The Reluctant Listener: Charmed Life

reluctantlistenerIt’s mostly a coincidence that my next audiobook to talk about is Charmed Life, the first in the Chrestomanci series by Diana Wynne Jones. However, some of my impetus for beginning the Reading Notes series was a desire to re-read books by favorite authors. And I listened to this audiobook for much the same reason.

In terms of the audiobook itself, this is a nice one. Gerard Doyle does a great job of providing the narration and doing the voices for different characters; I can’t remember any that I felt he had gotten wrong and he does an especially nice job with Chrestomanci. This is also a nice length book, long enough to be satisfying, but not so long that details start to fade. (I listen to audiobooks in the car, which means I listen in 35-minute chunks.)

In terms of the actual story, I found that this is one I expected to enjoy more than I actually did. I forgot, I think, that I like Chrestomanci in the abstract, but find him slightly insufferable in reality. And this one has a higher-than-usual Awfulness quotient, or at least that’s how it seemed to me this time. Poor Cat clearly is looking at things all wrong, but the central issue really isn’t fixed for almost the entire book.

That being said, I do really enjoy Cat and Janet, and Chrestomanci’s castle too. So all in all, this was a somewhat mixed bag–excellent in terms of technical execution, but perhaps not the book I really wanted it to be.


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Diana Wynne Jones reading notes: Archer’s Goon

archer's goonNote: Throughout June, I’ll be re-reading and reviewing books by Diana Wynne Jones. There are definitely spoilers below, so tread with caution if that’s something you’re concerned about.

Archer’s Goon is the very first DWJ book I ever read. I picked it up from my middle school library and was intrigued by the beginning (“The trouble started the day Howard came home from school to find the Goon sitting in the kitchen”). And then I was enchanted by the weird and lovely world I found myself in. Although I have come to love many of DWJ’s books, I do have a soft spot in my heart for Archer’s Goon because of this.

I noticed several of the threads I’ve been pulling out in other DWJ books showing up here as well. Howard’s family–both of Howard’s families–have that sense of being both complicated and even at odds, while also being warm and ultimately loving. Obviously this doesn’t hold true for all of Howard’s original family, but even there, Hathaway and Torquil balance the others out to some extent.

Another check: intergalatic evil overlords. Actually, in this case, we don’t know exactly who or what the family is, aside from the fact that they have vast though not unlimited powers and don’t age in the same way as normal humans. Also in this case, DWJ shakes things up a little bit by adding in Howard/Venturus, Hathaway, and Torquil, who at least have some sense of responsibility to others and things they shouldn’t do.

And one of the big ones I’ve noticed through several books is the character, usually the main character, who is hidden from both others and even themselves. This thread is pretty central here, as Howard spends most of the book unaware that he is actually Venturus. He believes that he’s simply Howard Sykes, and yet underneath he’s also puzzling over the problem and when he discovers that he’s also Venturus, it doesn’t exactly come as a surprise.

On the other hand, common threads don’t mean that DWJ simply repeats stories–each has something new to add. In this case, one of the new threads is the sense of cyclical time. There’s a feeling that all of this has happened before, and may happen again. But more specifically, the main characters have spent the last 26 years caught in the town, trapped by Venturus. There’s also the fact that Hathaway is called Hathaway and lives in the past and has a daughter named Anne who marries a man named Will; they’re not actually Anne Hathaway and Will Shakespeare, but there are quite deliberate echoes.

If what I’ve said so far sounds a bit English essay-ish and intellectual, it’s because I found that while I really enjoyed reading this one (I have an especial soft spot for Awful), and while I still remember quite vividly reading it for the first time and reaching the twist and having this feeling of the world changing around me, it hasn’t ever really sunk in the way some of DWJ’s other books have. Howl’s Moving Castle, Fire and Hemlock, the Dalemark Quartet–those are all heart-books for me. Archer’s Goon is a smart and fun book that I’m happy to re-read when I think of it.

All the same, it is a book that I truly like and appreciate. I’m fond of Howard, and of the family interactions, and of Ginger Hind. I’m not very comfortable with the depiction of Shine, for several reasons. Nonetheless, between my nostalgia and the real strengths of the book, this is one I’ll certainly return to.

Book source: public library

Book information: 1984, Greenwillow; middle grade


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Recent short fiction reads

When I was in college, I was a pretty big reader of SFF short fiction. That’s where I first encountered authors like Theodora Goss and Catherynne Valente. But at some point, I kind of lost track of the short fiction world. Recently, I’ve been wanting to dive back in, and have found a few stories I’ve really enjoyed. Lady Business’s Short Business project has been very helpful in finding several of these.

To Whatever” by Shaenon Garrity: An epistolary short story, told in the letters of Ethan to whatever lives in the walls of his apartment building. This one was especially fun because I like epistolary stories quite a bit to begin with, because the evolution of the relationship in the story is nicely drawn, and because I thought I knew where the arc of the story was going, and I was wrong! It totally surprised me. Also Willem’s letters were spot-on. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this one.

Pockets” by Amal El-Mohtar: This story builds to a slow crescendo. It starts with the odd but not entirely bizarre recurrence of things appearing in Nadia’s pockets. A lipstick that isn’t hers; a coin; a gun. Nadia’s reaction to this is well done, and the story weaves in questions about friendship, trust, and ultimately the bent of the universe. Its ambiguity is tempered with hope, and I found the ending so beautiful that I cried a little bit.

Clasp Hands” by Stephanie Burgis: I’ve loved Stephanie Burgis’s Kat Stephenson books, and the novella “Courting Magic” that she wrote as part of that. So I thought I would read some of her short fiction as well. I haven’t worked my way through all of her short stories, but so far “Clasp Hands” is my favorite. Genuinely eerie and sad, but also full of the warmth and humor and care of family. Also magic.

The Merger” by Sunil Patel: This story is brand new; a weird mix of totally strange alien entities and a corporate takeover. The full title, “The Merger: A Romantic Comedy of Intergalactic Business Negotiations, Indecipherable Emotions, and Pizza” sums it up pretty well. I really enjoyed the relationship between Paresh and Sita, and their dilemma in trying to figure out how to deal with the BlarbSnarb.

So there you have a few short stories I’ve liked! If you have recommendations, please to send them my way.


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Mostly recovered

I decided that after the weekend’s posting-fest (aka 48 hour challenge), I would take yesterday off. So I read Matthew Kirby’s The Arctic Code, which was fine, I guess, but which I didn’t find exciting the same way as several of his other books. I did like Eleanor, the main character.

Actually, what I’m really recovering from is having some (very lovely) friends over for dinner on Sunday night. I’m the kind of introvert who loves having people come over and then needs three days to recover.

All of that is to say, that I’m not pushing to write a post besides this one today, but I should be back tomorrow.

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#48hbc: Finishing line post

Hurrah! A successful 48 hour book challenge completed!

Today was definitely my weakest reading day–I needed to sleep this morning and had friends for dinner this evening, so I only managed four more hours. I did read Judith Merkle Riley’s The Water Devil, one of her Margaret of Ashford books. I find that series entirely delightful.


Reading time: 23 hours
Total books read: 11
Blogging/social media time: 1.25 hours

I’ve decided to donate a dollar for every hour I read to the Charleston Public Library, in honor of Cynthia Hurd–the branch manager who was among those killed in the attack on the Emanuel AME church.

This was a great reading experience for me–I got quite a few books read and set a new personal record for number of books read in one day (6 yesterday). I found a few things to be true: I read books that I had been putting off for awhile, because I wasn’t sure if I would like them or not and I read books that could be breezed through. For instance, I didn’t start re-reading Hild, because I want to give that one my full attention and I knew that I wouldn’t. So this challenge is great for me in terms of getting books I’ve been meaning to get around to and just haven’t quite looked at yet read (or dnf’d) and off my shelves.

I’m really glad this worked out this year, and thanks to MotherReader for organizing it once again!


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#48hbc: Saturday evening

Reading time: 19 hours
Total books read: 10
Blogging/social media time: 1 hour

The Turning Season by Sharon Shinn: The third book in Shinn’s Shapeshifter trilogy. I think this one is my favorite, partly because I really like Karadel, and partly because having the narrative from her point of view really helped my enjoyment of the book. The ending was a bit sadder than I was expecting, and I’m not entirely sure if it worked for me, but overall I liked it.

Stolen Magic by Gail Carson Levine: I’m pretty indifferent about this one. It’s fine–a middle grade fantasy/mystery, with an emphasis on the mystery. But while I didn’t mind reading it (I did finish, after all) I also wasn’t really excited about it. (But then I’m also probably unfairly comparing this one to Ella Enchanted.)

Rook by Sharon Cameron: A post-apocalyptic book based on The Scarlet Pimpernel. I loooved it. I love The Scarlet Pimpernel anyway, and Cameron is doing some really fun things with the story–nice little touches of homage without tying herself to the plot when it doesn’t work for the story she’s telling. Plus, Sophia–this version of the Pimpernel–is a great character, and I found the romance pretty swoony. (secrets! trust issues! roof climbing!)


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#48hbc: Saturday morning

Reading time: 10.75 hours
Total books read: 7
Blogging/social media time: .75 hours

A Dragon’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans by Laurence Yep: This is a cute mg fantasy from the point of view of a dragon who considers a family of humans her pets. It’s fine, although I found the ending a little too quicky and unconvincing.

Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood: I loved Wood’s Wildlife when I read it and happily picked up Six Impossible Things at Midwinter. Wood is great at writing smart, slightly too pretentious teenage characters; so often this kind of character doesn’t ring true for me, but hers do. I strongly recommend reading Six Impossible Things first if at all possible, because Wildlife creates massive spoilers. I really liked Dan, who’s trying so hard to do the right thing.

Jackaby by William Ritter: A supernatural historical mystery. I think this one was kind of billed as a fantasy version of Sherlock Holmes and there’s definitely that overly-smart slightly contemptuous male detective thing going on. So, you know, if that annoys you, beware. But I definitely enjoyed Abigail’s voice and the mystery and world that was set up were intriguing.

I also listened to more of Endless Night while doing dishes. I thought I liked this one when I checked it out, but as I’m remembering the story, I’m not sure that’s actually true.

Now I’m off to run a few errands. More reading when I get back.

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