I enjoyed this just as much as and maybe a little more than Suite Scarlett. The plot essentially continues on from the first book, and the characteriz...moreI enjoyed this just as much as and maybe a little more than Suite Scarlett. The plot essentially continues on from the first book, and the characterization builds on it and is even richer. Plus, Johnson's prose is laugh-out-loud funny. The only problem is that it ends on kind of a cliffhanger, and I want the third book right now!(less)
I love DWJ and would rather have a new book from her than almost any other children's author I can think of, and I had a lot of fun reading this one:...moreI love DWJ and would rather have a new book from her than almost any other children's author I can think of, and I had a lot of fun reading this one: neat magic, excellent characters, very funny. That said, though, I did think it was rather derivative of a couple of her other recent books (The Pinhoe Egg and House of Many Ways came to mind a lot), so I wouldn't put it with her top-rank books.(less)
The Ogre Downstairs is probably not one of Diana Wynne Jones's best-known books, but it's always been one of my favorites. Caspar, Johnny, and Gwinny...moreThe Ogre Downstairs is probably not one of Diana Wynne Jones's best-known books, but it's always been one of my favorites. Caspar, Johnny, and Gwinny resent their new stepfather (known to them as "the Ogre") and his sons, Douglas and Malcolm, but when the Ogre gives Johnny and Malcolm new chemistry sets, all of the children get mixed up in the magical results. I've read this book multiple times, and it's always laugh-out-loud funny; Jones is really at the top of her comic form here. At the same time, she has some serious things to say about families and their relationships. (less)
Here, Jones examines the workings of families and the relationship between the sexes. After her father's car goes over a cliff, Mig, her brother Chris...moreHere, Jones examines the workings of families and the relationship between the sexes. After her father's car goes over a cliff, Mig, her brother Chris, and their mother go to stay with Mig's Aunt Maria in the little town of Cranbury-on-Sea, but they quickly realize that all is not as it seems to be: the women, under Aunt Maria's rod of iron, rule the town, the men almost all act like zombies, and the only children are locked away in an orphanage. Along with the characteristically inventive story, Black Maria is full of memorable characters, particularly the sinister Aunt Maria, so sweet and helpless on the outside and chillingly evil within - one of Jones's most memorable villains, I think. (less)
Archer's Goon is a mysterious large man who shows up one day in Howard Sykes's kitchen, refusing to leave until Howard's father Quentin delivers the t...moreArcher's Goon is a mysterious large man who shows up one day in Howard Sykes's kitchen, refusing to leave until Howard's father Quentin delivers the two thousand words he owes. When Quentin won't deliver, the Sykes family finds out that their town is run by seven competing siblings who are wizards - and one of them needs those words.
Jones's plots are always mysterious, and I think Archer's Goon is up there with her most bizarre. But she does a wonderful job keeping the mystery intriguing right up through the end of the book, as Howard and his sister Awful try desperately to figure out what's going on before the seven siblings drive them all to distraction or worse. (less)
As nineteen-year-old Polly is packing to go away to college, she looks at a picture on her wall called "Fire and Hemlock", a mysterious image of flame...moreAs nineteen-year-old Polly is packing to go away to college, she looks at a picture on her wall called "Fire and Hemlock", a mysterious image of flame and smoke; suddenly, new memories begin to enter her mind -- memories that reveal a childhood full of fantasies, yet full of dangers, a childhood in which she met a man named Thomas Lynn. In order to figure out what's happened to her, Polly must delve deeper and deeper into her new memories and discover where they came from and what they mean.
Fire and Hemlock is based on the ballad of Tam Lin, mixed with elements of Thomas the Rhymer and the workings of Jones's wonderfully inventive mind. It's gorgeously written, full of sharp images: listening to Tom and his string quartet practice, Polly thinks that "[i:]f you were able to hear lime juice, it would sound like violins." Polly and Tom are wonderful characters, and Jones delineates their relationship with skill, as it moves from an adult and child friendship into something else.
The fantastical elements of the book are subtle at first and grow over the course of the book into a mystical ending, which I must admit is the one thing I'm not entirely happy with; it's a little too confusing (or perhaps too subtle) for me. Overall, though, this is simply a gorgeous, haunting book, one of the best from one of the best fantasy authors out there. (less)
Stevens is the perfect English butler, dignified and devoted to the house and the master he served for decades. Yet after World War II, his perfect wo...moreStevens is the perfect English butler, dignified and devoted to the house and the master he served for decades. Yet after World War II, his perfect world has faded, and as he looks back over the years, he sees, as the reader does, that perhaps it wasn't so perfect after all: Lord Darlington was not as virtuous as Stevens would like to believe, and Stevens sacrificed much in order to serve properly.
Ishiguro uses the first person, speaking with Stevens' voice, and his style is unfalteringly pitch-perfect as Stevens recounts the years of his career. Stevens is a prisoner of his dignity and his position, and his constrained mind, soul, and heart cannot reach out to others, even to Miss Kenton, whom he could love, or to his father, an old servant himself. On the surface, The Remains of the Day is often very funny, a comedy of manners; deeper down, it's almost unbearably sad, though with a touch of hope at the end. It's a wonderful, perceptive character study, both of Stevens himself and of postwar England. (less)
Oh, I am vastly grateful to Penguin's Speak imprint for reprinting Ibbotson's romances, which are lovely and were previously hard to find.
Anna is a yo...moreOh, I am vastly grateful to Penguin's Speak imprint for reprinting Ibbotson's romances, which are lovely and were previously hard to find.
Anna is a young Russian countess who has fled to England from Russia with her mother and younger brother after the Russian Revolution. Needing to work and wanting to help support her family, Anna takes a position as a housemaid at Mersham, the home of the aristocratic Westerholme family. She conceals her background, of course, but it doesn't take long for the entire household to fall in love with her, especially the young earl, Rupert, who is unfortunately already engaged to the beautiful but horrid heiress Muriel.
Ibbotson's writing is warm and lyrical, evoking beautifully the feeling of the English countryside and of the country house in which Anna works. There's a definite fairy-tale atmosphere to the book, but it's underpinned with reality; Ibbotson doesn't let you forget the effects of the recent war and hints at the upcoming World War II.
The characters are well-drawn and very engaging, especially the honest, direct Anna; though the evil fiancée plot point is a little hackneyed, Muriel's interest in eugenics and uninterest in the feelings of others makes it pretty easy to hate her. I do wish Ibbotson would examine her physical descriptions, some of which take nasty stereotypes too far: the Jewish family are smart and loving, but they're all unattractive, with big noses and frizzy hair, and the fat Herring family are downright unpleasant, which is equated with their size. Still, this aside, this is one of my favorites of Ibbotson's romances.(less)
A Song for Summer is set just before World War II, when young Englishwoman Ellen Carr goes to Austria to take a position as matron to an unconventiona...moreA Song for Summer is set just before World War II, when young Englishwoman Ellen Carr goes to Austria to take a position as matron to an unconventional boarding school and becomes caught up in the life of the school, as well as with the school's mysterious handyman and his quiet struggle against Hitler's Germany.
Ibbotson's prose is often beautifully understated; she often cuts away just before a tense scene, leaving the reader to find out what happens later. I thought I would find this annoying after she'd done it a couple of times, but I ended up appreciating her trust in her readers.
Her descriptions of Austria, of Vienna and also of the rural areas around Ellen's school, are warm and lyrical, and I was unsurprised to find out that Ibbotson was herself born in Vienna. The style of A Song for Summer is very different from her hilarious children's fantasy novels, but still shows the same ability to understand and illuminate human nature in her marvelous characters. (less)
This is a walk on the darker side for the usually light-hearted Diana Wynne Jones. The titular ghost is one of a family of four sisters - only she doe...moreThis is a walk on the darker side for the usually light-hearted Diana Wynne Jones. The titular ghost is one of a family of four sisters - only she doesn't know which one. As the ghost observes her family (richly characterized by Jones), she slowly figures out which sisters she is and what happened to her, and she discovers that she has the power to prevent something terrible from happening: the fulfillment of a bargain the sisters made with the mysterious goddess Monigan, whom the sisters thought they imagined but who is terribly real.
The Time of the Ghost is distinctly more grim in tone than most of Jones's other work. The sisters are neglected (and occasionally abused) by their parents, one of them ends up with an abusive boyfriend, and the Monigan parts are very creepy. I read this first a couple of years ago and was put off by the tone; upon rereading, expecting it to be a little darker, I liked it more.
The story is skillfully woven together, as the reader and the ghost pick up clues about what's happening, and it's alloyed with Jones's usual wit, even as she deals with some disturbing issues. Don't expect the lighthearted charm of the Chrestomanci or Howl books, but read it anyway: it's well worth it. (less)
WWII evacuee Vivian Smith is shocked when she is unceremoniously kidnapped from a railway station by two boys and taken to Time City. There she learns...moreWWII evacuee Vivian Smith is shocked when she is unceremoniously kidnapped from a railway station by two boys and taken to Time City. There she learns that although the city was built in order to keep history moving along as it should, something seems to be going wrong, and the boys, Jonathan and Sam, have mistaken her for the mysterious Time Lady, who they think can fix the problems. The plot is on the convoluted side, involving multiple time travel trips, but Jones keeps it moving along with a witty style and engaging characters. I don't think I'd call A Tale of Time City one of my favorite Jones books, but it's fun.(less)
Rhonda Lee is a math-loving high-school senior, working hard to earn a college scholarship and tutoring other kids in math; she doesn't have time for...moreRhonda Lee is a math-loving high-school senior, working hard to earn a college scholarship and tutoring other kids in math; she doesn't have time for fun or dating. When she has to tutor popular Sarah Gamble, Rhonda notices Sarah's queasiness and tiredness and figures out that they have something in common. Against her will, Rhonda grows to like Sarah, and her brother David, and realizes that she needs to face her past.
On the plus side, I was impressed with the characterization of Rhonda, which is very vivid and convincing, and with the complex web of relationships she has with her friends and family, and I thought the plot was nicely worked out without being at all preachy. On the minus side, the dialogue often struck me as forced, and I would really have liked more resolution to Rhonda's relationship with her dad. On the whole, though, I did like this a lot and would definitely read more of Johnson's YA (looks like he's got another book coming out next year).(less)
When their father dies of an unexpected heart attack just after arriving home in his beloved gold Firebird, the three Gold sisters each react to it in...moreWhen their father dies of an unexpected heart attack just after arriving home in his beloved gold Firebird, the three Gold sisters each react to it in different ways: sensible May tries to keep things going and has a surprising romance with Pete, whom she's known all her life, jock Brooks starts drinking and running with a rebellious crowd, and introvert Palmer withdraws even more, trying to hide her panic attacks from her family. Johnson's characterization is sharp and observant, as always, and the way she weaves the sisters' lives together with each other and with their friends and family is really good stuff.(less)
Clio Ford isn't having the summer she wanted. Just after she landed the art store job she wanted (within the range of the guy she's crushing on), she...moreClio Ford isn't having the summer she wanted. Just after she landed the art store job she wanted (within the range of the guy she's crushing on), she found out that instead, she has to spend the summer with her estranged father. Worse yet, she'll be trapped on a yacht in the Mediterranean with her dad, his best friend Martin, his new girlfriend Julia (an archaeology professor), the girlfriend's gorgeous daughter Elsa, and Aidan, an arrogant grad student Clio knows she won't get along with, all searching for something that nobody will reveal to Clio.
This was a good outing from Johnson, with lots of plot and intrigue and interpersonal tensions to keep it going -- not as good as Devilish or The Bermudez Triangle, but better than 13 Little Blue Envelopes. I particularly liked the tangled relationships between Clio and Elsa and Aidan, which could easily have turned into heroine-vs.-rival girl annoyingness but was actually very well handled.(less)