the suggestion in the last chapter that someone who stays too long outside their native Series will 'fade' is a) a bit reminiscent of Philip Pullman and b) not logically consistent with the amount of time Millie seems to have lived in Series 12 by the time of The Nine Lives of Christopher Chant.

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