WANAFriday: a new-to-me author

This week’s #wanafriday blog prompt is: Share something cool that you’ve recently discovered with your blog readers. This could be a great book, a gripping TV show, a neat tip, an awesome recipe, or something else!

Many moons ago, I was waxing nostalgic about M. M. Kaye’s Death In… mysteries and bemoaning the fact that she’d only written six of them and I’d read them all. A blog reader (perhaps it was the lovely Ellen Gregory?) suggested I try Mary Stewart’s mysteries.

Now, I’d only ever heard of Mary Stewart because of her Merlin trilogy. I’d no idea she’d written romantic suspense (back before there was such a genre). Wanting to fill the Kaye-shaped hole in my reading life, I picked up her Airs Above the Ground.

And was hooked.

In short order, I tore through The Moonspinners, The Gabriel Hounds and My Brother Michael. I appreciate Stewart’s wonderfully evocative descriptions of her setting and her attention to details of the natural world. I enjoy her courageous heroines and her very manly men. It’s also interesting to note the way attitudes have changed over time, even in something as small and simple as the fact that people in her books smoke like chimneys!

I’m delighted to have discovered Mary Stewart’s mysteries and happy to recommend them to you. If you enjoyed Kaye’s Death In… books, you’re in for a treat with these!

 

Check out other people’s recent discoveries:

evenings with Jane Austen

Earlier this summer, I was on a Jane Austen kick (we’d just got back from a busy vacation and were dealing with sickness–and all I wanted were cosy, comfort reads or films).

Persuasion

Persuasion

My first Jane Austen craving was a desire to re-watch the 1995 Persuasion adaptation, starring Amanda Root. I’ve also watched the 2007 adaptation, which is shorter and disappointed me greatly by leaving out my favorite line from the book. Really, how else are you going to persuade Sir Elliot to rent Kellynch Hall to the Crofts without pointing out that a married lady with no children is a great preserver of furniture? The later adaptation also had Anne running amok all over Bath (that is so not Austen), but the Captain Wentworth was more handsome and broody. Trade-offs, trade-offs.

But handsomeness of actors aside, I prefer the older Persuasion which remains truer to the book (save in their portrayal of Helen Smith and their completely changing Mr. Elliot’s motivations for courting Anne) and in spite of Amanda Root’s deer-in-the-headlights look for far too much of the movie.

Then I re-read the book, and was reminded again what a hard role Anne Elliot is to play. Anne is a quiet woman, with an understated manner. She’s past her bloom, yet has enough delicate prettiness to attract attention. She is not a type of heroine who’s found a lot in modern books and movies.  It’s a lot easier to play spunky Elizabeth Bennet than it is to play an Anne Eliot with her elegant mind and sweet characterwithout making her look like a doormat.

Sense and Sensibility

Sense and Sensibility

In the case of Sense and Sensibility I confess to loving the 2008 adaptation more than the book itself (shocking, I know!). The rather bland leading men of the book are rounded out and made more heroic in the movie. Colonel Brandon is not the relic of the book, but honorable, mature, active and attractive. Edward Ferrars is played engagingly by twinkle-eyed Dan Stevens (Matthew from Downton Abbey). Marianne’s histrionics over the loss of Willoughby are downplayed in the movie without losing any of the emotion. Elinor Dashwood remains an admirable, common-sensical young woman. And the adaptation does a fine job of putting the Dashwoods’ new cottage right on the cliffs with the wild wonderful sea as the backdrop. The location is absolutely stunning.

(I also much prefer this adaptation to the more famous Emma Thompson/Kate Winslet movie.)

Northanger Abbey

Northanger Abbey

I watched Masterpiece Theater’s Northanger Abbey for the first time, and found movie kinder to the characters than the book itself. Austen does not seem to really like her characters very much, which is off-putting to me as the reader. The movie deals much more gently with the romantic-minded Catherine Morland and the love that Henry Tilney bears for her (in spite of his disinheritance by his formidably snobbish father).

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Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Mansfield Park did not make it on to my reading and watching lists for various reasons. Right now, P&P suffers–in my mind–too much from over-exposure. I’ve never cared much for Emma and what I vaguely remember of the Gwyneth Paltrow movie seemed too contemporary (in attitude) for my tastes. I despised poor Fanny Price when I read Mansfield Park as a young teen–I suspect I’d be kinder to her today.

What is your favorite Austen book and/or adaptation?

5 favorite fairy tale retellings

It’s no secret that I love fairy tales and am endlessly fascinated by how they inspire other people’s creative work. I enjoy many retellings, but these are my top 5 (I also include movies in this list):

Beauty by Robin McKinley

Beauty_Robin McKinley

Richly detailed, with a strong, scholarly protagonist, this upper MG/YA retelling of Beauty & the Beast is on my keeper shelf (and I’m waiting patiently for my daughter to grow into it).

Disney’s Tangled

Tangled

I was unimpressed after seeing the trailer, but I ended up LOVING the movie. I adore Rapunzel’s sunniness, determination, vulnerability, and innocence. Mother Gothel is a great (evil-great, that is) villain, and Flynn a very different kind of “prince”.

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Ella Enchanted_Gail Carson Levine

A clever and fun take on the Cinderella story.

Ever After

Ever After

In spite of a few cheesy moments, this Cinderella retelling gets a thumbs-up for grounding the story in a historical context.

“Stronger Than Time” by Patricia C. Wrede

Book of Enchantments_Patricia C. Wrede

 This beautiful, melancholy retelling of Sleeping Beauty never ceases to make my heart ache. You can read this short story in the anthology, Book of Enchantments.

 What are your favorite fairy tale retellings?

Also, check out my favorite fairy tale picture books here.

WANAFriday: Books I Can Read Over and Over Again

My blogging group recently started doing weekly blog prompts to get our (collective) creative juices flowing. This Friday we’re posting about the one book we can read over and over again without getting bored. (Note: For this post, I’m sticking to fiction).

This prompt is a hard one for me because–as my husband well knows–I’m not much of a re-reader. (With my TBR pile as high as it is, I can’t afford to be!). But sometimes I just crave a comfort read, a chance to return to an old friend who I can rely on to entertain, uplift, and transport me into another world. All my favorite re-reads have some things in common: they’re set in locales far removed from my here and now, they bubble over with wit and whimsy, they have sympathetic characters, and they leave me with a smile on my face.

So, without further ado, here are three of my favorite re-reads (no, I couldn’t pick only one):

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Howl's Moving Castle

When self-deprecating oldest sister Sophie is transformed into an old woman, she sets out to seek her fortune as cleaning lady to the horrible wizard, Howl. An all-around funny, touching, and romantic read.

Sylvester by Georgette Heyer

An impending marriage proposal from Sylvester, Duke of Salford, causes Phoebe Marlow to run away from her home into the teeth of a snowstorm. However, circumstances throw them together again, much to the amusement of all. An unusual heroine, comic situations, and a cast of fun characters make this a charming read.

Anything by L. M. Montgomery (yes, I cheated again)

But if I had to pick: Anne of Windy Poplars and The Blue Castle.

The Blue Castle

Everyone’s familiar with the red-headed Anne, but I love many of the lesser-known Montgomery books. In The Blue Castle, downtrodden 29-year-old Valancy learns that she has only one year left to live. For the first time in her life, she decides to say and do exactly what she wants, and discovers adventure, love, and beauty along the way.

I noticed two other things about my list of re-reads:

1. They all have romantic plots or subplots.

2. They are all books I first read as a teenager (back when, I suspect, I was more open to falling in love with books than I am now).

Updated with links to other participants:

first quarter reads

2013 has gotten off to a great start, reading-wise. Here’s a sampling of some of the books that have kept me up late into the night, turning pages.

An Urban Fantasy of a Different Kind

The Rook by Daniel O’ Malley

The Rook

Dear You, the body you are wearing used to be mine.

Who can resist an opening like that? Mwfanwy Thomas finds herself in a London park, surrounded by bodies wearing white gloves, and no memories. Following a paper trail left behind by her meticulous former self, Mwfanwy finds herself in a super-secret organization staffed by people of extraordinary abilities–and a deadly conspiracy behind it all…

Fairy Tale Retelling

A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan

A Long Long Sleep

A SF retelling of Sleeping Beauty. Rosalinda wakes up after 62 years in a stasis tube to find that her parents and young love are dead and that the world has fallen into and pulled itself out of the Dark Times. Rosalinda is a fragile young woman, making sense of her past and putting together a future for herself. This poignant story does not offer easy answers for heartache.

I-Really-Should-Read-Something-By-China-Mievelle

Railsea by China Mievelle

Railsea

And I finally did!

This Moby Dick-inspired yarn is set in a fabulously original world. It slogged in the middle, but the ending and the payoff were soooo worth it.

Middle Grade With Whimsy

Fly By Night by Frances Hardinge

Fly By Night

Beautifully-written, with compelling characters and fantastic setting. Reminded me a lot of the Joan Aikin books I read as a kid.

Shakespeare With a Twist

Prospero’s Daughter and sequels by L. Jagi Lamplighter

Prospero Lost

What if the events in Shakespeare’s The Tempest were only the beginning? What if Prospero didn’t renounce his magic? What if he and his children (yes, plural) had lived into the modern era, shielding humanity from the caprice of elemental spirits? This is the premise of Lamplighter’s ambitious trilogy, which combines Shakespeare, pagan and Catholic mythology, and historical detail in a unique way.

Oldie Comfort Reads

Death in Cyprus and other mysteries by M. M. Kaye

Death in Kenya

I had a hankering for these atmospheric mysteries set in various British colonies and ex-colonies. I wish Kaye had written more of them!

Indie Reads

Wearing the Cape by Marion G. Harmon

Wearing the Cape

I felt like a superhero story and this hit the spot. A lot of fun characters with a great deal of potential and well-thought-out world.

Terms of Enlistment by Marko Kloos

Terms of Enlistment

A fun military SF. There’s not much of a plot, really, until the final third or so of the book, but if you like a story about how warfare would look like in the space-faring age, this is a book for you.

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Do you have books to recommend? Share them in the comments!