So, I know I keep saying this, but I mean it this time: This was my favorite book of the series. I loved that we got to revisit Cat from "A Charmed Li...moreSo, I know I keep saying this, but I mean it this time: This was my favorite book of the series. I loved that we got to revisit Cat from "A Charmed Life", the story line was fun and engaging, the new characters were equally interesting, and it kept me interested the entire time. I thought that it was a lovely ending to the series and brought things around full circle rather nicely without being too cliche or obvious. I really enjoyed this series and will definitely check out more Diana Wynne Jones next time I'm craving some good children's lit. (less)
I finished my third Chrestomanci book, Conrad's Fate, and while I still quite enjoyed it, I think the previous two I've read, Charmed Life and The Liv...moreI finished my third Chrestomanci book, Conrad's Fate, and while I still quite enjoyed it, I think the previous two I've read, Charmed Life and The Lives of Christopher Chant, were a bit better. This one was fun, we followed young Christopher Chant in his years before taking over the role of Chrestomanci; this time he was posing as a domestic in the grand estate of Stallchester in the dimension of Series 7 while searching for his enchantress friend, Mille in the ever-shifting worlds surrounding the mysterious estate. Christopher befriends another young boy also at the estate for false pretenses: Conrad has gone to there under an alias to find the supposed source of his bad karma and resolve his fate. As I've come now to expect with Diana Wynne Jones, there are lots of twists and turns that keep you guessing until the end. I can honestly say that while I did know something was up with some of the characters, I did not anticipate the revelations that came out in the end. I love being surprised by books, and it isn't too often that a kids book can keep me in the dark for so long.
The only downside to this book was that sometimes it got a bit bogged down in the daily activities of Christopher and Conrad as servants in the estate. I mean, it was interesting, but it just seemed like a lot of exposition once in awhile. In the middle it seemed to drag just a bit, but it picked up around 3/4 of the way through and the suspense then held for the remainder of the novel. I definitely recommend it, and it seems to be a nice followup reading it as the third book. I think the next one I'll read is Witch Week. I'm not sure where this one falls in publishing order, but its the one Diana Wynne Jones recommended reading next so I'll take her word on it. The nice thing is that it seems like you really can read these in just about any order and be ok. I think you get a bit more synchronicity from the order I've been going in so far, but it isn't necessary. (less)
The order to read these books is a bit murky. The newest publishing of the books list #2 as The Magician’s of Caprona, but a list I found that showed...moreThe order to read these books is a bit murky. The newest publishing of the books list #2 as The Magician’s of Caprona, but a list I found that showed Diana Wynn Jones’ recommended reading order pointed to The Lives of Christopher Chant as #2, which was what I went with. Its confusing because the publishing order is another option that gives yet a different order. In any case, so far the stories are related but not so contingent on the others that I’ve found you have to read them in a certain order. I’m going with the order recommended by the author because that seems like the most relevant opinion on the matter, so there you have it.
In The Lives of Christopher Chant, we look back at the Chrestomanci that was in A Charmed Life and see him as a young boy who learns that he is meant to be the next Chrestomanci. He develops in the book from a pig-headed boy who doesn’t want anything to do with the role of Chrestomanci, or the very old man who currently holds the role, to embracing what the role could actually mean to him if he were to give it a chance. It’s a bit of a coming of age story and is full of escapades and intrigues. I quite enjoyed seeing Christopher as a young boy after seeing him as an adult in the first book. It was a nice development and I found him to be an interesting character as a child as well as an adult.(less)
I found a list on Diane Wynn Jones’ website that gave her recommended reading order of this series; it listed The Magicians of Caprona as the fifth bo...moreI found a list on Diane Wynn Jones’ website that gave her recommended reading order of this series; it listed The Magicians of Caprona as the fifth book, so that’s what I did. I just finished it and I think that it may have been my favorite so far. Well, maybe its tied with A Charmed Life. I really enjoyed the characters and the pace of the storytelling in this one. It revolves a rivalry between two magic families in Caprona, Italy: the Montana’s and the Petrocchi’s. They are the two most talented magical families in Caprona but they are caught up in a centuries-long feud. Through a predictably Diana Wynn Jones’ style series of unpredictable events, some of the younger generations of each of the families end up having to work together to save not only their beloved city, but their families and each other as well.
This was a quick read – I finished it in one day – but it was really fun. The characters were fun and their interactions and escapades were entertaining and believable. It was a huge improvement from the somewhat boring installment that I finished last: Witch Week. While Witch Week was somewhat slow and anticlimactic, this was fast-paced and had a suspense-filled lead up to a great ending. This was much more along the lines of what I’ve come to expect from Diana Wynne Jones. Looking forward to reading the last novel next: The Pinhoe Egg. (less)
A Charmed Life tells the stories of orphaned siblings Gwendolyn and Cat Chant who live in a universe parallel to our own, one in which magic is very r...moreA Charmed Life tells the stories of orphaned siblings Gwendolyn and Cat Chant who live in a universe parallel to our own, one in which magic is very real and can also be very dangerous. In come the Chrestomanci – he’s a Prime Minister of sorts that ensures that magic isn’t abused between the worlds. In some twists of fate, Gwendolyn and Cat go to live with Chretomanci and his family in Chrestomanci Castle. The story is fraught with sibling rivalry, friendship and loyalty questions, and moral dilemmas; all that you’d expect from a children’s book, but it is done well enough that the messages aren’t preachy or irritating, but seem natural and flow well. It is impressive too that the books don’t seem dated – they were published mainly throughout the 70’s and 80’s, with a couple coming out after 2000, but are rather timeless. The themes are always going to be relevant and the universe created is so fun and unique, doesn’t rely on pop-culture, that it is still fun and interesting to kids today. So much of the story is fun plot twists so I don’t want to give much away, but it was a truly fun escape and I can’t wait until my niece and nephew are old enough for these so we can read them together.(less)
This was a really fun read, and completely perfect when I read it a couple weeks ago to get into the Halloween spirit. This may be a children's book,...moreThis was a really fun read, and completely perfect when I read it a couple weeks ago to get into the Halloween spirit. This may be a children's book, but that doesn't mean it is any less substantial or poignant than any adult literature that I've read lately, just tweaked a bit to fit the audience. I am a firm believer that we need more good children's and young adult fiction out there. Just after reading this book, I happened upon this transcription of a speech the author, Neil Gaiman, gave about literacy and libraries. It is a fantastic speech and I highly recommend popping over and giving it a read:
Anyway, I agree with Neil that what children read is important and I think that he does an excellent job of providing some really quality options for children to read. The Graveyard Book is one, obviously, but he has many other children's books that I am now excited to get my hands on as well.
This book tells the story of Nobody Owens (Bod, for short), whose family is killed by an assassin when he is just a toddler. It sounds dark, I know, but considering what other things are out there, the rest of the book is rather tame. Bod wanders from his crib on the fateful night and finds himself in a cemetery just down the street, the assassin following his trail to finish the job. Once he finds his way into the cemetery though, he attracts the attention of its inhabitants, yes, ghosts. The ghosts decide to protect him from the assassin, and since his family is dead, to also raise him as their own. And so it goes, the assassin is outsmarted and Bod grows up and has a normal childhood playing among gravestones and learning how to make himself invisible and walk through walls. Ok, maybe not exactly a normal childhood, but it is still a wonderful coming of age story.
There are adventures and excitement to keep young readers entertained, but there is also thoughtful character development and an interestingly wide array of relationships that develop throughout the book. I like seeing how Bod grows up and becomes a young man, learning from the ghosts who wander the cemetery as well as the occasional relationship with an actual human being.
Towards the end we learn why the assassin came after Bod and his family all those years ago - to me it seemed a bit rushed and a tiny bit too simple. But, then again, it is a children's book, so young readers probably wouldn't have the same criticisms as I did. Overall it wraps up nicely for the intended audience, even if I, as an adult reader, did have a desire for a bit more. I'm excited for when my niece and nephew are old enough to appreciate this story, it'll be fun to read to them leading up to Halloween. (less)
Now that I've finished the series I can't wait for my niece and nephew to be old enough for them! I think that they will really enjoy these fun little...moreNow that I've finished the series I can't wait for my niece and nephew to be old enough for them! I think that they will really enjoy these fun little fantasy stories. The characters are relatable for the intended audience, the action is suspenseful and scary, but not overly so for the younger readers, and the plot with the kids saving the day really gives kids a perfect story to delve into. They are just the right length to have an adventure tied up in one book but still leave you guessing what the kids will get into next. The illustrations are fun and well placed so there's a little diversion but it doesn't feel like a complete kid book that is driven by pictures. Overall a fun series that I enjoyed and am looking forward to passing along to my neice and nephew.(less)
Another fun and quick read. Great way to spend waking up on Saturday morning with my coffee. This time we get some more insight into the mysterious fi...moreAnother fun and quick read. Great way to spend waking up on Saturday morning with my coffee. This time we get some more insight into the mysterious field guide and its author. Whereas the first two books could kind of stand alone, this one definitely leaves a little cliffhanger. Might have to go grab book four to see what happens next. (less)
Again, a fun and enjoyable little read. I'm a little irritated by some of these reviewers who are being so harsh about these books; the big complaint...moreAgain, a fun and enjoyable little read. I'm a little irritated by some of these reviewers who are being so harsh about these books; the big complaint that it is just too short, that all of them could have been strung together into a single novel, I understand a bit, but disagree with. I think we're forgetting the audience here: children, young readers! I think this is perfect for them. It is short enough to not be intimidating, but long enough to resolve the story with some humor and messages to the reader. Do I think that this is good for a young reader looking for a challenge? Probably not. But I do think it is a fun and easy read and it might be really great for kids who don't have a long attention span or who aren't avid readers. For the age group, I think anything that gets kids into reading is great. I read a ton as a kid, but I'm sure it wasn't always great literature. I devoured books and I think this would have been a fun little read even then. (less)
A really fun, super quick read. I didn't expect to finish this in one sitting, but I also kind of forgot how much page space pictures take up :) The i...moreA really fun, super quick read. I didn't expect to finish this in one sitting, but I also kind of forgot how much page space pictures take up :) The illustrations were fun and the story was quirky and engaging. Definitely a great bedtime type book for kids. (less)
Talk about a let down! I had such high hopes for this final installment of the trilogy but it was overly long, tangential, poorly developed (ironic gi...moreTalk about a let down! I had such high hopes for this final installment of the trilogy but it was overly long, tangential, poorly developed (ironic given its length that the main themes weren't fully realized. Or depressing, however you look at it), and in parts just generally uninteresting. Now that I've read the whole trilogy I kind of wish that Pullman had kept it to the first novel and left it as a standalone. Or even expanded it out a bit to break up the final book and make his theories really come out. Or, you know, maybe had a harsher editor who wasn't afraid of getting rid of the fluff and unnecessary characters so we can actually focus on what the story is trying to say.
Ok, enough ranting, let's get to some specific reasons of why I disliked this book. First, there were just far too many characters. I kind of see what he was trying to do - create a world with so much breadth and a call to arms that had immense scope - but it didn't work for me. It was simply distracting and rather irritating at time. One of the reasons I so enjoyed the first book was Lyra, who is not nearly as fun and charismatic in the second book, and then all but disappears in this final installment! Give me more of her rather than all these undeveloped tangents that lead nowhere. But, alas, we don't get more of Lyra. What we do get is another main character, Mary Malone, who is interesting (if a bit unbelievable) in the second book, but altogether a waste of time in the final book. I honestly started skimming when she popped up because I really didn't care about her wanderings in a new world. They felt like they just didn't belong in this book.
Next, on top of too many characters, the plot seems to jump too much. One minute we're in Svalbard, the next we're with Lord Asriel, then next again we're in a cave with Mrs. Coulter and the drugged Lyra. Believe me, I'm all for building suspense and juggling plot lines, but this was too much and just sloppily done. There didn't seem to be any logic to the jumping and it desperately got on my nerves.
Then there's the matter of character believability, which comes down to poor character development. I mean, come on...Mrs. Coulter just underwent a complete change of heart and went from this evil woman to a loving mother who sacrifices herself for her child...? It just didn't make sense. The woman was just such a perfect villain in the first book; she was evil, manipulative, heartless, cruel, all the things a good villain needs. And it was believable. The sudden shift though to actually caring about the daughter she completely abandoned just wasn't believable. And it wasn't very well done either. She was just such a good villain that her good-guy act was mediocre in comparison and it made the story a bit too sappy for my taste.
Sadly I could go on about things I disliked in this book, but I'll stop for now. The biggest criticism I have though is that when this should have wrapped things up and enriched the previous books, it was a jumbled disappointment that only introduced more hanging plot lines and random characters. A highly unsatisfying conclusion to what had the potential to be a really good series. (less)
There are only a couple of things holding me back from rating this the full five stars. First, I had a little trouble staying as involved in this book...moreThere are only a couple of things holding me back from rating this the full five stars. First, I had a little trouble staying as involved in this book with the constant jumping around. I understand that Pullman was trying to give the whole story and create suspense, but to me there was just something missing because at times it seemed choppy rather than intentional which lessened how much I was pulled into the book. Second, I felt like this was kind of an information dump at times. Again, I understand that Pullman is creating a huge world here with large overarching themes of good and evil, fantasy and reality, spiritualism and faith, yet the way that things were presented seemed a little blah at times. It was almost as if he just had to get this out there so might as well do it now, kind of a thing. I may be wrong and it could have just been the timing in reading it, but this was my first impression anyway. I am interested to see what I might think on a second reading someday.
Now, for some things I did like, because there were also a lot of those. I love the different worlds that he creates. It is so detailed and intricate that each one does seem real. I also love how he pulls Lyra and Will together. The two are so different that it is rather interesting to see their different points of view of the various worlds and situations they come upon in the book. I think that their friendship is also very genuine. I hate it when authors get carried away making their children characters act too adult. But in this book, I understood why they acted so mature at times, but relished when they were allowed to act their age and you saw a real friendship coming through.
I don't want to give away any spoilers but I was rather sad at certain events in the novel. Wow, such a harsh reality, Pullman! Definitely a bit darker than the first book, but I can't wait to see what happens in the final installment!(less)