Monday, June 26, 2006

A Sudden Wild Magic

Diana Wynne Jones is a prolific writer of children's fantasy, most notably Howl's Moving Castle. She has also written a few books targeting the adult reader, and A Sudden Wild Magic is one of this select group.

In this book, the most powerful magid in England, Mark Lister, detects an alien influence on Earth events, and is forced to work within a very tight circle to deal with it. Maureen the dancer, beautiful Amanda, and eccentric Gladys are the wielders of magic that he turns to, but it is Amanda's sister Zillah who makes everything right when she taps into a sudden wild magic.

I enjoyed the book; I like Ms. Jones' voice and the touches of humor that infuse her stories. Seemingly coincidental events turn out to be interconnected after all, and events right themselves in the end with near-cosmic precision. The author tends to gloss over some of the details, which may bother some, such as the mechanics of skipping from one universe to another, the identity of the Great One who is so negatively affected by all the piracy, and how Mark and Herrill are reunited. I am the first to recognize that too many explanations can become unwieldy, and allow her these incomplete answers because they don't hurt the story.

The book is a curious mixture of adult and G-rated sensibilities. On the one hand, such matters as affairs, lovers, intended seductions, and homosexuals are openly discussed. On the other hand, the prurient details are not, and the descriptions are decidedly suitable for all audiences.

So, I liked it. I will read more of hers from time to time. But I still prefer Howl's Moving Castle and its sequel Castle in the Air.

Monday, June 12, 2006

The Corner Shop

Elizabeth Cadell was a prolific writer of frothy romantic comedies from--oh, the 1940s or so into the 1970s. For those who prefer to keep the bedroom door firmly closed, Cadell is a worthwhile find. The settings are modern and mostly English, with occasional forays into France and Portugal. Although long out of print, her books can be found in most civic libraries and are worth checking into and out.

The heroine of The Corner Shop is Lucille Abbey, the beautiful and all-business owner of a secretarial agency. When three of her employees throw in the towel on a seemingly innocuous job for a distant professor, Lucille decides to handle it personally, as much to avoid her would-be fiance as to protect the sterling reputation of her business. The personalities are deftly sketched with a light touch, the dialogue is sure, the plot ricochets from London to remote Hampshire to Paris, with stolen goods, dodgy relatives, a glittering seahorse brooch, and a certain corner shop each playing their part in this amusing romp.

journal entry

The other day, as I considered what to read next, I thought about how it would look on the blog.

I caught that thought and looked at it a minute with distaste. Many of the small decisions I make are designed to meet the expectations of others--and we all make these efforts to oil the wheels of society; who could function as a total anarchist?--but I have always reserved for myself the freedom to read according to my tastes and my mood, setting my own boundaries for what I wanted to read and/or felt I should read.

So as I look at my previous entries, I see a trend towards escapist lit. Not an ounce of redeeming intellectual value in the bunch. I could make an argument for The Maltese Falcon, but the genre of which it is definitive is--hardboiled detective fiction, hardly a tower of literary respectibility. I considered arguing the psychology of it, but why bother? I may submit my own reading list to the public or semi-public eye, but I am not going to justify it. One person has their escapist lit, another their TV remote. I read what I read, and while my interests are varied, I explore them at my whim.

Suum cuique. Or, cada loco con su tema.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Artemis Fowl

This children's best seller and modern-day semi-classic by Eoin Colfer has, until now, not really been on my radar. Although I have always been a fan of children's literature, both picture books and chapter books, this one came along after my children were out of the market, so I'm a little behind. Of course, I have read the Harry Potter series and the Princess Diaries series, even The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (not the series, one was enough), but I am a little skeptical of what passes for children's literature these days (she said as she adjusted her hearing aid). Too many people who ought to know better are recommending, or even requiring, books that offer depressing themes and plots guaranteed to cause nightmares.

But, well, Artemis Fowl drifted across my radar, and I read it, albeit with one eyebrow lifted. It sounded too much like Inkheart, frankly, and I found Inkheart's tone so depressing I finally just skipped to the end and got rid of it. And indeed, as I started the first chapter of Artemis Fowl, with Artemis being this millionaire genius criminal-mastermind-in-the-making, I was pretty sure it would be dismal and/or amoral. Fortunately, it was neither. I really did like it, after all.

Yes, Artemis is a budding criminal, although he's only twelve and still in school. But his attempted crime (and does he succeed? sorry, spoiler.) is on a scale that takes it firmly into the realm of fantasy, so any would-be copycat criminals will struggle to find a way to plunder the leprechaun's legendary golden hoard. At the same time, the morality of crime and of Artemis himself is gently examined, adding richness and texture to the characters and plot, instead of dwindling into a heavy-handed morality tale.

The cast of characters is relatively small. Artemis Fowl has a few allies--Butler, his personal servant; Juliet, Butler's sister, and Angeline, Artemis's mother. There are rather more on the magical side of things, predominantly fairies, with the occasional troll, goblin and dwarf.

All in all, I approve. I'm already eying the first sequel.