Saturday, June 22, 2013

Anglophile Reads

To celebrate my upcoming trip to England, I thought I'd post a few of my favorite titles set across the pond.

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 by Sue Townsend

At thirteen years old, Adrian Mole has more than his fair share of problems - spots, ill-health, parents threatening to divorce, rejection of his poetry and much more - all recorded with brilliant humour in his diary.

I remember this being a bit grittier than the cover art implies, but maybe I just read it a bit young?

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

Dodie Smith's first novel transcends the oft-stodgy definition of "a classic" by being as brightly witty and adventuresome as it was when published nearly fifty years ago.

Another diary novel, but this time one of my absolute favorites, and, as I recall, perfectly suited for a June read. PBS fans, this one's for you.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

Let's be honest, this doesn't even need a caption ;-)

Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis

Katherine Ann Stephenson has just discovered that she's inherited her mother's magical talents, and despite Stepmama's stern objections, she's determined to learn how to use them.

But with her eldest sister Elissa's intended fiancĂ©, the sinister Sir Neville, showing a dangerous interest in Kat's magical potential; her other sister, Angeline, wreaking romantic havoc with her own witchcraft; and a highwayman lurking in the forest, even Kat's reckless heroism will be tested to the upmost.  If she can learn to control her new powers, will Kat be able to rescue her family and win her sisters their true love?

Regency, magic, and spunky female lead? Oh, rather! I blogged about this one before, and am rereading it and its sequel before I go to Bath.

 The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

After the grisly murder of his entire family, a toddler wanders into a graveyard where the ghosts and other supernatural residents agree to raise him as one of their own.

Who doesn't love a kid's story that kicks off with "the grisly murder" of the protagonists entire family? (If you are raising your hand, you can put it the heck back down unless you are willing to pretend you don't like Disney movies. I thought so.)

Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman

Catherine, a spirited and inquisitive young woman of good family, narrates in diary form the story of her fourteenth year--the year 1290.

This book is probably 80% of why I love stories set in the Middle Ages, and features one of the earliest cranky, snarky heroines I remember loving.  

 The Chronicles of Chrestomanci by Diana Wynne Jones

In this multiple parallel universes of the Twelve Related Worlds, only an enchanter with nine lives is powerful enough to control the rampant misuse of magic--and to hold the title Chrestomanci... The Chants are a family strong in magic, but neither Christopher Chant nor Cat Chant can work even the simplest of spells. Who could have dreamed that both Christopher and Cat were born with nine lives--or that they could lose them so quickly?

Oh how I love this series. There are interesting characters and cool magic, but mostly I remember the sprawly house and grounds, lots of chapters where people eat lovely things like marmalade toast, and the eccentric wizard in garish dressing gowns. If you haven't read any Wynne Jones yet, you should fix that immediately by picking this one up today.

I'm realizing that these are mostly for the 10-14 set. For older readers there is The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, and I'm sure there are hundreds more that I'm just not remembering at the moment. Oh, well there was The Wicked and the Just, set in Wales. Have there been any decent retellings of Shakespeare or Robin Hood? Any Jane Austen with a twist sorts of things? Please share your favorites in the comments!

TV Love

Hi, my name is Emily, and I'm a television addict (hi, Emily)

Really though, I love TV. And now that damn near all my shows are over, cancelled, or on summer hiatus, I'm going a little batty. What a perfect time to catch up on some critical essays!

Finding Serenity: Anti-Heroes, Lost Shepherds and Space Hookers in Joss Whedon's Firefly edited by Jane Espenson

Oh Firefly. Nothing will ever fill the broken, rusty hole you left in my heart. Luckily I'm not alone, as proven by this collection brought to your grabby Browncoat hands by contributors including crew members, fans, and even the best mechanic in the verse, Kaylee actress Jewel Staite. *hums theme song. You can't take the sky from meeeeee*

(remember what I said about going a bit batty? Yeah, Space Madness has definitely set in)

Seven Seasons of Buffy: Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers Discuss Their Favorite Television Show edited by Glen Yeffeth

Speaking of our Lord and Savior His Great And Mighty Whedonness- Buffy! Not all of these anthologies are so big on the analysis, but this one is, which is very welcome as this series is so full of ideas, tropes, development and symbolism to be mined. Before launching into a rewatch, check this out. It's kind of like taking a Buffy-centered media studies course, and who among us wouldn't have rocked that elective in college?

In the Hunt: Unauthorized Essays on Supernatural edited by Leah Wilson and Supernatural TV

This anthology is great- diverse, entertaining, and scholarly, while still being a celebration of the show. Have you ever noticed that Dean is kind of a soccer mom? Why do people write so much fanfiction, anyway? Read multiple essays on how awesome the Impala is, and trace the magnificently constructed arcs of the first 5 seasons. Decide how much of a crap father John was (my answer: very much, but maybe he did the best he could...?), and contemplate the differences between Sam and Dean. A great way to stave off hiatus angst (do we really have to wait until November??)

Chicks Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the Women Who Love It edited by Lynne M. Thomas and Tara O'Shea

Chicks Dig Time Lords is, as the title implies, more a celebration of fandom than a book of insightful analyses about the show. The entries are short, and occasionally personal to the point of being of more interest to the authors than the readers. But still, many will resonate with fans from diverse backgrounds who all have different experiences with the show. I enjoyed the mix- long-time viewers, new converts, women who grew up watching the show who were then able to introduce it to their daughters, writers/readers of fic, costumers, congoers, authors and even an actress (India Fisher!!!). It's worth picking up solely for Carol Barrowman's (yes, THAT Barrowman) entry. There are two sequels: Chicks Unravel Time, which might fulfill my yen for more in-depth critiques, and Queers Dig Time Lords, an exploration of LGBT characters & themes in the show, and fans of all stripes who love it.

Serenity Found: More Unathorized Essays on Joss Whedon's Firefly Universe edited by Jane Espenson

One might think that this, being the second anthology about the Firefly 'verse, might be a little thin. Fear not! It was written after Serenity skewered us all in the gut premiered, so contributors have plenty of material to explore. There are some fantastic pieces from great contributors, all intelligent and insightful, which illuminated several ideas and themes in the series- and yet all I can think of right now is Nathan Fillion's entry, which pretty much proves that he is (a better adjusted) Captain Malcom Reynolds.

Reading these didn't just give me more insight into some of my favorite shows. Sure, they were often fun and funny, and I loved learning more about fans, creators, characters, sets and stories, but I also got to flex the part of my brain that has been languishing since I left my last English lit course. Watching tv is all well and good, but I'm not (just) in it for the pretty people, compelling baddies, striking sets and costumes. I'm in it for the stories, the connections, and I love finding out more about genre, the process of media production, and how tv can legitimately be called literature.

If any of that sounds interesting, or if you're looking for something tv-related to do in the long haul until the fall season, check out one of these books and let me know what you think!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Queen Victoria's Book of Spells

Queen Victoria's Book of Spells: An Anthology of Gaslamp Fantasy edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling

“Gaslamp Fantasy,” or historical fantasy set in a magical version of the nineteenth century, has long been popular with readers and writers alike. A number of wonderful fantasy novels, including Stardust by Neil Gaiman, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke, and The Prestige by Christopher Priest, owe their inspiration to works by nineteenth-century writers ranging from Jane Austen, the BrontĂ«s, and George Meredith to Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, and William Morris. And, of course, the entire steampunk genre and subculture owes more than a little to literature inspired by this period.

Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells is an anthology for everyone who loves these works of neo-Victorian fiction, and wishes to explore the wide variety of ways that modern fantasists are using nineteenth-century settings, characters, and themes. These approaches stretch from Steampunk fiction to the Austen-and-Trollope inspired works that some critics call Fantasy of Manners, all of which fit under the larger umbrella of Gaslamp Fantasy. The result is eighteen stories by experts from the fantasy, horror, mainstream, and young adult fields, including both bestselling writers and exciting new talents such as Elizabeth Bear, James Blaylock, Jeffrey Ford, Ellen Kushner, Tanith Lee, Gregory Maguire, Delia Sherman, and Catherynne M. Valente, who present a bewitching vision of a nineteenth century invested (or cursed!) with magic. -Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

Oh Datlow and Windling, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Your anthologies, especially The Green Man: Tales from the Mythic Forest, are astoundingly good and helped to cement my love of folklore and speculative fiction. Not only do you collect stellar stories from many of the best authors writing today, but you do so with lovely cover art and FANTASTIC essay/forewards that are enlightening and entertaining. *deep contented sigh*

Can you tell I loved this one? I love Gaslamp Fantasy anyway (Stardust is one of my favorite books of All Time), not to mention 19th century writers like Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and let me just head this sentence off before it gets away from me, shall I? This is worth reading for the editors' essays at the beginning alone, but luckily several of the stories are memorable and wonderful and full of period details- and magic, of course. 

I loved Delia Sherman's "Queen Victoria's Book of Spells" (hey, isn't that the title of the book?), the story of a modern day researcher/spell detangler working his way through a previously undiscovered journal/spellbook belonging to the young queen. A story about the Great Exhibition was a little tricky to get into, but offered a tantalizing description of that spectacle. One of my favorites was about a certain author's (never named, but strongly hinted at) attempts to photograph the last nights of an unelectrified London. There was a story about Edison being a Grade A jerk (as we know he was, all hail Tesla, the true Electric King), and one about the last days of Ebeneezer Scrooge, post-Christmas miracle. There's even another story based on Pre-Raphaelite artists, as if the world knew how delighted I was with Patricia A. McKillip's "The Kelpie" from Wonders of the Invisible World and deigned to nudge another similar story my way. Bliss.

Brew some tea, put on your favorite fingerless gloves, dim the lights, and settle in.