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Ghosts, Governesses and Cricket

I was told by a lovely lady in an email that she would really like to see some book recommendations, so: my readers' wish is my command! Book recommendations it is.

My new disclaimer: I have met Laini Taylor and Maureen Johnson. I have not met Kendare Blake or Y.S. Lee, and the only way I shall meet P.G. Wodehouse is in another world.

Not only have I met Laini Taylor, but I have used her as a prop. In 2009, I was on tour with Scott Westerfeld, and at a festival in Portland they whisked him off to do fancy things. I was alarmed.

SARAH: But... am I to do stuff in front of people... by myself? I mean, I can! But I like... to have a friend...
PUBLICIST: You're going to do a joint thing with Laini Taylor. She is over there. Her book Lips Touch: Three Times has Goblin Market stuff in it!
SARAH: And her hair! IT IS PINK! Hi--hi new friend! Hi!
LAINI TAYLOR: ... Uh. Hey.

Later I read Lips Touch, and it was very clear to me that everyone had devised a cunning plot to make me look bad by making me go onstage with a genius. However I soldiered on! (Always nice to have someone up there saying the intelligent stuff. Let us face it, it is never me.) It was also very clear that Laini Taylor should give up this 'novellas' business and write a long YA book, just for me.

And she did! (Probably not... just for me.)

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

On one of my regular daughterly visits to the family homestead, I brought this book to my mamma. My beloved mamma called me about it later.

MOTHER (devoutly): Oh Sarah. It's so good.
SARAH: I know, right? I knew you'd like it.
MOTHER: I wish you could write like this.
SARAH: Well. Well, me too.

My mother, a straightforward lady! But I knew what she meant: the writing in Daughter of Smoke and Bone is really descriptive and intricate, but clear too, the sentences and the story both beautiful and beautifully intertwining. It's Laini Taylor's writing voice, so different from mine that I don't even know how she does it, I just tilt my head back and admire.

I am not much for an angel romance. It is not the angel books' fault! I always envision that scene in Dogma where Angel Alan Rickman takes down his pants and... well. Anyway. If you haven't seen that movie, I will draw a veil! Suffice it to say that I blame Alan Rickman for the fact I find it hard to take angels seriously as romantic interests. Also, I am pretty firmly Team Demon! The angels are our ancient enemies.

Also, angels should be scary, but in a very particular aloof way, and if there's romance with an angel, it should feel very, very transgressive. Because--ANGELS. Such things are forbidden. I wanted to see both those things in a book: I wanted to feel both those things--but I didn't, until this book.

Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well.

This book ended well, began well, and middled well, though. Plus, blue-haired heroine who studies art in Prague, longs for love, can and does fight, and is ferociously and above all things loyal to a very untraditional family.

Anna Dressed In Blood by Kendare Blake

I truly hate it when people compare my books to the TV show Supernatural, and yet watch me... compare someone else's book to Supernatural! I deserve to be smacked. I haven't seen the show in years, but this book has all the things I wanted from the show--hunting very complicated monsters, hunting that has a terrible price, a really vivid conjuring of small-town America, and girls who are both amazing and essential, even seen from a boy's eyes.

Cas Lowood is a snarky, handsome, loner ghost-hunter. He goes it alone! He carries his dead father's blade to slay the ghosts! He does what needs to be done and he is a lone ranger, okay?

Except his life is not going at all to plan. A ghost eats his cat. Carmel, the beautiful blonde cheerleader-type he was batting his eyes at for information, has a baseball bat and is prepared to use it--potentially on him. His snark gets him concussed and thrown in a haunted house, where he is seeing two of everything, and not just the dude... who the ghost just ripped in two...

I love seeing a character be dizzy, knocked-for-six in love with someone entirely unexpected.

THOMAS THE SIDEKICK & CARMEL THE BAT-WIELDING PROM QUEEN: Cas! Cassio! Speak to us! Describe the vile ghost who just murdered a classmate before your very eyes.
CAS: Uh, black veins! Black eyes! Hair like black snakes! Dressed in, you know, blood! And--how do I put this? If ghosts were presidents, she'd be Baberaham Lincoln.
THOMAS & CARMEL: ... He's probably still concussed...

ANNA: I cannot believe you came by again. I refuse to be ghost-slain.
CAS: I am determined to ghost-slay you! So, here I am.
ANNA: ...
CAS: So besides ripping people in half, what are your hobbies? I wonder if we like any of the same bands?
ANNA: ... Leave before I rip you in half.

THOMAS & CARMEL: Research time! Look, here's a picture of Anna when she was alive.
CAS: I'll be taking that very important evidence, thank you!
THOMAS & CARMEL: And... putting it in your wallet...?
CAS: For safe-keeping. Yes.
CAS: *shifty eyes*

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

As my review for Anna may have indicated, I love a funny book. Not a book that's just funny--a book should make you laugh, and something else, whether that something else is 'admire craft' or 'feel scared to death' or 'cry like a little baby' or 'pound your fists against a pillow and go--It's not fair, it's not fair!' (Not that I ever have any of these reactions to books, because I am very normal and behave in a totally normal and reasonable way at all times.)

Given that Maureen Johnson's foray into the paranormal is a ghost story, focusing on Jack the Ripper in modern times and how quickly a culture of fear can spring up... or be created, set in London in a Very English Boarding School seen through the eyes of an American fish out of water, with a detailed magical system that makes the science of ghost-hunting seem plausible, I had several of these reactions. You will have to read it to see which ones.

But I really loved the intrepid heroine, Rory, who would poke an alligator with a stick or hunt a murderous ghost because that's who she is, and I am very glad that Maureen Johnson has turned her funny, smart hand to fantasy. Because I think fantasy is where it's at.

A Spy In the House by Y.S. Lee
The Body at the Tower by Y.S. Lee

I recommend both these books because I wasn't quite sure about the series until The Body in the Tower, when I became suddenly very sure indeed. It had all the ingredients I love: set in a beautifully realised and researched past England, London in all its kind of smelly past glory, a lady sleuth.

Mary, who is half Chinese but can pass as white, has a secret that is a far, far bigger deal in her time, and this neatly gives us the perspective of the outsider who sees more of the game--Mary does not feel part of this society any more than we do--and the detective with a dark secret.

I love books set in England (it seems to be the fictional place of my heart) and historical novels, and what I especially like about these books is that the focus isn't on the aristocracy. A Spy In the House is all about the sleuthing possibilities open to a governess or a companion, due to the weird in-betwixt-and-between position they have in a house. And The Body at the Tower is about bricklaying in Victorian times... because Mary is dressed up as a boy apprentice.

Cross-dressing! Including a scene where Mary is wrestling with our hero, and feels she must point out that were someone to spot them they would believe terribly distressing things about his preferences: not only is she passing as a boy of thirteen, but she hasn't had a bath in ages.

Mike and Psmith by P.G. Wodehouse

When I was talking about The Fall of the House of Usher recently, I realised how many people are a) looking out for old books and b) potentially interested in free books! So I thought I'd like to recommend something from Project Gutenberg, where books that are out of copyright are free to the public!

I really like P.G. Wodehouse. Why? Because he is hilarious. And this is one of my favourite books he wrote, partly because it's about kids and not adults, so it's different from his other books--no romance--partly because it's about cricket, my favourite sport.

But mostly because of Psmith. Our hapless hero, Michael Jackson (yes... now an inadvertently hilarious name...) sadly walking the halls of a new school, discovers a lanky, monocled youth who leans against mantelpieces referring to people loftily as Comrade, steals other people's studies because 'It is imperative that we have a place to retire to after a fatiguing day,' cunningly pretends to care about archaeology, informs everyone that the P in his name is silent, and stares in polite bewilderment at the people around him who are full of go-getting spirit and love for their school. Eventually he is taken up to the headmaster's office, and questioned. Among the questions asked: "Er … Smith, I do not for a moment wish to pain you, but have you … er, do you remember ever having had, as a child, let us say, any … er … severe illness? Any … er … mental illness?"

Naturally I have loved Psmith from childhood. Read Mike and Psmith here.


( 68 comments — Leave a comment )
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Nov. 2nd, 2011 04:13 pm (UTC)
If it makes you feel any better, my mother said to me (upon reading Lexicon) pretty much what your mother said about Laini. So. There's that.

Go Team Supportive Mothers! We have t-shirts. And therapy bills.
Nov. 2nd, 2011 04:16 pm (UTC)
Ha, I didn't mind, I think my mother is hilarious. ;) (She also infamously called me and said 'Whoa, Surrender was amazing! Way better than Covenant. That was just OK.') Plus, I do think Laini is a genius. Who wouldn't want to be a genius?

I thank your mother for my compliment, though!
(no subject) - rklipman - Nov. 2nd, 2011 05:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sarahtales - Nov. 2nd, 2011 05:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - live_momma - Nov. 3rd, 2011 12:09 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ejmam - Nov. 4th, 2011 04:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - wendyzski - Nov. 2nd, 2011 05:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 2nd, 2011 04:15 pm (UTC)
LOVE the book recommendations!

... will you pretty please tell us what was the "It's not fair! It's not fair!" book?
Nov. 2nd, 2011 04:17 pm (UTC)
Oh lord, all reactions to books chronicled here have been my reactions to way more than just one book. ;)
Nov. 2nd, 2011 04:16 pm (UTC)
I love Y.S. Lee's books as they remind me (in a good way) of Philip Pullman's Sally Lockhart mysteries, but with bonus hapa heroine, which flatters my narcissism. I'm also leery of banter-type romances in books, but I actually bought into the chemistry between Mary and James.
Nov. 2nd, 2011 04:19 pm (UTC)
I was never that fond of Sally Lockhart because I found some bits historically inaccurate, but that is definitely not the case with Y.S. Lee. She clearly has researching skills beyond my dreams!
(no subject) - thegreatmissjj - Nov. 2nd, 2011 04:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tiferet - Nov. 2nd, 2011 04:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - wendyzski - Nov. 2nd, 2011 05:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 2nd, 2011 04:25 pm (UTC)
Oooh book recs. Thank you Sarah! I've read Anna dressed in Blood and loved it to pieces. And more people need to recommend Wodehouse. Pelham Green, why doesn't everyone love you most?
If I may inquire, given that you are Irish and interested in historical lady sleuths: Have you read the Sister Fidelma series, and if yes, what did you think?
P.S. If you haven't, please don't hold her red hair against her.
Nov. 2nd, 2011 04:28 pm (UTC)
No, I haven't, I tend to steer clear of Irish-y novels because I am so judgy about people getting them right. I like redheaded ladies just fine, though!
(no subject) - tanndell - Nov. 2nd, 2011 04:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bredalot - Nov. 2nd, 2011 06:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tanndell - Nov. 2nd, 2011 06:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - wyvernfriend - Nov. 3rd, 2011 12:00 am (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 2nd, 2011 04:33 pm (UTC)
I have missed your book recommendations! All of these sound amazing, but Anna Dressed in Blood sounds best of all. WOW. I, too, wish Supernatural had been more like THAT. ::buys::
Nov. 2nd, 2011 04:38 pm (UTC)
Leave it to Psmith is one of my favourite books ever--but I've never read Mike and Psmith! Going to have to rectify that, so thank you!
Nov. 2nd, 2011 05:47 pm (UTC)
Ohhh... Daughter of Smoke and Bone.

I know exactly what you mean about the writing, it was like I kept stopping and trying to figure out how it was so beautiful and poetic and yet made total clear sense at every point. And the story is... almost very nearly utterly fabulous. I was texting my friend every ten minutes for the first half with YOU HAVE TO READ THIS NOW. Karou is just... well, awesome doesn't quite seem to cover it.

Aaand then it reached a point where the amazingly awesome Karou suddenly gets all... Bella-fied. Karou is very much not like Bella Swann for 99% of the rest of the time (even *she* comments on it - and much as I LOVE the phrase "don't be that cat" - her being aware of it doesn't make her not act like it though unfortunately). And then it immediately got very much awesome again after about 50 pages, and it all makes sense in context once you finish it (and I wouldn't want to put anyone off reading it at all) but that middle bit doesn't quite work.

I'm probably not explaining this very well without being all spoilery, but I just kept thinking it would have been perfect if Madrigal's section had been before that part. But I loved the rest of it so much (and I'm pretty sure now that the middle section will read better second time around, it was just... not quite working for me at that point.)
Nov. 2nd, 2011 05:51 pm (UTC)
Am just halfway through Daughter of Smoke and Bone now and yeah, it's like one of those books where you really want to spend more time in LT's head after reading it! Yay!
Nov. 2nd, 2011 06:04 pm (UTC)
I wanted to love DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE much more than I actually did; it's very much a type of book that I just don't particularly care for. But! It's probably the best example of that type of book I've ever read, and Laini Taylor's writing is gorgeous, so I absolutely recommend it to other people. (Plus, the ending was AMAZING. The cultures of other worlds: this is why I read fantasy!) And I want to read LIPS TOUCH as soon as I can get my hands on it.

I'm also dying to read ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD, and I think that needs to be done very soon before my Halloween fervor goes away. Most of the year I'm not really up for horror, but right now I want it ALL.
Nov. 2nd, 2011 06:23 pm (UTC)
An angel book, or a romance book? Or is it a star-crossed/soulmates romance kind of thing? I am generally VERY resistant to past-life things, but part of the fun of this book is that it sold me on tons of stuff I'm not always into. That does require trusting the author, though: one of my great writerly wishes is to have people trust me so I can do weird stuff. ;)
(no subject) - bredalot - Nov. 2nd, 2011 06:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sarahtales - Nov. 2nd, 2011 06:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bredalot - Nov. 2nd, 2011 07:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - leah_cypess - Nov. 3rd, 2011 12:02 am (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 2nd, 2011 06:09 pm (UTC)
Hi! thanks for the recommendations, and especially for the link to Mike and Psmith, which sounds like my kind of book.

About angels and "angelology" (if there is such a word) - have you ever read Carol Plum Ucci's What Happened to Lani Garver? That is an amazing book, and I think it might be right up your alley.

Nov. 2nd, 2011 06:17 pm (UTC)
I think I may need to go the library and hunt down some books.
Elissa Sussman
Nov. 2nd, 2011 06:51 pm (UTC)
Book Reviews!
I love your book reviews! I have just loaded up on both library and bookstore books, but I'm putting all these on my list for my next batch.

Your mom sounds a lot like my super awesome grandma with her blunt words of steel. Yet they are somehow still encouraging, like if she loves it, I'll know it. Not easy to please, that one, but if you do, you're gonna feel real good for a few weeks.
Nov. 2nd, 2011 07:38 pm (UTC)
Im hearing nothing but good about DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE. I may just have to buy myself a copy.

Regarding Angels and books featuring them as the bad guys have y'all tried these?

Angelology by Danielle Trussoni

I was surprised how much I enjoyed this, its style is a bit more literary than I usually read. Angels plotting to take over the world and only a young nun can stop them but not for the usual nunlike reasons.....

Rogue Mage series by Faith Hunter

From the authors website:

No one thought the apocalypse would be like this. The world didn’t end. And the appearance of seraphs heralded three plagues and a devastating war between the forces of good and evil. Over a hundred years later, the earth has plunged into an ice age, and seraphs and demons fight a never-ending battle while religious strife rages among the surviving humans.

The original covers had the most amazingly buff angels on them but have been replaced with a leather clad chick with a sword

Nov. 2nd, 2011 08:27 pm (UTC)
Hoorah, Mike and Psmith. I confess Psmith is probably my favourite Wodehouse character. Closely followed by Jeeves, of course, but mostly for the classical references that Bertie fails to get. Psmith is actually easy to distinguish from every other Wodehouse character ever, which is unusual for that author. There is a beautiful naivete about Wodehouse's view of the world (visible even in the fact that Psmith uses 'Comrade' so casually) that is so very endearing. Even if he is repetitive. His world feels like it should repeat itself infinitely.

Also, Supernatural has got much better in the last few years. Am now seriously considering allowing it to displace Joss Whedon on my 'what a TV show ought to aspire to' pedestal. Seasons 1-3 remain effectually prologue, to my mind, to seasons 4-6 (am suspending judgement on season 7). Season 5 I am particularly fond of - and I really think you would enjoy Gabriel.
Nov. 2nd, 2011 08:35 pm (UTC)
(Also honestly, once you'd invoked Supernatural, the following conversation between characters called Cas and Anna became that much more hilarious.)
(no subject) - sarahtales - Nov. 2nd, 2011 08:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sarahtales - Nov. 2nd, 2011 08:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - sarahtales - Nov. 2nd, 2011 09:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
Nov. 2nd, 2011 08:39 pm (UTC)
I shake my little fists at books that sound awesome but aren't available in the Asia Pacific Kindle store yet. *is futile*

I'm interested in what you said about the Spy in the House - I tried reading it about a year ago and this is what I said:

"Has anyone read The Agency: A Spy in the House by Y S Lee? Because I'm about a third of the way in and I want to know if it gets better. It OUGHT to be Just My Cup Of Tea: Victorian London! Young ladies being awesome, and also spies! A girl who is Selected To Be Special! And yet...the story I want to read isn't there, and the characters I want are kind of flat instead of fun and there is a lot of telling rather than showing and a wee bit of Mary Sue-ishness. But I want so badly to like it and be excited for the rest of the series! So please, if anyone has read it, let me know if I should go on."

I ended up not finishing it - I think that while I wanted badly to like it, I just wasn't feeling the vibe. You said that the second book kind of cemented it for you - do you think that someone who only got as far as a third through the first book would benefit from persevering?
Nov. 2nd, 2011 08:44 pm (UTC)
I do, actually. I felt the same slight disconnect, though I don't believe in calling characters Mary Sues because... every heroine in all the world gets called a Mary Sue and it drives me up a tree. ;) http://blackholly.livejournal.com/157736.html

But I think that was the product of setting up a series, specially a long series, and with a timeskip: I did get into it, and enjoyed the second book from beginning to end.
(no subject) - jessikast - Nov. 2nd, 2011 08:52 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sarahtales - Nov. 2nd, 2011 08:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - Elissa Sussman - Nov. 2nd, 2011 11:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
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