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!

5 family read-alouds to try

You’ve been reading chapter books to your kids since your oldest was 2. You’ve read through all of the Narnia and all of the Little House books–twice. You cheered Harry on through his years at Hogwarts, went on a tour of Mr. Wonka’s amazing chocolate factory, and teared up when Charlotte died. You’ve even made it through classics like The Secret Garden and Peter Pan.

Your voice is permanently hoarse and you’ve just about run out of book ideas.

Now what?

Try one of these as your next family read-aloud:

My Father’s Dragon and sequels by Ruth Stiles Gannet

 My Father's Dragon

This series is the perfect introduction to chapter books for younger, wigglier children. The few black-and-white illustrations are appealing, the chapters are short and episodic, and the tale is wildly improbably and fun.

The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald

The Princess and the Goblin

This lovely fairy tale features a brave miner boy, a truthful princess, a many-times-great grandmother with rose-scented magic, and a dastardly goblin plot.

The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper

The Dark is Rising

This is David’s current read-aloud with the olders. Both of us Gale parents LOVED this MG fantasy series as kids. There’s some confusion over the fact the series is named after the second book. You want to start with Over Sea, Under Stone.

And the movie adaptation sucks. Don’t bother with it.

For a more humorous fantasy angle, check out The Boggart by the same author.  A Canadian family accidentally take a boggart from Scotland back home to Toronto. Mayhem and hilarity ensue.

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome

Swallows and Amazons

Now I’ll be the first to admit that these books aren’t superbly written (I always want to edit as I read aloud). And the whole “natives and explorers” angle might bother some folks. BUT these adventurous children–none of them teens yet–are capable, kind, courageous, and resourceful. Their parents let them go off on a sailing/camping adventure and TRUST them to not drown–and these kids live up to the responsibility. For older books, they are also refreshingly free of gender problems. Four of the six children are girls, and there’s never any indication that they are not as capable as boys.

I found these books very empowering when I was a child, and my kids do too. They’re the next best thing to running away and having their own adventures!

The Moffats by Eleanor Estes

The Moffats

 If you like the Ramona books, you’ll like the Moffats. Perfect for when you just want an old-fashioned, nostalgic read about small town families.

What are some of your favorite read-alouds? Share in the comments!

you can keep your Mr. Darcy

I have nothing against Mr. Darcy, really. Like almost every woman out there, I enjoy the Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle Pride and Prejudice  but Mr. Darcy does not set my heart aflutter. I’m sure he and Elizabeth Bennet will deal very well together, but I don’t envy her good fortune. Sure, he’s rich and handsome and responsible and devoted–but perhaps a tad too boring?

No, I’d rather take a man of action, such as a dashing naval hero, like another one of Austen’s leading men: Persuasion’s Captain Wentworth.

I prefer the other adaptation of Persuasion, but this Captain Wentworth is handsomer. Yes, I'm shallow that way.

I prefer the other adaptation of Persuasion, but this Captain Wentworth is handsomer. Yes, I’m shallow that way.

Darcy inherited his wealth, but Wentworth, born with fewer prospects, earned it. And there’s just something adventurous about a man in uniform.

But a ship’s captain is bound to be away at sea for long periods of time, so perhaps one should look at self-made men in other professions. Such as North & South’s mill owner, Mr. Thornton.

Especially if he is played by Richard Armitage.

"North & South" is my favorite period drama. You should watch it. Even Richard Armitage thinks you should.

“North & South” is my favorite period drama. You should watch it. Even Richard Armitage thinks you should.

However, Mr. Thornton needs to be financially bailed out by heroine Margaret Hale at the end. Perhaps one should look at independently wealthy men again–and while we’re aiming high, how about a Duke?

Like, maybe the Duke of Salford, the titular character of Georgette Heyer’s Sylvester. Like Darcy, he is rich, well-born and insufferably proud, but he does have a great sense of humor. And the adventures he and heroine Phoebe Marlow have are laugh-out-loud funny.

Some handsome actor really needs to play Sylvester in a movie version.

Some handsome actor really needs to play Sylvester in a movie version.

However, one really doesn’t know about these literary heroes. They might have drinking problems or bad dental hygiene or rather outdated notions of what women should or should not do.

No, no. They may look good in paper and on screen, but what about the parts that were edited out? I’d rather choose a real good guy, one I can trust. Like this one:

REAL Handsome Guy with Adorable Kids

REAL Handsome Guy with Adorable Kids

Oh, wait! I already did!

To my White Knight, Chief Cheerleader, Tech Support Guy, Co-parent of three gorgeous, smart, and crazy kids, Fixer of Pipes and Broken Toys, Reacher of Objects on High Shelves, and Companion for Life–you’re the only romantic hero and leading man I want.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

me, my kids, and Harry Potter

Several weeks ago, our family listened to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone on a long (long!) car trip. We followed that up with a viewing of the movie adaptation. For several days thereafter, the children’s play was full of Quidditch matches and House Sortings: “Hogwarts, without Harry Potter”, as my six-year-old put it.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

And it occurred to me then that my kids will never know a world without Harry Potter, without his complete story. They will never know the building buzz, the anticipation of the next release, or the speculation over how it would all end.

And even more than that, they will never have the experiences that shaped–long before Harry came on the scene–the way I view the series.

I first saw Harry Potter in my college bookstore, and was instantly attracted by its cover and blurb. It drew me in not because it was something new and different, but because it sounded so comfortably like other British children’s books.

Otherwise known as the Books I Grew Up Reading.

The too-horrible-to-be-believable Dursleys reminded me of Matilda’s terrible family in the book by Road Dahl. The whimsy that characterizes so much of the wizarding world is reminiscent of Diana Wynne Jones’ charming and delightful books. And the whole boarding school aspect–stripped off its magic and co-education–is a lot like Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers and St. Clare’s school series

Blyton’s boarding schools, like Hogwarts, include the stereotypical Good but Stern Teacher, the Nasty Teacher, and the Timid Lacking-Classroom-Management-Skills Teacher. The headmistress is a an awe-inspiring, remote figure, who appears to dispense wisdom at the end of the book, rather like Dumbledore. Blyton’s boarding school girls tread the halls at midnight to have illicit feasts, while Harry’s  illicit midnight trips are to the Restricted Section of the library. A chapter or two of a Blyton school story is nearly always devoted to lacrosse matches in the same way Rowling spends time describing Quidditch games.

But Hogwarts also shares elements with my own school experience, sadly, though, without the magic.

I didn’t go to a British boarding school, but I did go to one that had been founded by the British for the education of their young in colonial Karachi.

We didn’t have houses with names like Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, and Slytherin, but we did have houses called Frere, Napier, and Streeton (all men who extended and strengthened the British Empire’s hold on India–make of that what you will). And yes, we did earn points for academic and athletic achievement, and a House Cup was awarded at the end of the year.

We didn’t have a singing Sorting Hat, but we did have a school song. (It began with “O God whose mercy long has kept/Our school from age to age”). I still know the first two verses and the chorus–some things you never forget. Lyrics available upon request. ;)

We wore uniforms and had prefects. In fact, I was a prefect my last year of school, and I wore a badge and a black gown. Our main job was to keep students in orderly lines, check for uniform violations, and make sure there was no unseemly giggling/talking during Assembly.

Fast forward fourteen years, and here are my young, homeschooled children, who have no experience with this kind of school system. Who can’t help knowing major plot points of Harry Potter because they live in a world with Harry Potter (just as my 8yo who has only watched A New Hope knows the relationship between Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader). Who will read Diana Wynne Jones and Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton after their exposure to Harry Potter, not before.

My kids, who will bring their own, very different experiences to the story of the Boy Who Lived.

Siri Paulson recommends children’s historical fiction

Please give a big welcome to fellow WANA blogger Siri Paulson, who’s joining us here today to talk about some of her favorite historical fiction books from her childhood.

Siri Paulson author photo 2011

Thanks for having me, Rabia!

I’m here to talk about books, which thrills me to no end because I’m a book lover from way back. Growing up, I read all sorts of things, but one of my favorite genres was historical fiction. Other times and places held an endless fascination for me. It didn’t really matter when or where a book was set, as long as the setting was as unlike my Canadian suburban existence as possible.

But, of course, I had favorite periods. Here are a few of them, along with the books that inspired me most…

The Middle Ages and the Renaissance

Another of my preferred genres was fantasy, so anything with castles was automatically a hit. Wandering bards, artists’ guilds, and apprentices? Yes please!

  • Adam of the Road (1943) by Elizabeth Janet Gray. Set in the thirteenth century. A young boy who idolizes his minstrel father is thrilled to have the chance to travel with him. But when he loses his dog and is separated from his father, he ends up crossing England to find them again. Along the way, he meets other traveling performers, makes new friends, and of course, has many adventures.
  • The Door in the Wall (1949) by Marguerite de Angeli. Set in the fourteenth century. An English boy’s dreams of being a knight are dashed when he loses the use of his legs. With the help of a friar and a minstrel, he sets out for the castle where he was originally slated to become a page. There he discovers that one doesn’t have to be a knight to be brave, and sometimes a boy on crutches is the best-suited to save the castle. De Angeli also wrote Black Fox of Lorne, a thrilling tale about a pair of Viking twins in Scotland.
  • Master Cornhill (1987) by Eloise Jarvis McGraw. Set in the seventeenth century. A boy orphaned in the Great Plague becomes an apprentice to a Dutch mapmaker living on London Bridge, but his new home is jeopardized in the Great Fire of London. Full of wonderful details about mixing paints in the studio and selling printed songs in the market. I also loved  The Golden Goblet by the same author, about a servant boy in Ancient Egypt.

The Second World War

At some point I developed a strange fascination with the experiences of Jewish children during the war. I read The Diary of Anne Frank, of course, but also…

  • Number the Stars (1989) by Lois Lowry. Lowry is probably more famous for The Giver, but this was how I discovered her. A Danish girl and her family take in her Jewish best friend and try to keep her safe while still working with the Danish Resistance. The girls don’t know everything the adults are doing – secrets are kept from them for safety – but there’s enough for the events to be quite exciting while still realistic.
  • When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit (1971) by Judith Kerr. A German Jewish girl and her family become refugees in the early 1930s, living in Switzerland and Paris before finally reaching England. She and her brother are young enough to be a little confused about the whole thing; they think it’s a big adventure, even though they know there’s danger…which keeps the book mostly lighthearted.
  • From Anna (1972) by Jean Little. The family here isn’t Jewish, but they do flee Germany in the 1930s. Anna, the youngest in the family, is klutzy and slow in school, so she’s terrified of moving to a new country where she doesn’t speak the language. But in Canada she discovers she’s not dumb after all, but visually impaired. Getting glasses is easy; learning to come out of her shell is harder. There’s also a sequel, Listen for the Singing.

Honorable mentions: ancient Egypt and Israel, pioneer-era North America, and nineteenth-century Britain. I also have to mention Lucy Fitch Perkins, who wrote a long series of books about twins in various countries and time periods – The Cave Twins, The Spartan Twins, The Puritan Twins, The Dutch Twins, and so on – though I wouldn’t be surprised if they read as very dated now.

Over to you! Which times and places are (or were) your favorite to read about? Any favorite historical novels or authors to share? Let us know in the comments!

 

seasons eternal ebook 200x300Siri Paulson is a science fiction and fantasy writer and an editor of both fiction (at Turtleduck Press) and non-fiction. She recently moved into a big old house in Toronto and is still wondering what she got herself into. In her spare time (when she has any) she dances, knits, and dissects movies.

Her short fiction can be found most recently in the anthology Seasons Eternal: Stories of a World Frozen in Time. You can read more about it at Turtleduck Press. Seasons Eternal is available in print, Kindle, or your ebook format of choice.

2012: a year of reading

2012 was an odd reading year for me. I went through a dry spell in the middle, and thought that I wouldn’t even hit my annual goal of 75 books (I made it to 77).

Without further ado, here are my notable reading experiences of 2012.

Blog-to-Books

Freelancer's Survival Guide

I never thought I’d read a single blog-to-book, but this year I read four, including The Best of Catherine, Caffeinated by Catherine Ryan Howard and The Freelancer’s Survival Guide byKristine Kathryn Rusch. Which just goes to show: never say never.

Short Fiction

Black Juice

I read several anthologies, both single author and not. My comfort reads this spring (right after our move) were six volumes of L. M. Montgomery’s short stories. I finally tried out Margo Lanagan’s work by reading her collection, Black Juice, and yes,”Singing My Sister Down” is one of the most powerful and heartbreaking stories I’ve ever read.

Best YA Fantasy

Seraphina

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

One of the most well-done treatments of human-dragon relationships I’ve ever read.

Best Book I Didn’t Expect to Like

Girl in the Arena

Girl in the Arena by Lise Haines

This book is more about family dynamics and social commentary than action-adventure. A surprisingly moving read.

Best Worldbuilding-YA

Dark Life

Dark Life by Kat Falls

Two words: Undersea. Colonies.

Best Worldbuilding-Adult

The Serpent Sea

The Serpent Sea by Martha Wells

This, and the third book of the Raksura trilogy, The Siren Depths, are just awesome. I love the depth of Wells’ world, with its mysterious flying islands, several sentient races, giant trees, and–especially–the Raksura themselves who are both so alien and so sympathetic.

Best Book That I Did Not Finish

The Brides of Rollrock Island

The Brides of Rollrock Island  by Margo Lanagan

Beautifully written, but so emotionally wrenching that I had to put it down.

Book That Filled the Georgette Heyer Void in My Life

Captain Vorpatril's Alliance

Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold

This book is a romp, featuring a marriage of convenience, eccentric family members, a search for treasure and a cute romance. Different from the books starring Miles Vorkosigan, but in the best way possible.

What were your favorite reads of 2012?

Related Post: 7 Favorite Books of 2012 (as of 9/24/12)