The original meme is a basic list, available here, which simply shows which writers you're familiar with.

My version: Drop the authors you’ve never read to the bottom. For the remainder, discuss or rec at least one of their books with at least one sentence of explanation about why you do or don’t like it. Ask your readers to tell you about the authors you’ve never read.

Cynthia Felice. I only read the book she co-authored with Connie Willis, Water Witch, which was enjoyable but not memorable.

Diana Wynne Jones. One of my favorite writers of all time. Click her tag for more reviews and discussion. My favorites of hers are The Homeward Bounders, Fire and Hemlock, Witch Week, and Charmed Life. The last two are in print in the USA in omnibuses, as The Chronicles of Chrestomanci, Volume 2: The Magicians of Caprona / Witch Week and The Chronicles of Chrestomanci, Volume 1: Charmed Life / The Lives of Christopher Chant.

Gwyneth Jones. I’ve read some of her YA written as “Ann Halam.” It tends toward the awesomely depressing. (Dr. Franklin's Island (Readers Circle): Kids are utterly helpless prisoners as they are slowly mutated against their will; Taylor Five Everyone the teenage heroine loves dies horribly, and the orangutans whose survival they all died for go extinct anyway.) The only one I’d rec is her least depressing book, Siberia: A Novel, which has the wonderful idea of growing animals out of high-tech kits.

Leigh Kennedy. I only read her infamous short story, “Her Furry Face,” about chimpanzee bestiality. Okay, it’s really about how the main character is such a sexist pig that he’d rather have sex with a chimpanzee than a woman, because the former will look up to him adoringly and make no demands. But still. Kids! Grow animals from high-tech kits! Then have sex with them! No, I am not going to add a “chimpanzee cunnilingus” tag.

ETA: My bad. It was actually an orangutan. (No wonder they're in such desperate straits in Taylor Five.) I'm not making an "orangutan onanism" tag either.

Lee Killough. I only read her collection of linked short stories, Aventine, which are set on a high-tech artsy/bohemian planet, and are about new and alien technology turned to the service of art. The plots are predictable “biter bit” tales, but the ideas are quite cool. I especially liked the one in which actors take drugs to make themselves really get into character.

Nancy Kress. She’s famous for idea-driven sf, but my favorite of her books is the quirky fantasy The Prince of Morning Bells. It’s clearly influenced by The Last Unicorn in its mix of fairy-tale beauty and eeriness with clever metafictional references, but manages to carve out its own identity as well. I also enjoyed her classic sf novel Beggars in Spain, about the implications of what at first seem to be a small genetic alteration, to remove the need for sleep. But I like the original novella better. The novel is worth reading, though, and stands on its own. Don’t bother with the sequels. I also don’t rec her mainstream thrillers or anything involving reincarnation. But her short stories and novellas are often quite strong.

Authors I’ve never read, H-K: Monica Hughes, Katherine Kurtz. . If you’ve ever read anything by either of them, please discuss in comments.
Fenella never explained anything properly. She had once told Sally she didn’t know how. She peeled a slice of corned beef off a cold fried egg and did her best. “She thought Sally was a ghost and threw custard all over the floor.”

It seems bizarrely fitting that one of Jones’ weirdest novels is also, from what I gather, one of her most autobiographical.

Let’s see how far I can get into a review without book-destroying spoilers. This will be difficult. If you haven’t read this book yet but would like to, I suggest that you not click on the cut, and not read the back or, in some cases, front cover of the edition you obtain.

The book begins as if mid-way through a nightmare. There’s been an accident, the narrator thinks, and that thought sends her tumbling into mindless panic. She can’t remember who or where she is. She’s invisible and can walk through walls. Her mind has been affected by her weird bodiless state, leaving her unable to concentrate or perform complex tasks, and if she thinks too hard about what might be going on, she metaphorically and literally falls apart.

The obvious answer is that she’s a ghost who doesn’t remember the accident that killed her. I don’t think it’s spoilery to say that it’s much more complicated and interesting than that.

She explores, hoping to figure out where and who she is, and meets three brilliant, funny, and extremely neglected sisters. Their parents work at a school, and keep the girls in a freezing room, the better to ignore their existence. Though the parents earn a reasonably good living, they don’t bother to feed, clothe, provide for, or even notice their daughters, letting them beg the cafeteria ladies for food. Nor do they notice when one sister ties knots into her hair, or another disappears for days. This is the part that’s apparently largely autobiographical.

I love the sisters to bits: enormous Cart, who storms through the house every morning in a state of either low blood sugar or sheer animal rage, dramatic Imogen, who nearly gets herself accidentally hanged to demonstrate the glories of flying on stage, weird Fenella, a small spooky child who ties knots in her hair, and the mysterious Sally, aka Semolina.

The book isn’t a depressing read – it’s very funny, and is also primarily a mystery and a thriller – but it’s also a very good illustration of how child neglect is a form of child abuse. The parents never, ever learn better, either. And that’s about all I can say without getting into deeply spoilery matters. This ranks with Hexwood as not only one of Jones’ strangest books, but one of her hardest-to-discuss-outside-a-cut books.

The Time of the Ghost

Spoilers twist and turn )
While madly procrastinating on a developmental psychology paper I have to write by rearranging my bookshelves, I discovered that I have extra copies of two Diana Wynne Jones books, plus one I don't like enough to want to keep.

First commenter to offer $5 (includes postage) per book gets it. All are nice new editions, in near-perfect condition.

Charmed Life. Reviewed yesterday. Love this.

Deep Secret. Centaurs and the multiverse collide with an sf con. Not one of my favorites, but quite funny and many people love it very much.

A Sudden Wild Magic. Frankly, I think this is terrible, but I am sure someone out there loves it. I think it's a satire on gender roles, with witches and stuff.

Comments disabled on DW so that all bids will land in the same place.
Cat Chant is a quiet, passive boy whose selfish, bossy sister Gwendolyn is a witch. When they’re orphaned in a boating accident, Gwendolyn quickly arranges life to her satisfaction, getting magic lessons from locals and finally getting herself and Cat taken in by the great enchanter, Chrestomanci, an elegant man with an endless selection of exquisite outfits. To Gwendolyn’s fury, no one at Chrestomanci Castle appreciates her wonderfulness, so she sets about turning the place upside down. Cat, whose approach to life is mostly duck-and-cover, ducks and covers until suddenly he can’t any more, and is forced to take action.

That’s about all I can say about the plot without ruining the twists. (You can probably guess that there’s more to Cat than meets the eye. But you probably won’t guess the exact plot turn which forces Cat from his usual place as an onlooker into a mover and shaker.)

Diana Wynne Jones is great at hilariously animated inanimate objects, and the weakly waving gingerbread men and Julia’s cowardly tin soldiers are some of my favorites of those. The shift in Gwendolyn’s pranks from harmless and funny to disturbing and awful is mirrored in the tone of the book – one minute you’re laughing, and the next you don’t want to look over your shoulder. The careful set-up of a number of plot points gets a marvelous pay-off when Cat ends up with something like five awful fates hanging over his head, all set to occur sequentially over the course of a weekend.

But what makes this book special to me isn’t so much the comedy, though it’s very funny, or the plotting, which is very well-done, as the complicated relationship between Cat and Gwendolyn, and the emotional honesty of Cat’s slow growth from a boy who won’t or can’t understand most of what’s going on in his life, to a boy who begins to step up and take responsibility for things he’d rather not even think about, let alone deal with.

Feel free to put spoilers in comments.

The Chronicles of Chrestomanci, Volume 1: Charmed Life / The Lives of Christopher Chant
Cat Chant is a quiet, passive boy whose selfish, bossy sister Gwendolyn is a witch. When they’re orphaned in a boating accident, Gwendolyn quickly arranges life to her satisfaction, getting magic lessons from locals and finally getting herself and Cat taken in by the great enchanter, Chrestomanci, an elegant man with an endless selection of exquisite outfits. To Gwendolyn’s fury, no one at Chrestomanci Castle appreciates her wonderfulness, so she sets about turning the place upside down. Cat, whose approach to life is mostly duck-and-cover, ducks and covers until suddenly he can’t any more, and is forced to take action.

That’s about all I can say about the plot without ruining the twists. (You can probably guess that there’s more to Cat than meets the eye. But you probably won’t guess the exact plot turn which forces Cat from his usual place as an onlooker into a mover and shaker.)

Diana Wynne Jones is great at hilariously animated inanimate objects, and the weakly waving gingerbread men and Julia’s cowardly tin soldiers are some of my favorites of those. The shift in Gwendolyn’s pranks from harmless and funny to disturbing and awful is mirrored in the tone of the book – one minute you’re laughing, and the next you don’t want to look over your shoulder. The careful set-up of a number of plot points gets a marvelous pay-off when Cat ends up with something like five awful fates hanging over his head, all set to occur sequentially over the course of a weekend.

But what makes this book special to me isn’t so much the comedy, though it’s very funny, or the plotting, which is very well-done, as the complicated relationship between Cat and Gwendolyn, and the emotional honesty of Cat’s slow growth from a boy who won’t or can’t understand most of what’s going on in his life, to a boy who begins to step up and take responsibility for things he’d rather not even think about, let alone deal with.

Feel free to put spoilers in comments.

The Chronicles of Chrestomanci, Volume 1: Charmed Life / The Lives of Christopher Chant
Cat Chant is a quiet, passive boy whose selfish, bossy sister Gwendolyn is a witch. When they’re orphaned in a boating accident, Gwendolyn quickly arranges life to her satisfaction, getting magic lessons from locals and finally getting herself and Cat taken in by the great enchanter, Chrestomanci, an elegant man with an endless selection of exquisite outfits. To Gwendolyn’s fury, no one at Chrestomanci Castle appreciates her wonderfulness, so she sets about turning the place upside down. Cat, whose approach to life is mostly duck-and-cover, ducks and covers until suddenly he can’t any more, and is forced to take action.

That’s about all I can say about the plot without ruining the twists. (You can probably guess that there’s more to Cat than meets the eye. But you probably won’t guess the exact plot turn which forces Cat from his usual place as an onlooker into a mover and shaker.)

Diana Wynne Jones is great at hilariously animated inanimate objects, and the weakly waving gingerbread men and Julia’s cowardly tin soldiers are some of my favorites of those. The shift in Gwendolyn’s pranks from harmless and funny to disturbing and awful is mirrored in the tone of the book – one minute you’re laughing, and the next you don’t want to look over your shoulder. The careful set-up of a number of plot points gets a marvelous pay-off when Cat ends up with something like five awful fates hanging over his head, all set to occur sequentially over the course of a weekend.

But what makes this book special to me isn’t so much the comedy, though it’s very funny, or the plotting, which is very well-done, as the complicated relationship between Cat and Gwendolyn, and the emotional honesty of Cat’s slow growth from a boy who won’t or can’t understand most of what’s going on in his life, to a boy who begins to step up and take responsibility for things he’d rather not even think about, let alone deal with.

Feel free to put spoilers in comments.

The Chronicles of Chrestomanci, Volume 1: Charmed Life / The Lives of Christopher Chant
This might have been the first book I ever read by Diana Wynne Jones.

I know that the edition I read, and still own, was from the MagicQuest line, which was much better than it sounds, a line of fantasy novels for children and teenagers, not connected to each other and selected for quality. Jane Yolen had a rather minor novel, The Magic Three of Solatia; Peter Dickinson had Tulku (I have never really enjoyed Dickinson, though I respect his craft and ambition), and Jones also had The Magicians of Caprona, a wacky, surrealistic retelling of Romeo and Juliet in an alternate Italy, with Punch and Judy playing a major role. Probably the best book in the line - and it was an excellent line - was Elizabeth Marie Pope's The Perilous Gard.

Did anyone else read these? I have always been curious about Paul Fisher, whose novels were somewhat standard fantasy made notable by intense, dreamlike atmosphere. I have never seen his name anywhere else.

The Power of Three uses a number of standard elements of fantasy - magic Gifts, shapeshifting, curses, elves (sort of), giants (very sort of) - but gives them a whole series of unique twists. It also has one of the very few prologues which is actually worth reading, in which a girl (who later becomes the mother of the protagonists) watches in horror as her brother kills a shapeshifter boy to get his golden collar. It comes with a curse...

When the main story picks up, about fifteen years later, it's from the point of view of Gair, the oldest child of three and the only one without a magic Gift. He's from one of the three cultures living on the moor, all of which simply call themselves people. His people sometimes have magic gifts, but otherwise their strangeness is slipped in piecemeal. I remember reading it and only very slowly realizing that no, Gair's people are not just magical people, they're not what I would call humans. This is very, very well-done, and his culture is convincingly and fascinatingly odd.

The other people are what Gair's folk call Dorigs, who live underwater and shapeshift, and Giants, who are... us. All three are on a collision course, if not outright at war, but begin meeting and interacting with each other halfway through. (Warning: One of the human characters, who turns out to be quite likable and heroic, is fat, unhappy about being fat, and has others thinking that being fat is unattractive.) The lessons they learn are unsurprising but, again, well-done and with unexpected details.

A plot description doesn't capture the atmosphere of the book, which is alternately mythic, magical, and down to earth and funny. It's not one of Jones's best books, but it's well worth reading. I'm very fond of it.

Feel free to put spoilers in comments.

Power of Three
rachelmanija: (Timbuktu to Uttar Pradesh)
( Mar. 26th, 2011 10:48 am)
I just read that Diana Wynne Jones has died. She had been very ill with cancer for at least the last year.

I can't remember if my first Diana Wynne Jones book was Charmed Life or Fire and Hemlock; they're both still among my very favorites of hers. Or it might have been the odd, spooky Power of Three, which could be classified as a "psychic kids" book, but was not exactly a typical example of the genre.

After I read whichever one that was, I began to haunt used bookshops, libraries, thrift shops in search of her novels, until I slowly, slowly managed to obtain everything she'd ever written, even her very slight and hard-to-find first novel Wilkin's Tooth. I was thrilled when her books finally came back into print in the USA, but I got enough enjoyment from the search, not to mention the finds, that I don't regret the probable hundreds of hours I spent prowling dusty stacks.

She wrote at least five of my very favorite novels of all time: Witch Week, Fire and Hemlock, Charmed Life, The Homeward Bounders... The fifth is always difficult: Do I select Archer's Goon or Howl's Moving Castle for their perfect puzzle-box structures, with every element clicking into logical place at the end? The Ogre Downstairs for the living toffee bars undulating down the stairs? The Year of the Griffin for its all-too-recognizable portrait of college life, complete with curses and ninjas? The heartbreaking Dogsbody?

Everybody who likes Jones' work at all seems to have a completely different list of favorite Jones novels, which speaks to her versatility and quirkiness. I love Fire and Hemlock because it's so funny and numinous - a very unusual combination - but others find it unreadable or flat. I didn't think Dark Lord of Derkholm was funny at all, but it's on plenty of people's top three lists.

I read an essay of hers in which she discussed being neglected as a child, and noted that Time of the Ghost was directly autobiographical, except for the ghosts and curses and witches and split personalities and time travel. Her adults are often villainous, but nearly always have understandable motives, and just as often are complicated and sympathetic; her children are surprisingly unsentimentalized.

I can't read Fire and Hemlock without breaking my heart, but in the good kind of way (if you like that kind of thing); I can't read the "worms in custard" or "Simon Says" or "MY SPIRIT IS BEING DRAGGED TO UTTAR PRADESH TO UTTER DESTRUCTION I MEAN" scenes in Witch Week without weeping with laughter.

It seems like a good time to re-read and review her novels. Look for them here.

The Chronicles of Chrestomanci, Volume 1: Charmed Life / The Lives of Christopher Chant

The Chronicles of Chrestomanci, Volume 2: The Magicians of Caprona / Witch Week

Howl's Moving Castle

Year of the Griffin

Dogsbody

Fire and Hemlock

The Homeward Bounders
One of Jones’s earliest novels, it has a far simpler plot than most of hers: an unhappily blended family has hijinks with a magic chemistry set. I wouldn’t put it in her top ten or even top fifteen (maybe top twenty) novels, but I have re-read it several times and it reliably cracks me up. Rather unusually for Jones, it contains sympathetic parents, including, eventually, the eponymous ogre.

They came home from school to the not quite unexpected sight of six enormous toffee-bars undulating down the stairs toward them.

This sentence both sums up the novel and demonstrates Jones’s particular sense of humor and genius for creating inherently funny situations and then combining the perfect wording with the perfect image to put me, at least, on the floor. What makes this sentence so brilliant is the combination of the image, the resignation to the oncoming catastrophe implied in “not quite unexpected,” and the word “undulating.”

The Ogre Downstairs
Sponsored by [personal profile] jonquil.

Andrew Hope inherits his grandfather's peculiar house, recalcitrant gardener and housekeeper, magical responsibilities, and the care of a teenage boy, Aidan Cain, who has an inexhaustible wallet, a name no one seems able to remember, and a lot of mysterious pursuers. A farrago of magical counterparts, were-dogs, and giant vegetables, not to mention actual giants, ensues. I particularly enjoyed the climactic mingling of a Faerie battle with a rigged contest at the fair for various Best Bits of Garden Produce.

I wouldn't say this is one of my favorite Jones novels - the characters have bright surfaces but not a lot of depth, and the end is more one thing after another than an orchestrated and coherent climax - but it's very funny, with particularly good running jokes about extremely big vegetables and cauliflower cheese. It reminded me a bit of the underrated The Ogre Downstairs (the one with the magic chemistry set.)

Enchanted Glass

The Ogre Downstairs
Sirius, the immortal luminary who rules the Dog Star, is accused of murdering another luminary and losing a Zoi, an object of nearly infinite power. Despite his protests, he is sentenced to life on Earth, where the Zoi landed. He'll be reinstated as luminary if he can find the Zoi before his natural life-span is up, and if he fails to do so, he'll die forever. Only he's reincarnated as an ordinary dog, with no memories of his previous existence.

This is a classic fantasy that I re-read recently, after such a long lag-time (because someone borrowed and never returned my copy) that I had forgotten everything but the barest plot-outline, that I had liked it very much but that it wasn't in my list of all-time favorite books by Jones, and that the ending was somewhat sad or at least bittersweet.

I did really like it, though not as much as Fire and Hemlock, Charmed Life, The Homeward Bounders, or Witch Week, say. The ending is indeed bittersweet-- and with a killer last line that I'm surprised I could have forgotten. I will add that the plot is exceptionally clever, and that the last twenty or so pages lift the story from "very good" into "extraordinary."

spoilers for a character appearance and the mood of the ending, but not the sort of thing that would ruin the book )
Sirius, the immortal luminary who rules the Dog Star, is accused of murdering another luminary and losing a Zoi, an object of nearly infinite power. Despite his protests, he is sentenced to life on Earth, where the Zoi landed. He'll be reinstated as luminary if he can find the Zoi before his natural life-span is up, and if he fails to do so, he'll die forever. Only he's reincarnated as an ordinary dog, with no memories of his previous existence.

This is a classic fantasy that I re-read recently, after such a long lag-time (because someone borrowed and never returned my copy) that I had forgotten everything but the barest plot-outline, that I had liked it very much but that it wasn't in my list of all-time favorite books by Jones, and that the ending was somewhat sad or at least bittersweet.

I did really like it, though not as much as Fire and Hemlock, Charmed Life, The Homeward Bounders, or Witch Week, say. The ending is indeed bittersweet-- and with a killer last line that I'm surprised I could have forgotten. I will add that the plot is exceptionally clever, and that the last twenty or so pages lift the story from "very good" into "extraordinary."

spoilers for a character appearance and the mood of the ending, but not the sort of thing that would ruin the book )
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