First up, The Dark is Rising.
This is book two of Susan Cooper's 'Dark is Rising' series. Book one, which I read several weeks ago, was set in Cornwall and involved the Drew children as they followed the clues of a map to find a certain item. For book two the setting changes to the Thames valley and the Stanton family of nine children, the youngest of which is Will, aged eleven. It's just before Christmas and, after a heavy snow storm, Will leaves the house and finds himself in another century where nothing he is familiar with exists. Except the smithy and in there is Mr. Dawson the smith, telling him he's an Old One and in great danger. A white horse appears and takes Will to two doors in the nearby hills. He feels compelled to enter and meets Merriman an enigmatic wizardly sort, who confirms that Will is, in fact, the last of the Old Ones and it's his job to gather six signs to save his family and friends from The Dark. And even if he completes these tasks that will not, of course, be the end of it...
Simply delightful, while at the same time being genuinely creepy! I loved the very wintery setting to this one - it would make an excellent Christmas or winter read for anyone of any age as the writing is mature and not at all simplistic. I felt the writer knew children and the way they act and talk very well indeed. To be honest, all of the characters are very well rounded and feel real, particularly The Walker in the shape of an old tramp, who is menacing Will at the start. Terrific second book to this series, I have the third volume, Greenwitch, on order and can't wait to read it.
Next up, The Accidental Sorcerer by K.E. Mills, which was a birthday gift from the lovely nakeisha.
Gerald Dunwoody is a third-grade wizard who got his qualifactions via a corresspondence course. As wizards go he's not exactly top of the heap and has ended up in a dead end job with a gov dept. checking code violations. And then he accidently blows up a factory, during which something odd happens with his magical powers. But he loses his job anyway and has to search for a new one. His high-flying friend, Monk Markham, points him towards an ad in a newspaper. It seems the king of neighbouring New Ottosland needs a new court magician - for some reason he can't keep one and has been through many in recent months. Gerald applies and is sent for. When he arrives with his luggage and talking 'bird' he meets the king's sister, Princess Melisande, an independant, very ordinary woman who it appears is actually running the country. Eventually, Gerald meets the king and receives a surprise. He is asked to do things a third grade wizard is not supposed to attempt, and shouldn't be able to do. But it seems he can. Things start to get out of hand as the, clearly unstable, king starts to make unreasonable demands. Why? What's he up to? And where did the sacked wizards actually go? On his quest to find some answers Gerald is in for some serious shocks and wishes more than once that he was back in his very boring old job.
Great fun. I really enjoyed this fantastical romp with it's mad royals, pompous gov. officials, and mystical creatures of which I can't say too much or it would spoil the plot. The book is pacey with a great deal of humour and Gerald is an excellent main character with his down to earth attitude and underdog demeanor. Until I was given this book I'd never heard of it or seen it in bookshops - which is a shame as I think fantasy fans would enjoy it. It's book one of three in a series called 'Rogue Agent' and I shall be hoping to catch book two, Witches Incorporated, in the library sometime.
And last but not least, Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton.
I'm fairly sure I've already done a couple of posts about this anthology of Father Brown crime stories that I've been reading for ages, so I'll keep this brief. This particular anthology, which I found in a charity shop, includes stories from five of Chesterton's short story volumes about the detective cleric. Favourites include The Invisible Man, The Hammer of God, The Sign of the Broken Sword (which has one of the most atmospheric intros I've ever read), The Perishing of the Pendragons (a cracking Cornish story), The Blast of the Book and The Insoluble Problem. Those were my favourites but, to be honest, every story in the anthology was well written, clever, and very readable. I was very struck by Chesterton's gorgeous writing... so intelligent and amusing with skilful descriptions which set the mood and tone very effectively. I certainly plan to keep an eye out for complete editions of any of his Father Brown books or his novels of which I do actually own one: The Man who was Thursday. Highly recommend this author if you've never tried him.
Pic from http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/