Book: Dogsbody


The Dog Star, Sirius, is tried–and found guilty–by his heavenly peers for a murder he did not commit. His sentence: to live on the planet Earth as a dog until such time as he can carry out a seemingly impossible mission–the recovery of a deadly weapon known as the Zoi. The first painful lesson Sirius learns in his lowly earthly form is that humans have all the power. The second is that even though his young mistress loves him, she can’t protect either of them from the cruelty of other humans. The third–and worst–is that someone is out there who will do anything to keep Sirius from finding the Zoi. Even if it means destroying the Earth itself.

Don’t let the synopsis fool you. You might think it’s about adventure, and mystery, and a fight between good and evil–but it’s not. Yes, all three are present, but the book is about something else entirely. It’s about friendship. And put into that perspective, I really liked the book.

Why do I say “put into that perspective”?

As an adventure book, it’s a little bit all over the place. In my opinion, that is. Our main character has a serious threat that he needs to avert, and yet that’s not his main concern. Which is understandable, considering the fact that he got turned into a dog. But, really, adventure-plot wise…it was a little all over the place. But if you don’t focus on the quest your main character is in, and just focus on the relationship he builds with his mistress, and the other characters, and the sacrifice he makes at the end of the book… It’s beautiful.

Yes, this book has excitement and action–but the most important thing it has, is heart.

But what do others say about the book?
Alternate Readality
Jenny’s Books

Movie: Howl’s Moving Castle

"Howl's Moving Castle" by Hayao MiyazakiWhen an unconfident young woman is cursed with an old body by a spiteful witch, her only chance of breaking the spell lies with a self-indulgent yet insecure young wizard and his companions in his legged, walking home.

The first time I encountered Howl’s Moving Castle, back in college, it was through this animated film. I didn’t know it was based off a novel, and that a couple of years later, that same novel was going to make it into my top 10 list of favorite novels of all time. And so I passed on it. The horror! I could say I watched it then and enjoyed it completely, but what’s the point of lying on the internet? Don’t answer that.

Anyway, before I completely go off-tangent again, let’s talk about Howl’s Moving Castle. Specifically, what makes it a different entity from the book. Because personally, I wouldn’t say the film is by Diana Wynne Jones, even though the basic structure of the story (and what propels the story forward) do come from her. And there are numerous film adaptations who would take its source material and just lay it out in film form. Yes, Philosopher’s Stone, I’m looking at you. That’s not the case with Howl’s Moving Castle. And unlike other “adaptations”, *cough*HungerGames*cough*, this one does succeed in keeping the core of the story, while making it an entirely different entity.

After reading the novel, I wanted to go back to this film immediately. But I wasn’t able to, as my copy of the film is with a friend. Still with the same friend, actually. So instead, I decided to read the plot synopsis of the film instead. I must admit that I felt a little peeved that Howl’s Moving Castle, the animated film, was credited more to Hayao Miyazaki and not to the author of the source material. I thought it was an affront to the genius of Miss Jones. That made me turn my nose up on the film.

So what changed my mind? Maturity? Old age? I don’t know. But I finally found myself watching the film after almost three years of consciously pretending it doesn’t exist. And, I don’t think I have to spell it out, but here’s the thing: I completely loved it. And, obviously, I think Hayao Miyazaki did a wonderful job in making it his own.

As a fan of Howl’s Moving Castle, the novel, I still recognized the main story structure and the characters. But how the story unfolded was  taken into a different direction, and what a turn it took. Even though I knew where everything was going, I was still at the edge of my seat, excitedly waiting for what happens next. It was like I knew nothing about the story. And it felt wonderful. Why? Because I got to relive the first-time enjoyment I experienced after reading the novel. And, ask anyone, that’s pretty hard to do once you know where things are going.

The only complaint I have, if it is one, is that the film was too short. The other things, like what happened to Sophie’s other sister (the one she mentions near the beginning of the film), I can let pass. Because I know what happened there, in the book. I guess strangers to the book can write it off as a throwaway line. I guess. It doesn’t lessen one’s enjoyment of the film, for sure.

As for the thing I liked the most about the film? I love how they treated Sophie’s curse. It was magnificent. And totally not how I imagined the curse to be like when I was reading the book–which is what, I guess, I could say for the entire film. It wasn’t what I imagined, but it was magnificent.

Which is why, lesson learned, one must never really judge things by how they are described by other people. Which is an odd thing to say, being that I blog my reactions on books, television shows, and films. But it is what it is. Let other people influence you, but never let them make your decisions for you. If you let opinions cloud your judgment, you might never find things to enjoy.

Book: Mixed Magics

"Mixed Magics" by Diana Wynne JonesIn the world of Chrestomanci, being able to use magic is a distinct advantage. But ordinary people have rights too, and only the strength and skills of a nine-lifed enchanter can possibly begin to control the exploits of the numerous witches and warlocks, sorcerers and necromancers out to make mischief.

The four stories in Mixed Magics all feature the enigmatic Chrestomanci–taller and more handsome than ever. With plenty of old friends, new acquaintances–and a particularly devious enemy with an outrageously despicable plot!

In Mixed Magics, we get four short stories. But unlike the fantastical adventurous and mysteries of the other Chrestomanci books, novels, that will surely draw kids in, the ones included in this compilation seem, decidedly, more adult. Which is not a bad thing. Not at all. The dramatic set-ups, and the character conflicts, are darker than what’s usually common fare in children’s fiction. And the best thing about the book is that you can let children read it! In fact, it might even open avenues of conversation for you and your younger sibling, or your child!

The stories of Mixed Magic tackles jealousy, pride, greed, and the likes–always in the context of the Chrestomanci worlds. Save for the last story, which I think would’ve been a great new universe for Miss Jones to explore had she had the time. (May she rest in peace.) Or maybe she did, I don’t know.

I’m one of the people fortunate enough to still be discovering her books one at a time. I haven’t run out of her books to read yet. In that I am lucky. She may be gone now though, but her legacy, I’m sure, will continue with newly published writers inspired by her works.

In the meantime though, I will continue to search and treasure the wonderful books that Miss Jones have given us.

Book: Conrad’s Fate

"Conrad's Fate" by Diana Wynne JonesSomeone at Stallery Mansion is changing the world. At first, only small details, but the changes get bigger and bigger. It’s up to Conrad, a twelve-year-old with terrible karma who’s just joined the mansion’s staff, to find out who is behind it.

But he’s not the only one snooping around. His fellow servant-in-training, Christopher Chant, is charming, confident, and from another world, with a mission of his own–rescuing his friend, lost in an alternate Stallery Mansion. Can they save the day before Conrad’s awful fate catches up with them?

And with this book, I now only have three Chrestomanci books left to find and read.

Conrad’s Fate takes us to a new world, one where probabilities can be shifted–and constant physical changes in life and the way of living is normal. Wait, I think that sounds confusing. Let’s try that again. Imagine you were holding an apple. And then, suddenly, you’re holding on orange with nary an apple in sight. In fact, no one remembers apples. And then, just as suddenly, you’re holding a bowl of cherries and people can remember apples again, but don’t remember you were holding one two minutes ago. But not everyone forgets. There’s you, and there are a handful of other people who remember for a while–and then forgets. By then, they’ve accepted that you’ve been holding the bowl of cherries the whole time.

Imagine a world like that. And imagine you were living in it.

I have to say, I love how Miss Jones creates world that are basically off-shoots of the one we live in. Especially since she creates them in such a way that you can’t mistake them for our world–and yet manages to make them familiar enough that you don’t spend too much time wondering about the environment. You just delve right into the characters and the story. I also love the fact that the Chrestomanci books are so expansive. That there are treasure troves of stories waiting to be told. If only Miss Jones were still alive to tell them.

But let’s not dwell on what can no longer happen, and go back to what has already been written. Specifically, the story of Conrad’s Fate.

I highly enjoyed the unlikely-hero vibe that Conrad employs throughout the whole story. It probably helped that Conrad wasn’t exactly hero material–nor did he aspire to be one. He was just looking out for himself. With most fantasy books always having big magical mishaps/apocalypse about to happen, it’s nice to see one where our main protagonist just wants to save himself. Aside from being refreshing, it’s also more plausible. I mean, seriously, unless you’re the most powerful enchanter in the world, would you really choose to save the lives of many first before your sense of self-preservation kicks in?

With Conrad, we really do get the everyday man. Sure he has powers too. But reading the book, his powers felt more like a device to make sure we readers can follow the story–and the gravity of what is happening in Stallery Mansion. Conrad didn’t really do anything grand. Well, save for three things that are too important to the storytelling for me to spoil it for you. If you haven’t read the book yet. If you have–yes, I’m talking about those three things. Don’t pretend you don’t know. Okay, well the one thing isn’t really that important. And it has already been spoiled by the book’s synopsis, so I’ll share: Conrad can take photos of alternate worlds–on top of one another. I don’t know how useful that power is, but it’s a power. Apparently.

Well, at least it helps him identify shifts in probabilites.

Also, I love how the story tackles the problem with destiny premises. I mean, we get so many stories that have heroes go up against evil wizards, dark lords, etc, because they were told it’s their destiny. This gets turned around in Conrad’s Fate when Conrad goes to Stallery Mansion to clear his karma, because of his supposed destiny, only to find out otherwise. I want to expound on this more (and I did, but I had to erase it.) It spoils too much of the story. And I really want people to read the story and uncover the secrets of Stallery Mansion on their own.

Overall, Conrad’s Fate was highly enjoyable. Took me a while to finish the book, but it was more because of work than the quality of the book.

Check out what other people have to say about the book:
Dear J
Sonder Books
Fantasy Book Review

Book: The Pinhoe Egg

"The Pinhoe Egg" by Diana Wynne JonesCat Chant and Marianne Pinhoe have discovered something incredibly exciting, truly precious and very strange–an egg.

This egg was not meant to be found. Chrestomanci himself, Cat’s guardian and the strongest enchanter in the world, is sure to find it particularly interesting. And that’s the last thing Marianne’s family of secret rogue witches wants.

But the Pinhoes’ secrets are falling to pieces, and powerful spells are wreaking havoc across the country-side. Marianne and Cat may be the only two who can set things right–if Marianne accepts her own powerful magic, and Cat solves the mystery behind the mystical Pinhoe Egg.

The book summary makes the Pinhoe Egg sound so much more important than it is. True, it does get a fair share of action–but it’s what’s inside the egg that really sets things off in the last Chrestomanci novel written by the late (and great) Diana Wynne Jones.

Taking the fanfare off the Pinhoe Egg in the summary, the rest of it is pretty much what you’d expect from the book. Having come from The Magicians of Caprona, I don’t feel much of a disconnect with Christopher Chant’s character anymore. In fact, his characterization in this book marries the Chant we meet in The Lives of Christopher Chant and the one we meet in The Magicians of Caprona. And unlike in the latter book, the latest Chrestomanci is integral to the plot this time around–he’s a figure despised (or feared) by some of our characters, a fact that really affects how the story unfolds for our two protagonists.

If there is anything bad I have to say about The Pinhoe Egg, it’s this: it has too many characters. But at the same time, this is also the thing I love the most about Miss Jones’ novel. The characters are so completely fleshed out, that it doesn’t matter if they only pop up from time to time. By the time you finish the book, you feel as if you’ve lived with them for a time. Most importantly, everyone has an important part to play.

Another thing I highly enjoyed with The Pinhoe Egg is the lack of a proper villain. This doesn’t always work for fantasy novels, as magic tends to make protagonists immune to the usual hardships of life. Also, without a villain to fight against, heroes are usually left aimless–taking structure away from the storytelling. Yet Miss Jones manages to make The Pinhoe Egg fast-paced and thrilling at every turn of the page. I guess this is a testament to how well Miss Jones weaves her stories.

One other thing: I love how Miss Jones infused the story with the many effects of confidence–or too much of it. Self-confidence is something we want to have, something we want other people to have to. And yet, there are times when we put down other people just so they wouldn’t be better than us–or so that we could remain better than them. Miss Jones brings the value of self-confidence to two different environments in The Pinhoe Egg: one in a nurturing castle, the other in a town where a child is treated as such. Miss Jones shows us, the readers, how different people in different surroundings react differently to things that are beyond their control–and how similar some of them can be.

The Pinhoe Egg is a great work of fiction. And it’s a book that should be recommended for children to read, I think.

What have others said about the book though? Here are some reviews of the book off the worldwide web:
SciFi Dimensions
Charlotte’s Library
The Book Bag