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This Week's Topic: What's the best book you've read in February?
(Via YA Highway)
Hello and happy Thursday, Dear Readers! As you can see, I am taking part - belatedly - in YA Highway's RTW. Do nip over there and look at the links in the comments. I'm sure there are a lot of interesting books to be discovered.
I don't have a new book to talk about this month. Since I'm still hard at work on The Name of the Blade I don't have the interest or energy to seek out new things to read - instead I'm re-reading old favourites, as is my usual custom. But luckily the reason that old favourites are old favourites in the first place is that I love them and think they're wonderful.
So! The best book I read in February was:
The Ogre Downstairs by Diana Wynne Jones
What's it about? Caspar, Gwinny and Johnny's widowed mother has just married the Ogre - an irritable, beetle-browed giant of a man who has installed them all in his tall, thin, cold house with his two horrible children from his first marriage, Malcolm and Douglas. The three children are appalled, and it's all they can do to survive day to day when they're confronted with their step-family's cruelty and nastiness at every turn. But when the Ogre tries to bribe Johnny into good behaviour with a new chemistry set, many things rapidly change - and many other things are revealed to be entirely different than they first appeared.
This book is one of DWJ's less well known works. One of her earliest. It is aimed at slightly younger readers than, say Fire and Hemlock or The Merlin Conspiracy. And it's pretty short. The first time I read this (rather later than I read most of her other books, because I was put off by the title) I thought it was one of the funniest things I'd ever read, by any author.
As the years have gone by and I've read this again and again, I've come to realise that it is so. Much. More. Than simply funny - even though it still is one of the funniest things I've ever read, by any author. It is simply a perfect example of how to write middle grade fiction. As a fellow writer, the craftsmanship in this little book just staggers me. Every part is polished until it shines like the individual facets of a jewel. When I read it now there's this little voice in the back of my head crying out:
"Oh, oh, oh... that was so clever. Oh! That too! The perfection of this bit! Just look at that! HOW DID SHE DO IT?"
There's an unusually large cast of characters in this one, but each of them is fully and hilariously characterised, and what's more their relationships with each other develop in such a charmingly natural way that each time I read it I'm staggered anew. The magical shenanigans are really just a medium for DWJ to unfold this complex, still-forming web of family interactions. If you haven't read this? Please do. It might be the best book you read this month too.