bonny_kate: (book love)
Murder at the Brightwell is a delicious murder mystery in the tradition of Agatha Christie. Much like Christie, it is about flamboyant portrayals of odd and interesting characters. In a sense, the murder is really only an important plot point. The book is less about solving a murder and more about the people involved with the murder. Similar to Agatha Christie's work, the book has dramatic reveals and hidden secrets, and is set in the 1930's. 

It is something between a cozy and a hard boiled detective novel. The murder isn't terribly clever, but also it doesn't matter because it is a background to the characters. And the characters are brilliant. The novel is told from the view of Amory Ames, a woman with an insatiable curiosity and desire to get to the bottom of things. 

But I really loved this book for Amory and Milo. Amory is married to Milo (and they've been married for several years), and they are madly in love but wildly incompatible, and yet trying to figure things out. It's something that I see so rarely in fiction, and this was beautifully done.

Even better, this is the first book in a series, and the series only get's better. In the second book, Death Wears a Mask, the characters are quite brilliantly written (I occasionally confused characters in the first book, but never the second). And while Amory and Milo can be a bit trying at times, the secondary characters carry the book. 

The third book (A Most Novel Revenge) is the best so far, as we see Amory and Milo's characters further develop. I appreciate that the author makes it a slow process for Amory and Milo to slowly find their way into a mature relationship. 

While the books aren't perfect (Milo's jealousy is very tiring at times, as he has no grounds for it), they were such a wonderful read, and I'm waiting impatiently for the next. I picked the first up at a whim on the library (I've just begun to dip my toes into the mystery genre), and I'm so very glad that I did.

I would recommend this to anyone who likes Agatha Christie or that general style of murder mystery.
bonny_kate: (book love)
 I've been reading the occasional linguistic blog, and I stumbled across a lovely little book on the history of various punctuation marks. Shady Characters: the secret life of punctuation, symbols, & other typographical marks is a charming, light read. Houston follows the history of various marks, sometimes through previous shapes and as far back as Ancient Greece. It is both easy to read and entertaining. Houston also peppers the text with amusing footnotes. In the chapter Titled The Asterisk and the Dagger the first footnote reads "in honor of their role as footnote reference marks, I plan to fill this chapter with numerous lengthy and entirely tangential footnotes so as to take full advantage."

On top of that, the typesetting is lovely. Whenever Houston talks about a particular punctuation mark, the mark itself is in red text. This greatly enhances the readability, and just makes for a more visually interesting book. 

I did find some chapters on more modern marks, like the interrobang, to be less interesting, but overall this is quite worth the time.

If you have even a passing interest in punctuation or typography, I think you'd enjoy this book.

Shadow Unit

Jul. 2nd, 2014 12:28 pm
bonny_kate: (book love)
 I am currently in love with Shadow Unit.* It is brilliant and wonderful and I think everyone should read it. It is about the people who are the Shadow Unit, a secret division of the FBI that finds and contains gammas based on unusual cases. It is a procedural, but it is a paranormal procedural that focuses on the character development of the agents. I keep trying to find things to compare it to, and I can't think of anything. It is clever, occasionally humorous, dark, and a weird genre. It is a series of short stories, but the short stories are like television episodes, and there are four seasons of episodes which develop the characters and the overall plot. The episodes are written by several authors, and each episode is a complete story in itself that also advances the overall plot. 

It is about finding gammas, who are people with an anomaly in their brains. No one is sure what the anomaly is, but it feeds on pain, and causes the gamma to be unusually strong and eat a ridiculous amount. It manifests in different ways, according to the person's mythology, what they believe about the world, and shows up as hexes or seeing patterns or controlling lightning or any number of things. A lot of gammas look an awful lot like serial killers. 

It ripped my heartstrings out. Three times. In the best way possible. 

If you are interested in trying it, I suggest starting with Dexterity. It doesn't have major spoilers, is early in the first season, and is quite good. (I thought the first episode was rather a slow start.) So, try Dexterity, but be warned that you may suddenly find yourself reading just one more story, and then will find that you have somehow read them all.**

Trigger warnings: There is some language. There is just about every type of nasty thing that can happen, does, but it mostly happens off screen and is discussed by the agents. But just to warn you, Shadow Unit does involve sexual assault, rape, torture, child abuse, and various forms of nasty murder of people and the family dog. I would recommend skipping Episode 1.04 (A Handful of Dust) if you (like me) generally have a low tolerance for dark, because it involves horrible things from the perspective of the person doing them. It does have events that are later referenced, but I don't think there's anything major.

I do hope that I can addict someone else to it, so that I can have someone else to fangirl about it with. That is my ulterior motive.


*I discovered it because Sarah Monette is involved, and I'm reading all her short stories because I liked Goblin Emperor so much (she wrote it under the pen name Katharine Addison). I galloped through it all in a very short time.

**Start with season one, then continue to season two, etc. The website is slightly odd in how it is set up. There are also additional deleted scenes and such. <edit> I would strongly recommend reading the additional scenes after each season. They aren't what I would consider deleted scenes in a movie sense; scenes that were cut to make the story flow better. They read more like storylets or short stories that didn't fit the five act structure. They also introduce some characters who show up later, and continue character development. In the interest of avoiding spoilers, I would suggest after each season reading the scenes for that season and after that season (i.e. after finishing season one, continue to the deleted scenes for season one and then the deleted scenes for after season one before moving on to season two).
bonny_kate: (Default)

One of my friends requesting book recommendations. Now, since I could give a very long list of book recommendations, I asked what genres, and she said urban fantasy and space opera. Here, then, are my recommendations if you want some excellent urban fantasy or space opera.

 

Space Opera

What I mean by space opera is if you took a really good action/adventure movie, and the setting happened to be space. Think of the novel equivalent of Star Wars or Indiana Jones in space. 

 

Trading in Danger (the first book in Vatta's War) - Elizabeth Moon - Ky Vatta is kicked out of the space military, starts trying to be a space merchant, has adventures, and also happen to be a woman. Some of the best space opera I've read. The Serrano Legacy series is also quite good.

 

The Human Division - John Scalzi - More excellent space opera, but this time centered around diplomats and told in a series of linked short stories, some serious, some amusing. 

 

Urban Fantasy

I am loosely defining urban fantasy as fantasy that happens in a modern, urban setting.

 

Little (Grrl) Lost - Charles DeLint - DeLint somehow manages to pull together all kinds of disparate elements and mythologies and make it work. Also, all of his novels have a wonderfully rich and complex backstory that is only hinted at.

 

Spiral Hunt - Margaret Ronald - I was blown away when I read this trilogy, and wish she'd written more. The author has very clear ideas about what her fantasy is (instead of throwing everything in), and it is Celtic with a decent dose of literary theory. I was also pleased to find that instead of a stock love triangle, it is about people trying to figure things out. The protagonist is a woman who freelances on the side as a private detective.

 

Discount Armageddon - Seanin McGuire - (the first Incryptid novel) This takes place in New York and presumes that all the urban legends of things like chupacabras and Bigfoot and such are true, and that they are living normal lives (except for that pesky secret order that tries to kill them). It also features the Aeslin mice, a group of intelligent mice that have their own rituals and wear squirrel skulls and say things like "Hail the taking out of the trash!" and are completely adorable. (Small warning that the author works as a waitress in a strip club, if that would bother you.)


(Joel also suggested Dresden, but I've heard such problematic things about it (from Charis and Sharon, who have excellent taste), and I've never been able to get into it myself, that I have trouble recommending it, and probably won't in the future.)

bonny_kate: (Default)

Here are the "modern" books that I picked as a sampler of science fiction and fantasy. I thought of it as one of those cheese plates or chocolate boxes. It has a little of everything, and I tried to hit all the big notes, even those that aren't to my taste (some people like coconut or nuts, and even though Neil Gaiman isn't to my taste, he is still one of the big tastes in fantasy). I wasn't trying to be exhaustive (this has a startling lack of Patricia Wrede, for instance). I thought I'd post this here, in the hopes that someone might find or book, or that you, dear reader, could point out any glaring oversights.  

Modern:

Since this was a sampler, I tried to pick each of a sort of book. 


I, Robot
- Issaac Asimov - This is a clever set of stories that depend on the three laws that Asimov created to define the behavior of robots. Much of modern science fiction builds or interacts with Asimov's conception of robots.

 

Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury - It's hard to know where to start with Bradbury. I think his work is pretty consistent, though, so if you like one, you're likely to like most. I've suggested Fahrenheit 451 because it is one of the best known, and because I enjoyed it the last time I read it.

 

A Wizard of Earthsea - Ursula LeGuin - LeGuin is one of the big names in science fiction, and quite deservedly. This is about names and how they interact with the thing that is named, and is set on various islands.

 

A Wrinkle in TimeMadeleine L'Engle - Many of my friends like this book, and although it has never quite clicked for me, I still think it worth reading, for Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which.

 

The Abhorsen Trilogy (beginning with Sabriel) - Garth Nix - I reread these quite often. Garth Nix does everything well: characters, description, plot, action, and worldbuilding. Although this trilogy isn't about vampires, it pairs well with Dracula. Both are about the fight of light and law against dark and death. 

 

Alphabet of Thorn - Patricia McKillip - I had a hard time choosing which book of McKillip to suggest, because I like so much of her work. She writes lovely fantasy that draws heavily from fairy tale imagery.

 

Coraline - Neil Gaiman - I'm not sure the best place to start with Gaiman. So many of my friends adore him that I thought I should include Coraline. Quirky and a bit dark. It is also a wonderful stop-motion film. (Or, you might prefer to try the BBC radio play of Neverwhere, which I have and is wonderful.)

 

Trading in Danger (the first book in the Vatta's War series) - Elizabeth Moon - If you want to try space opera, start here. Action, adventure, space pirates, and saving the galaxy.

 

The Human Division - John Scalzi - more excellent space opera, but this time centered around diplomats and told in a series of linked short stories. 

 

Howl’s Moving Castle - Diana Wynne Jones - A moving castle, an eldest daughter who sets out to seek her fortune, transformations, and a clever use of a John Donne poem. 

 

Going Postal or Wyrd Sisters - Terry Pratchett - Quirky, hilarious fantasy that pokes fun at fantasy and has hilarious footnotes. Also a bit of a social commentary.

 

Tam Lin - Pamela Dean - a novel length re-telling of Tam Lin in a modern-ish college setting. 

 

Beauty - Robin McKinley - a novel length re-telling of Beauty and the Beast in a fantasy setting. 

 

Restoration of Faith (short story available here) - Jim Butcher - Joel knows about Dresden, and as I've yet to read the series, I included his suggestion. Try Dresden if you want occasionally humorous modern fantasy centered around a private detective. From what I've heard, the series improves quite a bit after the first couple of books.


The Last Unicorn - Peter S. Beagle - A fairy tale, of sorts, but this story centers around a unicorn. A haunting, beautiful, slightly melancholy story. (You can also watch the lovely animated movie.)

 

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell - Suzanah Clarke - Victorian England, the Napoleonic Wars, the return of magic, and the Raven King. Not to mention wonderful footnotes that fly off on tangents to tell stories of their own.

 

the Harry Potter series - J.K. Rowling - The best is Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, but it is the fifth book and you really have to start at the beginning and read the entire series. Rowling writes characters very well, and is concerned with the disenfranchised. 


bonny_kate: (shindig)
Recently, I learned that a friend who did not grow up on science fiction and fantasy was interested in the genres. We were talking in the context of movies (I made sure she'd seen Star Wars and Firefly and some of those essentials), and I asked if I could recommend some books. She said yes (and made me quite gleeful). I divided the list into two bits, the Before Inklings (or Classics) and the After Inklings (or Moderns). I thought that ya'll might enjoy the list (and there's a minuscule chance you might find something new to try).

Here included with Amazon links.

Classics:
For the most part, these are books that are big in the science fiction and fantasy genre, but also worth reading in their own right. (For instance, I have left Jules Verne off the list because, while he is influential, I think he is also generally dull.)

A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens - I'm not sure if this counts, but it has ghosts, and is one of Dicken's better works, so I've put it on the list.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde - Robert Louis Stevenson - Like many books on the list, this comes up quite a lot in later books. The ideas are referenced, the characters are referenced, and it begins a discussion.

Frankenstein - Mary Shelley - This is the quintessential "science creates a monster" novel.

Dracula - Bram Stoker - Vampire stories were around before Dracula, but this is really The Vampire Novel. Everything that follows that has to due with vampires (from Buffy to Twilight) interacts with Dracula in some way. Plus, it's just brilliant. A bit of a slow start, but atmospheric, creepy, and featuring amazing characters like Mina and Van Helsing.

The Princess and the Goblin - George MacDonald - This is a lovely book that draws from fairy tales written by a wise Scottish preacher. I love all of George MacDonald's fantasy, but this is really the best place to start.

The Charwoman’s Shadow or The King of Elfland’s Daughter - Lord Dunsany - Lord Dunsany is a classic in the fantasy genre, and for very good cause. His use of language is brilliant (he is fond of words like "gloaming") and his imagery is beautiful.

The Invisible Man - H.G. Wells - Not only is H.G. Wells one of the most famous early writers of science fiction, he remains quite readable, because he is interested in using futuristic science to explore what it means to be human. You can start with just about any of his novels. I picked The Invisible Man because I liked it.

The Sword in the Stone - T.H. White - I am a huge fan of King Arthur, and T.H. White presents Arthur in a more approachable way. It includes Robin Hood, wyvverns, griffins, Merlin, and the Fair Folk, and one of the most amusing jousts I've read.

The Chronicles of Narnia - C.S. Lewis - Anything by the Inklings deserves to be on this list. Narnia is often underestimated, but Lewis manages to do something with Narnia that is almost unique when he created Aslan. I think everyone should start with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

The Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien - Wonderfully written, with what remains some of the best, most thorough worldbuilding in fantasy, Tolkien constructed a story and world that is infused with Christian ideas. He also began a trend of epic fantasy that double as bricks or doorstops.

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Kate Saunders Britton

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