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Diana Wynne Jones recs?

What's your favorite Diana Wynne Jones book (leaving aside Howl's Moving Castle, the only one I've read)? Do I need to read her series in order or are they the kinds of series where each can be read as stand-alones?

ETA: Also, has anyone read any of the Weetzie Bat (Francesca Lia Block) books? I can't figure whether they look stupid or intriguing and I've never seen anyone talking about them.

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( 27 truths — lie to me )
Sep. 12th, 2010 03:13 am (UTC)
Sep. 12th, 2010 03:18 am (UTC)
Fire and Hemlock is probably my favorite book of hers. I first read it when I was, oh, 13 or so. It puzzled me, in a good way, but it wasn't until I read it again three years later that the entire book really clicked for me. It's very nuanced and meticulously put together, altogether a wonderful book. It's also a standalone volume, which makes it fairly easy to pick up.

I only read 4 books of the Chronicles of Chrestomanci, but I recall quite liking them as well. I believe The Lives of Christopher Chant, the first book in the series, was my favorite.
Sep. 12th, 2010 03:24 am (UTC)
The Chrestomanci books and Eight Days of Luke are my favorites!
Sep. 12th, 2010 03:32 am (UTC)
The first Chrestomanci book is still a favorite of mine. Also Dark Lord of Derkholm--I accidentally read its sequel first [...Year of the Griffin? can't remember] and so I read DLoD already with a major crush on one of the main characters' older self. It was kind of weird.
Sep. 12th, 2010 03:37 am (UTC)
I would also recommend the Chronicles of Chrestomanci, though Howl's Moving Castle is my favorite.

And I would very much recommend the Weetzie Bat books. Dangerous Angels is a compilation of all of them; I tore through it in a few days and spent the whole time wondering why I hadn't discovered it earlier. She's the sort of writer who takes things that sound stupid and writes them in an intriguing way.
Sep. 12th, 2010 05:36 am (UTC)
Could they be read as stand alones? (I ask because two volumes that contain two books each are on sale for 99 cent at bookcloseouts.com, but neither contain the first book in the series.)
Sep. 16th, 2010 04:53 pm (UTC)
I do feel like they could be read as stand alones, yes. The characters overlap, but each focuses on a different character. Sorry for the late response, forgot to check back.
Sep. 12th, 2010 03:45 am (UTC)
Most of her books are unconnected. I'm most fond of the Chrestomanci books, the Howl quasi-sequels, and The Dark Lord of Derkholm and its sequel, I think. I haven't read her latest yet.
Sep. 12th, 2010 04:03 am (UTC)
I haven't read much of hers, but my favourite was Hexwood, a book that did its damndest to give me whiplash as often as possible.
Sep. 12th, 2010 04:16 am (UTC)
I read the Weetzie Bat books ages ago; they struck me as vaguely fairytale, but dressed in more modern clothes. I liked them enough to buy, though I don't know where they've got to now.
Sep. 12th, 2010 04:21 am (UTC)
Seconding all the books mentioned above, plus:

The Homeward Bounders (my favorite standalone book by her)
The Dalemark Quartet (The Crown of Dalemark is amaaazing)
Deep Secret (it's on the older side of YA, and has a lot of fun with sci-fi convention inside jokes)
Archer's Goon (second favorite standalone)

The Power of Three and Black Maria (Aunt Maria in America) are for slightly younger readers, but they're still quite interesting. And oh my god, A Tale of Time City and The Time of the Ghost. OK, new list!

The Homeward Bounders
A Tale of Time City
The Time of the Ghost
Archer's Goon

and then the other books I listed. But those four if you want her trippier/deeper work. (Edit): Oh, and to answer your question, her series can be read out of order. I read The Crown of Dalemark first, even though it's the last book in the series, and could understand the major plot points and character relationships fine.

Edited at 2010-09-12 04:24 am (UTC)
Sep. 12th, 2010 05:19 am (UTC)
It is really hard to choose what to recommend. She has so many books that are all really good. I have read most of them, and I do have my favorites. Here is my top five in no particular order, which are stand-alones aside from Deep Secret:

Deep Secret (and sequel The Merlin Conspiracy)
The Homeward Bounders
Enchanted Glass (came out in 2010)
Fire and Hemlock

DWJ's main series Chrestomanci (you can get all 6 books in a 3 volume paperback) and The Dalemark Quartet (it is a bit harder to find) are also looking into if you want to get into a series.

Also, have you read the rest of the Castle series too (Castle in the Air and House of Many Ways)?
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 12th, 2010 08:54 am (UTC)
I love the Chrestomanci books so much. And Fire and Hemlock. Then again, I've never read a Wynne Jones book that I *didn't* like, so you're probably pretty safe picking anything. ;)

I remember liking the Weetzie Bat books a lot, but that was a long time ago. I've been meaning to re-read them to see if I'd still like them. I probably would.
Sep. 12th, 2010 12:07 pm (UTC)
I love Hexwood a lot. It jumps around in time and has (I think) the most enchanting opening to a DWJ book. Fire and Hemlock is wonderful too but I think it's one that you should probably read when you decide to, instead of being prompted by the recommendations of others? The ending divides a lot of people and I can imagine it'd be a frustrating note to end on if you're going into it expecting greatness. Eight Days of Luke is really charming and a super-fast read.

I LOVED the Weetzie Bat books when I was 15 but a friend of mine recently read it and pointed out that the writing is like overdosing on sugar - very affected, very self-conscious - I wouldn't recommend them, no.
Sep. 12th, 2010 02:03 pm (UTC)
It's definitely hard to pick favorites. There hasn't been one I haven't liked. The Chrestomanci books are certainly a rec. I'd say you can read them in any order. The first one really introduces the concept of the Chrestomanci, but it's repeated in the other books to a certain extent, and they're all stand-alone stories really.

The Dark Lord of Derkholm and it's sequel is my other rec. The concept of these books are hilarious and fun. You definitely should read the other two Howl-related books as well, they are both fantastic.
Sep. 12th, 2010 02:15 pm (UTC)
The only Diana Wynne Jones book I have read is Dark Lord of Derkholm, which I enjoyed, even if I didn't love it. I've heard a lot of great things about Chrestomanci.

Francesca Lia Block is ... Francesca Lia Block. I liked many of her books when I was fifteen or so; I remember not being the biggest fan of Weetzie Bat but mostly because I felt it glamorized gay people in a very shallow way and a little because the protagonist gave me a headache. Your mileage may vary, of course! Block has a very distinct writing style that I think is worth reading a book or two of hers for. In general, though, I find that her body of work annoys me because it's so repetitively glamorous about completely unglamorous things like, uh, eating disorders and incest.

Edited at 2010-09-12 02:17 pm (UTC)
Sep. 12th, 2010 02:36 pm (UTC)
I haven't read anything outside the Howl series yet, although I have a bunch of her books in my wishlist at the online store I get my books from. I'm taking notes from the other comments as soon as I hit post.

I quite liked the two Howl "sequels" (they're not exactly such, as he and Sophie aren't main characters... it's more like stories in the same world with wacky cameos). Just don't expect them to appear a lot, and they're quite charming on their own. First it's Castle in the Air, then House of Many Ways. You can read them in any order, however, since the only thing that HoMW would spoil you of CitA is not that big of a spoiler: [Howl/Sophie getting married and having a baby, really].
Sep. 12th, 2010 02:48 pm (UTC)
I need to read more Diana Wynne Jones books than the Chrestomanchi books, Howl's Moving Castle, and Castle In The Air. That said, I read the latter two out of order (the first was checked out), and as they're separate stories set in a shared world with a few connecting characters, I had no trouble following the second without having read the first. Haven't read Fire And Hemlock, but have been told repeatedly they're the best thing since sliced bread.

Francesca Lia Block was my hero when I was a teenager, and I think she set the stage for my love of authors who do weird, distinctive stuff with their prose. That said, while I did enjoy the Weetzie Bat books, they're not my favorite things she's written; of all of them, only the last book (Baby Be-Bop) stuck with me, in large part because the things it says about the function of storytelling are so powerful. I think the reason the earlier Weetzie Bat books age poorly for a lot of readers is that they capture really perfectly the almost hyperreality of the world when you're coming of age, and when you're older and more jaded, you realize that's pretty much their sole strength; the characters, plotlines, etc. just don't hold up.

That said, other of her books are worth a read, and I feel like with what you've said you liked in the past, you could handle the poetic language and meandering plots (she is, for example, nowhere near as wordy or abstract as Cat Valente can get, even on a wordy abstract day XD). I never felt as though she glamorized eating disorders, incest, or any of the subjects she wrote about, particularly in her earlier novels; rather, it felt like she was trying to make something beautiful out of finding your way through pain, which is a theme she touches on a lot in her writing anyway.

I will say if you're going to read her, read something after Weetzie Bat, but earlier than her current stuff (the last book of hers I felt was up to her usual standards was either "Psyche In A Dress" or "Necklace Of Kisses," whichever of those came last). And don't touch her adult lit with a ten-foot pole--aside from Necklace Of Kisses, which is only "adult" in that it's about Weetzie as an adult, and thus not really worth reading if you haven't read the other WB books anyway. It seems that while she wrote beautifully about the experience of being a teenager, her own style (or who knows, maybe her own psyche) got stuck somewhere before 20, and what seemed realistic and understandable when she was working with teenagers seems self-indulgent and overdramatic when she deals with adults.
Sep. 12th, 2010 02:48 pm (UTC)

If I were to rec two of her books to you, I'd pick "The Rose And The Beast" and "The Hanged Man." They're the two of her books I'd label her "best," insofar as I can make that highly subjective call. "The Rose And The Beast" is a book of shorts, her take on various fairy tales, and I think every one of them adds something to the original story and interprets it in a way that resonates with modern life without sacrificing the essential fairytale quality. I have two copies of it because I reread the first so much throughout high school and college, it's falling apart >>;;

"The Hanged Man" is definitely The Incest Book, and I will issue a heavy warning that it will likely Fuck You Up. I've reread it a couple times, but I have to space those rereads out pretty far. There's so much going on there, though, that's made it age really well for me: stuff about the relationship between abuse and body image, art and working through psychological problems, the harmful effects of escapism (done brilliantly through multiple characters too), a paradoxical but intriguing implication that sometimes distancing oneself is the only way to heal, the nasty combination of love and loathing one feels for an abusive relative. It was also the first time my young eyes saw the Tarot used as a narrative framing device, but even after seeing it used countless times in countless novels, her usage still held up for me when I reread it last year. If you read it, when you're done with it, tell me what you think happened. From what I understand, a lot of people have different interpretations (so much so that in the edition I bought in high school, there was a book club discussion question about it), but I've never actually gotten to discuss it with anyone.

"Echo" is a personal favorite in that it was the book through which I discovered her, but as that's largely a sentimental attachment, I'm not sure whether I can in good conscience recommend it. It's a fairly straightforward coming-of-age story, but I found the protag, her lovers and her friends more fully realized and believable than in the WB series. I also like what it has to say about knowing yourself before you can ever truly fall in love with someone else.

She's definitely an author you either love or hate, and sometimes, those feelings can be combined within the same fan *raises hand.* But I'd give her a spin, just to see what you think.
Sep. 12th, 2010 03:20 pm (UTC)
Oh, also should warn you in case you're determined to go the Weetzie route: there's a character who manages to be the fusion of the Noble Savage and the Magical Negro all in one, a Native American friend of the family who's pretty much there to lament the death of his ancestors and offer magical advice to the protags. She lampshades this somewhat in Necklace Of Kisses--by actually giving that character a chance to speak for himself, showing him as a complete human being, and having him admit that when he was younger he tried to define himself by being basically a stereotype--but it doesn't make the original cringeworthiness disappear entirely. Also be warned that she lays on "meat is murder" pretty thickly in her early stuff in particular, and the fourth book in the WB series uses meat-eating as its metaphor for evil and corruption and the fall of the narrator before she rises again. I'm not saying she doesn't have a right to express her moral stances in her fiction (in fact, just how much of her worldview is on her sleeve can be one of her strengths, kinda like it is with Larissa Lai); I'm just saying if that sort of thing bothers you, it's in there in spades.
Sep. 13th, 2010 09:51 pm (UTC)
Hmm. Based on what you and others have said, I decided to hold off on the Weetzie Bat books, and try The Rose and the Beast first, since it was on a 99 cent sale too. Figure I'll try the one before any of the others.
Sep. 14th, 2010 12:59 am (UTC)
I think that's a good choice, as each story is very short and gives you a very...distilled example of her style? So if it rubs you the wrong way, you'll know quickly without having invested in something novel-length and could even stop after one or two.
Oct. 1st, 2010 05:06 pm (UTC)
As always, late to the party.
I have loved FLB for a great many years, and still own almost a complete reading library of her work (admissibly partially because her first editions are almost always small-size paperbacks and I am a huge sucker for those. v_____v;;) -- I love the Weetzie Bat books for what they are (and the lovely tigerfish really covered that, I think -- though I feel that there's more of a evolving storyline if you read them in a big lump rather than as individual books, i.e., Dangerous Angels [the compilation]), but my personal favorites are Ecstasia and Primavera, her sci-ish-fantasy novels that are a bit more story-driven and a little less abstracted than a lot of her stuff aimed at teens/pre-teens. They feel more like -books- rather than sparkly, occasionally very twee, niblets of story.

<3 Otherwise, what she said, with the added caveat that pretty much anything she's written in the last three years or so is basically awful.

This set of comments is a beautiful summation of her work. <3

//squeaked in from Cat Valente's journal via OMG UNUSUAL UTENA ICON squee. Srsly, you have no idea. I was like OMG MOVIE!ANTHY OMG.//
Oct. 1st, 2010 07:02 pm (UTC)
Re: As always, late to the party.
I was really taken by the Anthy-with-a-hole-in-her-chest image and just had to icon it. I've also got the somewhat inexplicable Anthy-groping-a-swooning-Utena icon! :D I love Anthy so much. *_*

I ended up getting a copy of Rose and the Beast - I enjoyed it, although while I found some parts quite clever others made me kind of snort a little. I'm getting dead curious though as to why everyone seems to think her recent work is rubbish. :Oa
Sep. 12th, 2010 03:19 pm (UTC)
The Homeward Bounders was my first experience with Diana Wynne Jones. I'm overdue for a reread, actually.

Mentioned on the cover flap, so not really a spoiler... Fire and Hemlock is a retelling of Tam Lin.
Sep. 13th, 2010 07:40 am (UTC)
Fire and Hemlock was my first DWJ book and I spent a rather expensive phase where I gave everyone I knew a copy for their birthday/ unbirthday gift. So seconding every book she has written.. except, uh for Archer's Goon? That's like the only book I wasn't fond of for some reason?

Oh, and you absolutely need to read Tough Guide to Fantasy Land if you haven't already! 8D
Guidebook for absolutely traumatic generic epic fantasy.
Dark Lord of Derkholm riffs off it.
( 27 truths — lie to me )