Some recommendations (long)
Posted by Molly on June 28, 1998 at 22:39:42:
It's taken me a week to make it here to the library! Now I'm here, I have some recommendations to add to the reading lists.
In the area of Modern British Literature, may I say how surprised I was at the absence of the Adrian Mole Diaries by Sue Townsend? *Surely* this must be an oversight! :) They are screamingly funny as well as insightful....
Also in this genre, I will with no reservations at all highly recommend anything written by Joanna Trollope. Three of her books (that I know of) have been made for TV, two aired in the US (a third I have seen in video catalogs but not on Masterpiece Theatre yet). She has seven contemporary novels--wait, there's a new one in the UK, but I can't remember the title. "A Village Affair", "The Men and the Girls", "A Spanish Lover", "The Choir", "The Rector's Wife", and "Next of Kin".
She also writes historical novels under the pseudonym Caroline Harvey; there are quite a few of these, but many are sadly out of print (so much so that I haven't found them yet). The ones I have read are these: "Parson Harding's Daughter" about a girl who marries and goes to live in Calcutta in 1777, "Legacy of Love" and "A Second Legacy" about five generations of women from one family; "Leaves from the Valley" about the Crimean War (very powerful); "The Steps of the Sun" about the Boer War; and a new one which I've been saving so I forget its title. Sorry! Nearly all of them are romances, but not of the usual sort. For one thing, her research is exhaustive. For another, her writing is very beautiful and her characters are always complex and well imagined.
She has also written a non-fiction book called "Brittania's Daughters" about English women in history.
Back to Modern British Fiction--I've now read two books by Kathleen Rowntree, which I recommend: "Between Friends", which is the interesting story of a woman whose husband has an affair with her best friend, but she decides she wants to keep them both. The other one is called something like "A Prayer for Sister Catherine" but may be something else (I can't believe my memory today), and is the funny and bizarre story of all the machinations which go on in a convent whose Mother Superior is on the verge of death.
On to Children's Literature: I am a big fan of this genre, partly since my acquaintance includes a few writers in it. Madeleine L'Engle is a particular favorite, but her books are too numerous to list here. The same goes for Jane Yolen, about whom I can't say enough; she is such a fine storyteller, and a prolific one.
Patricia C. Wrede, cited elsewhere in the recommendations for "Sorcery and Cecelia", has written a marvelous quartet of fantasy novels for younger readers: "Dealing with Dragons", "Searching for Dragons", "Calling on Dragons", and "Talking to Dragons"--the Enchanted Forest Chronicles. They are witty send-ups of classic fantasy stereotypes and marvelous to read at any age. There is also a short story about this world in her anthology, "A Book of Enchantments", in which she provides the recipe for "Quick After-Battle Triple Chocolate Cake".
Then there is Sherwood Smith, who writes in several categories. She is particularly good at young adult fantasy, as illustrated in her Wren trilogy about an orphan with a strange talent for magic, "Wren to the Rescue", "Wren's Quest", and "Wren's War", and the Crown and Court Duet, "Crown Duel" and "Court Duel", the story of a young and ill-educated girl who, with her brother, inherits a county and a war, and must find a way to learn everything she needs to know in order to survive battles and balls. Ms. Smith has a gift for writing good stories about complex people with real problems, and she *never* talks down to her readers.
In the Mystery genre, I *must* make known to any of you who haven't yet encountered her, Aunt Dimity. She is the creation of Nancy Atherton, who has now written four books in her series, in only one of which is Aunt Dimity actually alive (though not present). These are magical stories which in a way defy categorization; they seem to have fallen into "mystery" more or less by default, but they are much more than that. In the first one, "Aunt Dimity's Death", Lori Shepherd, the heroine of three of the books, discovers to her surprise that Aunt Dimity is dead--she is surprised by this because she hadn't known AD was ever alive, believing her to be an invention of Lori's mother when she was small. Lori must go to AD's cottage in England and solve a mystery as a stipulation in her will; if she does, she will inherit some money. Along the way she has an encounter with AD's Dickensian Boston law firm, some old WWII pilots, and an odd assortment of people associated with her mother and AD during and after the war. I won't say more, because the books speak so well for themselves, but I wanted to let you all know about them if you didn't already. The others are "Aunt Dimity and the Duke" (the only non-Lori book), "Aunt Dimity's Good Deed", and the most recent, "Aunt Dimity Digs In".
Another of my favorite mystery series is written by Jill McGown. These are classic British mysteries in the best literary tradition, about DCI Lloyd (no first name) and DI Judy Hill. They are so well put together that it is an extreme pleasure seeing how she fits all the complex parts of the plot together. There are a bunch of these; I can remember a few: "Murder at the Old Vicarage", "Murder...Now and Then", "Verdict Unsafe", "A Shred of Evidence", "The Murders of Mrs. Austin and Mrs. Beale".
I didn't see Ellis Peters on the list, but I imagine I don't need to say much about her! I can't be the only huge Brother Cadfael fan here... :)
I must plug a local Seattle author, Candace Robb. She almost needs no introduction in York these days--people stop her on the streets there!--but may not be so well-known here in the States. She writes the Owen Archer mysteries, which take place in York in the later 14th century. Owen is a Welshman who lost an eye in Edward III's many wars, so is now a spy for the Archbishop of York, John Thoresby, and his wife is the town apothecary. These are well-written and well researched books, and the stories are fascinating indeed. There are five so far, with a new one due this fall: "The Apothecary Rose", "The Lady Chapel", "The Nun's Tale", "The King's Bishop", and "The Riddle of St. Leonard's".
Lastly in mystery, a series which ought to provoke much interest here in the RoP. There are four novels about a young sleuth named Julian Kestrel, which take place in the 1820s. These are tremendous books, very detailed and complex and with extreme depth of character. They were written by an extraordinary woman named Kate Ross, who was a trial lawyer in Boston until her death this March of cancer; she was only 41. This is great loss for mystery fans, and the one consolation is that the fourth book, which came out last fall, appears to have been the book she really wanted to write, that the first three books were leading to, one way or another. I am saving it for a special treat, particularly since it is about music. The books are called "Cut to the Quick", "A Broken Vessel", "Whom the Gods Love", and "The Devil in Music". She said it herself in the third book: "Whom the gods love die young." RIP, Ms. Ross.
On to science fiction/fantasy. This could get extensive, but I will try to exercise some control. First, in the vein of literature, I recommend *anything* by Guy Gavriel Kay. He is a brilliant writer who has mastered the Arthurian legends so much that they inform every word he writes. His prose is astonishingly beautiful and vivid, and he has a talent for evoking places and times that never quite were. His books so far: the Fionavar Tapestry ("The Summer Tree", "The Wandering Fire" and "The Darkest Road"); "Tigana", "A Song for Arbonne", and "The Lions of Al-Rassan". He has a new one due in the UK this fall, "Sailing to Sarantium". All engrossing and deeply moving.
In a similar vein, Kate Elliott. This is the pseudonym of the sister of a singer-friend of mine, and she has written a number of books in SF in the Jaran series, but my particular favorites are in her fantasy series, the Crown of Stars. Two of the four books are out now, two more to come. The first, "King's Dragon", was nominated for the Nebula award, SF/F's highest honor. The second, "Prince of Dogs" may well be nominated next year; it is equally brilliant. They are fantasies set in a medieval world which resembles Germany somewhat, but is otherwise unique. There is a third sister who is a PhD in medieval studies, and who has obviously been called upon for her expertise in writing these books, because the attention to details of life is meticulous and highly realistic.
Terry Pratchett deserves huge mention. He has way too many books to mention; his Discworld series has passed 20 and is going strong. They are funny fantasy books which, according to his bio, keep "getting accused of literature"--and for good reason. He has a lot of spot-on observations about life and people, and is a master at illustrating them to excellent effect amid the admittedly-distracting setting of the Discworld (there is one book, "Pyramids", which takes place in Djelibeybi--say that out loud a couple of times!). I started with "The Light Fantastic" and am especially fond of "Soul Music" (for obvious reasons) and "Small Gods", possibly his most perfect book.
And for someone who knows his way around myths--Tom Holt. He has written many books now, but is probably most famous outside the UK for one of his earliest books, "Expecting Someone Taller", which is sort of "The Ring, the Next Generation". Hysterical!! My other favorite of his is "Overtime", about Blondel, the trouvere who went around Europe singing "L'amour dont sui epris" under castles looking for Richard the Lionhearted but gets sidetracked in to a rock and roll career along the way....
I was pleased to see that Connie Willis made it to the list, but would like to add to it. "Doomsday Book" and "Bellwether" have already been cited; I would add her others: "Remake" about Hollywood to the nth degree and why we need Fred Astaire; "Uncharted Territory" about evolution and love; "To Say Nothing of the Dog", her most recent, a sequel of sorts to "Doomsday Book" but in a *much* different vein--this owes a great debt to Jerome K. Jerome's "Three Men in a Boat" as well as Sayers, Conan Doyle, the Titanic, a little P. G. Wodehouse, etc. (I laughed from cover to cover); and "Lincoln's Dreams", an early book, which is partly about the Civil War but like all of Willis's work it is about many other things too--it is very powerful. She also has two wonderful anthologies, "Fire Watch" (thankfully back in print) and "Impossible Things", and three books written with Cynthia Felice. Ms. Willis has (deservedly!) won more awards in SF than anyone else alive...
One of her chief competitors for those awards is Lois McMaster Bujold, whose SF series (heavy on the military) about Miles Vorkosigan is one of the most wonderful, funny, thoughtful, and at times agonizing I have yet encountered. She keeps improving, for every book, and although the things that happen to Miles are almost always quite outrageous, they enable the author to say a great deal. There are a couple of books about Miles's parents ("Shards of Honor", in which they meet, and "Barrayar", which details their early married life and a civil war), one which takes place some time in his past ("Falling Free", which won the Nebula), one spin-off about one of Miles's associates ("Ethan of Athos"), one anthology ("Dreamweaver's Dilemma"), and one fantasy from 16th c. Italy ("The Spirit Ring"). The Miles books are: "The Warrior's Apprentice", in which Miles acquires a mercenary army by accident when he is 17; "The Vor Game", in which Miles and his army must rescue his Emperor from youthful folly, "Cetaganda", in which Miles and his idiot cousin Ivan must attend a state funeral on an enemy world and end up solving a murder as well, "Brothers in Arms", in which Miles meets his clone and all hell breaks loose, "Borders of Infinity", in which Miles is laid up after bone-replacement surgery and must explain to his boss about some previous missions (this is sort of an anthology), "Mirror Dance", in which Miles's clone returns to wreak havoc, "Memory", in which Miles loses his job and gets a new one, while the Emperor falls in love, and "Komarr", in which Miles flexes his new occupational muscles and incidentally falls in love (again). Leading to the next one, eagerly awaited, in which the Emperor gets married.
If you like C. S. Forester, you will *love* David Weber, whose Honor Harrington novels are tremendously popular. There are a bunch of them now: "On Basilisk Station", "The Honor of the Queen", "The Short Victorious War", "Field of Dishonor", "Flag in Exile", "Honor Among Enemies", "In Enemy Hands", and (in October) "Echoes of Honor". I *think* that's all, and more or less in the right order. This is the saga of a captain in the Star Kingdom of Manticore's Royal Navy, whose daring exploits earn her fame and infamy, a title, and pots of money. This series is tremendous fun and has generated a great deal of praise from fans and critics too. It also has the *best* space battles ever written...
Speaking of space opera, I can't leave this sub-genre without mentioning the marvelous novels of Debra Doyle and James Macdonald. They are prolific writers of young adult books as well, but their five Mageworlds novels are unparalleled. The trilogy is first: "The Price of the Stars", "Starpilot's Grave", and "By Honor Betray'd"; there is a sequel and a prequel out, "The Long Hunt" and "The Gathering Flame", and another due in January, "The Stars Asunder". They are heaps of fun, fast-paced and well written, and the characters are terrific.
I can't remember who is on the Regency Romance list apart from Georgette Heyer (I especially recommend "The Masqueraders", "These Old Shades", and "Devil's Cub"), the undisputed queen, so will list all my favorites (don't worry, I'm picky): Carola Dunn, Alicia Rasley, Chloe Cheshire, Cleo Chadwicke, Anthea Malcolm, Jo Beverly (OK, but she's so much *fun*), Barbara Metzger, Jean R. Ewing, Lynn Kerstan, Loretta Chase, and (especially) Joy Reed. These ladies have passed all my tests--they understand how titles and courtesy titles work, they have (fairly) decent grammar, and they either don't try period slang and fail, or they do it very well. :)
One play to recommend very highly indeed--"La Bete" by David Hirson. This is a linguistic masterpiece, written entirely in verse, and such a feat of verbal daring that I was left in complete awe. I saw it in Ashland one summer and *had* to read it; it was as mind-blowing and funny on paper! It is a satire of sorts about Moliere (Elomire in the play) and deals with one of the artist's eternal questions--should one maintain the integrity of one's work, or appeal to the masses (assuming one can't do both at once)? Elomire's antagonist Valert, representing the populist view, arrives onstage after only a couple of lines at the beginning, looking like the Sixth Doctor in a colorful coat and horrid orange wig, and proceeds to speak for 25 minutes. I will say no more about this incredible play, except for urging one and all to read it!
For the Defies Description category, I *must* include "Book: A Novel" by Robert Grudin. This is required reading for anyone who, like me, has had it up to here with deconstructionism. It is a very funny book written in many styles and with lots of unexpected things going on (there is a revolt at one point by the footnotes), and I can't think of a good way to explain it at all.
Well, that's my tuppence worth. (I read a lot--can you tell?) I daresay I've forgotten something, but I can always come back.... (run away! run away!!)
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